Saturday, September 30, 2006

Prize Inside

A well-meaning friend sent me a copy of Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian over the summer. He viewed this as a gift; I did not. I've been dodging this elephantine bloodsucker since I first spotted its Susanna Clarkish dimensions causing a book dump to collapse in the center at BAM. Also, a first novel that exceeds 500 pages, in my experience, has either not been adequately edited, and/or was written by someone with whom I have as much in common as I do, say, Anne Coulter.

Finally this week I opened the book and read the first line. She got a lot of money for this book, and I truly wasn't jealous. I just wanted it to be great. I wanted her to deserve that whomping contract and to give me the book equivalent of a bigass box of CrackerJack with a diamond ring prize inside so I could write up something about the book here. This is what I got:

The story that follows is one I never intended to commit to paper.

How did Kostova's first published line grab me? Well, I immediately slammed the cover shut and put it on the TBRMBID* shelf. The cats like to hang on that shelf and cough up hairballs. Sometimes Jak has a bladder spasm while he's throwing up. A girl can hope.

I suspect that this was a carefully crafted, much-thought-over lit-head hook line (you can almost smell the rewrite ink.) Obviously it was supposed to intrigue me, and maybe if I was a novel size queen I'd be all over it. Drown me in stories you never intended to tell me, baby.

Problem is, I'm a writer. When you land a deal like Kostova did, and write a novel so long that each chapter requires their own edition of Cliff Notes, the last thing you should start your book with is, "Gee, I never meant to write this." It's like kicking a boy in the family jewels and standing over him while he writhes in pain and then murmuring, "Golly, does that hurt?"

Yeah, I'm going to want to read more of that.

I didn't throw The Historian in the trash, so there's still a slim chance that I'll recover from the slap of that ridiculous line and go back for another shot. If I throw your book in the garbage, though, it's definitely abandon hope all ye time.

That's the first time I've ever had such a negative reaction to an opening line. I can't decide if it's a rational reaction or I am jealous or in writer denial or something. I think (besides the gift aspect) that's the other reason I didn't toss the book. One line instant aversion isn't being fair to Elizabeth Kostova. I gave old Susanna Clarke a whole 54 pages before I gave up on her doorstop with the lousy punctuation. Liz deserves at least as much.

Do you expect a prize inside from an author who lands a huge deal for their novel? Do you feel cheated when you don't find it?

*To be read maybe before I'm dead.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday 20

My thanks to everyone who joined in the Rags to Riches discussion. The winner of the giveaway is Nicole, who should e-mail a full name and ship-to address to so I can get your mags & surprises out to you.

I'm also going to pick on Pixel Faerie today and talk about part of the comment she made during the discussion: Also, how to not make if feel like you're about to jump into a cold shower every time you open a blank page and start typing?

There's a transition stage that happens when a writer goes from not-writing to writing or back again. It's probably different for everyone (I get more of a jolt when I have to stop writing) but I think there are ways to make it easier.

I've talked about what I do when I write, but I also have some preparations I make before I go near a keyboard. I clear my mind as much as possible before I begin writing, usually with morning meditation. At night, before I edit, I take a shower or soak in the tub. Whether I'm writing or editing, I always dress in very comfortable clothing and slippers (I can't work barefoot, for some reason.) I rarely eat before work sessions, but if I have something, it's light and non-sugary. A cup of decaf tea or a bottle of chilled water always goes with me to the desk.

I think attitude also factors in how abrupt or shocking the transition from person to writer or editor is. I look at the blank page as work space, not that blind white glaring eye as other writers often describe it. I'm not afraid of it; we're old pals. Because I generally use VRS to type, I have to kind of tune out my own voice and concentrate instead on the words inching across the screen. Every paragraph has a certain structural appeal to it (the words themselves are beautiful to me) so I really like building them. The more I build, the more pleased I am. Creativity = satisfaction.

Forgetting about who I am and what I'm doing is also easy, because my writing time and space are like a visit to a personal Mansion of Solitude. I'm a solitary person who is rarely alone, so work is restful, rejuvenating, and helps balance out all the other crowded, busy parts of my life. I have no expectations, no hovering self-critic; writing well for me means not worrying about writing well at all. Fighting the words, letting frustration set up house in my head or getting tangled up in a quest for utter perfection only inhibits me. The more relaxed and calm I am, the better writer or editor I become. Find the things that do the same for you and that transition may get a bit easier.

So, any questions out there in writer land this week?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

E-book Challenge Update

Some of you have made or are thinking about making your own cover art for your e-book. It's not a challenge requirement, but a book cover is a nice perk for your reader and a creative opportunity for you.

Creating cover art need not be complicated. There's no law that says you have to depict any character or element from your story; the title and your by line against a plain or patterned background will serve very well.

I am certainly not the world's greatest cover art designer, but I try to have a good time with what I do. For the cover of my short story collection, Do or Die, I combined a cut-out filtered self-portrait and a neon-glow filtered image of a huge moth I'd found one day outside my apartment:

I added a title and byline text, and I had my cover:

Online art generators can help with composing elements and text involved in your cover art. Here's one I made with's customized magazine cover maker for our pup's digital photo album:

PBW & Buddy, March 2006 -- this should also dispell those rumors that I'm horribly disfigured

If you decide to make your own cover art, my advice is to start simple and build on that. One last trick -- I save multiple copies of my art at every stage of construction, in case I do something to mess it up or want to do comparison side-by-sides of two different looks.

You've got four weeks left until the challenge deadline, so there's still plenty of time to play. Have fun with it.

Some online generators* and freeware that may help you: can generate some interesting free text graphics for your title and byline.

Get mathematically graphic with the free trial download of Fractal Draw.

For interesting art you can make online, try the Jackson Pollock Online Art Generator and's Painting Generator. also has a very cool Photo Collage Generator that breaks down a digital photo into a collage of Polaroids.

Need image software but can't afford it? Get a free trial download of Adobe Photoshop.

Make cover backgrounds with the Random Texture Generator

Skip all the hard stuff and make your romantic cover with Glass Giant's Romance Novel Cover Generator.

The Perception Laboratory's Face Transformer can alter portrait photos and images in a variety of ways.

My post: Ten Things about Making Your Own Art

Zoner's page of free to try and freeware graphics dowloands.

*Most of the links found over at The Generator Blog.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Serengeti Tale

During a terrible professional drought, a literary gazelle, a genre water buffalo, and a cheetah writer met at a tiny writers' lowland oasis. Although they all wanted the oasis for themselves, and the gazelle and the water buffalo weren't too keen on hanging out with a predatory hack like the cheetah, for once they amicably shared the rest spot.

"So," the water buffalo, a sociable sort even when away from the safety of her herd, said to the gazelle, "how are things on your end of the industry?"

"Not so great," the lovely gazelle admitted, flaring her fine nostrils. "My kind are killing themselves running around and trying to find work while maintaining our artistic integrity, but the big genre herds are hogging the tablelands. We're basically starving."

"Shame." The water buffalo (who still had plenty of royalty fat to live on) felt a twinge of guilt, and so eyed the cheetah. "I bet with the way you chase down work that you're not going hungry."

"Compete or die." The cheetah looked at a pack of attention-hungry, slope-backed hyenas slinking toward them. "Here come the ass biters."

The hyena pack circled around the three animals and began laughing and calling out insults: "Hey, Gazelle, your last opus died on the shelf so bad the vultures wouldn't even circle above it." "Is that your fat, boring, lazy ass, Water Buffalo? Shouldn't you be scarfing up free food at some cow con somewhere?" "Cheetah, you're a mean, ugly fraidy-cat and no one likes you!"

The gazelle, her self-image shattered by the insults about her work, began to weep beautifully. No one would ever, ever understand her pain. The hard-working water buffalo saw red and began pawing the ground, ready to charge. She'd flatten those hyenas with the weight of her unshakeable confidence. The cheetah, who understood the nature of carrion lovers -- but couldn't stand the smell of them -- only yawned.

"Come on." The cheetah turned her back on the pack and started heading for the high land, where the clean air would blow the hyena stink out of her fur. "Let's go find some work."

"But -- but -- they said terrible things about us!" the literary gazelle said. "I'm an artist! How can I do anything with them laughing at me like that? I have to explain to them how important my work is so that they'll respect me!"

The genre water buffalo nodded. "I'm with gazelle. You may be mean and ugly, cheetah, but I'm not, and my ass isn't that big or boring. I've earned some respect around here, too. I'm going to fight them and show them how wrong they are about me."

"Vaya con Dios." The cheetah strolled off alone.

The next day, the cheetah was feeling pretty satisfied. She'd found a new territory, nailed some nice work, and had earned some time to stretch out in the shade and think about the next hunt. She was doing just that when the genre water buffalo came limping into her territory. She was bruised, bloodied, hungry and exhausted, and a hundred sets of greedy teeth marks covered her flanks.

"Those hyenas never stopped coming at us," the buffalo wheezed as she collapsed next to the cheetah. "They tore poor gazelle to pieces, ate her alive and almost did the same to me. I barely escaped with my career intact."

The cheetah nodded. "That's what hyenas do best. It's all they do."

"But why didn't you stay and fight them with us?" the water buffalo demanded. "What sort of writer are you?"

"Luckily for you," the cheetah said, "one who isn't hungry at the moment."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Rags to Riches

Over the last year I've been adding copies of Writer's Journal magazine in various giveaways here at the blog. I think out of all the writer mags on the market that it offers the best content and most useful info for working writers.

WJ has a very low-key, no-frills format, but there's lots of good advice, interesting columns and decent contests. The editors actually publish their contest winners' stories in the magazine (viable writing credit there) and also do nice things like give away free copies of writing books they receive for review. The annual subscription rate is $19.97 for six issues, but it's also available to buy off the stand in most of the big chain bookstores.

But don't take my word for it: in comments to this post, tell me what you'd most like to read in a working writer's magazine by midnight EST on Thursday, September 28th (Note: I'm going to invite the editors of Writer's Journal magazine to stop by here, so let them know what you'd really like to see.) I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner the Sep/Oct '06 issue of Writer's Journal, the latest issues of Poets & Writers, Romantic Times, and Writer's Digest magazines (for comparison) and some other writing-inspirational surprises. Giveaway open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Wish Ten

Ten Things I'd Like to Read

1. A literary novel that doesn't put me to sleep, patronize me, give me a headache, bury me in angstbabble, make me wish I was dead or sound like the author hasn't actually had sex with someone else in the room since that one time that took a whole bottle of Boone's Farm after the Prom.

2. Biography by someone who doesn't secretly loathe, envy, lust after or wish to destroy the myth of the subject of their book.

3. Explicit erotica that does not attempt to apologize for being explicit by inventing ridiculous excuses for any erotic act in the book.

4. Fantasy which makes more sense than magic. And no dragons. God. Please. Stop with the dragons. I beg you.

5. Fun science fiction. No technoslaw, no politics, no IQ tests, no ax-grindings, no derivative circle jerks, no Kerryesque BS. Just fun.

6. Horror that doesn't read like a twelve-year old wrote it after glomming on Crypt Keeper comics, excuse me, graphic novels.

7. Inspirational romance that celebrates love and faith without clubbing the reader over the head with the Scriptures every other page.

8. Military fiction of any kind written by someone who actually served in uniform.

9. Poetry that rhymes and sings instead of slithers and moans.

10. Romance that does not openly or surreptitiously seek to kiss the asses of RITA judges, the Sisters of the Immaculate Love Scene, or any other division of the Romance Police.

How about you guys? Anything you'd like to read?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Off to Not Write

Yes, I'm bailing on you guys again. I'm actually disconnecting so I can go see my folks and my nephew while he's in town, and take a break from the keyboard. I'll be back on Monday -- have a good weekend.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Friday 20

Thursday, September 21, 2006

E-Book Challenge Update

This week's e-book challenge nag: remember quality.

With this challenge, you're not just writing a story, you're creating a promotional tool that should showcase your talents. Readers like free stuff, but not if it wastes their time. My philosophy is that whether it's for a seven-figure contract or a freebie giveaway like this one, you should always give the readers your best work.

Now, onto things to consider adding to your e-book:

A bibliography page: make it simple, easy to read, like a shopping list for your reader. If you write under more than one name or in more than one genre, as I do, group your titles logically. Indicate what titles are out of print. List any future releases and when the reader can expect them to hit the stores.

Author bio: Traditionally a bio is printed on a back page or somewhere on the back cover; you can do the same by adding one to the last pages of your e-book. Bios are customarily written in third person, but I've read a few in first person that were fine. I'd recommend keeping it brief, because unless it's about an extremely interesting person, a bio is boring to read. Resist the urge to be cute, too; it can sound really amateurish. A good rule to remember is never put anything in a bio that you wouldn't include on a business resume or C.V.

E-mail or other contact information: this is optional, but nice for the reader who wants to respond and great for the author who wants feedback.

Links to your other online publications: If you've got more out there on the net, offer it to your reader.

Weblog and/or web site links: If the reader likes what you write, they'll probably check out your sites.

For those of you who are just coming across the challenge, it is still open and anyone can participate. Click on the challenge link below for more details. For those of you who are procrastinating, there are still fifty days left until the October 31st deadline, but if you're not writing yet, park your butt in that chair and get moving.

More writers are joining the challenge every week, so from now until October 31st Thursdays here at PBW will be devoted to different aspects and topics involved with promotional e-books. Next week I'll discuss creating ways to create copy and advertising for your e-book, so stop in if you have a chance.

Take PBW's E-book Challenge

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Writers & Cover Art

What Writers Say to Their Editors About Their Cover Art, and What They Really Mean

1. "All I can say is, Wow!"

Only because I'm not going to say oh shit, Jesus Christ, or I'm fucked to an editor.

2. "Did the cover artist read my manuscript before painting this?"

'Cause I don't remember having my H/H performing swap oral sex on a giraffe in my story.

3. "How do you like it?"

Yes, please, let me know if you're as big a moron as I now think you are.

4. "I have never seen anything like it."

But then, I'm not a crack house interior wall inspector.

5. "Nothing could have prepared me for this."

Unless the Spanish Inquisition comes back and decides I'm a heretic.

6. "Production did a terrific job."

Production hates me this much?

7. "There simply aren't words to describe how this cover makes me feel."

Oh yes there are.

8. "This will sell ten thousand copies."

If there's a flood that destroys all the stores' stock and the lighting over their remainder tables burns out, maybe.

9. "What an interesting cover model."

I asked for Josh Holloway and you gave me George Hamilton?

10. "Your artist has captured the spirit of my story."

Your artist is color blind, psychotic and should never walk in front of a car I'm driving.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Freeware & Online Tools for Writers

One thing I like very much about the internet are the programmers and software designers who make their work freeware or create online tools for anyone to use. Because writers are universally income-challenged, one of my missions with PBW is to hunt down links to online tools, freeware and free trial software that writers can use or test drive at little to no cost.

Over time links do change or go belly-up, and I've never put together everything I've found in one place. So I've raided the archives to create a collective, updated list. Here's everything to which the links still work, in alphabetical order by program, list or site title (hover over the link for a short description box):

AbiWord * AbiWord v. 2.4.5 * The Abstract Art Title Generator * Active Tree Notes * Acute Notes * AdventureMaker * Agenda * AkelPad * Alice * Alien Speech * Alleycode * AM-Notebook * AndreaMosaic * Angel Writer * Anry Color Picker * Art of Illusion * Artificial Planet * ArtPad * A-Toolbar * Aviz Thought Mapper * Axon * Best Privacy Pack * BezierDraw * Bible Gateway * Blueman's Name Generators * Bonsai Story Generator * Book DB * BookFormat * Book Reader * Book Writer * Browzer Books Art Pac * Calendar.exe * Calendar Magic * Calendars & Planners * Capture-A-Screenshot * Carabao * Celestia * Chandler * Chaos Manager * Chaos Pro * Cliche Cleaner * Click-N-Type Virtual Keyboard * ClockLink * Coffee Cup Zip Wizard * Color Cop * Color Palette Generator * ConceptDraw * Data Crow * Dead Disk Doctor * Design-A-Room * Diagram Designer * Diary Book * Dirk Paehl's Web Site * DocPad * DocScrubber * Dreamlines * DSpeech * EasyNoter * E-muse * Everest Dictionary * EZThumbnails * EBook Compiler * Editor's Choice Free Software * eJournal * Elfima * eQit * Fake Name Generator * FAQ Genie * Faststone * Flipbook Printer * * Floating Clock * Floating Notes * ForeWords * The Form Letter Machine * Fredal's Dictionary * FreeSerifSoftware * FreeWare Book * FreeMind * Free Photo Station * * FreewareWiki * Furnish * Fuzzy Duck Note Tab * GameMaker * George's MySpace Editor * GlobalSpellChecker * Google Earth * GroupMail * The Hero Machine * HippoName * IDEA! * Idea Tracker * Ink * Instant Eyedropper * Interlex * Jan Verhoeven's Web Site * Jarte * John and Marcia, The Novel Crash Test Dummies * Jordi's Handwriting Fonts * JR Directory Printer * Keynote * KPlan Personal * Kwik Facts * Laptop Battery Power Monitor * Larabie Fonts * LaunchOnFly * Legendary Tales * The Literary Machine * Litha:Paint * The Magic Notebook * Magic Speed Reading * Manuscript Tracking * MemoirsLite * MicroEggTimer * MikkoMatrix * MindGenius * MindManager * MindPad * MiniMinder * Mobysaurus * MoonEdit * MouseCam *Multi-Reminders * My Things * Name Generator * Nature's Mosaic * 93 Photo Street * The Novel Notebook by PBW * Notebook 2000 * Notebox Disorganizer * NotesBrowser * NotesPad Text Editor * NovaMind * * Open Office * Open Office Portable * pAgenda * Paint Chips * Papel * Paperless Printer * PBW's Left Behind & Loving It 2007 Virtual Workshops * PCGen * PDF995 * PDF Factory * PDF Machine * PDF Maker DLL * * Peacock Color Picker * Personal Info Managers * Photo-to-Sketch * Photo2Web and Photo View * PhotoGadget * PhotoShape * Phrase Express * PlanWare * Pooter4 * PosteRazor * Posteriza * Primo PDF * Printable Notebook * ProBoards * Project DogWaffle * Project Engine * Quick2Do * QuickEnvelopes * Rainlendar * Random Terrain Generator * RapidKeys * ReadPal * Remind Me Please * Rhyme * Said * Schmap * ScholarCite * Scrapbook * Scribe * Send 2 Notepad * Serendipity * 7th Novel * Seventh Sanctum * Shirusupad * Simple TODO * SlimList * SmartBee * Smart CutNPaste * SnipIts * Sonar * SpeakOut * SpeedMenus * Spell Magic * Spice Trade * SquareNotes * StarStrider * Stay Connected * StickIt *'s free trial versions of Story Weaver, Dramatic Pro, and Movie Magic * The Story Starter * Sunbird * SuperMemo * Talking Alarm Clock * TaskPrompt * Text2Web * TextBlockWriter * Textalyser * Textanz * Textplorer * TimeLeft * Time Sentry * TimeTool * Title Scroller * TKexe Kalendar * ToDo * Total Organizer * TV.exe * TweakPDF * Twisted Brush * TypeItIn * UserHealth * Video DVD Maker * Visual Mind * Vizual Einstein ME * VMN Toolbox * Vocabula * Voodoopad * VRML Beans * Weather Watcher * * WebSearchBar * What to Do * Whiteboard PS * Win32Pad * Word Index Builder * WordMorph * Word Sorter * WordWeb * Wordcounter * WordPod * WPClipArt * Writers Block * WriteThis * Xint * yBook * yGen * yLaunch * Your Sky * ySync * yTimer * yWriter * ZuluPad.

I'm sure I missed a few, but I'll keep adding links as I unearth them, and update this list with new stuff I find. A permalink to this post will be added on the sidebar so that you all can access it easily in the future. Please feel free to pass any of these links along to folks who can use them.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Useful Ten

Ten Things to Do Stuff for You

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

1. Nab those screen colors with's Color Cop (I don't see system requirements for this one so definitely check it out carefully.)

2. Another color picker, Reohix's Peacock Color Picker can grab any color from any screen (Windows again, sorry guys -- I'm still looking around for free Mac stuff.)

3. Simon Haynes offers Sonar (Submission Tracking Tool) as freeware that keeps track of your subs for you.

4. Get 50 free, useful tools in one package with Meta Eureka's A-Toolbar.

5. has a trio of screenwriting-related programs that it offers in freeware and shareware versions.

6. Easily convert your text documents to HTML web pages with Virdi Software's Text2Web (for you authors who maintain FAQ pages, Virdi also offers FAQ Genie.)

7. Tweak the initial view of a .pdf file with, what else, TweakPDF.

8. Need a nudge on when to take a break from the computer? Let UserHealth nag you.

9. Make your own video and burn it to a DVD in three clicks with the freeware version of Video DVD Maker.

10. "Small, fast and powerful" -- try the latest NotePad replacement freeware, Win32Pad.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Sub Ops

Asylett Press is a new e-book publisher looking for: "E-books; all genres, no erotica or gay/lesbian (fic/nonfic). Pay: 40% gross." Different preferred lengths according to genre. Electronic concise queries only; do not send synopsis or manuscripts as attachments. Definitely read all guidelines from this publisher before you submit.

The publisher for the very popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series is always looking for inspirational stories between 300-1200 words; electronic, snail mail or FAX subs; payment to be determined upon acceptance.

Holy Horrors is an open sub anthology looking for original or previously published short stories: "Anything that spins, gestates, evolves, devolves, erupts, or otherwise issues, in a spectacularly evil, disturbing, supernatural, horrific, weird, insane, or otherwise grotesque way from religion." 5K max length preferred, .05/word for unpubbed, .025 for prev. pubbed, 5K cap on payment. Electronic subs preferred; write to editors for snail mail addy. Deadline February 2007.*

Poetry from the Trenches wants poems for a chapbook to compliment the From the Trenches war-theme story anthology, pays $5/poem and one copy. Electronic subs only. Deadline October 15th.*

Related Link: Tim Waggoner has a good article on playing The Anthology Game.

*Details and links snitched from, home of SF/F sub ops and the latest news about them on the web.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Awards from Writers

Ten Industry Honors That Writers Would Like to Award

1. The Astronomical Jackass Pin: for Rudest Remark Delivered While Intoxicated at a Publishing Event, Con or Cocktail Party. (Pin may not be applied to lips of the winner)

2. The Bronstein Stone: for Sincerest Effort to Politically Puke on Other Industry Professionals. (Available in Blue or Red only; resin base will be a standard beige-pink vomit color)

3. The Coppafeel/Sacred Cow Plaque: for Best Attempt to Grope an Award-Winning Author in Public. 2006 Winner Selected!

4. The Fried Optic Nerve Medallion: for Special Achievement in Utterly Inappropriate or Ridiculous Cover Art. (Guide dogs provided at no charge for victimized authors attending the award banquet)

5. The Kiss Me First Award: for Publisher Excellence in Stalling, Misplacing or Forgetting Royalty Payments. (Nominee cap 3,000 maximum)

6. The Oh Bite Me Star: for Accomplishment in Self-Publishing Inaccurate, Misspelled, Plot Spoiler or Vindictive Hatchet Job Reviews by a Non-professional. (Nominee cap 300,000 maximum)

6a. The Oh Bite Me Star with Green Clusters: for Most Hatchet Job Reviews Written by an Unemployed Editor or Former Pro Writer. (Industry trade reviewer staff automatically nominated)

7. The Order of Restraining Scroll: for Superior Effort in Cyber-Stalking an Author. (Winner to get bail bondsman gift certificate this year!)

8. The Sisters of the Immaculate Love Scene Cross: for Dedicated Effort to Police and Suppress Writer Thought, Speech and Work. (RWA Nominees Only)

9. The Wet Lips Ribbon: for Largest Amount of Saliva Produced by a Fan in an Author's Face During a Single Booksigning. (Need volunteer presenter again this year)

10. The Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Trophy: for Most Muddled Set of Revision Requests from an Editor. (Trophy title to be revised)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Friday 20

Writers are eccentric creatures. For example, I must be the only writer in the world who carries around a stone in her pocket every day. Okay, a pretty, polished coin-size hunk of hematite, but still, one of my stranger habits. I carry the stone for two reasons: 1) it's engraved with a word that reminds me of my purpose, and 2) it reminds me that my purpose is the only thing of mine that I ever want to see carved into stone. I told you it was strange.

My daughter recently bought a Chococat mousepad for me at her school book fair because she knows that I'm the world's oldest Chococat fan. I have a Chococat cell phone case and don't care what the other grownups think of me when I take it out. I think he's adorable. I had a Chococat sunglass case, but lost it or had it pinched from my purse when I wasn't looking two years ago, and I'm still mad about it.

I came up with the title for my next novel while standing in line at the grocery store on Monday. Everyone in front of me had checkout issues (price checks, coupon violations and paying in pennies) and it was taking forever. I started rearranging an old Edgar Allan Poe poem in my head to amuse myself and bingo, there was my title. This is almost as odd as how I came up with the title for StarDoc while in the shower thinking about a photo I'd seen with a newspaper article on a marine biologist (his Jeep had the license plate SEA DOC.)

Yesterday I sent a box of books written by me and other authors to some soldiers stationed in Iraq. I only packed books I've read myself because giving strangers books that I haven't read seems a little rude to me (I will occasionally give friends books I haven't read but I also warn them that I haven't.) I'm not sure why I think it's rude, other than I don't want to waste anyone's reading time on a lousy book.

Other writers' eccentricities always seem much more colorful and dangerous than mine. I don't own any offensive T-shirts, period costumes or black fedoras, and I can't fake a British accent worth a damn. I've never deliberately poured Coke on a colleague's head or grabbed anyone's private parts during an awards ceremony.

But boring as I am, I'm at your disposal today. Any questions for me?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

E-book Challenge Update

I've outlined Midnight Blues, hit the ref. books and have finalized everything in my head. I like my cast of characters and because this is a promotional project, I can do exactly what I want with the story (always a nice bonus for the author.)

Novella writing puts a choke-chain on any temptation to indulge in elephantitis of the keyboard. The chain's a bit longer than a short story's, but it still comes to an end a lot sooner than you think. While I'm writing a novella, I have to zero in versus wide-angle; some authors can juggle a lot of subplots in this form but that doesn't work for me. I don't like to count character heads when I write, but too many of them in a novella can also eat up story space, so my cast tends to be on the conservative side.

I like the pressure to keep the story in a shorter-than-novel form. Tight and focused prose is the key here; no time for prissing around with a lot of exposition and other novelladeedah. I think when novellas are done right, they can pack more punch that novels or short stories, too. They're the perfect form for P.I. stories, two-alone romances, or any story with a strong premise and lots of energy and tension in a confined arena (whether that arena is setting, timeline, conflict-related or other.)

I expect to have the novella finished by October 15th or thereabouts. How are you guys doing with your projects?

Take PBW's E-book Challenge

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


What $5 spent at a junk store can buy: a late 19th/early 20th century illustrated edition of The Vicar of Wakefield and Miscellaneous Works by Oliver Goldsmith in very good readable condition (intact spine, cover, gilt and embossing) that opens to this passage from one of his poems, The Traveller:

"And the weak soul, within itself unblest,
Leans for all pleasure on another's breast.
Hence ostentation here, with tawdry art,
Pants for the vulgar praise, which fools impart;
Here vanity assumes her pert grimace,
And trims her robes of frieze with copper lace;
Here beggar pride defrauds her daily cheer,
To boast one splendid banquet once a-year:
The mind still turns where shifting fashion draws,
Nor weighs the solid worth of self-applause."

Damn, that man could write. Not to applaud myself, Oliver, but I also unearthed near-mint 1901 University Society/Booklovers editions of The Merchant of Venice and Timon of Athens ($6 each.) They're so pristine I don't think they were read much or at all. The Goldsmith once belonged to a Minnie J. Legon in 1925, as she so helpfully inked her name on the inside of the front cover (Min didn't blot her sig before she closed the book, so it transferred over to the facing page.)

Rummaging through junk shops for books is fun. Tucked in among all those Reader's Digest Condensed Books and 8-Track Tape Guides are some real treasures; books so old and lovely that you feel privileged simply to hold them. Most of the time I don't find anything, but every now and then like today, I score.

Oliver Goldsmith's The Traveller is one of my favorite poems for personal reasons, but these lines are really cool:

"Still to ourselves in every place consign'd,
Our own felicity we make or find;
With secret course, which no loud storms annoy,
Glides the smooth current of domestic joy."

Okay, I'll stop now.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Write Snacks

The September 2006 print edition of Cooking Light magazine has a neat feature article by Dorothy Foltz-Gray on how certain foods may help improve brain function. The accompanying recipes surprised me, too -- who knew caramel apple upside-down cake was a mind booster?

Food has become a major pain in my ass over the last year. I'm lucky in that I don't have to battle an allergy as Marjorie does, but health concerns and the meds I'm on have totally changed my diet. But even before I went on the Diet from Hell, I was careful what I ate just before writing time. Plenty of foods can mess with my ability to write (like anything cooked, fried, or that contains dairy or animal products.)

I don't snack while I'm writing, although I always have a cup of tea on the desk. On my long morning break, I grab a whole wheat something and some fresh fruit that's light: bananas, table grapes (any color), apples (Granny Smiths), dried cranberries, raisins, and peach or pear slices. These are also good to eat outside on the porch, which is where I usually spend my AM breaks.

For my afternoon break I hit the protein and veggies: soy nuts, sunflower seeds, celery and carrot sticks, or if I'm really hungry, a whole wheat wrap with chopped chicken, diced onion and salad greens. I had to give up granola and cereal bars but I make my own trail mix, which is almost as good. If I have to write new material in the evening, something I try not to do, I'll make a big but light salad for dinner with dark green leafy greens, dried fruit bits, chopped walnuts or pecans and top it off with balsamic vinaigrette. If I eat a traditional dinner with the family I go for much smaller portions; I can't write on a full stomach.

I try to be cheerful about it, but reading all the labels, trying new alternative foods and finding diet-acceptable dishes at restaurants is exhausting. I rarely eat out anymore because even when it sounds okay, I don't know what goes into the dish. The wrong ingredients in something as blase as salad dressing can really screw up my meds.

Giving up ice cream, cake, chocolate (sob) chips, pie, and 99% of all meat for the whole-grain bark and twigs regime wasn't much fun for me, either, but gain came with the pain. Six months of suffering through faithfully sticking to this low-fat, low-cholesterol diet brought my bad numbers down forty-one points and my good numbers up twenty-nine. Naturally I'm still sulking. Dark chocolate M&Ms in the pound bags finally made it to my area (yeah, it took that long) and I can't have any.

What healthy snacks or meals have you found that don't interfere with your writing?

Related links: Cooking Light's Alison Ashton has a great primer article on the health benefits of seven nutrients found in food.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Thanks to everyone who joined in the Think Ink discussion, and congratulations to Ann, who is the winner of the Think Ink goody bag. Ann, when you get a chance send your full name and ship-to info to me at so I can get this package out to you.

Also a note to Caryle: back on Friday you asked if I could add some descriptions to the freebie story links on the sidebar. I've put those in title boxes that should pop up when you hover your cursor over the links.

Freebie Ten

Ten Things For No Extra Charge

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

1. 93 Photo Street allows you to create a photo map of your images based on location versus time. Good for weblog entries about trips abroad or organizing research photos taken in an unfamiliar city.

2. ChaosPro makes gorgeous fractal images with mathematical formulas.

3. Create flow charts and more with Diagram Designer.

4. Get rid of the unnecessary metadata in your Word documents with DocScrubber.

5. Fuzzy Duck Note Tab is a small but nice note-taking task tray utility.

6. Design and print signs and posters from your home printer with Posteriza.

7. Rainlendar is a customizable, multi-lingual current-month calendar program with some very cool features.

8. I don't advocate using form letters, but I think The Form Letter Machine can help with storing, sorting and recombining paragraphs and pitched from your queries and cover letters.

9. Store and tag your personal data with Total Organizer's calendar, organizer, to-do list, notebook and contact manager.

10. Just a heads-up for WritersBlock freeware users --, the WB creator's site, is back online.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Plot Tigers

In Craft & Technique, one of Paul Raymond Martin's little writing instruction books that I keep pushing on other writers, he said something that simplified the whole business of plotting beautifully:

"There are three elements to every plot: Get your character up a tree. Put tigers under the tree. Get your character out of the tree."

I like that, although tigers and trees are a bit tame for me. Dump a bunch of injured characters into a sinking lifeboat, surround the boat with starving sharks, and then send in a cat 5 hurricane before they try to get out -- that's more my style. Still, if you're having trouble with roughing out the basic plot of your story, Paul's three phase approach can be a great starting place.

One of the books I just finished had a plot tiger running around in it that I didn't even see until the third pass. Even stranger, the tiger was setting, not a character or active conflict. The thing was, this one aspect of the setting kept bugging me, and not for the usual reasons like I hate writing it and would that everything could take place in a dark featureless void etc. It sat there acting like a big lump until I rearranged a scene and then wham, it snarled in my face. I hate making changes, but I took the tiger off its chain and let it run. The end result was amazing stuff that didn't alter the story but actually pulled it together, almost as if that was the way it should have been written in the first place. Whether it was the subconscious parallel plotting or just pure dumb writer's luck, I was glad it happened.

Does this happen to anyone else out there? What sort of plot trees or tigers do you find in your stories?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Think Ink

Every writer has methods to jumpstart ideas, refine skills and otherwise help get the job done. Mine usually revolve around some sort of word play, random observation or memory game, like these:

1. Setting Details: Go to a model home or place you've never been before, and walk around one of the rooms for five minutes. Step outside and (no peeking) write down what you most remember about that room. Now go back in and see what wasn't memorable, and make a list of those things.

2. Single/Group Character Dynamics: Spend ten minutes alone with a friend, and then later write down what you did and said together. Repeat the exercise with three, four, five or as many friends as you can gather in a room. See if you can describe what your friends were wearing, how you thought they were feeling, and any details that come to mind.

3. Real Life Dialogue: Eavesdrop for fifteen minutes in a public space (don't be obvious about it) and write down exactly what you overhear along with a brief description of the speakers. Go home and write a scene in a completely different setting but using the same speakers and the dialogue you wrote down.

4. Observed Emotion/Profession: Look at any number of strangers you pass during the day and without talking to them or interacting with them in any way, try to guess how they are feeling. Write down what body language, speech and/or facial expressions made you think they were happy, angry, indifferent, etc. Based on their appearance, dress and attitude, try to guess what they do for a living and write down what made you guess that profession.

5. Comparitive Point of View: Ask five friends to tell you what they know or remember about a well-known disaster (i.e. 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.) Use the same disaster for all five people and jot down notes or record what they say. Compare each person's recollection and note the similarities and differences between them.

What method(s) have you created or found that help you with some aspect of your writing? Post yours in comments here by midnight EST on Sunday, September 10, 2006. I'll select one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner a Think Ink goody bag, which will include The Writer's Book of Matches, unsigned copies of Alison Kent's CI Guide to Writing Erotic Romance and Rosina Lippi's Tied to the Tracks, a copy of Writer's Journal Magazine and a few more surprises. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Back & Friday 20

If you didn't hear the thunk last night that registered 9.9 on the Richter scale when I finally dusted two books and the rest of the backlog, I'm caught up, and (for the moment, anyway) back to my regular schedule. Thanks to everyone who e-mailed to check on me. I really was just writing.

The break from blogging and the internet was probably good for me, but I missed you guys. On one occasion I cheated to get into a great discussion over at Jordan's place (and of course Alison Kent caught me.)

One thing that's kept coming up in reader e-mail is the current glom on Authors Behaving Badly. So that I am not confused with those who are presently using it, and because I think it's a tired topic anyway, I am officially retiring the ABB files. I don't know if I did coin the term or not -- probably not -- but as I've said before I certainly don't own the words and I don't care if anyone else uses them. Enjoy.

What's been happening in your corner of the writing world? Any questions for me?