Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wishing You

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

NaNoWriMo Countdown: Final Prep

Yesterday I went to a craft festival and spent a couple of hours making rounds of the booths and finding some treasures. I also soaked up all the good vibes radiating from the artists and their creations. One glassmaker and I talked for a few minutes about direction and vision and realization, and how weird and wonderful the path is that takes us from dreaming to living the dream. Our arts are completely different but as artists we followed our hearts in the same ways. It was a bit like meeting a sibling I didn't know I had.

Something I noticed as I made my way through the aisles were the artists who were demonstrating. There is something amazing about watching someone practice their art in public. You get a decidedly rare glimpse of techniques in action, the sort of materials they use and the steps they take from idea to finished piece. Some I understood, others completely mystified me. I noted that the demonstrating artists often had helpers mind the booth and the browsers while they worked, and yet they never seemed to mind stopping work on their piece for a few seconds to answer a question or accept a compliment.

I'm about to spend thirty days writing virtually in public but I haven't considered my project from the observer's point of view. I've always assumed when I talk about my work that everyone who listens is on the same frequency, but that's not really possible. I do things that even I don't really understand, such as planning out basically everything with a story but writing dialogue spontaneously, which must seem illogical. No, it is illogical, but I do it because I've learned over the years that this planned/unplanned approach produces the best results for me. Anyway, it gave me a lot to ponder.

Some of you may still be on the fence about whether or not to join in NaNoWriMo, and you've got another day to decide before the madness begins. I wanted to talk to you fence people today because I think of all the writers out there you're the ones who are most often neglected. It's all well and good for me to natter on about writing a novel in November; I'm a pro, I've published, I can write a book in the shower (not really, but I'm rather fond of that myth) etc. I'm going to sit my virtual booth here and show off all month while I do what surely I must be able to do in my sleep.

Maybe some of that is true, but what you don't see is what's in my head right now. So here's a peek: I don't know if I can do it. I've never written these characters or operated in this world. I'm prepared but certainly I could be better prepared. I haven't color-coded everything to death yet. Sure, it's an interesting idea, but what if I fumble it? What if my mojo stops working? What if life decides to make mine miserable from 11/1 to 11/30? I have to revise another book and promote a third during November; what if I fall behind and can't finish? What if everyone hates it? What am I going to do if I screw this up? I'm a professional, for God's sake. What was I thinking?

Yes, despite all my experience and publishing glory I am just like any other storyteller. I worry, I doubt myself, and that blank page scares the daylights out of me. I'm no different from you. Right now, at this very moment, if I could call it quits I probably would. It's too much for anyone to handle. I can do this next year. Give me a day and I can definitely talk myself out of the whole mess.

I won't do that. You know how Adele supposedly throws up right before she goes on stage to perform? Same thing. We're doing the same thing right now, you and I, we're puking. Okay, mentally, but it's just as bad. So have at it: question yourself, ridicule yourself, beat yourself up, whatever it takes to get it out of your system before Thursday. Then come and join me on November 1st and do this thing. Don't think about it, do it. Because that is the difference between those who publish and those who don't. We're all nervous and doubtful and dark, we writers; it's part of why we're so good at what we do. What separates the wannabes from the pros is the courage to write in spite of anything and everything, most especially ourselves. And that's the one thing I can't teach you; you have to find it on your own. I believe we all have it in us; it's simply waiting to be found. I can tell you this much: when you do discover part of yourself, and you make that the reason you write, nothing will stop you. Not even you.

If that doesn't convince you, I have one thing for you to read. Tim Kim and the folks at NaNoWriMo's Office of Letters and Light were kind enough to lend me some space on their blog to write about another NaNoWriMo experience of mine, which you can read here.

Monday, October 29, 2012

NaNoWriMo Countdown Ten

Ten Things to Help with NaNoWriMo

If you want to define a character's traits in 26 words, try my ABCharacter method.

Make a deck of character trading cards for the cast of your novel.

Registering for a free account with Evernote freeware can give you a handy online spot to store your bookmarks, research, notes and other story-related ephemera tidy.

Back in the days when we used to have an all-day writing Q&A every Friday here at PBW I created an index by category with links to all the visitor questions and my answers; one or more of these might answer some of yours.

To see what has changed since the last time you visited (or even to visit it for the first time) take a virtual tour of your real-life setting by using Google Maps with Street View.

To find a name for a character try this generator at, which you can customize by number of names, gender and nationality (terrific if you have characters from a variety of countries.)

Rev up your imagination by creating color palettes for your story and/or your characters.

Polyvore's online free editing tool can help you create collages of inspirational visuals for your characters, setting or other elements of your story; see my write-up on it here.

To warm up your fingers (and find out how fast you type) try taking a one-minute online typing test like this one.

Explore your story concept in cloud fashion with my method of Wordle Scribing.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

NaNoWriMo Countdown: Outlining Resources

For my NaNoWriMo novel I've written a series overview (I actually outlined three books, and the one I'll be writing is the first) with a one-page synopsis for each novel and a ton of handwritten notes when I was structuring the idea. The overview, the synopsis for the first book and my notes are the first additions to my novel notebook. Now I have to work out my timeline and my chapter summaries, which will be today and tomorrow because I'm running out of October.

How (or if) you outline your book is up to you, and if you're interested in trying some new methods there are a lot of resources on the internet that can help. Before I start throwing links at you, let's talk about the good and bad of outlining, and how you can make it work for you.

My first advice on outlining is not to worry about form or format at all. Remember all those rules your English teacher hammered into your head? Toss that right out the window. When it comes to outlining for yourself form doesn't matter, and neither does format. No rulers will be employed, and you will not be graded on how perfect your indentations and margins turn out.

A workable novel outline is like a map of your book. Look at any real map and you'll notice a few things: a generally defined area, natural features, landmarks, communities and the routes you can take to move through the area. A map defines any place it charts in the simplest terms, and features only the information that is necessary for the traveler. What you generally won't see on the map is every single trailer park, bike path, apple tree, chicken place or convenience store in the area, and this is because you don't need that kind of detail to plan a journey. Plus you will discover all those things as you travel, which is kind of the point of any journey through a new place.

It's the same thing with writing an outline for a story. Pretend for a minute that you're the map maker, and the story is the place through which your characters will be traveling. What are the things you need to know in advance in order to make this trip? You'll need to define this, and once you do that's what you put in your outline to create your story map. If you're not sure where to start with what you need, try the reason the story is happening.

I think people are the most interesting part of any story, which is why I usually start developing a story by defining who a character is, what the character wants, and determining what is the worst thing that can happen to them. Example: a vampire-hating psychic thief searches for the vampire who killed her parents, and ends up rescuing and then falling in love with another vampire (and if you've read my novel Night Lost, you also know the big twist at the end with all that.) That was where I started my story map with that idea: the thief, what she wanted, and the worst thing that could happen to her.

You don't have to start your outline with a character, their goals or their conflicts; you can work from any catalyst around which you want to build your story. Some writers use an event, a setting or even an object as their core concept. In Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen used the endless amiable and eligible Mr. Bingley moving into the neighborhood to stir things up for the Bennets. Shirley Jackson used things like lotteries and haunted houses; Tolkien had that ring. It can really be anything, as long as it's compelling enough to have you write an entire book about it.

Outlining works best when it gives you just enough direction to make the journey possible. Again, this is something you have to define. My advice is to keep it as simple as possible, and don't try to nail down every single detail. You'll have plenty of time for that as you do the writing. Keeping it basic will also help because something you've loosely sketched is a lot easier to modify (versus some enormously complicated masterpiece you've chiseled in stone.)

For more ideas and ways to outline your story, check out these links:

Planning, Scheming, and Plotting by Stephannie Beman -- Stephannie talks about her method of sketching out a nice, brief checklist to loosely organize her stories in advance of the writing.

Keith Cronin abstains from Roman numerals in his hybrid pantser-plotter approach to outlining, The Big O.

For those who prefer to write the classic synopsis as an outline -- there are one or two of you like that, yes? -- Charlotte Dillon has a fabulous page of info and links here.

If you'd like to organize your outline online, I recommend trying Hiveword, Mike Fleming's free online novel writing organizer, which I demo'd and reviewed here.

If you hate the idea of outlining at all, you may get some comfort (and ideas) from Crawford Kilian's post Writing Without an Outline.

Advice from a master: Effectively Outlining Your Plot by Lee Masterson

Alicia Rasley's classic article Outline Your Novel in Thirty Minutes asks all the right questions; you provide the answers.

For a very brief outline, test drive my one-page ten point novel concept outline template (the first page is the blank template; the second is filled in as an example.)

If you like Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method of outlining, you'll probably also love TextTree, a freeware written as a companion program for it.

TiddlyWiki is a free service that provides a reusable non-linear personal web notebook (LJ Cohen did a terrific virtual workshop a few years back on how to use TiddlyWiki to organize your novel.)

Try virtual whiteboarding with the free online service Trello, which I demo'd and reviewed here.

Juliette Wade's Sequence Outlining offers an event-driven method of outlining. has a Blank Novel Outline worksheet here.

And finally, a post I wrote that after five years remains the #1 most popular on PBW, my Novel Outlining 101.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

NaNoWriMo Countdown: Winner & Sessions

The winner of the NaNoWriMo Countdown giveaway is:

traveler, who wrote:  Writing with index cards is my most practical item.

Traveler, when you have a chance please send your full name and ship-to address to so I can get your package out to you. My thanks to everyone for joining in and offering so many ideas on things to help with National Novel Writing Month.

In order to win NaNoWriMo 2012 we have to write 50,000 words during the month of November, and it's a good idea to set reasonable, regularly-scheduled writing goals in order to reach the finish line. If you're plan is to write every day for those thirty days then producing 1,667 words per day (about six and a half typed, double-spaced manuscript pages) is your goal. Writers who want to take off the weekends (and there's nothing wrong with that) will still have 22 week days to write, which raises the daily goal to 2,273, or about nine manuscript pages per week day. Holidays in November include Remembrance Day (Canada, UK), Veterans Day and Thanksgiving Day (U.S.) which should also be factored in. I have family coming to visit for a four-day weekend, and I want to spend those days with them, so I've planned to write for 26 days. To accomodate that, my NaNo daily writing goal will be 1,923 words, or about seven and a half manuscript pages per day.

You can work out how many hours you'll need for your daily writing session by writing every day for a couple of days and noting each day how many hours you write and how many words you produce. Once you've done that, average them out. If you work twenty-one hours in a week, and produce a total of 12,600 words, then you write about 600 words or about two and a half pages per hour. I can write up to 2,500 words or ten pages an hour if I have to, but the pace that's more comfortable for me is 1000 words or four pages per hour, so I'll be working on the NaNo novel about two and a half hours a day (two hours of writing + three ten minute breaks.)

Speaking of breaks, you should allow yourself at least one during your writing sessions, and make it a real break. Get up and get out of your writing space. Stretch and loosen up your muscles. Take a walk around the house or the yard. You should also keep hydrated, and if you're hungry, have a sensible snack. I don't eat or drink anymore when I'm writing, so I like a cup of tea and a snack during my breaks (bananas and strawberries are my favorite.) I don't use sugar anymore but even back when I did I wouldn't have anything sugary while I was writing; it made me too restless.

My daily NaNoWriMo sessions are loosely scheduled now to be from 7 am to 9:30 am, but I'll probably have some days when I start at 6 am or 8 am or some other morning hour. My daily edit of whatever I write will be after dinner, probably around 9 to 10 pm just before I update my weblog and finish out my e-mail. I like a long break between writing and editing so I can shift gears.

Of course you don't have to plan exactly when and how often you'll have your writing sessions during November, and it may be counterproductive to your process to do so. But if it doesn't bother you to schedule your writing time then you should take a look at it. Most of you have days jobs, and when I was working I would get up an hour early and write while the house was quiet, write again during my lunch hour at work, and then spend another hour or two working on my stories at night after everyone went to bed. Short writing sessions can seem frustrating at first -- by the time you've gotten really warmed up they're over -- but I found that I began unconsciously writing faster. Those short sessions also made me see how important it was for me to separate the writing and editing process so I didn't waste my brief amount of writing time backtracking and fixing things.

You may have to sacrifice a few things to create writing time for yourself, but if you're smart you don't have deprive yourself or let your household descend into chaos. For example, record your favorite television shows instead of watching them live and you'll probably buy yourself at least seven to ten extra hours of writing time per week. You can glom on the recorded shows all you want after November, or maybe use them as a reward for making your weekly wordcount goal -- if you meet yur quota, allow yourself an hour to watch one.

If your family is supportive, ask them to help out, too. I did, and my daughter volunteered to cook three nights a week during November, which will give me an extra six to nine hours to focus on work. Since she took culinary classes in high school and is a great improvisational cook like her grandfather I'm looking forward to some fabulous meals. My guy will take over the morning walk with the dogs; he'll also vacuum, do dishes and laundry and attend to any other chore I request. This is one of the reasons why I love him: the man cleans bathrooms.

Finally, do what you can this last week before NaNoWriMo to get your life ready for this. I've been keeping up with my housework and laundry so my house and my crew will be tidy going into November. I'm making double batches of everything freezable (chili, pasta sauce, soup and casseroles) so I'll have an extra week of entrees I just have to defrost and serve. I'm also going to make some slow cooker (crock pot) recipes next month, which will be great with the cooler weather. I've paid all the bills in advance and cleared the calendar of appointments as much as possible, and I'm writing as many blog posts in advance as I can so I have a good stockpile of those for days when I'm too tired to post anything coherent or useful.

Do you have any tips to share on how to save time, create opportunities to write or otherwise improve writing sessions during NaNoWriMo? Let us know in comments.

Friday, October 26, 2012

NaNoWriMo Countdown: Giveaway

One of the neat things about beginning a new novel is putting together all the stuff I'll need to get the work done: notebooks, folders, sketchpads, research sources, pens, pencils etc. It's like getting ready for the first day of school minus the dread of meeting all those new teachers. I usually have to run to BAM or Office Depot or Target for something I don't have (this year, some new quick-dry pens for my scribbling) but I enjoy that as well. It's what I imagine a trip to a jewelry store is like for the other gals; I adore browsing through office supplies and lusting after something I don't need or can't afford.

While I was shopping I picked up some extra stuff to put together for a NaNoWriMo giveaway: A slim zippered cloth portfolio bag (just the perfect size to hold some chapters, a notebook and pen), an idea portfolio and notebook covered with inspirational words, a pack of the quick-dry pens I'll be using along with some mechanical pencils, a Keep Calm and Carry On bookmark, a Don't Quit journal and a sticky-note mini-journal. I also added a copy of Writing Fiction by Gotham Writer's Workshop, the one how-to I think pretty much covers all the basic nuts and bolts of writing.

If you'd like a chance to win the pile, in comments to this post name something you've found to be helpful with NaNoWriMo by midnight EST tonight, October 26, 2012. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner everything in the picture. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

NaNoWriMo Countdown: Work Space

I can write just about anywhere, and I know this because I have. I started writing for publication on one corner of our dining room table. I've also written in coffee shops and hotels, lobbies and waiting rooms, in cars and on airplanes, in physical therapy whirlpools and once (rather memorably) while I was a patient in Labor & Delivery. Nineteen hours of labor is long and exhausting and utterly devoid of fun, especially when you elect to do it completely naturally. They don't let you order in pizza, either, but if you plan ahead you can your guy smuggle it in between nurse checks. To me extra pepperoni is way more soothing than chipped ice and back rubs . . . but I digress.

Where your writing space is, how large it is or how much you can fit into it doesn't matter as much as making it work for you. Once I turned pro I definitely needed a dedicated work space, but at the time we had no spare rooms I could make into an office. My solution was to invest in a rolling computer stand. I figured with it I could make my writing space portable and move it to whatever area in the house was unoccupied.

It worked great. I usually kept the stand in a corner of the living room or our bedroom, but when things got noisy I'd roll it out on the porch. One winter when we had a lot of house guests I took it out in the garage and worked there for two months. All I really needed was a quiet place with an electrical outlet, and I was good to go.

When you think about creating or changing your work space you might consider what is the ideal working atmosphere for you. If you write best in a quiet space, look around your home for a spot away from areas your family most often use. Some writers choose to work in spare bedrooms or garages; I read an article recently about one novelist who turned a walk-in closet into a work space. Others choose to write in attics and outdoor sheds. Many public libraries offer quiet rooms where you can get some work done, too.

If you write best in a public place like a park, mall or coffee shop you should try out a couple and see where you're most productive. I often like to go to the park with a bag lunch for a writing session, especially now when the cooler weather is chasing off the bugs. You should also look at how accessible your favorite public spot is when you need to write; some may be closed or too crowded during the times you plan to work.

If home is too busy and public places are too distracting, you might check with family, friends or your place of worship and see if you can borrow one of their spare rooms as a temporary work space. Churches are often happy to lend you a quiet room in exchange for a minimal fee or even some volunteer time. If you have a day job and a friendly boss, see if you can stay after work to write at your desk or in one of the offices for an hour or two. When I worked a day job I used to spend my lunch hour writing in the back storeroom (and since I was a bookseller being surrounded by all those boxes of new arrivals was very motivating.)

In what sort of space are you most productive with your writing? Have you found any great alternatives that might work for other writers in need of space? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

NaNoWriMo Countdown

We've got eight days until the kickoff of NaNoWriMo 2012, and this last week before the craziness begins is a terrific opportunity to organize in advance what you'll need to write your novel in November.

I'll be putting up a series of posts this week with things to hopefully help you do that, but before we dive into all the details and logistics let's take a moment to talk about the why. As in, why do this, this crazy thing, this impossible task of writing a novel in thirty days?

You might not know it, but you have more than a novel inside you. Actually, you have an entire library in your head. Its shelves are packed with your ideas and your dreams and your experiences and your longings. Your imagination is like a librarian who keeps acquiring all this stuff; she works tirelessly and endlessly to sort through it and catalogue it and have it ready for use. Your use, because you are this library's only patron.

Writing is about opening the doors to that library and bringing the stories shelved in it out into our world. At first it's going to be just for you and the page, but even that sharing is not an easy thing to do. Writing is not simply putting words on paper in coherent order; it's an act of creation. It takes courage to make that attempt, to make what resides only in your head into something real. So it's okay to be a little scared, and doubtful, and worried. Trust me, the rest of us are right there with you. On November 1st me and many of your writer pals and thousands of others all over the planet will be opening up the doors to our idea libraries and bringing out our stories. If you do this, you'll be writing along with the world.

So there are my thoughts on the why. In the meantime, if you haven't yet settled on what sort of story you want to write, now would also be an advantageous moment to make that decision. If you have a lot of ideas and aren't sure how to pick the best from them, I talked about my method in this post.

Making up a title for your book now can be fun, too. Input keywords about your story concept into Wordle and let it recombine them; often the clouds it produces include some interesting pairings. You can also search's verse database with your story keywords to look for title ideas from poems. This title doesn't have to be anything you chisel in stone, either. If you can't think of anything that works even temporarily call it your NaNo 2012 Novel, or Scrambled Eggs, or whatever comes to mind (I once wrote a novel with a working title of Carnival Geek because those were the two words that inspired the whole idea.)

If you're planning to join in NaNoWriMo 2012, in comments let us know what you'll be writing, where you'll be posting about your progress, or anything else you'd like to share.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Off to Write

Create a sticky note online for your blog at's sticky note generator, Superstickies (link originally swiped long ago from Gerard over at The Generator Blog.)

Also, just a heads-up for you Anne Frasier fans, according to her blog today you can get three of her backlist titles for free: Pale Immortal, The Girl with the Cat Tattoo, and Max Under the Stars (link leads to her post with more details.)

Monday, October 22, 2012

NaNoWriMo Ten

Ten Free Things To Help with NaNoWriMo

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

Hiveword -- a web-based novel writing organizer service you can use to build your novel from synopsis to characters to plots to scenes. Nothing to download with this one; you use it online. Hiveword also allows you to save your work on the site and will be free forever, thanks to Mike Fleming. Check out my review of it here.

Kleimo's Random Name Generator -- This generator uses US census data to produce name lists of up to 30 for males, females or both genders. You can also set the obscurity factor from 1 (extremely common names) to 99 (extremely uncommon names.)
The Novel Notebook -- My free e-book which contains a variety of templates and worksheets, examples from my own works and other info to help you organize your novel.

Pseudo-Elizabethan Place Name Generator -- I still get e-mail asking for this rather fabulous place name generator, which disappeared for awhile before it returned via (and thank you, Michele Albert, for whatever you did to bring it back.) The place names it generates may not work for everyone, but collectively they're all wonderfully inventive and beautifully quirky.
Seventh Sanctum -- your one stop online for fun generators. Do check out the writing section for some great story spark and other writing inspiration gennies.

Smart Edit -- simply the best free editing software I've ever found. See my write up about it here.

Wordle  -- My favorite online toy, which can be a serious help when it comes to story craft. It generates word clouds based on the text or URL you input, and you can use the clouds to come up with story titles, character names, place names and more (and to see what I've done with it, here are all my posts on Wordle.)

Writer's Knowledge Base -- this is a search engine specifically geared for writers, and offers a comprehensive list of valuable links for just about any writing topic you want to research. Immensely efficient and helpful when you have a particular writing-related problem you want to solve sooner rather than later.

Writertopia's Picometer and Progress meter -- if you need a free wordcounter for your web site or blog, these two are quite popular and easy to install.

and last but not least:  Way of the Cheetah, my how-to on boosting your productivity, is now available for anyone to read online, download, print out and share etc. for free until December 1st.

Do you have any great writing-related links you want to share for NaNoWriMo 2012?  Post them in comments.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Making it Work

Last week I took out a lovely piece of dreamy batik fabric I'd saved for a couple of months for the right project. I'd come up with a new design idea that only required two fat quarters of fabric and some bias binding to make a cute little quilted bag. I could see it perfectly in my head; my lovely fabric paired with some icy silver satin would work great. Off I went to the fabric shop to get the rest of the materials I needed.

I did the cutting first, at which point I discovered the satin I'd purchased didn't like me. I'd chosen it because it was sinfully soft to the touch, but that quality also made it slither all over my cutting mat. No fabric gets the better of me, however, so I pinned and repinned it until I got it sandwiched with my lovely batik, batted it and sewed it up. And I was so focused on taming the satin that I didn't bother to actually measure the batik; I simply matched it to the sides of the satin piece.

When I took everything to the ironing board to press it after sewing, I forgot to check the setting on my iron and promptly scorched a nice big hole in the unruly satin. Not a problem; I could make it work. I got out the seam ripper, took the piece apart and did it over a second time with a fresh piece of the slithery satin. I then hand-quilted and beaded the piece for two days, during which time I discovered my lovely batik was stiff as hell while the slithery satin really didn't want to be quilted or beaded when it could fray, pucker or pull. Both fabrics fought me every stitch of the way. I was sure I could force them to work, though, so I kept at it until the quilting and beading were done and the piece was ready to be stitched into a bag.

At this point my friend Jill came over to borrow my spare sewing machine and sat with me while I assembled the tote. "Why are you using bias binding for the sides?" she asked.

"It's a new idea I had," I told her as I fought to pin down the binding, which both fabrics naturally hated. "Simple and elegant."

Jill waited as I stitched up one side and then surveyed the results with me. "Interesting," was her first observation. "What are you going to do about the inside seams?"

I hadn't thought about that. "I'll zig-zag them."

"You'll have to do it by hand, they're too bulky.  That's going to be a major pain." She took the bag from me and held it up. "It's a half-inch short on this side, too. Did you square this before you sewed?"

"It's not short." I snatched it from her, and saw that I was short -- and no, I hadn't squared it because I'd been too involved with the satin. "I'll put in a dart." I put in the dart, and that created a pucker. I put in the other side and darted that to make a matching pucker, which looked about as awful as it sounds -- but not as bad as the bulky inside seams did.

I looked at Jill. Jill looked up at the ceiling.

I had too much time invested in this bag to give up now. "Okay, scratch the binding." I reached for my seam ripper.

While I ripped and ripped and ripped some more, Jill examined the strap I'd made for the tote out of the last bit of fabric. "Uh, this is going to be too wide now."

I glanced at it and saw it was too wide now, but it had taken me an hour to pin and sew together and I wasn't taking it apart again -- I had at least a couple of hours to spend reworking my design. "It'll be comfortable."

"It'll be clunky-looking." She saw my expression. "You could fold it in half, maybe. Sew the sides together. Have you got a denim needle?"

I didn't have a denim needle, but I could make it work. "I'll ribbon-braid it later."

"Why are you talking through your teeth?" Jill wanted to know.

"I'm not," I assured her (once I'd unclenched my teeth.) "I'm fine. This is going to be fine. A fine, simple, elegant little bag."

"Uh-huh." She didn't sound convinced. "By the way, you'll need to pad that beadwork from the inside, too. It's way too heavy for that satin to support. You could cover that with a pocket." She saw my face. "I'm leaving now."

Jill left, and I went back to work at making it work. I ripped out the binding, reassembled the bag, fixed the gap, padded the beadwork from inside, made a pocket to cover the padding, and ribbon-braided the tote strap. All that and cleaning up all the little mistakes the fixes caused cost me another day, but at last it was done.

 I took it with me to Jill's the next day to show her the completed project. "See?" I waved it in her face. "Finished."

Nice." She frowned at the front of my tote. "What are you going to do about the blood?"

I stopped smirking. "What blood?"

She pointed to a tiny dark spot on the front of the bag. "That blood."

"It's a shadow." I held the bag under a light. No, it was blood. At some point while doing the finishing hand-stitching I must have poked my finger with the needle and bled on the damn bag. "I'll spot clean it."

"You'll never get it out," Jill called after me as I stomped out, went home, and spot cleaned the blood, which of course didn't come out. But I wasn't letting a tiny stain defeat me, oh, no. I went back to the fabric store, bought some decorative lace that matched the batik and sewed that over the spot.

And then -- THEN -- I was done.

I studied my simple, elegant tote. I'd made it work, but after all my fixes it didn't really seem simple or elegant anymore. Despite my ribbon-braiding the tote strap still looked clunky. The decorative lace covering up the bloodstain made the whole bag look too busy. The lovely batik was riddled with tiny holes from all the seam ripping I'd done, and the slithery soft satin looked as wilted and exhausted as I felt. One last bonus from hell: while fixing the other problems I must have pulled a stitch on the snowflake beading, one branch of which was now slightly askew. The only way to fix that would be to rebead that section of the bag. After I removed the pocket and the padding. Which would probably screw up something else.

Much as I was tempted, I didn't rip the tote to pieces or burn it in the backyard. I took it to my closet and carefully tucked it away in one of my fabric storage bins. Which I'm ready to try that idea again, I'll take out the bag and study it.  I'll remember all the things I'd done to make it work.  Then I'll find another lovely piece of fabric and try again, and be sure to use all of what I learned from making what surely has to be The Tote from Hell so that I don't make the same mistakes twice.

What does all this sewing have to do with writing?  That I will leave you to ponder. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Bits & Pieces

In the reality imitates fiction department this morning: Where there are rats, there are cats, and turns out that the latter actually do know their way around ancient Roman catacombs. Those of you who read my Darkyn novels know this was my reason for Richard Tremayne's particular changeling transformation. Isn't it lovely when reality backs up the plausibility of a character's backstory?

Here's a neat-sounding sub op for you Cthulhu lovers: Innsmouth Free Press has an open call for their Sword and Mythos antho: "What we want: Sword and Mythos. This includes any element of the Cthulhu Mythos (creatures such as shoggoths, characters like the King in Yellow, locations like Leng) combined with sword and sorcery (heroic fantasy). Stories can be told from the viewpoint of sorcerers or other non-traditional heroic characters, although fighters with brawn and brains will also be accepted. We are looking for a variety of settings and characters (Yes, we are GLBT-friendly). Although much sword and sorcery has utilized a proto-European setting, we’d like to see stories that take place in settings inspired by Middle Eastern, African, Asian, Prehispanic, and other cultures. We will accept secondary world stories and stories set in historical settings with magical elements. For example, Robert E. Howard set his Mythos-inspired “Worms of the Earth” in real-life Great Britain. We might also consider some sword and planet stories. But no copyrighted characters, please. We can’t afford the lawsuits. There are many famous sword and sorcery male characters, but we’d also like to see women hacking tentacles. Or summoning Mythos creatures. Overall, we want to be surprised and inspired to read beyond the first page." Length: up to 5K; Payment: "Sword and Mythos pays 5 cents per word. We are asking for First English Anthology Rights. Because we are a very small press, we don’t pay royalties. We do, however, offer to buy the stories on a non-exclusive basis. Each contributor will receive two physical copies of the anthology and an e-book copy." Query on reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details. Reading period opens January 15th, 2013; do not submit before! Deadline: February 15th, 2013

Across the pond: UK Publisher Alchemy Press is starting a new e-book/omnibus print line: "The Alchemy Press intends to start a new line, Alchemy Novellas. In the first instance, we will publish four novellas a year as eBooks. Then the novellas will be collected together and published as a print book – so readers have the best of both worlds. Our proposed publication schedule for the eBooks is February, May, August and November. We are looking for original, unpublished novellas that touch on almost all areas of Fantasy and Horror. There will be a payment for both eBook and print publication." More details and submission guidelines available on their blog here.

Finally, the magic of gorgeous special effects paired with a spooky poem-story of tricks & treats = best Halloween video I've seen this season (narration and music with this one, and it may be a bit too intense for younger kids):

The Green Ruby Pumpkin from miguel ortega on Vimeo.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Dreaming It{aly} 2

Earlier this year I found a gorgeous prize-winning video about Italy by Matthew Brown; here's the second part of his digital diary, Lost in the Alps (narration and background music with this one):

Daydreaming It{aly}: Lost In The Alps from Matty Brown on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Writing Attire

One of the reasons I love Judy Reeves's A Writer's Book of Days so much are the odd bits of trivia she's collected about writers. For example, in the September section of the revised edition she has an entire page detailing the quirks of famous scribes that includes Alice Hoffman's habit of repainting her office a different color every time she starts a new book (a shade that resonates with the story's theme, naturally) and Charles Dickens' habit of walking twenty to thirty miles a day (his shoe bill must have been hefty.)

What writers wear often makes interesting trivia, too. Some of you might know that Edgar Allan Poe only wore black, while Emily Dickinson dressed solely in white (Mark Twain liked wearing white, and you might have noticed Ray Bradbury attired in the same in the video I posted on in early October.) During my rookie year a couple of female pros I met advised me to get into full professional dress (suit, stockings, pumps, makeup, the works) before starting write, as this was supposed to give me a going-to-work attitude. I did try a modified version of this; while I was writing StarDoc I'd always put on a pair of my old hospital scrubs, and they did give me a bit more of a medical mindset.

According to Judy there are writers who liked to work in their underwear (John Cheever) or naked (Forrest McDonald), but I think the majority of us prefer to wear something. Because I start my work day around 5 am these days I actually write most of the time in my version of PJs -- an oversize T-shirt, shorts or (if it's chilly) leggings. Most of my wardrobe is solid-color because I find patterns a visual distraction, but as long as it's not too loud I generally don't care what color I wear.

What we have to wear (or absolutely can't wear) in order to write depends on our individual quirks. One of mine is writing barefoot; for some reason I can't so I always wear socks when I'm working. I can be superstitious about colors, though; I have one old green shirt I'll wear when I feel I need some luck -- usually during deadline week -- but I never wear the color yellow only because I dislike it so much (nothing in my wardrobe is yellow, in fact.)

I think physical comfort can be an important part of the process, too. Heavy fabric like denim makes me feel hot or weighed down when I sit for long periods of time so I never wear jeans when I write. I'll wear long-sleeved shirts when I write during the winter months but I always roll up the sleeves for more freedom of movement; I never wear rings, bracelets, watches or any jewelry because the weight and feel annoys me. I put my hair in a clip or wear it in a ponytail to keep it out of my face when I write. When I was younger and my hair a lot longer I'd stuff it up under a baseball cap before I sat down at the computer.

I know there are ladies out there who won't be seen without makeup, but since writing is a solitary art it's probably safe to go barefaced (lock the office door if you have to.) The only cosmetic I wear when I'm writing is Cherry Chapstick or some sort of flavored lip balm; this because I have an unconscious habit of biting my lower and upper lip while I'm writing, and the taste reminds me to knock it off (that one took me years of sore lips to figure out.)

Your writing attire is a matter of personal preference; if you want to suit up before hitting the keyboard because it makes you feel more professional, do it. If you don't need to dress the part, I recommend wear something comfortable that doesn't bind you anywhere. If you're feeling blue, try putting on an outfit that has happy associations, or that makes you feel good about yourself. Or if you really want to write in your shorts or your birthday suit, go for it -- all that really matters about writing attire is that it doesn't keep you from writing.

Do you have any particular quirks you indulge in when you dress to do your job? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Postcard Stories

I love finding old postcards at flea markets and junk shops. Usually they're stacked upright in a shoe box for easy browsing, and I always hunt through them for what interests me: images of natural wonders, historic monuments, works of art and architecture from around the world and that sort of thing.

Most of the antique postcards I find are blank (originally purchased as souvenirs, I guess) so any I come across with stamps and writing are extra special. This past weekend I scored three (two that were definitely over a hundred years old) that had intriguing little notes on them.

The first showed a photo of the Ancien Hotel de Valois in Caen, was mailed from France to the U.S., was written by a Ms. or Mr. Litch, and detailed a lovely walk in the country:

Dear Aunt Kate, Mother and I have been taking a day's vacation from sightseeing to wander about the country roads and fields. We wandered along a beautiful curving road with steep grass-covered banks and either side where scarlet poppies wove among the grasses beside our own thistles and Queen Anne's lace and soft purple blossoms that take the place of asters. Now and then we clambered to the top of the bank to look over the fields, whose absolutely smooth slopes roll over to the horion, only broken by box hedges and slender tufted trees. Affectionately, F.H.L, Caen, August 5th, 1911 (I'm assuming since Aunt Kate's last name was Litch that the writer shared it. I'm betting F.H.L. was a woman, too.)

Another French traveler wrote from Paris to her grandmother in Massachusetts, and if I'm interpreting her handwriting correctly, teased the old lady about wearing a cap like the female French peasants. She also described in color the black-and-white image on her postcard:

Dear Grandmama, How now you like to be (?) grandmother and wear a cap tied under your pug? Those are bright copper pots shining in the sun, and those faces are brown as the thatch of the cottage roofs, and all seasoned with smiles and wrinkles. (?) on our way to have to sail home tomorrow. As ever, Elvira, August 21, 1911

This postcard sent from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to a minister in Florida has a blurred postmark that shows only the month and date, but it was mailed with a 2-cent stamp, which means it could have been written any time from November 2, 1917, to June 30, 1919, when the rate for postcards and postal cards was 2 cents. The writer talked mostly about school, but she mentioned a worrisome family concern toward the end of her note:

Thanks for your card. Sorry you didn't get to Chautauqua. We had a wonderful year. I got home Aug. 21 and started school Aug. 25. I've had a full year by spending 8 weeks at Chautauqua. My fall schedule is full, too. District Teachers meetings a V.E.A. Convention. Mother and Dad want me to take them to Southwest Va to Abingdon. Dad is getting too shaky to drive very far -- says he can't see. Helen, September 14

Aside from being wonderful fragments of personal history, old written postcards can be great story starters. While Aunt Kate's sister and niece were wandering in the French countryside, what else did they see besides flowers? Did they make their boat back to the states? Which ship did they sail on from France to the U.S.? Who might they have met on board?

As for the teasing Elvira, she sounds like quite a character -- funny and appreciative of beauty. Who else did she meet in Normandy? Is it possible that she encountered F.H.L. and her mom during her travels (they might have missed their ship on August 6th, after all, and if they had I bet Elvira would offer to share her cabin with them. She seems like that kind of generous gal.)

Helen's card has some mystery to it as well; Chautauqua (which I think might be this place), the V.E.A. convention, and why did she visit Shenandoah in September, when she was already in school (or working as a teacher, as VEA in Virginia is a teacher's organization.) She just got home Aug. 21; did she live near the park? She was obviously devoted to her parents; worried about Dad being shaky and having vision problems. What happened when Helen took the parents to Abingdon (a very historic place, btw)?

Do some online research to answer your own questions (I found all the links for this post in about two minutes) or correlate something you know happened about the location with the details you cull from your postcards. You can look at the history that happened in your postcard writer's era as well to get a feel for what their world was like, too.

1911 was an interesting year; back in the States William Howard Taft was serving as President (probably our fattest), Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to the Senate, Italy declared war on Turkey, the French and German squabbled over Morocco, Marie Curie won the Nobel prize, and the Philadelphia Athletics beat the New York Giants four games to two to win the World Series. Everyone was reading The Broad Highway by Jeffrey Farnol and listening to the last of the red-hot mamas, Sophie Tucker, sing Some of These Days; Orville Wright set a record in October for sustaining flight in a glider for nearly ten minutes -- a record that wouldn't be broken for another ten years. There were ominous days ahead, too: in three years Archduke Ferdinand would be assassinated and touch off WWI, and four years after that a global influenza epidemic would kill an estimated forty million people.

For stories I'd write about two of my postcards I'd probably run with the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in August 1911 -- that was discovered one day after Elvira mailed her postcard to her grandmama from Paris -- and I bet she'd get sucked into the hoopla over the crime. Maybe she'd get mixed up with a dark and dangerous art thief accused of stealing the infamous Mona, who first uses her to establish an alibi . . . and then falls in love with her. In September 1911 the French battleship Liberté exploding in Toulon harbor, killing hundreds -- perhaps something the Litch ladies saw if they'd decided to prolong their holiday and travel south. Moved by the suffering of so many, F.H.L. might defy her mama and slip out of their hotel at night to work as a volunteer nurse at a makeshift hospital in the harbor. That's where she and her new friend (a handsome French surgeon, naturally) would discover the real cause of the terrible accident, which would force them to risk their lives to prevent another, more horrible tragedy. Something to do with Morocco . . .

In addition to serving as great stock for your story idea file old postcards make great writer-pal gifts, too (fill up a recipe card box with them.) Sometimes antique dealers want a couple of bucks for the older specimens, but at the flea market I paid only twenty-cents each for mine. You can also find lots of them pretty cheap from some ephemera dealers on -- just be sure and look for cards that were used.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Plot as You Go List

As a writer I plan out almost every detail of a story in advance; it's part of my natural process to thoroughly map out everything writing-wise so that I know where I'm going. What I most like about pre-planning a story is that it gives me the mental room to handle the few things I don't think through in advance, like dialogue, or what I should do at times when things don't go according to plan on the page.

I have tried pantsing as a writer -- once -- and while I did write and finish a fairly decent short story that way, I had to fight anxiety entire time. Knowing what the story will be before I write a single word of it doesn't diminish or ruining the writing experience for me; it makes me more relaxed and focused.

This year with my 1000 cards project I've been coloring outside the lines by courting creative spontaneity. A few months into the project I stopped trying to plan so much and instead allowed my materials inspire me as I work (which usually involves heaping a bunch of stuff on my work table, sorting through them and letting the idea gradually come together as I paint, sew, ink or whatever.) As a pantser artist I can't claim 100% success, but as I've progressed I started getting more of a feel for spontaneous design. Every mistake and failure teaches me something. What does work also helps, because once I'm finished I can analyze what went right and apply that to the next effort.

I've always imagined that pantser writers do in their heads as they write what I do in advance of writing with my outlines and novel notebooks, but the art project has taught me differently. Pantsers probably have a lot of loose, nebulous story ideas that they keep in a pile on their mental work table in no particular order or arrangement. When they're ready to write, they select from that pile whatever appeals to or inspires them to continue the story. The plotting then has to happen spontaneously, as the actual writing is hitting the page. It does create a kind of magical quality when it works, but it must be frustrating as hell when it doesn't.

A lot of what I'm going to post in the next couple of weeks before NaNoWriMo will be for the plotters and advance planners; that's the method I know best and it does work for me. But I think I can help the pantsers a little this year, too. I'm going to try, anyway.

One thing I've been doing with the art project is keeping a running list/index of what types of cards I've been making. I wanted to make a variety of cards while not depending too heavily on any one technique. The same can be done with a story if you keep a running list of scenes or chapters you've already written to help you decide where you want to take the plot from there.  This should also not ruin the creative experience for you because the list only details what you've already written, not what you're going to write.

For this plot as you go list you want to cover just the basics: one line with the most important events, where they take place, and from whose POV you've written, like so:

11/1 -- Scene One, Half-Angel Marcia accidentally acquires a mystic diamond, goes to Halloween party. Locations: Marcia's home, Halloween party. POV: Marcia

11/2 -- Scene Two, Half-Demon John meets Marcia at Halloween party; they have passionate encounter while locked in closet. Location: Halloween party. POV: John

11/3 -- Scene Three, Demon thief tries unsuccessfully to steal diamond, John protects Marcia, Marcia's house explodes. Locations: Halloween party, John's car, Marcia's house. POV: Marcia

11/4 -- Scene Four: John places Marcia in protective custody, they discover their parents are immortal enemies, demon thief casts spell over police department.  Locations:  John's car, safe house, police station. POV: John/Demon Thief.

You can also tag certain scenes with keyword markers (I usually put them in brackets) so you can track the story details you've already addressed:

11/2 -- Scene Two, Half-Demon John meets Marcia at Halloween party; they have passionate encounter while locked in closet. Location: Halloween party. POV: John. [first love scene.]

11/4 -- Scene Four: John places Marcia in protective custody, they discover their parents are immortal enemies, demon thief casts spell over police department. Locations:  John's car, safe house, police station. POV: John/Demon Thief.  [First appearance of demon thief.]

If you keep this list updated, and glance at it before you start your new writing session, you can use it like a cheat sheet to tell you where you left off with the action, whose POV you wrote from last, where you are in reference to your settings, etc.  That could help you eliminate a lot of back-tracking and avoid the temptation of re-reading and fiddling and possibly becoming trapped in a rewriting loop.

One final plus to keeping a plot as you go list -- when you're finished your story you'll have all the details of the story in order as they occur.  This can be very helpful, not only to review for editing purposes, but also for reference when putting together a novel synopsis for submission.

Related Links:

PBW's Ten Point Plot Template  -- my one-page minimalist plotting worksheet.

Planning, Scheming, and Plotting by Stephannie Beman -- Stephannie talks about her method of sketching out a nice, brief checklist to loosely organize her stories in advance of the writing.

Moody Writing's Plotting in Your Pants -- Mooderino explains how thinking out a scene first can help with pantsing your way through t

Photo credit: David Hugheshe writing.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Thunderbirds Ten

To be honest, I don't have a post ready for today because on Sunday I unplugged to spend time with my guy and our kid, which led to a spontaneous road trip, which resulted in us ending up in exactly the right spot at the precise time to see the USAF Thunderbirds perform.

Even better, I got some awesome pics:

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Tell Me What to Write Results

Thanks to everyone for joining in and casting your votes for what I'll be writing for NaNoWriMo 2012.  I've made the final count, and the results of the Tell Me What to Write Ten poll are as follows:
A - 5
B - 4
C - 1
D - 1
E - 10
F - 7
G - 13
H - 8
I - 4
J - 2

The idea that got the most votes was G, so I will be writing a Sci-fantasy in a near-future world overtaken and transformed by the vengeful spirits of ancient gods and monsters.  The working title for that one is Taken by Night.

Once November 1st arrives I'll begin writing the story and posting it online in two versions (first draft and edited draft) to show the actual daily process.  Once this goes live I'll have a permanent link on the sidebar to the stories blog so interested readers can follow along. 

For those of you who would like to see how I go about preparing to write a novel, during the next couple of weeks I'll be posting copies of all my advance work on my Google Docs account, which will include a formal synopsis, chapter outlines, everything I put in my novel notebook and so forth.  I'll also have links on the sidebar to those.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

NaNo This & That

Today is the last day to vote for what I write for NaNoWriMo; see the list of choices and post your preference in comments here.

The official NaNoWriMo site has a bunch of free and discounted offers of writer stuff for participants and winners this year; I'm planning to check out all of the freebies and report back on how they work for me.

If you're looking for a free wordcount widget for your LJ or blog you might check out the freebies over at Writertopia (and I'll be hunting more as I put together my own list of NaNo freebies.)

Finally, to do my part to help out, my OOP writing how-to, Way of the Cheetah, is now available online in .pdf format here for anyone to read, download, print out etc. for free until December 1st, when it goes back into the vault for another year.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Deus Ex Machina

Jack Churchill builds a custom motorcycle, talks about what he does and why, and in the process defines just about everything I believe in as a creative person (some music and a little strong language in this one, folks):

Deus Ex Machina from Seth C Brown on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012: Choosing Your Story

Preparing for National Novel Writing Month begins with a decision on what sort of story you'd like to write in November. Many of you have already made this decision, but for those of you who are still mulling it over, it's better to pick now than panic on November 1st.

You can go with the first idea you think up that captures your imagination, or select something you've been saving for just such an opportunity.  Neither way is wrong; go with what speaks to you as a writer.  But if you have a lot of ideas and no clear choice, you need to sort them out in a logical fashion until you figure out which one makes the best choice for your November novel.

 One way of choosing what you're going to write is like I did on Monday -- make a list of ideas that appeal to you the most. You can note them by genre, character, premise, time period or even a working title; use the words that best define the idea in your mind. If you keep a story idea file, raid it for the best of what you've collected to make up your list. You can use as many or as few ideas as you want, but I'd give yourself at least five options so you have a group to work with for comparison purposes.

Once your list is complete, take a day or two to think about all the ideas you've noted. This gives you a chance to obsess about them -- something most writers love to do -- and also allows the ideas to percolate a bit. During this time you may discover your thoughts will keep returning to one or two of the ideas on your list; these are probably the most attractive to you. They not necessarily the best choice for NaNoWriMo, however, so don't make a decision yet. You may also want to run your ideas past a writer friend or critique partner to get some feedback on which seems most viable.

Once you've thought through your ideas, take your list and read it again. Compare the ideas to each other and focus on the ones that don't especially stand out or seem a little lackluster. Start the process of elimination by crossing off the idea with the least amount of appeal to you (this does not mean it's a bad idea or that you should trash it.  It's a story that for whatever reason you're not ready to tell.)

Repeat this process a couple more times.  For NaNoWriMo you want to write a story that is exciting to you, that (obviously) does not require months of research in advance, and that you can easily envision from start to finish (if you're a pantser, you're looking for an idea that has enough appeal to keep you working at it for thirty days. Since I don't know how you do that, you'll have to be the judge.) As you think about these things, cross off the ideas that don't fit the bill as well as the others. Keep at it, comparing what remains to each other until you whittle the list down to the final two best possibilities.

At this point I usually invite the universe to collaborate with me and flip a coin to make the final choice between the two.  You can try this, or you can run the ideas by that writer friend or critique partner and ask their opinion on which is the best, or you can simply choose the one you find most attractive.  Before you leap into fleshing out the story you've selected, take the others you've eliminated and put them in your story idea file (and if you don't have that, start one.) These other ideas might work better for you sometime in the future, and they're excellent backup in the event the choice you've made doesn't work out from the start.

You can make this story decision at any point before November 1st, but my advice is to nail it down by October 15th. That will give you couple of weeks to obsess a little more, let it percolate again and begin whatever preparations you like to do before starting to write.

Do you have a tried-and-true method of sorting through your story ideas to select the one you want to write? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Copy No-Nos

Ten Things I Hate About Cover Copy

(dedicated to Raine, who instigated inspired it)

"[Author] is at the top of his/her game."

So everything published after this will be [author] headed for rock bottom?

"Best book I've read in ages."

Are you an immortal who squanders the centuries reading nothing but crap, or is the author merely your BFF roommate at all the cons?

"Do yourself a favor and buy this novel!"

You mean this lukewarm ho-hum read that wasted three hours of my life because after plowing through the first lame chapter I decided to finish the damn thing instead of what I really should have done -- throw it in the Friends of the Library donation box -- to justify the $8.99 I squandered on it?  I'm sorry, how is any of that doing myself a favor?

"He can't stop thinking about her."

Three words: Monday. Night. Football.

"Her two best friends help her . . . "

If there's more than one helpful female secondary character in the story who is not trying to surreptitiously seduce the male protagonist, back stab the female protagonist, or otherwise serve as a quasi-antagonist, then what we have is a girl posse, which also means there will be more romance between the gals than anyone else in the book.  Pass.

". . . mind-blowing, intensely erotic . . ."

Okay, they're going to be doing it every five pages. P.S., if I want my mind blown, I'll put down the book and go find my guy.

"She has never known such pleasure . . ."

I know what this means! She lost her virginity during an unfortunate fumbling and wholly unsatisfying experience during her college years, or she was briefly married to an older guy with an unspecified health problem that prevented him from consummating their love. Or she simply has terrible taste in men (in which case, how does she end up with unknown pleasure dude?)

"The book EVERYONE is talking about . . ."

Unfortunately for your author I've already heard what EVERYONE is saying about it.

"They enter into a marriage of convenience . . ."

Which oddly enough never proves to be convenient for anyone in the story. Maybe we should start calling it what it really is: a marriage to provide conflict for the characters.

"When the passionate night she can never forget results in disaster . . . "

. . . that (logically) should be an STD, but somehow instead always turns out to be a) outraged parents forcing Mr. Unforgettable to marry Ms. Despoiled (of course the best man to espouse their daughter is the jerk who discarded her like a used tissue after one honk); b) a secret love affair eventually exposed and regarded as even more tawdry than one passionate night (instantly forgiven, naturally, once wedding bells have officially chimed); or c) I really have to stop at b because I'm enjoying this too much and that's when I get really vicious.  Anyway, what said unforgettable night o' passion never seems to result in is a realistic, believable adult relationship.  That is, evidently, asking too much; so is expecting me to buy it.   

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Imagined Made Real

Part of the fun of world-building is reimagining all the stuff that goes into making a world: people, terrain, societies, architecture, language, foods, transportation, religion etc. While I always enjoy inventing a world from the ground up, it's creating little details that are the most fun for me, i.e. How do they say Hello? What do they eat for breakfast? Where do they sleep? What sort of games do they play?

Even the smallest detail can be an opportunity to get creative. For example, while working on the universe for my newest series, I had to come up with an alternative to the key ring that was gender-specific (in other words, men and women both carry keys, but they use different things to do so.) I actually researched the way people have carried keys throughout history before I made up key-carriers for my universe: my guys use a type of fob, while my ladies keep them on a keylace -- a length of lace worn around the wrist like a bracelet.

As details go this one is quite small, mentioned maybe three times in the entire novel, but it's one of those things I think is cool. Naturally when I found the idea-ology word keys, I realized I could actually make my keylaces. Which led to a day of playing with all sorts of trims and ways to wear them, and then that morphed into a series of keylace BookLoops:

I'll probably keep fussing with and refining these until I have the perfect assemblage because it's not quite there yet, but I still like how the first batch turned out. They have that shabby, cherished quality that I envisioned. They also have a practical use as bookmarks, and will work nicely as unique promo items to hand out when the book is released.

It's not always possible to turn something you've imagined into reality (unless, say, you have a few spare millions and your town doesn't mind you building that five-story two hundred ton time travel device in your backyard.) Focusing on the little details can put making real the imagined within your reach. It doesn't have to be an object; you might recreate the outfit one of your characters is wearing, or actually write a letter or song or poem for one that your character has written in the story (I filled a journal with love poems written in my imagination by Jayr from Evermore.) Draw on your creative strengths, too; if you've conjured up a new sort of critter, draw a sketch of it, sew a stuffie version of it, or sculpt it in paperclay. The point is to bring something from the page into your reality.

Have any of you ever created something you've only imagined? Tell us about it in comments.

Added:  All of the shabby chic trims I used for the keylace BookLoops were purchased from homesteadtreasures on     

Monday, October 08, 2012

Tell Me What to Write Ten

As I promised last week, I'm going to let you guys decide what sort of novel I should write for NaNoWriMo 2012. When I first thought of doing this I imagined simply opening up comments to let everyone give me any idea on what they wanted to see me turn into story, but not everyone who stops in here does so because they like me, and we'd probably end up with some unlikely/unworkable/unsavory suggestions and/or some mischief with the ballot box.

This idea also has to be something I genuinely want to write, especially if I'm to generate enough enthusiasm and energy to get it done in a month, for which I don't think I have to apologize. There is nothing drearier than writing a story that you don't want to tell. I don't want to play it safe, but I definitely want to win NaNoWriMo 2012, so starting out with an idea that thrills me and will help make that happen is important.

In the end I decided to make a list of ideas I already have on file that I'd really like to turn into novels, and let you all vote for which one appeals to you the most. This includes ideas with established characters and/or universes as well as some new ideas, so it should be a good range.  And here's the list of:

Ten Things I Can Write for NaNoWriMo 2012

A.  A story set in the new series I've just sold (details of which must remain mysterious until the contract is signed [shortly] and the sale announced [in early November.]  All I can tell you at the moment is that it's a new genre for me.) 

B.  Dark fantasy haunted-house tale set in the Darkyn universe (all-new characters.)

C.  Dark fantasy Kyndred story featuring Valori, Ethan and Nathan from Frostfire.

D.  Dark fantasy story featuring Cristophe Noir from the Lords of the Darkyn trilogy.

E. Paranormal historical romance that takes place in one of Jane Austen's settings.

F. Paranormal modern-day mystery about a psychic ghost writer.

G. Sci-fantasy in a near-future world overtaken and transformed by the vengeful spirits of ancient gods and monsters.

H.  Science fiction novel set in the StarDoc universe featuring Keasa Delaney and Sev Andar from my short story Arcanum.

I. Surprise story (aka make it my choice.)

J. Tales of the Lost Ledger #2, a YA story, featuring Kari Carson and Connor Devlin from Dark of Heart.

If you'd like to see me write one of these stories, vote for it by letter in comments. To keep it fair please vote only once. The idea that collects the most votes by midnight EST on Saturday, October 13, 2012 will be the novel I write for NaNoWriMo; to be announced on Sunday, October 14th.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Stats & Students

Among the many annoyances delivered by Blogger's new interface or whatever it is, there are these numbers that keep showing up by my posts. I thought they were comments at first, but I finally figured out tonight that they are page view counts. Here's a screen shot of my PBW posts dashboard, which shows my Flea Market Ten post (and you can click on the image to see a larger version):

Now, according to Blogger the post has had 197 page views. The odd thing is that my Flickr account, which hosts the little slideshow I put in the post, also tracks how many times it's been viewed, which as of this moment is 2,112 times.

Whenever I post images on Flickr but don't link or embed them anywhere else I get zero traffic, so I feel certain that the 2,112 views had to come from visitors to the blog. Perhaps they used one of those feed things people employ to read blogs that maybe Blogger can't track, but I'm really not sure. Anyway, I thought I'd mention this for those of you on Blogger who are taking those page view stats as accurate -- I don't think they are.

One more recent development I should probably mention: certain writing-related posts here at PBW are now being assigned to university students for reference and study (Darlene, stop laughing.) Since we already have plenty of visitors who are students this shouldn't be a problem, but I thought my regulars should know in the event they start asking a lot of questions in comments (which I will handle, but you all are welcome to join in with any help you want to offer.)

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Mr. Ray Persists

Every writer is influenced by others; the late Ray Bradbury definitely worked some magic on me.  This is a somewhat grainy but otherwise excellent video of him, talking about why we should write persistently:

Friday, October 05, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012

The folks at NaNoWriMo have posted the web badges for 2012, and here they are:





I've uploaded these to my Photobucket account so everyone is welcome to use them; hover your cursor over the one you want to get the image link.

As we have less than a month to prepare, from now until November 1st I'll be putting up posts on NaNoWriMo-related topics a couple times per week.  I will also be officially joining in this year as a participant.  As I work on my NaNo novel I'm planning to post what I finish online daily over on the stories blog for anyone wants to follow along and see how I write and edit a book day by day.

Next week I will be asking my visitors to vote for the sort of story they'd like me to do for NaNoWriMo -- yes, you all are going to be the ones to decide what I write -- so if you're interested in voting, think about it and stayed tuned.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

More idea-ology

I made a trip to my local Jo-Ann's today for some fabric; I'm working on some tote bags to fill with books and goodies for my Nightbred promotions in November and December.  While I was there I also wandered by the aisle with Tim Holtz's idea-ology line so I could drool on the products a little more.  Now I'll have to write him a gushy fan letter, as I found two new items that went immediately into my shopping basket:

I have a thing for old pocket watch cases because they make wonderful holders for ephemera, and you can repurpose them into unique statement pieces and pendants.  The real thing tends to be expensive, though.  Even at thrift stores old pocket watches can run anywhere from twenty to fifty bucks.  On the real deal the watch crystal is almost always missing or badly scratched, and then you have to take them apart, which can get dicey.  Tim's pocket watch case looks like an antique, has a clear glass crystal, and the back pops off and snaps back on easily:

The best part is the price: idea-ology's pocket watch case regularly sells for $7.99, and I got mine on sale for $5.49.

I also love antique keys, and idea-ology is now offering a set of seven that not only look old but have inspirational words inscribed on them:

These word keys are going to make fabulous anchors for the series of steampunk BookLoops I'm working on.  $9.99 for the set regular price; I got mine on sale for $6.99, which makes them about a buck per key -- very affordable.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Poetry Ops

Poets who write short form poems often have a tough time finding paying markets for their work. They are out there; here are a couple I found while looking for haiku markets:

The Pedestal Magazine has two reading periods open for poetry, currently until October 13th, and another from October 28th to December 13th. During these periods they only want to look at poetry submissions, and have no restrictions on theme, length or style. Payment: $40.00 per poem, no reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.

"Scifaikuest publishes original scifaiku, haibun, senryu, tanka, and horrorku and other minimalist forms, and articles about these forms. We also publish original black-and-white illustrations, and original cover illustrations for the print edition and for the online door. Scifaiku is a lot like haiku. The 17 syllables or 5-7-5 syllable guideline is NOT a strict requirement, but what IS required, is that the total ku doesn't read like a sentence. The captured moment should strike the reader with a flash of realization or surprise--if you've read something, and suddenly "get it" and you subconsciously think "Ah-hah!" or “oh wow!” that's what scifaiku is supposed to do to you. As in haiku, punctuation and capitalization are not usually used in scifaiku, so no unnecessary punctuation or caps. In addition, scifaiku usually include a season, an action and a subject, whether actual or implied." Length: short form (see guidelines for specifics); Payment: ranges from $1.00 to $15.00 for featured poet. Reprints okay, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.

There's also the "for the luv" markets, which don't offer cash but regularly pay in contributor copies, like this one:

Daily Haiku accepts submissions only during the months of February and August, and if you're selected as a contributor you will be expected to provide 28 haiku over a six-month period, so be warned. Payment: Exposure plus one contributor's copy of their annual print journal featuring your work. No reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Inside & Outside the Lines

I have big plans for the rest of the year, so my writing days are starting to assume that roller-coaster quality they get when I'm trying to manage a lot of projects in a short amount of time. Before I get completely immersed, I thought I'd put on the brakes for a minute and look back at how I've done so far with 2012's theme of coloring outside the lines.

I joined a penpal initiative, and started out writing letters to twelve complete strangers. I wrote one invitation-to-write-me letter that was sent out at random to six people, and replied to six letters that were randomly sent to me. I didn't try to hide who I am behind a fake name or anything like that; I figured take me warts and all, or not. Three never bothered to answer, five were good for one letter, two managed two letters, one is still writing (sporadically) and one has been a steady correspondent who is becoming a friend. Sustaining a real correspondence through letters -- just like writing anything -- is as much work as it is joy, so I didn't have expectations. That I reached out to strangers was very not like me but I'm glad I did.

I had an art exchange with another artist in a medium I rarely show anyone -- my jewelry making. I've been getting more into metal and steampunk, and all my quilting pals do are beaded pieces now and then (which are great but they're more about the patchwork.) I've also been creating these fusion pieces with quilted, beaded and metalwork elements and I want to explore more of that. It's lovely to know someone who is working in this medium.

On the home front I threw my family in a rental car and took them to another city for a long weekend. I planned nothing in advance but the rental car, the hotel, and a very brief visit to a college. I never do this. We had an amazing time. We're definitely doing it again.

I've done more self-promotion since January than I probably have in years. At times I've asked friends and colleagues for help, something that I never do because I have a real phobia about imposing on people. I'm still wrestling with it but it gets a little easier each time. I'm wrapping up the year with much more effort to promote my work in ways I've never before tried, and so far it's been good.

Where I fell short this year:

I didn't enter the art quilt challenge I talked about in early 2012. I wanted to do it mainly to introduce a new technique I've developed, but at the last minute I chickened out. It was a combination of time constraints plus dread, but mostly it was dread. I'm going to try again when I do a few more test runs and feel a little more certain of my expertise. This is a solid solution to an age old problem all quilters have, and I don't want to screw it up.

I stopped work on my 1K Cards Project, which put me a month and a half behind on it. I've since caught up, but allowing emotional stress squash my creativity is not a way to cope. I know I handle problems best by working through them, not hiding from them, and when I'm feeling blue I need reminders of this.

I've pushed myself this year, but not hard enough. I've avoided some opportunities to step outside the lines because I was either keeping the peace or I felt inadequate. Often I just couldn't get past my need to organize everything perfectly; some things cannot be planned, mapped out or predicted. Fighting your routines and your methods in order to try new things can be exhausting, and half the time I gave into the familiar and stayed behind the lines when I should stepped out.

I think every year is a mixed bag in some fashion, but this one has been a real 50/50 for me in every category. So far 2012 has taught me that you can set goals you think are reasonable, but you discover they're a lot harder than you thought only when you're working toward them. Channeling your energy appropriately plays a big part, too. Things that seemed only a little difficult in the planning stages are much tougher when you're tired, or depressed, or spread too thin.

Are any of you still working on the goals you set for this year? How are things coming along for you? Let us know in comments.