Thursday, February 28, 2013

Storm Warning

It seems almost appropriate that I started reading Jeff Somers's new novel Trickster during a tornado warning; I'm thinking we should issue one for this author. Not since I innocently and unknowingly picked up Rob Thurman's debut Nightlife have I been so blown away by a new-to-me urban fantasy writer.

Trickster introduces us to Lem and Mags, a pair of magician grifters who barely subsist on the extreme outer fringes of society. Lem is skinny and clever and a screw-up; Mags is huge and not so clever and devoted to Lem. While running small cons (which they mostly botch) they stumble upon a girl named Claire whom they find tied up and locked in the trunk of a car. Even worse, someone has covered Claire's body from head to toe with runes, marking her as part of a very big, extremely dark and utterly mysterious ritual. Lem and Mags know enough about big, bad magic to understand they should run, not walk, away from Claire. When they don't, the ugly party really gets started.

Jeff Somers delivers this story with tenebrous style and sepulchral wit (which he employs mercilessly, I'll warn you.) Think Steinbeck, if he'd had a straight razor's edge and a real attitude problem. You shouldn't expect anything gruesome in this novel to be draped with a doily of politeness or shoved offstage; you definitely will be having tea and cookies with all the beasties in the good parlor. While the characters are demonstrating how unlikable they should be -- as Lem frequently observes about his sort in the story, We are not good people -- you'll be falling in love with them. I certainly have. Also, the magic involved isn't of the Tinkerbell variety; there are always consequences, and most of them are disastrous. The world of Trickster is grungy, bleak and filled with nightmares, and this novel gives you a front-row seat in the VIP section on the tour bus. I can't wait for the next ride, either.

As always, you don't have to take my word for it. In comments to this post, name a new-to-you author you've recently discovered and enjoyed (or if you're in a reading slump, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Friday, March 1st, 2013. I'll draw five names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned copy of Trickster by Jeff Somers. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Elsewhere with Hat Box

Today I'm over at Disenchanted & Co. to hold my first giveaway at the new series blog. Stop in, check out Her Ladyship's Hat Box (a distant cousin of the PBW magic hat) and you just might win whatever happens to be inside.

Want a hint? Okay: It's definitely not bigger than a hat box . . .

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Three Sub Ops

Freedom Forge Press is open for novel and novella submissions: "We’re looking for novels, novellas, and nonfiction works of about 25,000 – 100,000 words. All works should fit the theme of freedom—freedom of thought, freedom of action, freedom of the individual. We are open to any genre (including nonfiction, general fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, young adult) with the exception of erotica as long as the work fits the theme of freedom. Excessive violence, sex, and profanity should be avoided, but these elements should be included when integral to the plot. Works for young adults should be limited to a “PG-13” rating. Works for children will be published under our Freedom Footprints imprint." Length: 25-100K, Payment: "20% royalty of cover price for print; 35% royalty of cover price for e-book." Query on reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.

Monster Corral e-zine is holding a monthly 1K monster story contest: "The prize is $50, a digital certificate suitable for printing and framing, and bragging rights. First Runner Up will receive $10, and only slightly less bragging rights. The 1,000 word limit is strict – stories of 1,001 words will not be published (unless we love it so much we’re willing to edit out a word or two to squeeze it in under the limit.) Any genre is acceptable, but the story must have an extreme antagonist (MONSTER) as the featured character. If the story doesn’t win either first or second place, we may seek to buy it as one of our regular stories at our usual rate of 1 cent/word. Submissions must be emailed by the last day of the month, and judging will be complete no later than the 10th of the following month. The First Runner Up story will appear on about the 14th of the month, and the winning story will appear on about the 17th of the month. Submit your story using the normal procedures for Monster Corral (click on the Submissions button to see our guidelines) but be sure to include the word ”Contest” in your email subject heading." [Note from PBW: It appears this contest centers on a theme image, too; see guidelines for this month's image.] Current Deadline: February 28th, 2013.

Zero One Publishing has an open call for their upcoming Lovecraft-inspired antho Whispers from the Abyss: "This collection is the first ever H.P. Lovecraft themed anthology specifically tailored for the growing “commuter market.” These are people who do their pleasure reading on digital devices while riding home from work on the subway, or during a lunch break." Length: 150-3000 words; Payment: "One cent per word up to 3000 words and a copy of the anthology." Reprints okay, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: May 30th, 2013.

These three ops were found among the many market listings at Ralan's place.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Ampersand Ten

Ten Author Collaborations We'd Like to See

Bill Clinton & Dr. Phil: Not on a revised edition of Family First, obviously, but I bet they could write up a slamming self-help for men with toxic narcissism.

Janet Evanovich & Jane Austen: It is a truth universally acknowledged that Stephanie Plum needs to make up her damn mind and pick either Morelli or Ranger. Meanwhile, Lulu runs off with Mr. Wickham.

Sue Grafton & Dean Koontz: Kinsey discovers she has an evil twin who works at a carnival filled with monsters no one but she can see, but at least she finally gets a dog.

John Grisham & Rev. Rick Warren: What if The Firm had been Purpose Driven instead? Even creepier, am I right?

Stephen King & Danielle Steel: The body count wouldn't decrease much, but a collab rewrite of Lisey's Story would result in it actually becoming a romance (at least until the red shirt hero gets bumped off during a tragic car accident or being eaten by his car, whichever comes first.)

Suzanne Somers & Stephenie Meyer: There are all kinds of mutual benefits in this one: Sexy Forever wouldn't need a title change, Bella could stop being such a klutz, and no character would ever age again . . .

China MiƩville & Lemony Snicket: Imagine the novels we'd get out of these two! A Series of Unfortunate Events in New Crobuzon. The unKind Kraken. Un Lun Dunce. Okay, this one might be suitable for my personal amusement only.

James Patterson & Joel Osteen: Alex Cross can be saved before he must die. Unless you buy the next book. (There's the script for your next commercial, James. You don't have to thank me.)

Anne Rice & Judy Blume: The first book has to be titled Are You There, God? It's me, Lestat. Has to be.

J.K. Rowling & Harper Lee: Three words: Scout at Hogwarts.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Pass the Catchup, Please

As I mentioned last week I'll now be spending Sundays reading and replying to comments -- see you in the threads.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


The entries for the Nine Lives giveaway were really magical -- bravo to you all for making such marvelously creative suggestions (and the next time I adopt a kitty, I know who I'm asking to help me with a name.) We got the magic cat, I mean, hat, to do its thing, and the winners (along with the names they chose) are:

Anne V.: I might call a magical cat Dresden after a favorite wizard for hire.

Deb Salisbury: My most magical cat was Mystic, a little black queen from the California Gold Country.

bluebamboo: Rowan, a mash-up and slight spelling tweak of Rod and Owen from Shanna Swendson's Enchanted Inc. series.

SandyH: . . . I decided that our next cat would be named Darcy (yes, after that Darcy - my most favorite book).

Terri R.: Mistofeles, from the musical Cats

Bonnie (Bonz): Miss Minerva Delurvah!

Jennifer and Jeff: How about FNU? (Pronounced Fin-oo) It also stands for First Name Unknown.

Lisa954: Poof! would be the name I would give to a magical cat.

Na: I would like to name a Magical cat Whispers.

Winners, when you have a chance please send your full names and ship-to address to so I can get your books out to you. My thanks to everyone for joining in and helping to celebrate our pal Darlene's NYT bestseller debut.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Bon Ton

This video manages to be wickedly clever, visually interesting and utterly hilarious (some music, and narrated in French with English subtitles):

C'est la vie - ENGLISH SUBS from Simone Rovellini on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Poster Me

While image searching for some cover art for a large print edition of one of my novels (the few print copies I have came to me all dinged up) I found something I'd never seen in the results: two quote posters with my byline:

I traced the images back to The Quote Factory, which allows you to download "famous quotations" in low resolution (screen use) for free or higher resolution (for home printing) for a couple bucks. You can also create your own custom quotations, which is how I imagine the quotations from my books got there - I've seen both before on that Goodreads site.

Since I'm already quoted on the site I thought I'd try to create my own poster with something interesting I've said about writing, and with a few clicks produced this on the screen:

I then downloaded the free version of my poster, which comes out like this; pretty nice for a low-rez image. While anyone with a decent photoshop program can produce the same sort of poster themselves, the Quote Factory is a fun generator to play with (there are a few choices as to the type of background, font and layout.) I also like the option to download whatever you create for free -- just remember that whatever you create stays on the site and can be sold to others.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Nine Lives

Guess whose latest release is debuting at #9 on the New York Times bestseller list this week?

Yep, that's Cat Trick, the latest Magical Cats mystery by Sofie Kelly, aka our pal Darlene Ryan. I've loved this series since the first book hit the shelves so you know I'm a very happy girl. There is also nothing more awesome than seeing a friend who is such a gifted storyteller skyrocket to the top of the lists.

I know how I'm going to celebrate: by giving away some copies of Ms. Kelly's brand new bestseller, of course. If you'd like one of them to be yours, in comments to this post tell us what you'd name a magical cat by midnight EST on Friday, February 22nd, 2013. I'll draw nine names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned copy of Cat Trick by Sofie Kelly. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tuesday Ten

Ten Things About Color Palettes and Palette Generators

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

Big Huge Labs' Color Palette Generator will generate a color palette (complete with inventive names and HTML codes) based on any of your photos.

The 30 day free trial of Color Wheel Pro software allows you to create innumerable color palettes of your own.

According to the designer, is "ia web-based tool for creating color palettes (here referred to as "blends") for web design and other types of digital design. The main feature of the tool is to have a complete "blend" of 6 matching colors created when choosing only one "base" color. This makes it very quick and easy to create a color scheme for e.g. a website, as you can instantly use the colors for text, backgrounds, links, border etc."

ColorRotate allows you to work with virtual colors in 3D (I didn't want to register so I couldn't past the front/splash page, but I was able to rotate the cone thing and the site is frequently recommended as legit and very helpful.)

CSS Drive's Image to Colors Palette Generator also generates palettes based on any of your photos but gives you a range of palettes from light to dark as well as a complete color palette.

Tiny Eye Labs' Multicolr Search Engine allows you to pull up a selection of Flickr photos that match the color (or combination of colors) you select for the search.

ColRD's Palette Creator page changes according to the colors you pick, and also allows you to export your custom palette designs.

Pictaculous generates multiple palette suggestions based on your uploaded image and works from your phone, too.

Silk allows you to create online with virtual silk (this lovely link was stolen directly from The Word Nerds.)'s Web Color Generator generates some neat random color palettes.

Finally, I thought this article on color branding and trademarking was a fascinating read.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Tardily Elsewhere

Today I'm very late but I know you'll forgive me when I tell you I'm working on the next Disenchanted & Co. novel. I'm also over at the Office of Letters and Light Blog today talking about traditional versus independent publishing. I don't call anyone any names (since I've done both that would be a bit hypocritical) but I do point out some facts about both. Do stop by if you get a chance.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Comments Catch-up Day

This year I wanted to be a better blog host and make more of an effort to respond to the comments you all are so kind to leave for me. I started on this goal in January but other responsibilities derailed that in short order. Now that I'll be updating the Disenchanted & Co. blog as well as my photoblog I do need to make some changes to be more productive with my online time.

I think the only way I'm going to manage this is to devote one day a week to simply answering on comments. This will keep me from becoming distracted or doing a haphazard job of it. Since weekends are a bit less hectic than weekdays I thought I'd reserve Sundays for catching up. If nothing else I'll find out how many I can answer in one day's allotted internet time.

So, I'm off -- see you in comments. :)

Saturday, February 16, 2013


I know it's hard for series lovers to pick a favorite; I have so many that I had to do that "If I were stranded on a deserted island and could only have one series with me . . . " thing. Even then I could whittle the list down only to three: Marjorie Liu's Hunter Kiss novels, Anne Maxwell's Fire Dancer books, and The Petaybee Trilogy by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. If I can't have all three series then I'm not going to the island, lol.

We revved up the magic hat, and the winners of The Adventures of Miss Temminnick giveaway are:

Karen Renee, who still favors Lord of the Rings.

Caroline, whose favorite series last year was the Parasol Protectorate.

ten, who chose Zenna Henderson's People.

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

Friday, February 15, 2013

Urban Growth

This looks so real it's a little scary -- and brilliant (also has background music, for those of you at work):

New York Biotopes from Lena Steinkühler on Vimeo.

(Video link nicked from Gerard at The Presurfer)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Her Ladyship's Weblog

Today I'm unveiling the official weblog for my Disenchanted & Co. novel series, which features the first official excerpt from Her Ladyship's Curse (the header font might also look familiar, and thanks to everyone who offered feedback; I decided to go with #4.)

To visit my virtual Toriana, all you have to do is click on the pocketwatch:

I'd also like to wish everyone:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Rearing Racer

Spring is almost here, and with three dogs to walk now (Mom brought her darling pooch Abby) I'm spending a bit more time in the yard. Yesterday afternoon I went out with Skye and Cole to take a little stroll, and happened to notice on my way back to the porch how many leaves the old oak tree has been shedding:

Luckily I decided to examine the leaves at the moment, or I would have stepped on someone's head:

I'm not afraid of snakes, but I do like some warning before I meet one. Mr. Black Racer here played dead so well the dogs didn't even notice him when I hurried them inside. I was almost afraid he was deceased, but as soon as I came out with the camera he rattled his tail in the leaves and put on his tough guy act by rearing up:

I found out later via Internet research that this is classic behavior for a black racer when they're startled or feeling threatened.

Snakes are pretty amazing critters, and I love to photograph them. This species is non-venomous but I've read that they will bite if they feel cornered or threatened, so I kept a safe distance and took all the pics by zoom.

He stayed upright in full rearing rage and gave me the stink eye until I retreated, and only then did he slither away. I've never seen a snake do that so I'm delighted I got the pics.

Anything interesting showing up in your yard or garden yet? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Adventures of Miss Temminnick

Gail Carriger's latest release Etiquette & Espionage is the first book in her new Finishing School YA series. and while it's set in the same universe as her Alexia Tarabotti novels, the story takes place a good many years before the formation of the Parasol Protectorate.

The protagonist is a girl named Sophronia Angelina Temminnick, and she's a handful. I chuckled as soon as I saw her name as it brought back many happy memories of reading the adventures of Margaret Sidney's Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. Phronsie, the youngest and most adorable Pepper, was also a Sophronia, and she was always getting into mischief. For me the name was definitely a good omen.

Sophronia is the one of those "unnatural" teens who would rather dismantle a clock or pal around the stables than learn to paint watercolors and embroider. After an unfortunate but hilarious incident involving the family's dumbwaiter, Mrs. Temminnick informs Sophronia that she's being sent away to finishing school, and introduces her to the very odd lady who has arrived to whisk her off to Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Sophronia soon discovers that her new and highly unusual school is not what her genteel mother presumed, and that along with proper etiquette she will be taught how to courteously and covertly deceive, devise, evade disaster and definitely finish just about anything -- or anyone.

This was a delightful novel, filled from front to back with Gail Carriger's trademark wit and whimsy, and wonderful characters caught up in endless and imaginative hijinks. While you will meet much younger versions of two characters from her Alexia Tarabotti novels you don't need to read the earlier series to keep up with the story, so it works for readers who are new to this author, too. Someone had better publish a really great novel after this or I'm pretty sure Etiquette & Espionage will end up being my pick as best book of 2013.

As always you don't have to take my word for it. In comments to this post, name your favorite novel series (or if you can't think of one, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Friday, February 15th, 2013. I'll choose three names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned hardcover copy of Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Booksigning No-Nos

Ten Things You Probably Shouldn't Bring to Your Booksigning

Candy: You'll end up babysitting a half-dozen readers too young for your novels while their mothers wander off to the cafe and have a relaxing half-hour sipping latte and nibbling on Godiva triple-truffle cheesecake. Also, while you're dealing with smeared faces, sticky fingers and the other inevitable effects of sugar on six-year-olds, at least one mother will return to inform you that her child is highly allergic to chocolate exactly two minutes after that little darling has ingested a handful of Hershey kisses.

Hand Sanitizer: This is a before and after, not during, thing to do at booksignings. Do bring a packet of tissues to politely offer to the sniffers, sneezers and coughers.

Low-Cut Blouse: No matter how fantastic your cleavage is, this stratagem does not tempt male readers into buying your book. They merely hover and talk to your chest until the wife arrives to glare at you and haul them off by an arm or ear.

Medication: If you're so sick you're actually chugging Dayquil just to stay vertical, should you really be out infecting helpless readers signing books?

One Pen: No matter how lucky or wonderful it is, your favorite pen can and probably will blob, skip or run out of ink altogether. Or someone will walk off with it in the middle of the signing.

Personal Security: This always cracks me up. If authors looked and made as much money as Angelina Jolie or Taylor Swift, maybe, but honestly? We don't and we don't. So skip the Rent-A-Face-Wrecker; no one needs to guard your bod.

Pets: Unless it's a service animal pets + bookstore generally don't mix. And remember that first grader who was highly allergic to chocolate? Pet dander makes him break out in hives, or your pet will take an instant dislike to him and bite him.

Snacks: Eating is another before or after, not during, thing to do. P.S., make sure they don't set up your signing table near the Godiva ballotin display. Trust me, it's evil.

Sunglasses: How do we spell pretentious? W-e-a-r-i-n-g s-u-n-g-l-a-s-s-e-s i-n-d-o-o-r-s.

Your Two-Year-Old: This darling kiddo may be an angel at home, but in a bookstore while you're trying to promote your novel, chat up readers and behave like a professional . . . do you remember The Exorcist? Like that. Get a babysitter.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Free Con Op

The folks managing the 2013 Backspace Writers Conference are offering a contest to win three free conference and workshop registrations: "Scholarships cover registration fees for the 2013 Backspace Writers Conference and Lane Shefter Bishop’s evening logline workshop ($765 value). Travel, hotel, and incidental expenses are the responsibility of scholarship winners. Please do not enter unless you are in a position to attend the conference." Entry requirements: "Fill out the submission form at the bottom of this page. Entries (title, logline, and 500-word excerpt of your choice from the beginning, middle, or end of the manuscript) will be posted on this page as they are received. Your name and email address will not be posted to the website. As each entry is added, notice will also be posted to the Backspace Writers Conference Facebook page and tweeted to increase awareness of the contest. One entry per person, please." See contest page for more details. Deadline: March 1, 2013.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Index Card Journal

Another of my Journaling Small challenges was to use this ordinary pack of index cards to make an interesting mini journal:

Which I did, and here's how it looks now:

Rather than turn the index cards into a book I decided to keep them in the same physical format and simply enhance their appearance. I also wanted to make this a green project, so I only used what I had on hand to do so. I started with two tea bags and some boiling water; I made a strong batch of tea and immersed the cards in it. Tea staining darkened the blinding white of the index cardstock to various shades of cream and ecru, blurred and lightened the ruled lines on the cards, and created some lovely mottled marks and warping, which all together gave the cards a wonderful antique look.

Tea staining doesn't make the cards tacky, btw, but it does leave a faint odor of tea. If you want to try this method, remember to let the tea cool enough first to work with without scalding your hands or fingers. Also do handle the cards carefully when they're wet as they tend to tear easily. Other options to alter the appearance of index cards would be to apply light washes of watercolor paint or spritzes of diluted food coloring. Those of you who are experienced paper makers are likely familiar with various commercial dyes that would work, too. If you don't mind the white color of the index cards, you might decorate them instead with stickers, cutouts, rub-on transfers or other scrapbooking bits.

Once my stained cards were completely dry I printed out some pages of words (two for every letter of the alphabet, a group of numbers, and the months of the year) in an antique font on cream-colored paper. I cut out and glued one word in a random spot on each index card. These words serve as my writing prompts; whatever I add to the card while journaling should relate somehow to that word. I also left about fifty cards deliberately blank so I can write whatever I like on those.

Once I had the cards finished I unfolded the cardboard holder, covered it with bits of paper and cardstock from my recyclable paper bin, and reassembled it. I added some decorative paper tape to the edges and corner folds to make it a bit more sturdy. The final touch was hot-gluing neat junk like rusty keys, old buttons, string, a little light bulb and an old pen nib to give the base a bit more style and weight. So that I can mark my progress as I use the cards I cut out the picture of a peacock from the top of an empty puzzle box (yes, I even save those to recycle) and made that my journal marker.

I've planned to use my index card journal for writing practice and daily inspiration, but you can always skip the prompts and simply write a journal entry on each card and keep them in date or subject order. Writers might adapt the cards to serve in other ways, like plotting out scenes from your story, creating an index of characters, settings, backstory or whatever you like. Those of you who blog might glue some prompts from a blogging inspiration source and then take a card at random to give you an idea for a new post. Readers, this would be a great way to keep notes on the books you've read, or to simply track titles so you don't accidentally buy second copies; you can create a card for each author, keep them in alphabetical order, and make notes on their books accordingly. Or if you're the plan-ahead sort, you can make up cards for each month of the year and note which new releases you want to read during that month. You can add photos, divider cards, recipes and pretty much anything else you want and can fit in the base to personalize your index card journal, too.

Friday, February 08, 2013


There are all sorts of stop motion animation, but I don't think you'll ever see one as simple and innovative as this video (accompanied by music, for those of you at work):

Shugo Tokumaru "Katachi" from Kijek / Adamski on Vimeo.

(Video link filched from Kuriositas)

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Playing Card Journal

A few weeks back I mentioned in my Journaling Small post that I was going to make some guided journals out of some unusual materials, and for the first I started with these:

I did spend all last year working with cards so I was very comfortable transforming this deck into a little flip journal:

I used a couple of scrap pieces of heavy cardstock as covers, and punched two holes in them as well as all the cards, through which I placed two binder rings. I decorated the cover of the journal with some adhesive lettering and the holes I'd punched out of the cards.

I liked the look of the cards so I didn't try to cover them completely; I alternated paper suitable for writing with some pictures I tore out of an old magazine. All of the additions I made were pasted in with a glue stick. I also thought about adding some pre-printed words to inspire, but once I had it all put together I liked it well enough the way it was. Adding the additional papers and images did make the deck too big to fit back into the box, but the extra bulk allows it to stand on its own so that was a nice bonus.

The binder rings are the clasp-type that open and close easily, so you could add extra pages, cards or other bits to this little journal with no problem. You might get more creative by completely covering the cards completely with images, ruled paper, calendar pages etc. (and this would make a great portable day planner, too.) As to what to write in it, there's only space for a few words so you don't want to go all Tolstoy, but that's the point of journaling small. You could use a journal like this for character names, potential story titles, words you encounter that you want to look up or short quotes you find motivating. For a more guided experience, cover half the pages with random images and the other half with paper you can write on. Then indulge in a bit of creative free association each day by examining one image and then jotting down a few words next to it as to what it makes you think.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Come and See My Etchings

According to the UK's Daily Mail a message etched on a window at Penrhyn Castle in northern Wales has finally translated after 100 years, and reveals a tale of star-crossed lovers. Do read the full article when you have a few seconds; it includes some very neat pics.

One reason I'm addicted to Archaeology magazine is the endless stream of mysterious artifacts that it details; often the scientists who find them can only speculate as to their meaning. Give me an ancient object or location that defies explanation, and as a storyteller I can dream up a novel (or several) to explain it. That's how the copper scroll of Qumran (one of the famous Dead Sea scrolls) morphed into my Scroll of Falkonera in Nightborn; I've always wanted to write a story about that scroll. I changed it from copper to gold, made it Templar instead of Hebrew, and then built the plot for the trilogy from there.

Example: in 1953 a tomb mound at Vix in the upper valley of the Seine was excavated, and inside they found a burial chamber filled with treasures of the past. The woman who had been buried in it was discovered covered in priceless jewelry and sitting in a wagon or litter; she must have been an important gal in her time. What intrigued me, however, was this beautiful bronze crater (a kind of vase used in ancient times for mixing wine) they found in the tomb. It was over five feet tall and weighed nearly five hundred pounds; far too enormous to br practically employed for traditional uses.

So what was its purpose? Was it just some form of sixth-century BC ceremonial hyperbole, as in Look out, Underworld, here comes a real party girl? Or could it have been designed for another reason? Ask yourself: what could you put -- or hide -- in a five-foot-tall lidded bronze vase about to be buried under tons of earth? And what would happen when someone digs it up eight thousand years later?

Not all artifacts from the past defy explanation; often we know or learn what they mean. As stated in the article, the message etched in the castle window has been attributed to a wealthy girl who allegedly fell in love with a gardener and was subsequently locked up by her father in a tower. That doesn't spoil the etching as story material; as a fiction writer you can spin a tale simply by adjusting a few facts. Let's take the romantic message itself -- what if it were etched on the outside of the window, which happened to be located at the very top of the tower, far beyond the reach of any 19th century ladder? Maybe while this girl was falling in love with the gardener, someone or something else was falling in love with her. Something that had been secretly living at castle far longer than the girl and her family . . .

There are endless resources and research sites on history's artifacts available on the internet but it's good to read some real books, too. I first read about the Vix burial in Hilda Ellis Davidson's The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe, a slim but fascinating book on several enigmatic cultures that left behind few to zero records, leaving us to interpret and theorize about their faith systems based almost entirely on the few myths and artifacts we can connect and recover. Books like this can be a primer for artifact- or event-based storytelling.

Photo credit: Electrum Magazine

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Immersed in Art

My daughter had her first art exhibit last weekend as an emerging student artist at a national juried show. I tried (and mostly succeeded) not to embarass her by playing proud Mama, but to say I was thrilled is like stating the sun is kinda warm. I'm also a little in awe of her; she very calmly painted several new works while chatting with the public and putting herself and her art on display for two days straight. It's good that she didn't inherit my shyness because I know I would have been cowering in terror under the nearest table. I'm so proud of her. Bravo, my fearless one.

While at the show I was able to visit with one of my favorite watercolor artists, Peggy Engsberg Furlin. She's such a warm and lovely person, and her paintings are the stuff of dreams. I bought this painting from her because I was riveted by it for a good five minutes -- and that wasn't long enough; I needed to bring it home. I also talked to the artist a bit about working in abstract -- something I'm exploring with my art quilts -- and it reassured me to hear about her process. Following my instincts instead of trying to organize and color-code and perfect everything is new for me, and I'm still struggling with it. Sometimes you need to talk to someone whose work speaks to you in the same voice in order to keep pushing yourself and testing your boundaries. Peggy will be showing this month at the Boca Raton Museum Art Fair (February 9th & 10th) and at the Sanibel Art Fair (February 16th & 17th) so if you're in either area do stop by and see her beautiful work.

During the show I stole my kid from her booth for an hour to walk around and see some of the other artists and their works. The girl never asks for anything (she's a saint that way) but I watch her like a hawk to see what she responds to. She practically dragged me over to see the imaginative art of Richard Lorenz, whose whimsical Birdz are such delightful characters you can't help but smile the moment you see them. A little later I went back to purchase a piece she loved and then promptly lost my heart to this, Richard's gorgeous vision called Dawn II. I can't tell you what it is yet, but there's a story here, waiting for me to dream and write it. While I was buying both pieces I also had the chance to talk with Rick and his wife, Tina Louise, who were just terrific.

I'm so glad I went to this show, and not just to coo over my kid. Writing is such a solitary profession that writers often become disconnected and/or don't feel they're a real part of the arts community. Over the years I've come to see the arts as this gigantic tree with innumerable branches growing out in different directions. We may not do the same things to realize our visions but we're all connected by them just the same. I use words in the same way a musician uses sound or a painter uses color; no matter how we express our dreams we tap into the same source to find them and refine them and bring them into being. That's why we inspire each other, too -- no matter what we do or how we do, the act of turning those dreams into reality makes us creative brothers and sisters.

So writers, don't lock yourself in your writing space and deny yourself a chance to hang with the rest of your creative family. The next time there's an art show or a concert in your area, go to it, immerse yourself in it, and allow it to refill your well. These are your people, too.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Just So We're Clear Ten

Ten Things We Ladies Don't Want for Valentine's Day

Appliances, Any: If you can't remember this rule, a smack in the head with the mixer/vacuum cleaner/coffee maker you gave for Christmas might be a helpful prompt.

Big Heart o' Cheap Chocolates: It can be three feet in circumference and covered with fake roses and that still doesn't redeem the crappiness of the single layer of godawful candy inside. Don't believe it? Drop one on the floor; the dog won't even touch it. Look, if you intend to wreck our diets at least go for something decent that starts with G (Ghiradelli, Godiva.)

Cologne: Aside from the fact that your favorite scent is extra spicy buffalo wings, you always claim whatever you pick out smelled great on your secretary, your mother or that cute little blonde barista at Starbucks, at which point we're going to hard-pressed not to pour the contents of the entire bottle over your head or in your lap.

Cookbook: I'm sure that 1001 Ways with Buffalo Wings will mean as much to us as living on take-out for the next month will to you, Bub.

Flowers: Unless they're delivered we're going to know you bought them from the half-wilted bargain bucket at the grocery store on the way home from work on Valentine's Day. Also, forget the cutesy balloons. There's a helium shortage and we're not six years old anymore.

Gym Membership: Really? No, really?

Music: You're into Rhianna. We're into Adam Levine. Learn this, accept this, and then go CD shopping.

Sexy Lingerie: It's cut too small or too tight in absolutely the worst spots, all that black lace itches like crazy and no way will it make us look like those skinny angel chicks in the Victoria's Secret commercials. Ever.

Tattoo Gift Certificate: Can we use it to get something put on your forehead? Like our opinion of this gift? No? Bummer.

Vajazzling Kit: Aside from this being the most crass, tasteless, overpriced and utterly ridiculous product ever to be shilled on a 2 a.m. infomercial . . . tell you what, we'll stick a couple dozen self-adhesive crystals to the corresponding area of your anatomy, see how much is penazzles you.

Your turn, ladies: what don't you want for Valentine's Day? Let us know in comments.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Vintage Story Mines

I have a modest collection of vintage ledgers and journals, to which I recently added a sorority chapter secretary's notebook. My latest find has entries spanning from the late 20's to the early 30's, and was kept updated by at least five different college girls of that time period:

It was fun and surprising to browse through this notebook. I was expecting it to be mainly handwritten but most of the entries were neatly typed. While the notations were comprised of meeting notes and other formal/official chapter business, each secretary added little bits of her personality to what she wrote. A great deal of attention was given to pledges, from recruiting to initiating them. By today's standards what the pledges had to endure sounds pretty tame, but these girls were quite serious about who they let into their sorority -- and who they didn't:

"Miss Martha Meyers was voted upon for Pledge but received more than the quota of black balls allowed by the by-laws and therefore will mot be permitted into the Sorority."

If you're not familiar with the vintage version of black-balling, the members of old social groups like this would vote on membership matters by using actual white and black balls. They'd usually pair them with a wooden box that had a concealing cover or lid (this so each member could vote anonymously.)

I like seeing the handwriting of that era in the penned entries; in some cases it looks surprisingly modern, like this one:

It's also interesting to see the different social activities these girls enjoyed. Bridge seemed to be huge with this sorority; almost every entry mentions someone holding a game -- and sometimes who should bring what to it (I wonder if the cigarettes were the social norm or something sneaky.)

Aside from the entertainment value it holds, this notebook is a storyteller's goldmine of information. There are literally hundreds of full female names, addresses and personal details noted throughout the entries which are (obviously) authentic to the era. I have pages listing dozens of social events, activities, charities and work and school schedules as well as period prices for everything from food to jewelry.

I can also glean a lot from the tone of the entries. One secretary seemed to delight in tormenting pledges by repeatedly listing what must have been cruel initiation tasks (wearing a vegetable corsage or being dressed as a mummy? Horrors!) Not every secretary was a sorority snob; one sweetheart regularly mentioned members who were sick or hospitalized. Evidence of new financial hardships -- probably brought on in part by the 1929 Stock Market crash -- shows in how the sorority made two major adjustments in dues collecting and debt forgiveness. Right now I have enough material in just this one notebook to write an outline for a novel -- or draw on parts of it for three other story projects.

Some things to consider when using antique real-life material:

1. Unless you're writing a biography, always try to sufficiently alter or recombine names versus using them verbatim from your source document. While these people may no longer be alive they've probably got descendants, and it shows respect for their personal history.

2. Make copies of the original document for personal annotation or any form of alteration versus writing on the document itself. Keeping the source in its original condition helps preserve it for the next generation of storytellers.

3. Donate any historically important vintage journals to an appropriate museum, library or other nonprofit organization dedicated to preservation. While it's lovely to own a piece of history sharing it by donation will virtually guarantee its longevity. It will also make the information it contains available to teachers, students, researchers, curators, biographers etc.

If you're interested in finding your own vintage story mines, you can hunt for antique journals in a variety of places: thrift stores, rummage sales, old book stores, antique paper and emphemera dealers (try Etsy, which is where I found this one) and estate sales. For a marvelous free online resource, check out the massive list of links at The Diary Junction.

Saturday, February 02, 2013


The Publishing Fairy is quite pleased with all the entries for her giveaway. So am I; I love seeing what everyone is reading. As for the winner, PF has done her wand thing, and a BookWish has been granted to:

Leslee, who wrote: I just finished The Peculiar Pets of Miss Pleasance by Delilah Dawson and Club Monstrosity by Jesse Peterson. I am finishing up Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger, so fun. Then it will be on to House Rules by Chloe Neill.

Leslee, when you have a chance please send your full name, ship-to address and the title for your BookWish to My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Pitch Your NanoNovel

As of today, NaNoWriMo is kicking off their third annual Pitchapalooza, which offers a neat opportunity for pitching and possibly receiving feedback. The winner lands a nice opportunity, too:

For those of you not familiar with Pitchapalooza, here’s the skinny: You get 250 words to pitch your book. Twenty-five pitches will be randomly selected from all submissions. We will then critique the pitches online so you get to see what makes a great pitch. We will then choose one winner from the group. The winner will receive an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for his/her manuscript. We will also crown a fan favorite who will receive a free one-hour consult with us (worth $250).

Beginning February 1, 2013, you can email your pitch to All pitches must be received by 11:59 PST on February 28, 2013. The 25 random pitches will be posted on March 5, 2012. Winners will be announced on March 15, 2013. Anyone can vote for fan favorite, so get your social media engine running as soon as the pitches go up!

More details can be found here at the Office of Letters and Light blog.