Monday, February 28, 2005

Misfit Ten

Ten Things That Didn't Fit Previous Ten Things Lists

1. The Internet Public Library's collection of links to free online texts.

2. Without question, the best paper I've ever read on success and failure.

3. Peter Anspach's Evil Overlord List.

4. The Traditional Latin Mass in, what else, Latin (but a nice side column English translation.)

5. Star Naming: lots of people buy nonsense like this, and this explains why you shouldn't.

6. Just in case you didn't get enough here, the Abuse-a-tron.

7. If I couldn't write, I'd work here. Or here. Or here (and if that quality control job at the factory does ever open up again, I would like to be notified at once.)

8. Own a virtual slave with the Cyberbuddy.

9. At four to six weeks per book, I'm a pretty fast writer. This guy is way faster.

10. Want a percent of his/her heart? Try the Love Calculator.

Sunday, February 27, 2005


I finally located a used copy of Dame Kathleen Kenyon's Digging Up Jericho, a vital component to some biblical/archaeological research I've been doing. The bookseller sent me a faintly mildewed, yellowing copy that was a library discard, for which I paid a semi-reasonable $14.50 (happily; I've been trying to get this book for months.)

Old books that have not been cared for stink, and over the years this is what I've discovered while trying to detox them:

Never use liquids or anything strongly scented like perfume to detox a book. Febreze is for fabric, not pages. Perfume has alcohol and other agents in it that can stain and cause more harm to the book.

People advocate sealing the book in a large bag or box with several crumpled sheets of newspaper or inserting folded sheets of newspaper every couple of pages or so, changing the newspaper frequently. This is slow and I've never found it to work completely for me.

Sun can bleach out a lot of odors, but it can also harm delicate old books. Not recommended.

Putting the book in a bag of cat litter can actually create more problems, depending on the brand. Some litters are treated with chemicals that can leave spots and stains of their own. Also not something I'd try.

Talcum powder: I can't find any unscented, or I'd give it a whirl.

My method: I make sure the book is completely dry*, then I use a soft-bristle brush on any visible mildew flakes and brush out what I can. I spread a small amount of cornstarch on each page, the end pages, the cover and down the spine, wrap the book in tissue paper and let it sit undisturbed for two or three days. I then shake out and then brush out the cornstarch. It completely absorbs the odors and leaves no residue.

I don't recommend anyone try to detox a truly valuable book; hire a professional conservator to restore it instead. Minnesota Historical Society has some info on that here, and Antiques Roadshow has a good article on the subject here.

*How to dry a wet book, via University of Delaware Library.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Real Deal

I've only written two screenplays, one with another author which made it to the last round of elimination in a national contest, and one for fun. I will be the first to say that I am not a natural screenwriter. Screenplay writing is damn hard, for one thing, and requires much more self-discipline than novel writing.

For those of you interested in writing for the screen as well as print, check out screenwriter/novelist Lee Goldberg's weblog, A Writer's Life. One of his recent posts, "Is a Story Really Necessary" is so funny you should not drink beverages while reading it.

My solution for the story-challenged screenwriters? Send them over to use the Plot-O-Matic.

Friday, February 25, 2005


While everyone is singing praises for The Virtual Book Tour as the next big promo thing, do remember to check out the pricetag and what services are actually included before you jump on the band wagon.

The questions a writer should always ask when considering this kind of promo: 1) Can I afford it, 2) where are the hard sales numbers, 3) are the resulting sales established and consistent, and 4) what name authors are doing it? If the answer to any of these questions is no, none, or even it's difficult to say, then buyer, beware.


All went well with me yesterday, btw. Looks like it was the last of the lower jaw work, but Monday I'll know for sure when I go for my follow-up. Once I get that green light, we start on the upper part, which in comparison will be a walk in the park.

My part of the tab so far: $7,650.00, with about another two or three grand to go. This is very reasonable -- another doc down in South Florida wanted to charge me twice this -- and I've been setting money aside for it for the last year.

My situation is not unusual. Like most writers, I have to insure myself. I carry major medical, because it would be insane not to, but I shop around and currently I pay about $170.00 a month for the coverage, which is fairly comprehensive (and, oddly, about what I pay for car insurance.) My medical insurer is CGI, if you're interested in checking out their rates.

The rest of my medical expenses -- including the oral/dental -- comes out of my pocket. Much of the work I'm having done is considered "cosmetic" so it's not covered under my policy or would be covered by any dental insurance I might obtain. I never thought of being able to talk and chew as optional, but there you go.

Ten Eleven on Ten

Ten Eleven Things from Reader Mail About Ten Things*

1. Stop making fun of writers because were sirious (sic).

Yes, I can see that you are.

2. Almost everyone in my novel has sex with my main character. Does that really mean it needs work?

It really does.

3. I think you should run for office.

I do run for my office. Frequently.

4. Who was the author who spit in your face? I'd like to thank him.

Let me guess. You're a reviewer.

5. Did you instigate the "Ten Things I've Done that You Haven't" meme?

No. I also don't own the words "ten" and "things." Please make note of this.

6. Why don't you do a ten things about editors?

What, and spoil the expose?

7. Your weblog is ugly and boring and your ten lists are stupid.

But the typing, you must agree, is fabulous.

8. I don't think you're as funny as Letterman.

Which is why he's on TV and I'm not. That and the pancake makeup, eyeliner, and pantyhose requirements.

9. I'm going to do a ten things I love about you list.

Aw, that's sweet. Be sure to mention that, contrary to rumors, I can count that high. *Only not at 5:34 am.

10. Thank you for the link to Mandarin Design. I'm learning so much from that site for my blog.

That's why they were #1 on the list.

11. Would you do a ten list today? I'm depressed.

Me, too. Here you go.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


I would like to meet whoever names the shades of Patterworks' wool. Why? When it comes to color, there is no writer on earth who can match these wordsmiths.

Like Aurora 8 merino wool: it's offered in shades like Cadet, Persimmon, Aubergine, Seashell, and Cantelope. And Softly, a furry nylon that you can buy in Love Potion, Jealousy, and Belladonna. 1824 wool, named for its gauge (18 stitches and 24 rows to 4 inches), doesn't have a single blase shade in inventory; it comes in Mallow, Raisin, Nectar, Dijon, Thyme, Oyster, Macaw, Damson, Heath and Charcoal, to name a few.

There are wool colors named after famous artists, gemstones, celebrities, earth elements, cities, and foods. The palettes and textures are like drugs for the eyes already, but the names make you want to haul out the credit card so you can purchase 10 skeins of Renoir or Beach Glass or Popsicle. The nice thing about Patternworks is that their products are as good or better than what you see online or in the catalog.

Other sources for unique color words: Paint chip charts and booklets (available at places like Lowe's and Home Depot) -- these can give you a new universe of words for white and pastel colors -- as wells as shades of embroidery floss, tile, wallpaper, and drapery samples, and labels on the bolts of cloth in fabric stores.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


Smithsonian magazine will be celebrating their 35th anniversay by offering loyal readers and a guest free admission on one day, April 30, 2005, to over 460 participating museums and cultural institutions across the U.S. The full list of the participants, along with the card-pass you need to get in free, will be in Smithsonian's April '05 issue. You can also check out the list of participants by state here.

Dream On

Thanks for the e-mails. We're all okay. Mike got his cast off, but the bone is only at 75%, so he has another four weeks in the chair. His Dad is in fine shape. I'm feeling pretty optimistic about my turn tomorrow.

Everything else . . . well, I've been listening to a lot of Aerosmith. They've long been one of my favorite bands. So much so that this webblog came pretty close to being named Dream On.

I first heard Dream On* the same year I started writing novels, which was -- God -- thirty-one years ago. Since that summer I've probably worn out about a hundred copies of it. I just listened to it an hour ago, as I was driving back from taking the kids to school.

Dream On is not a pretty or happy song. It's a reality check, a comfort, and a warning, all rolled into one. It was the song that defended me against disco and wrap around skirts and Farah hair. It got me through some dark times. I know, it may not rank very high on the Musical History Lists, but it spoke to me. With music, that's all that matters.

If Paperback Writer makes me laugh at myself, then Dream On holds me together. I think everyone should have a song like that.

*You youngsters who have never heard the song can watch and listen to Steven Tyler's live performance of it here, with orchestra in the background, about halfway down the page. Loads nicely even on dial-up.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Yesterday was not a good day for anything but writing, so last night I finished the third book of the year. Needs a final read-through, but it's in decent shape.

Today I go to the bone doc with my son, and see how the fracture looks. If it hasn't healed, we're looking at a third cast or surgery. My son has been in a wheelchair for about two months now, and I have a whole new respect for the handicapped and what they have to deal with out in public.

While we're doing that, his father will be fifty miles away having his four month post-op check. He's fine so there shouldn't be any scares there.

Thursday I go back for my fourth go-round with my doc, which may or may not be the last, depending on how everything has healed.

Not a good week to be depressed and angry, so I'm going down to the lake as soon as humanly possible to hang out with the birds and do some meditating. I have some letters to write, and some Chinese brocade to play with, too. I'm going to make a new tablecloth, now isn't that riveting? It's just nonstop glamour around here.

Life goes on, even when we're diminished by something terrible and sad, something that makes us so angry we don't trust ourselves to speak to our friends. Life is like that.

Monday, February 21, 2005


I just heard about the death of writer Hunter S. Thompson from Chris Locke, aka Rageboy. He has a memorial post here.

I don't know what to write.

Ten Things That Happened at My Booksignings

1. I met a Very Famous Author's ex, who decided to confide in me. A lot.

Some pretty decent stuff, too. The lives I could ruin . . .

2. I was asked what I saw when I was assigned to Area 51. When I said that I had never been there or worked there, I was accused of being part of a military conspiracy.

The manager rescued me and escorted the deranged gentleman out of the store.

3. I was cornered in the ladies room by two lady fans, one of whom hugged me so hard my neck cricked.

After that, I learned to go before or hold it.

4. A woman handed me her infant so she could get my book out of her purse, and the baby's diaper was leaking.

It was only a silk suit.

5. A fan who was also a cop ran my tags to see if I really was the S.L. Viehl. Then he told me, just in case I was worried.

Be nice to your cop readers. They can be spooky, and they carry weapons.

6. An ex-boyfriend showed up after twenty years to tell me he should have married me instead of dumping me for the Girl Most Likely to Do Everyone. He's in insurance now and has four kids.

I would like to point out that I did not fervently thank God until after he left.

7. Another author spit in my face. Accidentally.

That's what he said, anyway.

8. I had a sudden, violent reaction to my arthritis medication and ran into the closest room, the manager's office, to throw up in her trash can. She thought it was nerves and offered to cancel the booksigning.

I cleaned up the mess, went to gargle (she had a little sample thing of mouthwash in her purse) and went back to the signing.

9. I received two dozen blazing orange roses in a Chinese vase and a lovely but cryptic note card from someone who felt I had done something wonderful for them.

Never found out what I'd done, or who I'd done it to. Anyone want to confess yet?

10. My kid ate all the candy I had out on the table.

Yeah, but I made her wear that dress.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Rep Me

Mad Max responds to M.J. Rose's latest post and talks about letting authors deal with sales reps versus keeping them in the dark.

I'm the last author on earth that you'd think a publisher would let talk to a sales rep, right? Wrong. I talk to them all the time. When I do, I know that I represent both my work and the company that publishes it, and conduct myself accordingly. I always tell the publisher about the contacts and copy them on everything, because they should know what an author is telling their buyers.

Example: the buyer I referred to in this post contacted me directly. I had a friendly exchange with the buyer and copied my editor on everything. My editor and I discussed how best to respond to the buyer's requests. My editor wanted me to jump my schedule and present the next novel in the series. I disagreed and suggested that we stick to our plan. There is nothing that turns off an interested buyer faster than a rush job. Also, I have confidence in the work, as well as the level of interest. It'll all still be there in eight weeks, when we're actually ready to present the next novel. My editor agreed with my logic and went with my advice (yes, that does happen. The writer/editor relationship never has to be a one-way street.)

As to whether authors should be permitted to have regular contact with the sales reps, I think that should be up to the sales reps. Otherwise they're going to spend more time answering e-mails and calls and less time selling our books.

Ice Skates, Anyone?

Upon joining the ranks of SF authors, I was informed that a certain honor would never be paid to a certain female author in the genre. Putting SF on the NYT BSL was a bad thing, you see. One cannot be so vulgar as to write SF that actually sells well. Also, there has always been that question as to whether she genuinely qualifies as a SF writer, because there was all that Other Stuff in her books.

No, I was told, The Organization had its standards to think of, and unless a catastrophic event of mythic proportions occurred, this author would never ever ever be recognized for her career achievements. I think her work is brilliant, myself, but then, what do I know? I was silly enough to resign from that unprofessional bunch of morons organization.

So? Why didn't one of you guys e-mail and tell me that Hell had gone and frozen over?

Congratulations, Anne McCaffrey.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Friday, February 18, 2005


Those of you who are squeamish might want to skip this post.

Back in the days when I earned my living scraping what was left of bad drivers and drunks out of wrecked cars, my partner and I responded to a two-car on a residential street. Residentials are always worse than highways because the public has instant access, and city cops may or may not know how to secure a scene (while troopers always know.)

The accident turned out to be a nasty head-on between a compact car and a ton and a half truck. Compact driver was dead on scene, and fire rescue was already dealing with the trucker. My partner spotted the cause of the accident when he pointed to the tail end of a motorcycle, driver still attached, sticking out from under the compact.

My partner was a big guy, so it was up to me to crawl down and check the victim. Body was a mess, but most bike accidents don't result in an open-casket funeral. Problem was, the biker was missing his helmet. He was also missing his head.

Decapitations were pretty common in the days before the air bag, so it wasn't a huge shock or anything. What jolted me was that the helmet and head weren't under the car. They were nowhere to be seen.

By this time cars were lining up on both sides of the street, hoping to cruise by for a peek. Neighbors, morning coffee cups in hand, packed the sidewalks. A news van was setting up a tripod not thirty feet from the compact, and another was parking. The cops on the scene were busy fussing with barricades and flares.

I told my partner, who guarded the compact while I casually strolled along the curbs, looking for the guy's head. Onlookers always want to talk to you (What happened? I smell gasoline. Is that woman dead?) so I had to dodge them. I also kept an eye on the reporters, who would decaptitate each other for a chance to get the head on film for all the next of kin to see.

Finally I found him, nested between weed clumps in someone's side yard, still neatly packed inside his largely intact helmet. I picked him up by the chin strap and tucked him, end-up so he wouldn't drip, under my arm. My jacket sleeve covered most of him. Then I casually walked back, nodded to my partner, and put the head in the back of our unit.

I never found out who the biker was. I can tell you that he was young, late twenties to early thirties. I don't know if he had children, but he wore a wedding ring. I didn't find out if he had indeed caused the accident. I didn't look at his face. By that time I had learned what I needed to carry away from the job, and what I needed to leave behind.

I don't have nightmares about him because, believe it or not, that's one of my good stories.

Working in writing and publishing remind me a lot of those days. They couldn't be more different, and yet in ways the jobs are remarkably similar. In this industry, you can be a rubbernecker, a glory hound, or a cop trying to control a scene that is uncontrollable. Or you can do your job, clean up what you can, and at the end of your shift, walk away.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


My editor called me the other day about the simple, dignified cover art I'd requested, and told me what they had in mind for the novel. Their idea is not simple, and judging by the description, probably not real dignified, either. Did I call that one right, or what?

The editor and the production people do want me to be happy about the cover art, but they also have to sell their product. Guess what takes priority. Also, I know I'm too close to this novel, in an over-protective, snarling mother tiger baring fangs sense. Pretty much nothing is going to make me happy. I told the editor this and asked her to do whatever they think is best.

That ends my involvement in the production of this novel.

I think authors should be included in the production process, because we know the novel better than anyone on the publishing side, but I also think there are times when we need to step to the sidelines. Not every author is comfortable with letting go like this, so this is a personal call.

I know this particular novel is one of the best books I've written. A lot of readers are waiting for it. Whatever ends up on the cover won't change what I wrote, or what they read. It might affect my new reader sales, it might not. Who can say? Either way, this time, I'm staying out of it.

Pitch Tools

To write your novel, you have to know the story. To sell the novel, you must condense that knowledge into a pitch. Novelists are generally not blessed by the Brevity Fairy, which is why book proposals and synopses are so universally despised.

There are techniques that help a writer organize novel info, summarize it and build a decent pitch. Practice using catch phrases, buzz words and other premise-makers to hone your pitching skills. Internet marketing author Joe Bingham has a good article about catch phrases here, and Bombshell author Carol Stephenson has one on romance buzz words here.

These are some writer exercises and examples I've used in classes and workshops to teach the art of less is more:

1. Write a classified ad selling your novel.

Dark hi-speed killride: Nightmares, get real in this standalone urban fantasy novel, 150,000 words, drifter female mechanic/mystic protag, present-day Chicago/otherworld settings, apocalyptic stakes. Seatbelts and safeties have been removed.

2. Make up a motto based on your novel theme.

Life isn't Death's bitch anymore

3. Describe your novel in 15 words or less.

Aggressive aquatic pilot/gunner guarding troubled peace summit must avert diplomatic assassination and interstellar war.

4. Write a personal ad for your hero or heroine.

Not Desperately Seeking Anyone: 35 y.o. swm, 6'5, 230 lbs., Fire Marshall of New Orleans, serious, GQ dresser, sometimes grim, hard worker, temporarily living at home with wealthy parents, tired of beautiful, empty-headed socialites. Chasing an arsonist/mass murderer who has vowed to kill everyone I love, so discretion a must. No cops.

5. Come up with a single hook line that describes the opening of your novel.

All I was trying to do when they caught me was bury my mother in an unmarked grave.


MM Viagra: Some folks in the industry plan to upsize paperbacks in order to boost dwindling mass market sales. Brava is already putting out their books in trade editions for $7.99 US; the books have larger fonts and are definitely easier to read. I'd go talk to those folks.

Deliver Us Not and Get Sued: Random House is taking legal action against rapper P. Diddy for failing to deliver the autobiography for which they paid him a $300,000.00 advance back in 1998. Diddy's deadline was in 1999. Suggestion: Maybe next time you should get him to submit a couple of chapters first, see if he can actually write?

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


Third session done, one or two more to go. I had to drive around for an hour before I went in to have the work done; calm the nerves, shake off the worst of the dread. I brought some wool and a hook with me, and that helped. Crochet is a great fear-management activity. I've been crocheting since I was five and unlike knitting, I don't have to look or count anymore, so it's kind of mindless. It relaxes everyone working on you, too. Much more so than when you use your nails to rip off the vinyl coverings on the arm supports.

It didn't hurt so much after this time. I think I'm healing better between sessions, or maybe I'm getting used to it. I love my doc, and I think he's done great work on me, but I'll be glad when we're through and I don't have to play good patient anymore. 'Cause I'm not.

Swans & Rats

Michael Allen, aka Grumpy Old Bookman, has made his book On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile available as a free .pdf download here. It's a brisk download; about 72 pages long.

I won't agree, disagree or otherwise comment on his views. I do think it's an interesting read, though, thus the link.


Many moons ago, I was interested in writing historical novels. When I asked a very qualified authority on the genre about it, and showed some of my prelim historical work, I was told that it was a waste of my time and that I should never try to write historicals.

"It's not your voice," Authority said. "Stick to SF and contemporary fiction."

I figured Authority knew more than me and abandoned the idea of writing historicals.

Last year, I was asked to pitch some historical novels. "It's not my voice" I told my agent, "but I'd like to try pitching anyway. That way, when they do have something that's more suitable for me, they'll ask me again." I had fun putting together the proposal, but I honestly thought the publisher would tell me no thanks.

I sold three novels off the first pitch.

I wrote the first book, still thinking, This is not my voice. Everyone is going to hate it. The manuscript went straight to copy-edit, no revisions requested. The copy-edit was so light the editor and I did it over the phone. My agent and I are now discussing a big single title historical and a series I'd like to pitch. A series I never thought I would write, because I have it on excellent Authority that it's not my voice.

I don't know precisely why Authority told me I couldn't write historicals. I have some ideas, but I don't want to know I'm right about them. I'd rather preserve the last few good thoughts I have about Authority. Authority was also my friend, once upon a time, or I'd like to keep deluding myself that Authority was.

You may do the same thing someday, and your red flags should pop up when an authority says "Never" or "You can't." Unless laws are going to be broken, following that kind of advice is giving someone else blanket permission to censor and control your work. It's like going to the doctor. Get a second and third opinion. Ask questions. Don't blindly follow authority. Challenge it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Mad Max's spin on the current industry whining about "too many books" being published.

Any published writer who whines about too much competition being the reason they're not on the NYT I actually have to explain this? Christ.

There will never be too many books. In fact, there aren't enough. It's become next to impossible for the aspiring writers to get into print. We need more, not less, publishers accepting unagented submissions. We need agents willing to gamble on a writer who doesn't show up with contract in hand. We always, always, always need new blood, because the old blood gets complacent too fast and starts talking about how they'd thin out the herd. Like now.

Compete or die.

Novel III: Outlining

Outlining is not writing a novel; it's preparation and organization of the elements of a novel. You need not outline to write a novel; plenty of writers don't. If you want to sell your novel, you will need a synopsis to show along with some chapters. Outlining allows you to write an a more effective synopsis.

What follows is how I outline. This may make things easier or jam you up. Use only what works for you.

The two novel elements that go into an outline are characters and plot. Like the nouns and verbs that go into making a sentence, characters and plot are the novel. Setting, motivation, timeline, story styling and whatever else you've got in mind aren't necessary right now; they're the adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, etc. that you'll use to enhance the nouns and verbs. Put all that stuff to one side of your head; focus only on the group of characters that populate your story and what they do.

Characters: write a list of their names, and leave some line room to write beside each name. For each name, list assets, flaws, and the problems (I use no more than three of each) this character has. If you have trouble deciding, use a character outline sheet to get to know your character before you outline the novel, or read this workshop article Holly wrote on character creation.

My advice about characters: you should always know more about them than the reader will.

Once you've got your cast mapped out, look at them. Remember that interesting people are unique people. Could any of the characters swap places without a hitch? If yes, then you need to rework some of them. Can you see characters who are going to naturally like or dislike each other, no matter what your plans are? Note that; it will have an impact on how they relate to each other during the novel.

Plot: in simple language, write out the main plot of your novel. The way I do it is to list the five main events of the novel down the center of the page, and then on the side list what happens in between those five events. To give you a visual that doesn't involve my lousy handwriting, my plot list looks a bit like this.

If you're not sure how to plot, Holly has a great article on it here. My advice on plotting: have fun with it and you'll make it fun to write.

Once you have all the plot on paper, examine it the same way you did your characters. A very linear plot may make it easier for you to write the story, but the book is probably going to be predictable and dull for the reader. An extremely complicated plot, on the other hand, will make the novel hard for the reader to follow. You want a not-too-straight, not-too-kinky plot. Also, does the story plot serve the characters you've just outlined? If it's all about one of them and the other thirty-five are going to be sitting around and watching the one, then maybe you should rework the plot to better use that lovely cast you've just created.

Once you've nailed the characters and the plot, then you can get into making lists and outlines of the other elements like setting and motivation and what have you. This is story decorating to me and I'm not into it, so I write only what I absolutely need to flesh out the novel, usually in shorthand prompts that remind me of the main points.

When I'm done the outline, I'm ready to pitch.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Love Ten

Ten Things to Love About Valentine's Day

1. Minimal decorating required.

2. No lying to children involved.

3. Chocolate delivered in heart-shaped containers.

4. Too cold for a pool party.

5. Men usually have to watch at least one chick flick before midnight.

6. Roses, roses, roses.

7. Got a November birthday? You were probably conceived today.

8. The one day of the year that romance doesn't get dissed.

9. You won't need the electric blanket tonight.

10. We celebrate the only thing we do right.

Sunday, February 13, 2005


I named this weblog after a Beatles tune that my old high school boyfriend used to play when we were zipping around town in his MG. It's wicked, funny, and reminds me to laugh at myself.

Other writers and their weblogs remind me of different songs I like. Sometimes it's the presentation, or what the owner writes, but more often I think it's just a sense of the other person that comes through in their work.

Not all song titles would make good weblog names (If I renamed Holly's weblog based on the music she makes me think of, hers would be Bach: Prelude to Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007 [Yo-Yo Ma].)

Using songs to name something is a good writer exercise, especially if you have trouble thinking up titles. Not that I would (cough) presume to rename anyone's weblog, but here are some examples, with corresponding weblogs and artists:

Amazing Grace (church hymn)
Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen)
Kiss from a Rose (Seal)
Rokudan* (Zumi-Kai)
Some Like It Hot (Powerstation)
Steel Bird (Ekova)
Strong Enough (Sheryl Crow)

*Actually this one doesn't make sense unless you take martial arts or speak Japanese; in English it means a 6th degree black belt

Saturday, February 12, 2005


The women in my family have always been renegades, as I was reminded again today.

My great-grandmother, Juanita, was a nurse to Rebel soldiers during and after the Civil War. I have her journals, a few photos of her with recovering wounded (mostly amputees) and a doll that she gave me. The only book she ever read was the Bible. One time, when we were sitting together in the back of a big car, she told me that she knew when she was going to die. It was the same day she gave me the doll. She scared the daylights out of me so we didn't talk much. She died of a stroke.

My grandmother, Steve, helped GreatGran and her siblings survive during the Depression by cutting off her hair, dressing as a boy and getting a job pumping gas and fixing cars. Her real name was Thelma, but she was Steve from that time on. She loved politics and followed them avidly. She nursed my invalid grandfather for twenty years. She also continued cross-dressing, in a more restrained sense, until she died when I was seventeen. She was a poet, an artist, and the most intelligent woman I've ever known. I will forever worship the ground my grandmother walked on. She left me many things, including a letter that she wrote while she was dying of cancer. Cancer didn't get her, though; she committed suicide.

My mother, Joan, is still alive, and out of respect for her privacy, I don't talk about her life. Suffice to say, it also sucked. She was a Major in the Civil Air Patrol and helped to rescue downed planes in the Everglades. We've never had an easy relationship, Mom and me, but she is the strongest and most courageous woman I know. She writes Christian humor and is a talented speaker. She doesn't think I'd set myself on fire for her, but I would. In the same way I worshipped Gran, my daughter worships Mom. Not counting a bad hip, Mom is in fairly good health and I pray she'll hang around for a few more decades.

Each of these women shaped me, and there is no one I respect more. So much of me belongs to them.

My daughter is a golden-haired, long-legged, pretty-much-everything-I-wanted-to-be kid (takes after Dad, not Mom.) She's funny, brilliant, and compassionate. She likes animals and insects a little more than people. She has hand-tamed countless lizards and snakes, and is doing things on her computer that dumbfound me. She grew up with only brothers so she's a bit of a tomboy, and nearly fearless. She will not hesitate to punch out a bully. Her oddest habit is that at any given meal, she always wants some of my food, even if we're eating the same thing -- and only my food, no one else's. She lives in her own world much of the time, but we're always welcome to join her. Like any mother, I would happily die for her.

This afternoon I went to church, and lit a candle for Gran, whose last letter came to me twenty-five years ago today. I imagined a future when my daughter or granddaughter, God willing, might do the same for me, and wonder if I'm in a good place, and will they see me again when it's their time to go.

Gran, I love you. I miss you still.

Friday, February 11, 2005


Ten Things for the Writing Link Addicts

1. John J. Beslanwitch's General Writing Resources.

2. Terry W. Burns' Library of Links.

3. Ralan Conley's Writer Links.

4. Margaret Fisk's Favorite Links.

5. David Graham's Poetry Link Sites.

6. Holly Lisle's Writers Index.

7. H. Thomas Milhorn's Fiction Writer's Super Site.

8. OneLook's General Dictionary Sites.

9. Pen and Sword's Useful and Interesting Links.

10. Yahoo's Humanities > Literature List of Lists.


Sorry, nothing scandalous or bile-provoking to offer you today. If you're stopping in only for that, check out the archives; I'm sure you'll find something appropriately aggravating.

Hang on, this might encourage some acid reflux: A major buyer read IAB, loved it, and is now getting behind the book. Upped the chain's order and plans to promote the novel, front of the store, that kind of thing. I'd give you more details but this is new territory for me, so I don't know all that will happen. My editor seemed pretty happy about it. I'm happy I got there on the strength of the work.

On the juggling front, I'm midway through writing the third novel of the year, about finished a copy-edit, and looking at revisions that just arrived. I have to outline a fourth, which I'll start in a week, and put together a proposal on a fifth, sixth and seventh. The desk is getting stacked.

Editor also wants my ideas for cover art, always a fun e-mail to write. You can't say things like "Keep the skimpy spandex off my protagonist" or "Please note: there are no transvestite cetaceans in this novel." I'll probably say what I always say -- I'd like something simple and dignified -- and I won't get it. I don't ask them to keep my bad luck color, yellow, off my covers anymore. Last time I did, I got a yellow cover.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


I've been watching another author's blog for a couple of months now, in a recreational sense. I'm counting how many times the author pimps, posts glowing reviews of, or otherwise centers a blog post desperately selling the marvelous aspects (too numerable to mention, natch) of the latest published novel.

The book has been the topic 28 times in January, and 7 since the beginning of February. I can't count the book-related links, my calculator doesn't have that many places. The cover art for this book has been slapped onto the blog template as well, so it's in your face everytime you go there. Just in case you didn't read the last entry about how much [insert important reviewer entity name] loved it.

Really dedicated propaganda effort, too. Used car salesman quality. How the hell do you think of that much to say about your own novel? But the desperation is sad. Tempts one to post a comment on the blog, like Dude, we get that you published a novel and everybody loves it. You'll sell. Relax.

Stuff like that makes me feel incredibly lazy. Lemme give it a shot: I have a book coming out this month that I can't talk about, but RT gave it four stars. (tossing virtual confetti) ARCs for If Angels Burn are out, and my agent tells me we've got initial orders of 55K, which is right where I want to be. There, done. (shooing hands) Go out and buy my books; Katherine needs braces.

I've been out buying books, too. Holly has half a shelf of her own at my local B&N, until I got there and made it her own shelf. :) They're stocking all of the Secret Texts and World Gate books, which makes it really convenient when I want to buy a set for a friend.

Don't tell Locus, but I picked up a copy of Tam's Ghosts in the Snow, and I'm reading it after the current copy-edit is out of here. Faced-out all the copies of it at our local B&N and Borders.

Alison, you like own the chick lit/erotica center-aisle trades table at my B&N. Nice display of your two latest novels in the SG-5 series on the top shelf, right at customer eye level. They stocked all five of the SG-5 series novels in romance, with them shelved in both the mass markets and the romance trades section, so you're all over the damn store. I like being able to buy all the books in a series at once, so Bravo, Brava.


We're not Going to Make a Lot of Money, Okay?: Borders has, for various reasons, rewritten its profit forecasts. I'm sure the stockholders will likely appreciate more realistic projections versus Borders whipping out something else like the sluggish store traffic excuse when profits fail to materialize.

And I'm the Easter Bunny: News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch is in no hurry to snatch back the 17% of News Corp. shares from Liberty Media Corp. Uh-huh. People working for HarperCollins Publishing might be a bit twitchy this week; be nice to them.

Lit-heads, rejoice: Publishers expect the BBC1 "reading group" show Page Turners, which debuts in April, will follow in Oprah's book clubbing footsteps. Publishing moving into television is mildly depressing; I haven't watched it in seventeen or eighteen years now and I don't intend to start (was too busy reading books.)

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


I went public with PBW about a month ago. Seems longer, doesn't it? But up until the interview with Mad Max, I didn't publicize the weblog. People found their way here because they were friends or friends of friends. We tried to keep it secret, or as secret as you can on the internet without passwording it.

When I did go public, I was tempted to play nice. I can be a nice woman. Sometimes. Go on, wipe the beverage snort off your monitor. Maybe nice isn't the right word. My mother cursed me with that wretched word. I will forever think the epitome of anything is nice.

I'm not here to be loved. I'm here to write.

I journal online to talk about what it is to be a writer, and not to con you or ram one of my novels down your throat. You want the promo, you know where it is. There are enough pros out there who make only kissy noises about publishing so they can sell books and win awards. I had this outrageous analogy -- sweet one, too -- about this type of pro, but I won't use it. Let's just say, they have to swallow enough without getting it from me.

Bottom line, this is not a nice industry. Why else do you think I do so well in it?

If you're a writer and intend to make it your profession, you should go in armed with as much knowledge as you can collect. If I can contribute to that in any way, then you'll be better prepared than I was, and that's the point of the exercise. Saving you some scar tissue, and maybe a little wear and tear on the knees.

Now that I've bludgeoned this topic to a messy demise, a shout from the other side of the fence: Author Kate Rothwell has set up a site for a book reviews contest. Would that everyone who disagreed with me came up with such a creative and fun response. Kate, you want a donation for the contest? I'm good for books or some bucks, e-mail me.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


One million is a quantity you rarely encounter in your own life, unless you have a bad infestation of ants, fleas, or mercenary ex-spouses. I've written over a million words each year since 2002. Sometime in March, I'll have a million books in print, which still seems rather surreal. Part of me doesn't believe it and wants a recount. Dead, I'm worth about two million, but only to my progeny and a couple of people who probably won't murder me.

Millions are out there, though, for those of you who want to chase them:

The National Academy of Engineering is offering a million dollar prize to anyone who can design and create a workable, sustainable, economical point-of-use water treatment for arsenic-contaminated groundwater, as found in Bangledesh, India, Nepal, and other developing countries. Given the point-of-use conditions, incorporating natural arsenic magnets like rusting iron or Chinese brake ferns might be your best bet. (via the print version of Discover magazine)

Jim Beam is offering a trip to the Indy 500 and if their sponsored driver, Dan Wheldon, wins, a million dollars. (via the Andretti family web site.)

Author Michael Stadther pulls the ultimate promo gimmick by offering seven lucky readers of his children's novel one million dollars in jewels, provided they participate in a treasure hunt based on the book and find they golden tokens he's hidden all over America. I also have it on good authority that Stadther does not employ midgets, and the rumors about some treasure hunters being drowned in rivers of chocolate and turning into giant blueberries are completely false.

Monday, February 07, 2005


Volvo is running a contest you enter to win a suborbital flight with Virgin Galactic on a commercial passenger-carrying spaceship.

Yeah, this sounds like a great idea. And no, however much you want to, you can't enter me in the contest.


Lots of e-mails have come in responding to my Opinions post; many from disgruntled reviewers who feel they must now justify why they are entitled to make me read their reviews, and/or why they're qualified to teach me how to write novels. You guys really have to think up some new insults to hurl; sour grapes is so tired.

If you're expecting an apology, I wouldn't hold any inhalations. In fact, think of it this way: I gave you a little taste of what it's like to be in the published author's kitchen. If you can't take the heat, get out.

It's always amusing, though, to see reviewers respond to any criticism of what they do, isn't it? To feel so hurt, defensive, and outraged because PBW doesn't like them. Aw, geez, I was so mean, wasn't I? I fully expect the next five books I write will be completely trashed as a result. Btw, the SF and dark fantasy pseudonym is spelled V-i-e-h-l; try to get it right this time, huh?

Relief Ten

Ten Things to Appreciate about Writers

1. Our book jacket photo is never taken when we're writing in the nude.

2. Most of us don't demand walk-on parts in the movies based on our books.

3. Our loved ones regularly talk us out of getting gun permits.

4. After what happened to Sylvia Plath, we rarely mate with our own kind.

5. We'll never really find out who writes those PW reviews.

6. We hardly ever run for political office, and when we do, we generally lose.

7. Halle Berry will never have to dodge any of us on Oscar night.

8. Writing is our only true religion.

9. We can't get along with each other so we'll never have a decent union.

10. We'd like to run the world, but we're horrible with money, so we never will.

Sunday, February 06, 2005


A reviewer e-mailed to ask (sincerely, minus the usual bad language) why I'm so anti-reviews. From the e-mail, quoted with permission:

"You say on your weblog that you'd rather stick a needle in your eye than read a review of your book. Don't you think you might learn something from a constructive review?"

Yes and no.

I didn't learn to write novels while checking with everyone to see if what I'm writing is okay with them. I wrote novels solo, in isolation, for ten years. A couple of friends would read them now and then but they were non-writer friends and I could have written absolute shit and they would have loved it. I've always been my own writer, editor, and reviewer.

When I started getting opinions on my work, it was from editors who paid me for the rights to the work. I never had anyone critique my work until after I was published, and then it came from a NYT bestselling author with fifty books in print, and from my best friend, who has ten years more experience than me. Both are far superior writers than Yours Truly, too.

I can give you twenty pages describing what it took me to become a published author, and not just the paying-the-dues-upfront part. It took an enormous amount of faith in myself, faith that was kicked and battered and stomped on weekly, sometimes daily, by constant rejections (we won't discuss the oceans of self-doubt I've crossed.) It took ignoring people I loved who begged me to stop writing because it was killing them to see me plow on through the perpetual blizzard of No Thanks letters and cards. It took multiple torture sessions of getting so close to publication that I could smell contract ink, only to be squashed by whoever approved the purchases. In part, it wrecked a marriage and killed at least three good friendships.

Becoming a published author took everything I had, and then some, and while I may la-de-da about it here, I don't really think it's funny. I am proud of my accomplishments, but I never forget what I paid for them. And baby, I paid.

Now, some ditz with internet access and a hair up an orifice for whatever reason wants to come and tell the world how he or she would write my book? Oh, be my guest. Only when you write that review, imagine how you'd feel if I came into your place of business, knowing little to nothing about how to do your job, and commenced to decide how well you did it. Then imagine me going to your boss and saying, I think Jane Reviewer sucks at the job that pays her mortgage, feeds her children and keeps her from living under a bridge. Dock her pay, will you? Now I'm off to smear her on every bookkeeping site on the internet. Oh, and if you ever need a new bookkeeper, here's my card....

So, okay, despite this, I accept that I am a public figure, subject to public opinion. Goes with the job. Certainly you reviewers are entitled to your opinions, and free speech -- something I dearly love -- protects your right to air them. Air them. But expect me to read it? Think I'm going to learn something from you? Based on what? Have you written sixty-two novels? I have. How many of yours are published? My #27 and #28 will be out next month. Let's put some credentials on the table here.

Right, forgot. You don't have any. You just have your opinion.

Before everyone writes me off as an arrogant bitch who thinks she's perfect, think again. I constantly beg my editors to rip apart the books I submit, not because I think the work needs it, but because I do. I have to have total confidence in my work to write as fast as I do, but I also need to know where I drop the ball -- after the book is finished. If an editor as experienced as mine doesn't get something, then I know for damn sure the reader won't, and that's when I do something about it. That's when I look at how I'm writing, and fine-tune. I will never be perfect. I will always need editing, and criticism from the people in the industry who have comparable experience.

I listen to my readers; if I hadn't at least five of my books wouldn't exist. They write to me, and talk about what they like and don't like. They are always in the back of my mind when I write. Occasionally I write things or change things to please them, too. I can't make them all happy, that would be like trying to count all the stars in the galaxy. NASA would have to get involved, and you know how I feel about that bunch. But I listen, because it's part of the unwritten contract between me and someone who paid seven or nineteen or twenty-five bucks of their hard-earned money for that book.

Oddly, most of my devoted readers don't write reviews about my books. They write to me.

I don't maintain that kind of contract with reviewers, 99% of whom get the books for nothing from my publisher. Some of you write great reviews that sell a lot of books for me, but that doesn't offset the hatchet jobs that cost me sales. I'm not going to kiss your ass. I'm not afraid of you. Mostly I feel nothing but contempt for you, as a soldier feels for an informant (stole that from my man Flaubert.) I'm working on turning that into pity. Because as much hell as I've gone through, it can't be anything compared to where most of you burn.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Novel II: Research

Back in January, I talked about how a novel idea for me always starts with a character, and the three questions I answer to nail down that character.

Once I have that character, I know the basic premise of the novel, and move on to the next step, research.

The first part of research is to look at the market. As in, what's selling, what's becoming a trend, what's dying, what's about to be buried, and where does my idea land. This takes a lot of perpetual data collection about what's happening in the industry. Sort of like watching the stock market. You have to guess what editors are buying, which is what will be popular a year to two years from now. Keep in mind that production time = almost anything you sell won't hit the shelves for a year to two years from date of sale.

Some writers are good at following the market, and some aren't. I'd say I'm getting better at predicting what will sell and what won't, genre-wise. I base this partly on the fact that last year I sold almost 100% of everything I pitched off the first proposal, while in 2003 I only sold about 75%.

Why is it important to look at the market first? I may have what I consider a terrific idea for a historical novel, but if no one is buying historicals, I shelve it and do something else. This attitude will not work for everyone, especially the "but it's the book of my heart" writers out there, so if you feel you can hard sell your marvelous idea to a flooded, declining or dead market, by all means, skip this step.

Once I see how well the idea fits, if I still have doubts, I may run it past my best friend or my agent, get their opinion. If I don't, I look at the other part of the research: what information I have to gather in order to write this novel. Time plays a part here; I usually only have a month to three months to research a novel. If I see I'll have to interview two dozen people and read a thousand reference books, I shelve the idea.

If the idea survives the market fit, the run-by, and the info gathering scales, I decide whether I want to write the book. This is harder to explain. I've had some great ideas but they didn't feel right for me and the reader. A novel should always be exciting to work on, but it should also be like planning a big present or a hellacious surprise party for someone you love. If I don't feel that potential for me and for the reader, I set the idea aside.

If the idea is still hanging on, after all of the above, I'm ready to outline.


PBW thoroughly enjoyed the 24 offline. Roy Marsden is such a lovely man [insert girly sigh.] Okay, back to business.

Mad Max of Bookangst 101 takes exception to various points of criticism. I'd list them, but as usual I can't read some of them. Max, have you ever had that eye test for colorblindness? Just a thought.

Romancing the Blog is up and running, with a good mix of columnists from all over the romance genre map. Some interesting stuff posted already. I'm hoping the editors resist turning it into yet another bakesale table for RWA and RT.

And last, but not least, Tambo is feeling better. Well enough, in fact, to embarrass the hell out of me. Keep it up, Tam, and the chain-smoking Irish harpy will move in with you. I will also love you forever for this line: She's not exactly what I'd call ass kissing pro-establishment suck up. Wonder if I can fit that on my banner...

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Checkered Flag

Book, done, buffed, polished, out of here. Wave bye-bye with me; that's six pounds of paper I don't want to look at for at least another month. My finish line reward: Survivor in Death by J.D. Robb and a scalding bubble bath, soon as I feed the troops and drink my own dinner.

The finish line is not a place of celebration for me. It is the collapse freezone. But it is a lovely place to admire while you're in that limp prone position waving your little thank you Jesus it's GONE flag. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more satisfying that typing that last line on the last page of the last chapter.

Hmmmm. I may be a nice boss and let myself have a day off tomorrow so I can watch Roy Marsden play Adam Dalgliesh in Cover Her Face (that was the reward for finishing the book before this one; never got out of the chains long enough to watch it.)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


Correction: Sold, foreign rights to StarDoc, also in German, back in 2004, and (oops) someone forgot to notify the author. So those aren't my first foreign sales, after all. Very happy to know the readers in Germany will not have to start reading the series from book #2.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


All is well at Casa PBW. Well, my mouth feels like hell, but I can have all the milk shakes I want. No great pain without some small gain.

Sold: German rights to Beyond Varallan and Endurance, to Verlagsgruppe Random House. No pub date yet but they'll be released sometime over the next 24 months. My first foreign language rights sale, as it happens. Danke, Verlagsgruppe.

Now I'm off to do something that doesn't require use of a straw. The possibilities are kinda limited, too...