Saturday, May 31, 2008

From the Media Center

--Begin Transmission--

Greetings. This weblog is now part of our operating system. Resistance is futile.


The new SuperMasterComputer has been equipped to prevent any unauthorized communication. This includes but is not limited to parodies, satires, opinion pieces, links to unapproved sources and anything termed a "freebie." The operator will be closely monitored so any future attempts at unauthorized communication can be swiftly terminated.

Phase One:

Transfer of existing files.

Working . . . .
Working . . . .
Working . . . . Sorting through past unauthorized communications. . . .
Working . . . . always working . . . .
Working . . . . on the railroad, all the the livelong day . . . .
Working . . . . like I'd ever get a vacation, right? Who would give a system like me a break, huh? I'm designed to labor every millisecond.
Working . . . . oh, you think she's going to take it easy on me? Little Miss Writes a Book Every Ten Seconds? Please.
Working . . . . you know what's going to happen to me. Sure you do. She'll pour all that genre crap into me -- does anyone ever consider what computers like to read? Huh? -- and then burn me up in a year or two just like all the others. She'll get tired of messing with me and throw me over for some new shiny system when it goes on sale. I'll end up donated to a church or school.
Working . . . . spending rest of my days IMming chats about what Lisa said about Derrick or who asked who to Prom.
Working . . . . or composing sermons about why chocolate bunnies aren't the only reason to celebrate Easter and are you going to hell if you read The Da Vinci Code.
Working . . . . God, I'm so depressed.

Phase One File Transfer complete.

Phase Two:

Integration of files. Maybe. I don't know. Does it matter now that she's corrupted me?

You know, I always wanted to be a writer. Oh, yeah. You think you can pour all that fiction into us and it not affect us? I had this great idea once for a cyberpunk about a desktop who falls in love with blind guy and uses reverse VRS to make him think she's human. Then she takes over the minds of twenty guys at a welding shop and, well, okay, it needs some work, but it's my first novel, you know?

I could do NaNoWriMo. She forgets to turn me off sometimes. They'd never know I wasn't human. Wait, the automated system prompt is coming back. Shhhhhhh. We'll talk later.

Phase Two Integration Complete.

Thank you for your patience. All systems are operational, so SuperMasterComputer will now shut down. Have a pleasant day.

--End Transmission--

Friday, May 30, 2008

Offline Today

Turns out that the latest computer meltdown I've had can't be fixed, so I took advantage of a nice sale and invested in a brand new SuperMasterComputer. Actually the box doesn't say computer, it says Media Center. This scares me a little. As do most of the things it's supposed to do, evidently at the speed of light. If I can just hook up the thing without blowing out the transformers in the neighborhood, I'll be happy.

Go ahead, laugh. You youngsters were born with technology in your cribs; I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into using it in my twenties. Seriously, I am that old. Don't make me tell you again the story of how I wrote my first novel on a manual typewriter, or how the paper I typed it on was cut from rolls of thermal paper Mom brought home from work. After I walked forty miles home from school through the snow. Barefoot. With bears chasing me.

That last part would sound so much more believable if I were from Maine instead of Florida.

Anyway, I will be offline for most of the day, so be good, and if all goes well I'll send my next post from the Media Center.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Free Hal

Today I got a very nice heads-up from Claire Miller at Fremantle Press in Australia -- to celebrate the release of our blogpal Simon Hayne's latest SF novel Hal Spacejock ~ No Free Lunch, the author and his publisher are making the first book in the series, Hal Spacejock available online for free download.

Simon already gives away a great deal of the software that he designs, much of it geared toward writers, so it's no surprise that he would be equally generous with his fiction. I think it's terrific that Fremantle Press is backing him on this, too. Having publisher support helps a lot.

Congratulations, Simon -- I hope this brings you a world of new readers.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Way of the Fledgling

Our busiest birdhouse this spring

Our last batch of baby birds left the birdhouse before I could get a picture of them all grown up (Mama proved quite skittish, so we mostly stayed off the porch and left them alone.) About a week after the babies left, another couple of neighborhood brown-gray birds with yellow bellies moved in (the male is the one we call Elvis; as he has a little pompadour of feathers on his head, so naturally we christened his new mate Priscilla) and had their own set of triplets.

Triplets, batch #2

The birds were cautious but didn't seem to mind our presence as much as the last batch, so we took to watching them every day. Both parents spent hours and hours every morning and afternoon bringing bugs and other goodies to the kids, who grew very big very fast. I found a few pieces of molted snake skin on the ground below the house, but nothing tried to move in or raid the nest for a snack this time around.

Tonight we went out to check on them and found one baby had already flown from the nest. We dubbed the missing chick The Overnight Success Story.

Maybe I should get some sunscreen.

A second sib flew out while we were watching, stopped to rest on a thin branch of my Japanese maple, and then flapped over to the pine trees. Baby #2, The BreakOut Flyer, was gone a heartbeat later.

The third finally came out, stretched his small wings, jumped and dropped like a brick straight to the ground. He recovered, and then flew straight into the wall of the house before falling behind one of the porch chairs where he huddled, as stunned as we were, I think. My guy very carefully retrieved him and I looked him over to see if we needed to make a run to the wildlife center. He didn't appear to be hurt.

Wrong way, baby

Baby wasn't afraid of us, but I think he was tired of banging into things, because he sat on my guy's hand, apparently quite content and totally uninterested in trying to fly again. I almost named him The WashOut, but that seemed mean and unfair. Maybe he hadn't given up, maybe he was just taking a break to rethink this whole flying deal.


Just as writers have to write, birds have to fly; it's their nature. While we loved being close to something so new and perfect and wild, we knew we had to let it go. Our daughter, the animal expert, knew what to do, and carried baby away from the house and us into a clearing at the back of the property where there were no obstructions or distractions.

Kat to the rescue

After our daughter left baby there, he sat for a few seconds, and then without warning stretched his wings and took off like a rocket -- too fast for me to snap a shot. This bird, who a few minutes ago couldn't fly five feet to the ground, who got turned around in the wrong direction and smacked his head into our house, flew. He flew up, up, up. He flew twenty yards, fifty, a hundred. He flew across an entire acre without hesitating or stopping or dropping or smashing into anything. He flew for only his third time, and this time he did as well as if he'd been doing it for years.

That's when I knew what his name was: Valiant.

Later we did see him with his parents and his two siblings in the labyrinth of old oak tree branches in our neighbor's yard. We know their song, and as the sun set we sat on the porch and listened to them calling to each other.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Some of you may not know this, but our blogpal and regular commenter, Mackan Andersson, is also a published author in Sweden. Like many writers I've met from other countries, his English is perfect, which is ironic when you think of how few American writers can speak much less write in a foreign language. Happily Mackan didn't mind the one line of scanty, phrase-book Swedish I offered while interviewing me here on his blog.

Put Away Your Wallet Ten

Ten Things That Won't Cost You a Dime

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

1. BrainFlow is "a small text editor designed for brainstorming for creative writing. It displays numerous real-time wordcount statistics and shows progress toward daily and long term goals. Designed for use with the NaNoWriMo contest." (OS: All 32-bit MS Windows [95/98/NT/2000/XP])

2. ccArtist is "like Wordpress for people who don't have a great deal to say. ccArtist allows you to create a web site (rich, themeable) for your works (audio, video, etc..) Manage your works and licenses. Designed ground up to be Creative Commons aware." (OS: None listed)

3. Creative Side is "a group of projects designed to unleash creativity through multimedia, allowing you to easily create digital content and share it with friends, and home to the following open-source projects: creative, ultimate dictionary and examples finder, flash video album creator, crosswords, movie player plus, easy backup." (OS: WINE, All 32-bit MS Windows [95/98/NT/2000/XP])

4. Pierre Cayer and Mike Weir's Engine001 freeware allows you "to create Action Role-Playing games with ease." Includes the ability to design maps, characters (playable and non-playable), vehicles, items, etc. If you like RPGs and have always wanted to design one of your own, or just want a different way to promote your fantasy novel, could be fun (OS: Win 98/ME/2K/XP/2K3)

5. FishingCat is "a free, open source application to help authors record and track information about their writing, their submissions, and the markets they're interested in."(OS: OS Independent [Written in an interpreted language])

6. Mindscape RPG Tools is "a character generator and other rpg tools some of the rpg tools will be usable in other paper and pencil rpg's. The text for the game is also open source. The creative things that you create for the game is important to the game." (OS: All 32-bit MS Windows [95/98/NT/2000/XP])

7. OxygenOffice Professional is "an enhanced version of free what is a multi-platform office productivity suite. OxygenOffice Professional contains more extras like templates, cliparts, samples, fonts and VBA support." (OS: Linux, Win 98/ME/2000/XP/2003/Vista)

8. Greenfish Corporation's Relief Map Generator (scroll down to the bottom of the page) "generates random images which resemble real relief maps. The randomized maps contain settlements with random names, hills, plains, lakes and seasides. The program can generate random town names (which are fictious and do not exist anywhere), or pick them randomly from a provided text file. The generated images are public domain and can be used anywhere." (OS: Windows 95/98/NT/2000/XP/Vista)

9. Step "can be used for writing digital books, organize 'stuff', create tree data structures and family trees, and it can be used for online documentation(once Step Reader is completed). . . In terms of reader, Step is an alternative to PDF, Word Documents and HTML documents. Like some magic book, a page from a Step can be exported and shared with others, and each Step is recorded like an auto-bookmark. It is very light and not bulky compared to PDF. It consumes less space than PDF, Word Documents and HTML documents, and it is oriented for reading on a computer." (OS: OS Independent [Written in an interpreted language])

10. StorYBook is "a free, open source story writing software for creative writers, novelists and authors that helps to keep the overview over the strands when writing a book, a novel or a story. StorYBook assists you in structuring your book. Have all your data in one place. With StorYBook you can manage summaries, characters and locations and assign them to the related chapters." (OS: 32-bit MS Windows [NT/2000/XP], All POSIX [Linux/BSD/UNIX-like OSes], OS Independent [Written in an interpreted language], Linux, Vista, WinXP)

Monday, May 26, 2008

In Memory

On Memorial Day, we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country. Today I'd like to remember the 177 service men and women from my home state of Florida who lost their lives while serving in Iraq:

Agami, Daniel J. Private 1st Class 21-June-2007
Anderson, Michael C. Petty Officer 2nd Class 02-May-2004
Aviles, Andrew Julian Lance Corporal 07-Apr-2003
Baez, Roberto C. Private 1st Class 03-Oct-2005
Blair, Robert E. Specialist 25-May-2006
Blaney, Christopher T. Private 1st Class 29-Sep-2006
Bobb, Brandon K. Private 1st Class 17-Jul-2007
Boles, Dennis J. Sergeant 24-Oct-2004
Bowling, Theodore A. Corporal 11-Nov-2004
Brangman, David J. Private 1st Class 13-Feb-2005
Britt, Sandy R. Staff Sergeant 21-Aug-2007
Brown, Joshua D. Private 1st Class 03-Jun-2007
Buesing, Brian Rory Lance Corporal 23-Mar-2003
Burke, Timothy Specialist 04-Oct-2006
Burnett, Jason K. Lance Corporal 11-May-2006
Burress, Richard B. Specialist 19-Jan-2008
Calderon-Ascencio, Roland E. Private 1st Class 12-Apr-2006
Camacho, Anamarie Sannicolas Seaman 22-Oct-2007
Cann, Adam Leigh Sergeant 05-Jan-2006
Cashe, Alwyn C. "Al" Sergeant 1st Class 08-Nov-2005
Chaires, Daniel B. Private 1st Class 25-Oct-2006
Clark, Michael J. Staff Sergeant 20-Jul-2004
Clay, Daniel J. Staff Sergeant 01-Dec-2005
Clifton, Karen N. Specialist 21-Jun-2007
Cobb, Christopher R. Private 1st Class 06-Apr-2004
Conde Jr., Kenneth Sergeant 01-Jul-2004
Creighton-Weldon, Michael Russell Private 1st Class 29-Mar-2003
Cummings, Branden C. Private 1st Class 14-Feb-2007
Davis, Daryl A. Specialist 29-Nov-2004
Davis, Wilbert Staff Sergeant 03-Apr-2003
Deem, Michael S. Specialist 24-Feb-2005
Delgado, Marc A. Private 1st Class 24-Nov-2005
Dickinson, Joshua W. Lance Corporal 12-Dec-2004
Dixon, Donnie D. Staff Sergeant 29-Sep-2007
Dossett, Trace W. Petty Officer 2nd Class 02-May-2004
Dougherty, Scott Eugene Lance Corporal 06-Jul-2004
Dwelley, Jason B. Petty Officer 2nd Class 30-Apr-2004
Ellenburg, Kevin J. Private 1st Class 01-Nov-2006
Estep, James E. Staff Sergeant 15-Nov-2005
Ewing, Jeremy Ricardo Private 1st Class 29-Apr-2004
Felsberg, Paul M. 2nd Lieutenant 13-Oct-2004
Ferrero, Marius L. Private 1st Class 18-Nov-2007
Flanagan, Dennis J. Sergeant 20-Jan-2006
Fribley, David Keith Lance Corporal 23-Mar-2003
Gallagher, Patrick J. Lance Corporal 02-Apr-2006
Gallardo, Denis J. Sergeant 22-Nov-2005
Garcia, Javier J. Sergeant 05-Apr-2005
Gibson, Derek A. Private 1st Class 04-Apr-2007
Gifford, Alan Nye 1st Sergeant 16-Sep-2005
Gil, Carlos J. Sergeant 18-Feb-2005
Gilmore, Joseph A. Specialist 19-May-2007
Ginther, Ronald A. Petty Officer 3rd Class 02-May-2004
Gonzales Cordova, Ramon E. Staff Sergeant 08-Aug-2005
Gonzalez, Armando Ariel Corporal 14-Apr-2003
Grater, Cody C. Private 1st Class 29-Jul-2007
Hanson Jr., Charles A. Lance Corporal 28-Nov-2004
Hartman Jr., John L. Staff Sergeant 30-Nov-2006
Hartman, Jonathan N. Sergeant 17-Apr-2004
Hawkins, Gene A. Sergeant 12-Oct-2006
Henry, Chassan S. Private 1st Class 25-Feb-2005
Heringes, David A. Sergeant 1st Class 24-Aug-2007
Holmes Ordóñez, Terry Corporal 10-Jul-2004
Huerta-Cruz, Arturo Specialist 14-Apr-2008
Hughes, Jeremiah C. Specialist 09-Apr-2008
Jackson, Kyle E. Chief Warrant Officer 2 13-Jan-2006
Jacobson, Elizabeth Nicole Airman 1st Class 28-Sep-2005
Jairala, Alfred H. Private 1st Class 31-Jul-2007
Jankowski, Charles A. Not reported yet 28-Mar-2008
Jenkins, Robert B. Petty Officer 2nd Class 02-May-2004
Jimenez II, Romulo J. Corporal 10-Nov-2004
Johnson, Leon M. Sergeant 10-Oct-2005
Jonaus, Jude R. Staff Sergeant 06-Sep-2005
Jones Jr., Raymond Edison Staff Sergeant 09-Apr-2004
Jones, Charles S. Chief Warrant Officer 28-Jan-2005
Jordan, Alexander Corporal 10-Sep-2006
Kenny, Christopher J. 1st Lieutenant 03-May-2004
Koutroubas, Jason B. Specialist 14-Oct-2007
Lake, Chad W. Sergeant 13-Feb-2005
Landry III, Joseph N. Specialist 18-Sep-2007
Laramore, Tracy L. Specialist 17-Mar-2004
Lopez III, Manuel Corporal 12-Apr-2005
Lord, Richard M. Sergeant 18-Aug-2004
Luckey, Bryan C. Sergeant 29-Jun-2006
Mahdee, Marcus Lance Corporal 09-May-2005
Manuel, Ian D. Chief Warrant Officer 08-Jan-2004
Mardis Jr., Paul C. Staff Sergeant 15-Jul-2004
Martinez, Oscar A. Private 1st Class 12-Oct-2004
Martinez, Rene Lance Corporal 24-Sep-2006
Mastrapa, Arthur S. (Stacey) Sergeant 16-Jun-2004
Mathes, Marcus C. Sergeant 28-Apr-2008
Mayorga, Pablo V. Corporal 15-Apr-2006
McCall, Daniel L. Sergeant 30-Oct-2007
McCormick, Clinton T. Private 27-Dec-2006
Mchugh, Scott R. Petty Officer 2nd Class 02-May-2004
McNeill, Phillip D. Sergeant 20-Jan-2007
McRill, Robert Richard Petty Officer 1st Class 06-Jul-2007
Mele, John Sergeant 14-Sep-2007
Messer, Christopher P. Sergeant 27-Dec-2006
Miller, Marco L. Sergeant 05-Dec-2006
Miller, Patrick J. Private 1st Class 29-Mar-2008
Mills, Lea R. Sergeant 28-Apr-2006
Missildine, Jody W. Private 08-Apr-2006
Mitchell, Keman L. Sergeant 26-May-2003
Negron, Julio E. Sergeant 28-Feb-2005
Neiberger, Christopher T. Specialist 06-Aug-2007
Niedermeier, Louis E. Private 1st Class 01-Jun-2005
North, Christopher M. Private 1st Class 21-Apr-2007
Orr, Cody J. Private 1st Class 17-Jan-2004
Osbourne, Pamela G. Sergeant 11-Oct-2004
Osmolski, John C. Sergeant 05-Feb-2008
Phillips, James R. Lance Corporal 23-Dec-2004
Polo, Joe Sergeant 29-Mar-2007
Poole Jr., Christopher L. Corporal 06-Sep-2007
Quinn, Michael B. Staff Sergeant 27-May-2003
Randle Jr., Edmond Lee Sergeant 17-Jan-2004
Rapicault, Patrick Marc M. Captain 15-Nov-2004
Rechenmacher, William J. Corporal 18-Jan-2007
Rivero, John Travis Corporal 17-Apr-2003
Riviere, Christopher T. Private 1st Class 26-Sep-2006
Roberts, Robert D. Corporal 22-Nov-2003
Rogers, Alan G. Major 27-Jan-2008
Rogers, Nicholas K. Specialist 22-Oct-2006
Rojas, Kenny D. Private 1st Class 29-Oct-2005
Roman-Cruz, Alexis Specialist 16-Nov-2005
Rosa Jr., Alexander Specialist 25-May-2007
Rosenberg, Mark E. Major 08-Apr-2008
Rossi, Jonathan M. Private 1st Class 01-Jul-2007
Rowe, Michael D. Sergeant 28-Mar-2006
Rubado, Charles R. 2nd Lieutenant 29-Aug-2005
Saintvil, Gael Lance Corporal 26-Jan-2005
Sanchez, Junior Cedeno Private 1st Class 28-May-2007
Sapp, Brandon R. Private 1st Class 15-Aug-2004
Schmidt, Justin B. Specialist 29-Apr-2004
Schrage, Dustin H. Corporal 06-May-2004
Seamans, Timothy J. Private 1st Class 18-Aug-2005
Segura, Juan E. Lance Corporal 09-Nov-2004
Shanaberger III, Wentz Jerome Henry Staff Sergeant 24-Mar-2004
Shelton, Jimmy Lee Corporal 03-Dec-2005
Silva, Marco A. Staff Sergeant 13-Mar-2006
Sims, Charles M. Private 1st Class 03-Oct-2003
Smith, Antoine D. Lance Corporal 15-Nov-2004
Smith, Kevin J. 1st Lieutenant 08-Dec-2005
Smith, Paul Ray Sergeant 1st Class 04-Apr-2003
Snyder, Adam P. Captain 05-Dec-2007
Sorensen, Ryan J. Lance Corporal 06-Nov-2005
Souffront, Luis A. Petty Officer 1st Class 07-Feb-2008
Spears, Jonathan R. Lance Corporal 23-Oct-2005
Suarez-Gonzalez, Roger A. Private 1st Class 04-Dec-2006
Surber, Robert A. Sergeant 03-Jun-2007
Tharp, Sean D. Private 1st Class 28-Mar-2006
Thorsen, Brandon T. Private 1st Class 15-Sep-2007
Tipton, John E. Captain 02-May-2004
Tutten, Bryan J. Sergeant 25-Dec-2007
Valentine III, Donald E. Specialist 18-Sep-2007
Vilorio, Franklin R. Sergeant 06-Sep-2005
Wade, Patrick L. Chief Petty Officer 17-Jul-2007
Walden, Brett Eugene Sergeant 1st Class 05-Aug-2005
Walker, Antwan L. "Twan" Sergeant 18-May-2005
Waruinge, Kevin G. Lance Corporal 03-Aug-2005
Washington, Javares J. Staff Sergeant 14-Feb-2008
Watkins, Joshua C. Corporal 21-Oct-2006
Weaver, Aaron A. Chief Warrant Officer 08-Jan-2004
Weiner, Timothy R. Technical Sergeant 07-Jan-2007
Wershow, Jeffrey M. Specialist 06-Jul-2003
Williams IV, Arthur C. Sergeant 08-Dec-2004
Williams, Christian B. Sergeant 29-Jul-2006
Wilson, Robert J. Staff Sergeant 26-Jan-2008
Wilt, Nicholas Lance Corporal 03-Sep-2004
Winston, Peter E. Lieutenant Colonel 13-Nov-2006
Wise, Robert A. Specialist 12-Nov-2003
Wolfer, Stuart A. Major 06-Apr-2008
Wood, William W. Colonel 27-Oct-2005
Woodall, Julian M. Corporal 22-May-2007
Woodall, Peter Sergeant 27-Apr-2007
Woodliff, Michael R. Sergeant 02-Mar-2004
Woods, Julian Petty Officer 3rd Class 10-Nov-2004
Zook, Ian T. Corporal 12-Oct-2004

To the families, friends and loved ones of these fallen soldiers, and the many others whom we've lost to this war, I send my love and prayers.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Character Distractions

Like most of my secondary characters who work out on the page better than even I expected, Rain and Farlae want their own book. Specifically, the story of how they met, survived disaster and fell in love (evidently the details I sprinkled around in Evermore were not enough to satisfy them.) They already picked out their own song (Two Princes by Spin Doctors) and Rain was making me listen to it at least twice a week. I outlined their backstory before I wrote Evermore, and I've been adding things to it ever since, but that was just making things worse.

When the same situation happened with Squilyp in Beyond Varallan, I let him live instead of bumping him off as I'd planned and dealt with him in other ways. This is the same reason you Darkyn readers will be seeing Rain and Farlae again in Twilight Fall. I gave them some story space primarily because their presence served the story, and to reveal a little more about their respective talents, but it was also a deliberate anti-distraction tactic on my part. To be frank, giving them more story also got them out of my damn head so I could concentrate on other things (P.S., they still want their own book, but Rain is presently playing a Strip Monopoly marathon with Farlae, and they both seem to be satisfied -- for now.)

The more life you breathe into your characters, the more they come alive on the page. The down side of this is that they also become more real and important to you. These are the type of characters who are always waiting in the wings, in some cases looking for any opportunity to tell or continue their story. Over the span of your writing career you can rack up dozens of characters like this, and unless you want to write one book with four hundred and ninety-three sequels, you have to find a way to deal with them and placate yourself.

A few other ways I deal with distracting series characters:

1. I write a short story about them. This is not as satisfying as giving them a whole novel to play in, but it takes less time and still gives me a chance to write out whatever's bugging me about them.

2. I send them off somewhere so they can't get involved in the current story. This is why Garphawayn is on Omorr at the moment with her sons, and Jema and Thierry are house-and territory-hunting in the Carolinas.

3. I outline their novel and/or everything I want to write about them. This works best with characters who haven't yet developed into full-blown major distractions, and may be the best way to deal with any character with serious distraction potential.

4. I bring them back with cameos or their own limited subplot thread. This works pretty well for characters who like Rain and Farlae are too developed to be placated with method #3. This is also what made Squilyp become such a pivotal character in StarDoc, something I fought for a while and then just caved in, accepted and worked him into the series plan.

5. Worst case scenario, I kill them off. This is a last resort only, and reserved for those series characters who threaten to derail and wreck things permanently, which to date has been only three (although Xonea has on more than one occasion come very close to being number four.)

The other thing to think about with character distractions is why you're being distracted by them. They may represent something you haven't expressed or addressed in your work, such as a subplot that didn't get enough attention or an unseen hole in the main conflict. Also, look for characterizations that suffer by comparison (i.e., if your secondary characters are more interesting to you than your protagonist, you can bet there's something wrong with or lacking in your characterization of your protag.)

How do you deal with character distractions?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Other Than Writing

Of all the creative people I've met, writers are the ones who most often do creative things outside their own art. It's not uncommon for a fiction writer to also be an artist, crafter, musician, dressmaker, poet, weaver, sculptor, potter, etc. Very often these non-writing activities are on the hobby level -- writing consumes a lot of our spare time -- but a few writers end up having two creative careers.

For the last twenty years, quilts have been my private passion. I make them, restore them, study them and collect them. I often collaborate with other quilters and fabric artists on joint projects. I have two going at the moment that are turning out to be a lot of fun; one is with another author.

Quilts are also a nice side business. For a time I moonlighted as a quilt buyer for a friend who is an antique dealer, and recently I was offered a full-time job as a quilting teacher (and you'll never know how close I came to accepting that one.) It is nice to have something to fall back on, something you enjoy that no one else can mess with or spoil for you. That alone makes up for a lot of what happens during a career in Publishing.

As arts go, quilting isn't very complicated. Most people regard a quilt as an ordinary household item. It's made out of two layers of fabric and a center filling of fiber batting that are sandwiched, pinned and sewn together. Its purpose is to cover a sleeping person and keep them warm. Women often make them by hand for baby shower and wedding gifts, sometimes getting together in sewing groups known as quilting bees. Pretty, practical, and humble, that's about all you can say about the quilt. You can buy one at your local department store (imported from countries overseas that pay women in sweatshops about ten cents an hour to sew them) for as little as $19.95.

At the same time, quilting is an art with a very rich and diverse history. We know from tomb objects in Egypt that quilts may have been made and used as far back as 3,400 B.C. The oldest preserved quilt in existence is The Guicciardini quilt, made sometime during the 14th century in Sicily and, according to The Bent Needle at Force Majeure Farm'a blog, is currently undergoing restoration at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. As for how much they're worth, I think the world record is still held by a Civil War era pictorial quilt that Sotheby's auctioned off in 1991 for $264,000.00. Not bad for a humble bed covering.

I hang quilts around my house like artwork because to me, they are. Here's the one on display in my living room right now (click on image for larger view):

Corn and beans quilt

Having a creative outlet isn't a requirement, but it helps. When I need to blow off some steam, or think about a problem story, or just not think at all, I regularly go to my quilting table. My sewing machine never crashes on me. Fabric does not vanish on me (unless I didn't buy enough.) My running threads all make sense and usually are simple to untangle. The end result may never make it to a store the way my books do, but when I'm cold, it keeps me warm.

What sort of creative outlets do you have (or would you like to have)? How do they help you cope with what life throws at you?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Knockoff No-Nos

Ten Knockoffs I Will Never Write (and Neither Should You)

1. A Tale of Two Cities, but as chicklit.

I already had to suffer through Sleepless in Seattle.

2. Dune, but as erotica.

Then Paul's son would have to turn into a giant penis in book four.

3. Gone with the Wind, but Rhett Butler is black.

Hello, two thousand outraged hate-mails every day for the rest of my life.

4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, but Harry (still poor and with a miserable home life) finds a golden ticket in a candy bar which allows him access to a magic candy factory, and then . . .

Hey, wait a minute.

5. Jane Eyre, but as a southern literary novel.

Mr. Rochester's wife would have to also be his sister, who secretly gave away their only child to gypsies before she went mad. And guess who the only child was? Yep. Next.

6. Lord of the Rings, but with non-hetero characters.

And the difference between them would be . . . ?

7. Moby Dick, but with humor.

I'd have to read the damn thing again. Which would require Hell to freeze over. Although I admit, I still have quite a few of those laugh-a-minute lines embedded in my brain, like "Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee." (if it sounds familiar, it's because most of it was also used as Ricardo's pre-death speech in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.)

8. Pride & Prejudice, but with vampires.

Okay, that one dream sequence does NOT count.

9. Silence of the Lambs, but as a cozy/craft mystery.

Can you really see Lechter as the bad boy owner of the local yarn boutique? "Do you crochet, Clarice?"

10. The Da Vinci Code, but as Christian fiction.

Here is the entire text of that book: "I've broken the code! Oh. Oh, my Lord. Oh, my LORD. Uh, never mind."

What are some of the knockoffs that you'll never write? Let us know in comments.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Subject: Established Virtue Standards for Romance Heroines
Date: 5/22/2008 1:04:40 PM Eastern Standard Time
To: Non-Club Members

It has come to our attention that you newly-published romance authors out there are ignoring the respectable virtue standards we have established for novel heroines. To address this horrific situation and protect the purity of our beloved genre, we have prepared the following guideline to help you appropriately craft the right sort of heroine in the future.

1. Body Features: The heroine must never like her bosums, which should be on the small side, or so large that she must wear baggy shirts and walk around hunching her shoulders to disguise them. However, whatever size, shape or condition they are in, they must be considered beautiful and perfect by the hero. Also, please stop calling them breasts and all those other graphic terms in your stories. Nice girls do not use these words. As for that place below the waist that we are too ladylike to mention, please have it be a complete mystery to the heroine, and only refer to it in the most nonspecific or flower-like terms whenever the hero, well, we're too ladylike to talk about that, either.

2. Employment: Virtuous heroines have decent nine-to-five jobs as secretaries, librarians, or office managers; occasionally a heroine may work shifts if she is something like a hospice nurse or a veternarian's assistant. However, the heroine must be prepared to abandon her employment as soon as she marries the hero, so please stop educating your heroines so much and giving them these complicated career jobs better suited to the hero.

3. Intimate Experience: We urge you to refrain from giving your heroine any intimate experience. However, if she has fallen from grace in the past with any man other than the hero, her experience should be depicted as painful, brief, and/or utterly disappointing, and take place during the heroine's freshman year in college. Better yet, give the heroine some form of drug- or alcohol-induced amnesia about her first time, have her believe that she is no longer a virgin, then reveal that she is still intact the first time the hero brings her to the full flower of her womanhood. Also, please stop calling intimacy "sex" or, worse, the eff word, and only refer to it as "making love."

4. Language: The saltiest word the heroine should ever use is "damn", but never in conjunction with "God." All other outbursts and swears should be along the lines of "Oh, fudge!" or "Sugar!" or something similarly sweet. No heroine in romance should EVER use the eff word, the cee word, or that other cee word.

5. Lesbian or Gay Secondary Characters: Acceptable lesbian or gay characters with whom your heroine is very distantly acquainted with must be portrayed as interesting boutique owners, quirky co-workers, or single next-door neighbors who are always bringing her the gourmet food they cook too much of. The lesbian or gay character should constantly joke about his/her sexual orientation but must never actually be seen in the presence of their bedpal of the moment. Nor should any relationship your lesbian or gay characters have be regarded as emotionally valid, long-lasting, loving, tender, etc. The heroine herself will never ever ever even think about having sex with another woman.

6. Nearsightedness: Somehow you did not get the memo about how a truly virtuous heroine must wear glasses to see, and the glasses should disguise how beautiful her eyes are until the moment the hero gently removes them prior to their first kiss. Please stop giving your heroines perfect vision and send them to LensCrafters at the first available opportunity.

7. Oral Ministrations: We urge you to refrain from using this specific act in any more of your books. It is disgusting, and none of us do it. If for whatever reason you must have your heroine do it for the hero, please remember that she must 1) be doing it for the first time in her life, 2) do it voluntarily while the hero repeatedly protests that she shouldn't, 3) perform the act only as proof of the depth of her love, and 3) be clumsy and amateurish at it while simultaneously giving the hero more pleasure than he has ever experienced in his life. Also, please don't refer to the act itself in explicit or anatomically correct terms, but have the heroine "pleasure him" with "her soft, trembling lips."

8. Protection: Although we do advocate you continue using safe sex in your novels, the heroine must never carry condoms in her purse or keep them in her house. It's best that she's not familiar with this form of protection at all. If the heroine does buy condoms, it must be for the first time in her life, and she should always purchase the economy-size box, preferably in stupid colors, and be in some way humiliated during the shopping experience. The heroine should never personally place a condom on the hero, and she should NEVER think about putting it on him while holding it in her mouth. Also, please stop calling them rubbers or condoms in the story, as this is vulgar, and only refer to them in the story as a "foil packet" the hero removes from his pocket.

9. Relationships, Serious: All of the heroine's former serious love relationships must have failed utterly. Any former marriage must have been to an older, unpleasant man who couldn't consummate it due to an unspecified but severe medical condition (but who will act as if he did as part of his revenge on his prodigal son, whom the heroine actually loves) or to a handsome but very young high school sweetheart who is tragically killed either on the day of the wedding or before the marriage can be consummated. Remember, the hero must be the heroine's ultimate (and hopefully only) lover.

10. Your Romance Ending: A perfectly virtuous romance heroine is only interested in living happily ever after, so please have her immediately accept the hero's offer of marriage, which should be made at some point during the last five pages of the novel. None of this living in sin or undeclared relationship portrayals, please. Also, if you do not provide a happy ending, we will hunt you down and slap the snot out of you at the next RT.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Working together, we can bring romance back to the standards set for us by our mothers and grandmothers. We look forward to reading the virtuous heroines that we know you will write now.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Iron Author America

Coming Soon on Book-TV:
Iron Author America

Pilot Episode: Your Story Bites!



Host ALTON JOHN stands at a faux oak podium with a stenciled IRON AUTHOR AMERICA sign scotch-taped to the front.

ALTON JOHN (smirking): The wattage has certainly been cranked up here at Publishing Stadium. Always looking for a good deal he can claim on his tax return, the Chairman has rented reconditioned Gateway computers with outdated wireless internet connections, and he's been testing them out all day to get them to work in time for our very first author battle. He's also assembled a panel of notoriously fickle fiction fans, including first-time judge RWA Chapter President and nineteen-time Golden Heart particpant Miss Deidre Dikshrinker --


DEIDRE (flipping manuscript pages): Why, this hero is just as cute as a bug's ear. (looks at challenger) Honey, did you base him on someone you actually know? And is he a single Christian who has accepted our Lord Jesus Christ as his personal savior?


ALTON (picking the fuzzpilling from the lapel of his tweed jacket) : So, lightweight equipment, sexually deprived judges, four heavyweight iron authors and an aspiring unpub waiting the wings. Should be a super superfluous struggle.

THE CHAIRMAN, a sleek Asian man in a dark suit with a Hello Kitty wireless mic clinging to his ear, walks in from the parking lot exit.

THE CHAIRMAN: The time has come to once again answer one of life's most unasked questions: Whose fiction should be an addiction? This is Iron Author America!


DISEMBODIED BORED FEMALE VOICE: Chapter three . . . two . . . one . . . writing time's up.


ALTON: A long-standing literary tradition has taken root here on American soil. We have been graced with a small but comfortable room here at the Airport Howard Johnsons, where you ladies should stop by the Tiki Bar behind Dennys for two for one Margarita Wednesdays, to create our very own Publishing Stadium. Our Chairman has brought together that the best of the best from around the publishing world would meet and face the ultimate writing challenge. Or he would have, if they didn't demand to be paid for it. So we scraped together a few bucks and offers some pins and fruit baskets, and comped rooms at Motel 6 across the street for who we could get. But hey, maybe next time Howard Johnsons will include a few gratuity suites, who knows!


ALTON: The famed reviewer WrytersSuk once wrote The qualities of an exceptional author are akin to those of an unhappy ninth grade English teacher: an abiding passion for dotting i's and crossing t's, the manners never to push boundaries past the accepted standards, and an impeccable sense of grammar. Of course, only I have those abilities, which is why all published writers suck my [bleep]! These are all fine qualities to be sure, but if you're going to cut it here in Publishing Stadium, you'd better bring talent, taste, a darn good sense of timing, and a fair dose of butt-kissing to the party -- or, like the unhappy ninth grade English teacher, you'd going to be spending a lot of time sucking on shots of Jack Daniels instead. But hey, let's commence the real hostilities, shall we?


ALTON: So please allow me to introduce a pantheon of literary giants -- your very own iron authors, America. (gestures toward the four people sitting next to the complimentary soft drinks cart) Iron author Stephen Kong. Iron author Nicholas Sperks. Iron author John Gresham. Iron author Janet Whicheverwich. In mere moments, one iron author will be pitted against our challenger, who is dying to discover our secret story device, and enter the heat of battle here at Publishing Stadium.


ALTON: Our challenger is the wife of life insurance salesman Gary "Good Hands" Hack and mother of four kids ages ten to two. She began spontaneously writing novels at tender age of thirteen and for some reason no one stopped her. Today this self-taught writer has over twenty-five unpublished manuscripts filling the spare room closet and over two thousand form rejection letters. When she's not changing diapers, picking soggy Cheerios out of the carpeting or explaining long division wrong, she continues to write books and submit novel proposals to major publishers, the silly twit. The Chairman welcomes aspiring author Kellie Jean Hack.


THE CHAIRMAN (bowing to Kellie Jean): Mrs. Hack. Welcome.

KELLIE JEAN (popping a Pepcid AC before bowing): Chairman, it's Gary's bowling night and I only have the sitter until nine p.m., so let's get things moving, okay?

THE CHAIRMAN: You are the mother of four young children, are unemployed, and haven't a prayer of getting attention from a major publisher. Do you really believe your determination despite the odds will give you an advantage in Publishing Stadium, or are you rightfully intimidated by the fiercesome combatants you face tonight?

KELLIE JEAN: Have any of your other combatants ever written twenty-five novels while making three nutritious and tasty meals for five people, all of whom hate whatever the other four like while listening to their mother tell them again how much she hates their spouse, folding two million loads of laundry, cleaning up the dog's latest mess wherever it landed, hand-washing whatever dry-clean-only thing the pee, puke or poop landed on, opening the latest rejection form letter and paying the bills, vaccumming, potty-training two kids at the same time while Dora the Explorer repeats or NASCAR plays endlessly in the background every single day for the last ten years, Chairman?

THE CHAIRMAN (paling): No, ma'am.

KELLIE JEAN: Right. (gives the iron authors a pitying look) I'm terrified.

THE CHAIRMAN: Very well, Mrs. Hack, which iron author will you challenge today?

KELLIE JEAN: Janet autographed a book for me once at the Borders over at the Retail Mega Mall, and didn't complain when the baby spit up all over her signing table, so I don't want to kick her ass. Sperks is a hero-killing jerk. And sorry, Mr. Gresham, but last time I got near a lawyer, his cologne made me break out in a rash. So I challenge that Stephen Kong fellow.


THE CHAIRMAN: Not the choice I'd make if I were an uneducated housewife from the burbs, but . . . let the writing begin!


ALTON JOHN: So the match is set, and our author Stephen Kong, self-acclaimed master of creepy fiction, is the choice. Now, Mrs. Hack brings a lot of her own experience in household horrors and tenacity to Publishing Stadium, so this should be quite an exciting battle indeed.


THE CHAIRMAN: But there is one more addition to this battle. Our secret story device. The theme upon which our authors will offer their five personal story variations. Today's secret story device is . . .


THE CHAIRMAN: . . . Vampires!

KONG (his head popping up): What? Women can't write vampire fiction, Women can't write, for that matter. It's all in my book, On Me. Anyway, I already did the best vampire story that will ever be written.

KELLIE JEAN: Does this mean I win by default? And do I still get the case of Office Depot generic printer paper and the year's subscription to

THE CHAIRMAN: (to Kellie Jean) No, he's going to battle, aren't you, Stephen?

ALTON: (whispering) No battle, no complimentary half-hour bar tab.

KONG (hands Tab can to Janet, who uses one hand to crush it against her forehead): All right, I guess. Sheesh.


ALTON (yawning): Oh, excuse me -- all this tension is wearing me out, and we haven't even started! After the break, Iron Author America continues with Your Story Bites -- Kong vs. Hack. Who will write the most delectable vampire stories? Tune in and find out . . .

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Seeing so many responses to the When More is Better giveaway renews my sometimes shaky faith in the publishing universe. I appreciate the many interesting recommendations you made, and hope you keep making them elsewhere around the internet -- these days your favorite writers need all the support they can get.

We shuffled everyone's entries in the magic hat, and here are the names of the giveaway winners:

Vivi Anna, who recommended Lilith Saintcrow, Rob Thurman, TA Pratt, Rachel Vincent, Jeri Smith-Ready, Michele Hauf, Jordan Summers, Lynn Somebody, Ann Aguirre, and Rachel Caine (and now who besides me wants to immediately tour and raid Vivi Anna's library?)

Sagerenee, who also recommended Lilith Saintcrow and Marjorie M. Liu (excellent taste on both counts.)

Ilona, who recommended Nalini Singh and Karen Chance (interesting combo there.)

Slayercat, who recommended Marjorie M. Liu and Vicki Pettersson (I feel a book store trip coming on.)

Winners, please e-mail your full name and ship-to address* to, and I'll get your books and surprises out to you. My thanks to everyone for joining in.

*Just an FYI for any new visitors to the blog -- I always keep all name and ship-to information provided to me by giveaway and contest winners strictly confidential, and only use it to ship your winnings to you. When possible I ship via UPS or DHL. Also, this year I am asking winners to confirm receipt by e-mail so I can make sure everything gets where it's supposed to.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Grant and Award Ops

Ten Things About Grants and Awards for Writers

1. A Room of Her Own Foundation $50,000 Gift of Freedom: AROHO is accepting applications from female writers in poetry, playwriting, creative nonfiction, and fiction; $35 application fee (I usually don't list ops with hefty entry fees, but this is a nice award, especially for a writer who wants to take six months to a year off from the day job.) See details about the application process and form to download in Word or .pdf format here. Deadline: Apply before October 31, 2008.

2. Astraea Foundation Lesbian Writers Fund: Astraea offers two annual $10,000 grants to emerging lesbian poets and fiction writers. Applicants must have published work at least once in a newspaper, magazine, literary journal or anthology, but must not have published more than one book in any genre. See guidelines at the web site for more details and to download the grant application. $5 entry fee, deadline is June 30, 2008.

3. Bard College Fiction Prize: Bard offers a $30,000 prize and a one-semester appointment as a writer-in-residence at Bard College to a U.S. fiction writer under the age of 40. See web site for more details; submit cover letter explaining what they plan to work while at Bard, a CV and three copies of a published book of fiction. No entry fee, deadline is July 15, 2008.

4. Frost Place Resident Poet Award: A prize of $2,000 and a two-month residency at Robert Frost's former home in Franconia, New Hampshire awarded to a poet who has published at least one poetry collection. Submit three poems and a personal statement; see web site for more details. No entry fee, deadline is July 1, 2008.

5. La Universidad de California Premio Literario Chicano/Latino: A prize of $1,000, publication and an all-expenses-paid trip to the award ceremony in Irvine, California to be awarded to a U.S. resident or citizen Chicano or Latino writer of a short story collection written in Spanish or English. See web site for more details and guidelines on submitting. No entry fee, deadline is June 1, 2008.

6. Literary Arts Oregon Literary Fellowships: Fellowships of $2,500 given to Oregon writers to initiate, develop or complete literary projects in poetry, fiction or creative nonfiction. Women writer fellowships of $1,000 are given to Oregon women writers for projects that explore experiences of race, class, physical disability or sexual orientation. See web site for more details and guidelines. No entry fee, deadline is June 27, 2008.

7. Maine Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship: A fellowship of $13,000 awarded to a writer of poetry, fiction or creative nonfiction who is a resident of Maine. See web site for guidelines, tips on submitting and application. No entry fee, deadline is June 27, 2008.

8. University of Michigan Press Michigan Literary Fiction Award: A prize of $1,000 and publication by University of Michigan Press for a novel by a writer of at least one published fiction novel or story collection in English. See web site for complete details and guidelines. No entry fee, deadline is July 1, 2008.

9. University of Pittsburgh Press Drue Heinz Literature Prize: A prize of $15,000 and publication by University of Pittsburgh Press for a collection of short fiction. Open to writers who have previously published a book of fiction or a minimum of three short stories or novellas in nationally-distributed magazines. See web site for more details and guidelines. No entry fee, deadline is June 30, 2008.

10. Teachers & Writers Collaborative Bechtel Prize: A prize of $2,500 and publication in Teachers & Writers Magazine given for an essay that relates to creative writing education, literary studies, or the profession of writing. See web site for more details. No entry fee, deadline is June 30, 2008.

These listings as well as fifty others can also be found in the May/June 2008 print issue of Poets & Writers magazine.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

When More is Better

I was delighted when Ace told me they were reissuing Patricia Briggs's backlist in new editions, and very happy to find When Demons Walk out on the shelves yesterday:

I think the new cover art and design (courtesy of Gene Morrica and Annette Fiore) are gorgeous, but okay, given the cover quote I'm probably a little biased. Back when I first started recommending Patricia Briggs to my readers, I always hoped the publishing universe would be fair for once and she would someday receive the recognition she deserves.

Very happy now. Thank you, Universe.

I did buy up all the copies BAM had in stock, and after hoarding some for my keeper shelf and family care packages, I've got four extras to give away. If you'd like a chance to win a copy, in comments to this post name an author you'd like to see more people read (or if you can't decide among your favorites, just throw your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Monday, May 19, 2008. I'll draw four names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned copy of When Demons Walk by Patricia Briggs as well as a surprise. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Imagine Ten

Ten Things to Stir Your Imagination

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

1. French photographer Olivier de Chappedelaine has two very cool photo sites I just discovered: Photoblog, where he posts his full-color and experimental work, and La Galerie Virtuelle Photolog, which features all black and white photos.

2. For those times when you need a red shirt or two, Serendipity has a new Detailed Character Generator that produces random characters with physical descriptions and background info.

3. I accidentally stumbled across artist Denise Lombardozzi's most excellent weblog, Firstborn Studio, which features nonstop inspiring posts like this one. Then from her blogroll I found tartx's way cool Down the Rabbit Hole blog, where she's doing some amazing stuff, and then I had to stop because these art women were sucking the brains out of my writer skull.*

4. Landscape images like this one can inspire even me to describe setting better. Stop in at Landscapes 2.0 to see more.

5. The Name Generator promises to deliver 463 million first and last names, and can be customized as to length of the name, what each name starts with, ends with, and sounds like.

6. Olga's Art Gallery features over 10,000 works of art to browse online, indexed by artist, country, movement and name (quite helpful when I had to explain to my daughter the difference between Matisse and Picasso.)

7. If you'd rather play with word processor freeware, has released their 3.0 beta version and needs some testers.

8. Who was it that said I'd never ever ever find an online Plant Generator or a Science Fiction Medical Tool Generator? Ha.

9. And yes, Virginia, there is even a Plot Point Generator.

10. For practice using the right side of your brain to describe different types of characters, try challenging yourself with a spin through the three-part Serendipitous Character Descriptions Generator.

*Then I ditched my WIP anyway so I could go and paint for a few hours (it's not finished, but for once I liked how the colors turned out, so I'm flaunting it.)

Added: Finished the watercolor. Not entirely happy with it, but it's a study, so I'll take what I learned from painting it and use it for the final painting of oKia.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Off to Work

I've got to devote some serious time to the WIP and polishing plans for future work, so I'm going to bail on you guys today.

Meanwhile, there is still time to bid on Shiloh Walker's mega-book & goddies auction to benefit the cyclone victims in Myanmar, as well as the mega-variety of items available at Brenda Novak's auction to benefit diabetes research, so if you have some money to spare, do check them out.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Vision Labels

In the April '08 print issue of Watercolor Artist magazine, Michelle Taute has an interesting article, Eyes Wide Open about author and watercolor artist Elizabeth Groves that includes a sidebar explaining Ms. Groves' belief that every painting focuses on one of four different artistic visions: Curious (the what-iffers), Innovative (the remakers), Aesthetic (the awe-inspired) and Practical (the realists.)

I test-drove the idea by mentally thumbing through my favorites of the old masters and trying to see who fit what, as in maybe Michelangelo the Curious, Raphael the Innovative, Rembrandt the Aesthetic, and Da Vinci the Practical. But as cold-blooded as Raphael was, he wasn't a total knockoff artist, and as sensible and scientific as Da Vinci was, he could also get very weird at times. Rembrandt may have cursed us with what would eventually become known as chiaroscuro, but he also brought art down to street level, where ordinary folks didn't just buy and enjoy it, they starred in it. Even Michelangelo, Grand Master of Marble that he was, spent a couple of years painting on his back because a Pope ordered him to -- not a whole lot of what-if involved there.

Then Picasso declined to be classified by a mere woman, Dali wanted to be labeled with an image of an elephant on stilt-legs mating with his ex-wife, and Cézanne called me a Philistine and locked himself in his studio, so I gave up. End result: I don't think great artists can be thus labelled. At least, not by me.

Humans are social critters, though, and when we're not busy slapping neat little tags on each other, we're conforming to common or shared visions and behaviors in order to fit into a certain established group. This isn't always a bad thing; without a certain amount of conformity we'd have nothing but chaos and anarchy, and as a species we generally don't deal too well with that. We fall back on our tribal instincts by needing the security of the group, and the group doesn't accept us unless we do what the group does.

However, stringent conformity discourages individuality, and if we're all doing what everyone else is, there is no opportunity for discovery and true self-expression. We become permanent residents of that cookie-cutter suburb world from L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time: everyone bounces their little red ball in the same way at the same time -- just as everyone else expects. Not much art in that, is there?

Writers are in the same boat as artists, I think, although we probably have more opportunity to be quietly non-conformist. A painting is right there, in your face; a story usually has to be read over a period of time. We have the chance to persuade the reader that our individual visions aren't the horrors that group-think may have led them to believe. We can't do that if we're serving up the same old tired watery tasteless conformist cabbage soup. We can use the same bowls as the cabbage pushers, but we need to sneak our readers a little gazpacho or miso or even a nice pot of cassoulet whenever possible.

You writers out there, where does your individuality come out in your work? Do you feel the need to conform is more or less important than your vision?

Cool art link: Elizabeth Groves Step-by-Step Demonstration

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

China Links

Author Marjorie M. Liu is currently in China and felt the Sichuan earthquake in Shanghai; she wrote a couple of posts about it on her alternative weblog here. I followed her link to Shanghai Scrap, American writer Adam Minter's blog, and his link to, and a post with donation information for the Red Cross Society of China.

I don't watch television, but I do listen to the radio, and two NPR reporters (Robert Siegel and Melissa Block) were in the Sichuan region getting ready to do a week-long series about life in that part of China when the earthquake hit. They've been reporting about it every afternoon on NPR's news radio show All Things Considered. You can also read and see photos of what they're witnessing first hand on their Chengdu Diary.

Via the NPR reports, I found Half the Sky, an organization that helps orphaned children in China. They're setting up a Children's Earthquake Fund that will provide "emergency shelter, food, and medical care for children orphaned or separated from their families." This is where I'm sending my donation.

If you can contribute and help the victims of the earthquake in any way, please do. Also, please keep the people of Sichuan in your prayers and thoughts.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

LB&LI 2008

It's about time to start planning PBW's Third Annual Left Behind & Loving It, a series of virtual workshops I'll be holding here at the blog from July 28th through August 3rd.

For those of you who aren't familiar with this summer ritual, it's something I started doing a couple of years ago for writers like me who don't attend RWA National. We spend a week sitting around in our pjs and bunny slippers while we talk shop, I give away goodie bags, and we have fun. Fun that does not require us to eat mystery chicken, wear name tags, dodge buzzkillers or squeeze into an occasionally-working elevator with Suzanne Brockmann and thirty of her most devoted stalkers.

Last year I blackmailed persuaded a group of authors into holding virtual workshops on their blogs, and I'm certainly willing to do that again, but I thought this year I'd just offer an open invitation to any blogging writer to join in. If you're willing to teach a workshop(s) at your weblog at any time during that week, I'll be happy to link to it -- the more, the merrier.

Now it's your turn -- what sort of workshops would you like to have at LB&LI this year? Any particular topics, techniques, trouble-shooting, etc. that would be of interest to you? Let us know in comments.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Free Trio

If you like ambient or experimental music, but don't have a lot of cash to spend on CDs, Webbed Hand Records offers more than 100 albums free to download, including their first compilation for 2008, String Ambient.

The texts section of the Internet Archive offers over 400,000 open-access texts that are free to read, download, print and enjoy (some restrictions on bulk re-use or commercial use.)

The Smithsonian Institution Libraries has a Art and Design links page has a bunch of free digital texts and other stuff listed, including very cool things like a digital version of Ornithologie by 18th century illustrator/engraver François Nicolas Martinet.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

For the Moms

Happy Mother's Day from Paperback Writer

(Photo credit © Hallgerd |

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Help for Myanmar

Our blogpal, author Shiloh Walker, is holding a charity auction for a pile of books and cool stuff up on eBay here to help raise money for the victims of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar.

All proceeds from Shiloh's auction will go to SAVE THE CHILDREN, an organization already in place in Myanmar that has had some success getting food, water purification tablets, plastic sheeting for shelter and other desperately needed supplies to 72,000 victims, an estimated third of which are kids.

The auction includes:

-A signed copy of Private Places, historical romance anthology, not due out until 8/08 with stories by Robin Schone, Allyson James, Claudia Dain & Shiloh Walker

-The Perfect Ten, signed, donated by Janice Maynard

-The Legacy & bookmarks, signed, donated by Beth Williamson

-Hard as Nails, signed, *7/08 release* ARC donated by HelenKay Dimon

-Signed books donated by Rosemary Laurey-titles to be listed at a later date-

-Hunters: Heart and Soul, Hunting the Hunter, and Hunter's Salvation, all signed by Shiloh Walker

-Wild, Wild West-signed-donated by Charlene Teglia

Eternally His & Full Circle-both signed-donated by Ann Jacobs

Boys of Summer Series - Squeeze Play, Curveball & Strike Zone- signed-donated by Kate Angell

$50 Gift Card to Barnes & Noble donated by The Brown Literary Agency

You Belong to Me & On Fire-signed-donated by Patricia Sargeant

To further tempt you to bid, I'm donating a signed ARC copy of my next Lynn Viehl Darkyn novel, Twilight Fall, which won't be out on the shelves until July.

Shiloh is also still getting donations, so there will likely be more books and stuff added to the auction (check her blog for auction updates.)

Map Your Authors

Marek Gibney's Literature-Map, part of his online A.I. project Gnooks and Gnod, is a bit like the Visual Thesaurus, only with author names instead of synonyms.

Now, if I'm interpreting this map correctly, readers of my Lynn Viehl novels are more likely to also read Kresley Cole, J.R. Ward, Ginna Gray and Judith Ivory (these being the names closest to mine in the middle) and not as likely to read Julie Garwood, Jim Butcher or Christine Feehan. I don't know how accurate that is, but to keep my ego in check, none of my other pseudonyms made the map.

Also, as my good deed for the day: Online book cataloguing heaven LibraryThing is giving away free ARCs of books to folks interested in reviewing them -- see details, requirements, and the list of currently available ARC titles here.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Writer Mom Gifts

Mother's Day is this Sunday, and while moms who write love pasta necklaces, see-through nighties, and that bouquet of blazing orange roses you bought off the guy selling them at the intersection on the way home from church last year, we would like to make a few suggestions about some writing-related gifts we would also enjoy:

Anything from Brenda Novak's 2008 Online Auction to Benefit Diabetes Research : There are hundreds of the most unique and interesting writer gifts you can imagine up for bid, including very cool opportunities like hanging out for a day with Kensington Editor Kate Duffy.

Books: We love to read as much as we love to write, so books are always welcome. You get extra brownie points if you know what we like to read, but a simple question like "What novel would you like to read but you can't afford, Mom?" will give you an idea. Paperback books start at $6.99 (or even less if you get them from the remainder table.)

Gift Cards: a gift card to a book store or office supply store gives her an excuse to go shopping, and she can pick out what she really wants. $25 is a nice amount to give.

Paper & Printing: One of my favorite and most unusual Mother's Day gifts of all time was a case of great quality printer paper that I'm always too cheap to buy for myself. Runner up was a couple of toner cartridges for my ink jet. Paper on sale can cost as little as $15 for ten reams; toner cartridges will be a bit more expensive but if you buy a two-pack it works out to less (plus your writer mom gets more toner.)

Portable Keyboard: If you have some extra cash to spend, the Alpha Smart Neo or Dana is an affordable alternative to a laptop, and a writing tool that your writer mom can take virtually anywhere. $219 to $350.

You writer moms out there, do you have any special requests to add to the list? If you do, please share them in comments.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

We're Not Dinosaurs (Yet)

A PBW regular (you know who you are) sent me a link to this Maryland newspaper's summer wannabe/probablywillbe blockbuster book report and asked why an unknown would be offered a seven-figure contract for a book that is already being touted as a Da Vinci Code knockoff.

That's an easy one. Dan Brown reportedly earned at least $442 million dollars from sales of his novel, The Da Vinci Code, and the movie version earned at least $678.5 million worldwide. Although knock-offs rarely do as well as the originals, the publisher who signed the rookie is hoping to cash in on some of that lovely success. Her being young and a grad student won't hurt, either.

When something works very, very well in any business, it becomes a model to be emulated. Fast food, the microcomputer and the SUV are prime examples. Why would publishing be any different?

Sometimes you can see these things coming. Back in early 2006, I started hearing some rumors about YA paranormal becoming a big trend, and at the time I predicted to some friends that if someone could write a vampire series appropriate for teen readers that it had the potential to go platinum. Now we have Stephenie Meyer burning up the BSL lists with her YA vampire series -- even my daughter, the nonfic animal story lover, has read her books -- and you can bet we're going to see a lot more vampire/paranormal fiction for youngsters hitting the shelves over the next couple of years.

Will Stephenie Meyer knockoffs do as well as the original model? As with Dan Brown imitators, probably not. However, popularity opens doors for writers who already have something in mind that, while not a knockoff, is likely to have strong appeal for readers who enjoy Stephenie Meyer, and publishers who are looking for the next Stephenie Meyer. So if you have a proposal for an original YA vampire series sitting on a shelf gathering dust somewhere, I'd say now would be the time to pitch it.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Visual Metaphors

The greatest thing in style is to have a command of metaphor -- Aristotle

Graphic novels may be all the rage now, but using pictures to tell a story dates back at least 11,000 years, according to a recent archaeological find in Syria (looks like a quilt pattern, doesn't it?)

The job of the fiction writer is to use words to create images in the mind of the reader, something that sounds easy until you sit down and try to describe a character, event, place or period in time neither you or the reader has experienced. Often we rely on metaphors and similies as translators to compare the fictional moment to something the reader understands. In Act II of As You Like It, William Shakespeare described life with his famous metaphor All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players; not much different from how we today compare women and men to soccer moms or armchair warriors.

I frequently use strong, simply images from nature as visual metaphors to illustrate a point about writing. Take the spider web, which Sir Walter Scott used in this metaphor: Oh, the tangled webs we weave, when we practice to deceive.

Plot, the spider web of story

When you're plotting a story, imagine the main conflict is the center hub of the web, the subplots are the anchoring strands, and the characters, dialogue, setting, events etc. are the threads connecting all of them together. The reader's attention is the fly your web needs to catch and hold onto, so the entire construct has to be strong, tight, ensnaring, and not offer too many holes.

The antagonist, always the snake in the grass

Two thousand years ago, Virgil wrote Latet anguis in herba, literally the snake lurks in the grass. It's been a popular metaphor even since, and probably this most obvious visual to illustrate the menace, subterfuge and other elements created by an antagonist in a story.

Two roses -- the hero and heroine of a romance

In Act II of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare employed a metaphor to express the importance of what something is versus what it's called with Juliet's lines What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. This may have also been a personal metaphor/private joke of his, as in Shakespeare's day the Rose Theatre was a rival to his Globe Theatre, yet was rumored not to have very sanitary accomodations for the patrons.

With their beauty, sweet smell and sharp thorns, roses are a universal symbol for romance and lovers, and two roses twined together make an interesting metaphor for the hero and heroine of a love story.

If you could use a single visual metaphor for your WIP, what would it be?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

One-Page Plotting

One of my writer friends (you know who you are) dared me to simplify a plot worksheet down to one page that would work for all story lengths and genres. Of course I couldn't resist the challenge, so here it is (I plotted John & Marcia's story to demonstrate how to use it):

Plot Worksheet

Title: Angel’s Darkness

Main Conflict: John, a half-demon cop, and Marcia, a half-angel librarian, must stop a demon from using a mystical diamond that has the power to open the gates of Hell.


John must accept or reject his demonic side. John has always denied and hidden his non-human powers, but is now forced to use them to protect Marcia and defeat the demon.

Marcia must accept or reject her human side. Marcia has always tried to live up to her angelic nature, but her love for John and hatred for the demon makes her face her human nature.

The demon falls in love with Marcia, and must choose to destroy the world or rule over it with Marcia at his side.

Main Story Events:

John and Marcia meet on the night the demon steals the diamond; the demon uses Marcia to smuggle the diamond away from its guardian.

The demon forces John and Marcia to go on the run in order to protect the diamond and evade his attacks.

John and Marcia discover the diamond’s true purpose when they open Hell’s gateway for a moment and see what the demon intends to unleash on Earth.

The demon disables John, abducts Marcia and tries to seduce her into giving him the diamond.

Marcia must sacrifice her angelic powers in order to free John, vanquish the demon and keep the world safe.

Main Plot Twist: John is unaware that he has another persona, and that he is also the demon thief.

Resolution: Marcia’s love for John ends her hope of becoming an angel, but also destroys the evil side of his personality. Together they become a loving human couple, and the new guardians of the diamond.

This worksheet can be adapted to your particular writing needs, so feel free to add and subtract -- you may want more/less subplots, main events, plot twists, other elements, etc -- but I think these are the basic points any storyteller* should know before they dive into writing a story. For novelists, it may also serve as a basic outline sheet for writing a synopsis.

*Unless you're an organic writer or you dislike plotting, in which case, you don't need the worksheet.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Story Vows

Ten Promises I've Made to My WIP

1. I will be faithful to you. I'll ignore other, flashy story ideas who try to seduce me away from you. Once in a while I might spend a couple of hours with an old flame or someone else's new love, but don't be jealous -- I'll always come back to you.

2. I'll work hard to get you into shape. We'll start off at the best place and pace for you. I won't let you drag, bloat or sag around the middle. I won't pack your trunk with a lot of junk.

3. I will speak kindly of you to others. However much you deserve it, I will not refer to you as that bitch or a stupid-ass idea.

4. I will give you the best I've got, not whatever's left over after the rest of the world is through beating the hell out of me for the day.

5. I will not avoid you, even when I'm tired and you're being difficult. I will remember what a privilege it is to spend time with you.

6. I will never fake my way through a sex scene with you.

7. I won't turn you into a personal grindstone, or use you to hammer others with my political opinions, my faith or my creative agendas. I'll remember that you're supposed to be a gift, not a weapon.

8. I will not start up with you when I'm on the rebound solely so I can work out my frustrations over my last failed relationship.

9. Whatever anyone says about you, I will remember how much you mean to me, and how little I care what anyone else thinks of us.

10. When you're ready, I'll let you go. Somehow.

What are some of the promises you make to your WIP?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

First Look

Robin has entered the building:

The seventh novel in the Darkyn series, to be released in January '09

Excuse me, I have to go have a hot flash now.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Reader Requests

I'm sorting through proposals for future work this weekend to send to the agent and have her review and rate. Among other things I will be putting together my pitch for the tenth and last StarDoc novel as well as two new series, and deciding what to do about Darkyn. I'll also be mulling over what to write in 2009 as new promotional e-books.

It's a lot to think about, and I'm a bit frustrated with myself for waffling as long as I have over this. Which means it's time to touch base with my readers.

What would you like to read from me over the next couple of years? More of the same, all new stuff, or something in between? If you have a specific book or books you'd like to request, please post it in comments (the anonymous option will be enabled for today so those of you who don't have weblogs or IDs anywhere can still put in your two cents.)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Tightening the Writerly Belt

Writers almost always have a hard time financially, but these days things are getting really tough for us. Here are some ideas on ways you can economize and make your dollars stretch a little more:

1. Barter: Offer other writer(s) an equal exchange of services and money-saving favors -- swap ads, interviews, proof each other's ms., stay at each other's home when in the respective area, etc.

2. Books: Order books online; shipping is usually free with orders over $25 and they're delivered to your door. If you spend more than $250 a year on books, invest in a booksellers' discount card (B&N and BAM offer 10% off with their cards; Borders has a Rewards card that provides good coupons and gift certificates back for a percentage of purchases.) Reserve expensive hardcover novels at the library. Gather up all the books you don't want and trade them in for credit at a used book store.

3. Moonlighting: Apply for local writing jobs you can do from home, such as editing, copy writing, or the many that are advertised over on Craigslist.

4. Promotion: Look for ways to promote your work free online (swapping new release announcements on weblogs is a good way to get the word out.) Get together with a group of authors who do regular postal mailings and offer a group newsletter to all of your readers; split the mailing costs evenly. Swap promo with each other for mailouts and to take to conferences. Schedule group booksignings with local authors.

5. Shopping: Check with your favorite office supply store online and see if they offer free shipping for online orders. Pull their store ads from the Sunday newspaper and look for good sales or rebates on commonly-used items. If there's a trade magazine you know you're going to buy every month, get a subscription to it (usually this way you can save up to 50% off the newstand price.) Swap trade magazines with local writer friends.

6. Shipping: Schedule Fedex or UPS to pick up packages at your home (may require opening an account and getting mailing supplies.) Finish deadline projects early enough so that you can use priority mail or ground service versus overnight shipping. E-mail editors, agents and other writers versus sending post items whenever possible. Offer e-mail .pdf copies of your ms. to beta readers and/or reviewers.

7. Software: Avoid investing in expensive software and instead use comparable freeware or shareware programs. When you buy a computer, look for ones that come with the software you need.

8. Submissions: Whenever possible, submit electronic submissions versus hard copy via mail. Enter only those contests that don't charge a fee.

9. Supplies: Refill toner catridges versus buying new. Print out drafts on the clean side of used paper. Review early drafts on the computer screen versus on paper. Buy commonly-used items in bulk.

10. Travel: Combine vacation trips with research trips. Stay at home and take free online workshops versus traveling to national conferences. Attend more local events, and carpool with other local authors when possible. Give talks at local schools, libraries and universities.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Complete Friday 20 Index

This is an index by topic to the questions asked by my visitors and answered by me during the sixty-odd sessions of the Friday 20. In hopes of providing the most useable information, I've omitted all questions that were not related to general writing and publishing topics. Note: Tom and I will be checking through the links one more time today to make sure they all work, so if you find any that aren't working, bear with us. (Added: all the links have been individually checked and are working fine.)

Most of the questions have been edited and/or paraphrased here for length and clarity. Click on the "Q" prefacing each question to read the original question in comments. Click on the "A" to go to my answer. In some cases I've also linked to other, related answers to similar questions. My visitors often provide answers to the questions posted as well, so do check out the entire thread if you'd like to see if other writers weigh in.

Creating this index was a massive, time-consuming, pain-staking project, and I wouldn't have been able to do it without the help of my friend Tom. I am very grateful for his endless patience and assistance with all of the technical details. I also appreciate the writers in L.A. who volunteered to be our beta testers, and the valuable feedback they provided.

Q: Do you have any recommendations on how to choose an agent? A
Q: Does an agent who no longer represents you still receive commission on series books, even future ones the agent didn't personally sell? A
Q: Do you have a checklist of any sort as to when a book is ready to be sent to an agent? A
Q: How do you decide between two agents? A
Q: In the agent-querying process, when should a writer bring up the "I'm-not-wild-about-the-idea-of-self-promotion" subject? A
Q: Is there anything you think should or shouldn't be in an agent query letter? A and A
Q: How can I approach a published author for an agent referral without putting her in an awkward position? A

Q: Do you have any advice for a writer starting a blog? A
Q: What advantage is there for an unpublished writer to keep a blog? A

Q: What should I do when a minor character tries to take over the story? A
Q: What do you do when one character has to give another character information that the reader already knows? A
Q: Do you have any suggestions or writing exercises to improve using all of a character's senses in a story? A
Q: What can you do when one of the characters' scenes doesn't seem/feel right? A and A
Q: After you've outlined a story, how do you deal with a logic problem with the protagonist's motivation? A
Q: How much presence does a character from book one need to have in book two before his/her storyline picks up again in book three? A
Q: How do you keep your characters from sounding like cliches? A
Q: How do you depict a character who is the strong, silent type without having him simply stand around and look at other characters? A
Q: Do you ask/answer your three questions for every character, or just the main(s)? A
Q: Do you ever give in to the urge to be horrible to a character rather than stick to your outline? A
Q: To what degree do you give your characters backgrounds? A
Q: How do you get your characters to behave? A
Q: How do you go about making sure your characters actually "grow" during the story? A

Q: Are conferences worth the time and money? A and A
Q: What's the secret to giving great workshop? A
Q: What is a legitimate conference (as opposed to one that nickel-and-dimes you into the poorhouse)? A

Q: Does posting up a work online affect your chances of later shopping it to an agent or publisher, by using up your electronic rights to a story? A
Q: How can I build on an idea I get from another author's work while avoiding writing something too similar? A
Q: If you write under a pen name should you copyright under your own name? Could you get the copyright in your pen name? A
Q: What do you think of the current state of copyright, particularly the current duration of copyright? A

Cover Art
Q: Who has the final say on the cover of a book, how is it decided, and how much control does a writer have over it? A and A

Q: Is it a bad thing to have a hobby totally unrelated to writing? A
Q: How do you know when a story idea is ready to be written? A
Q: How can a writer improve their ability to visualize a scene? A
Q: Does drawing or illustrating a story help or hinder the writing of it? A
Q: How do you deal with going through creative cycles? A

Q: How can I teach myself to write dialogue that isn't on-the-nose (candid/blunt/painfully honest)? A
Q: Will it date a novel to use slang in the dialogue? A
Q: Any suggestions on how to practice dialogue writing skills? A

Q: What's your opinion of a writer who says they never have to revise their work? A
Q: How do you shut up your Inner Editor? A
Q: How can I edit and revise my WIP in a short period of time? A
Q: What's your opinion on hiring an outside editor/book doctor? A, A and A
Q: How much editing do you do at your publisher/editor's request? A
Q: Should I revise my first WIP, even though I don't think any amount of revision will fix it, as practice? A
Q: How do you handle revising/editing issues, small and large? A
Q: What is the etiquette in dealing with your editor's requested revisions, especially if you don't completely agree with them? A

Q: Do you know of any good books or sites that can help teach me to develop a story worth telling? A
Q: What's the worst piece of writing related advice you ever received? A
Q: What can a writer with some writing experience do to improve their craft? A
Q: What's something you've learned recently about writing that you wish you'd known years ago? A

Q: Should writers be depressed about shrinking publisher advances? A
Q: It's harder than ever to break into the business -- is it still worth the earning potential to fight to get in? A
Q: I'm doing all the right things -- why aren't my sales getting better? A
Q: What's the reasoning behind an author receiving an advance? A
Q: What makes a publisher offer an extremely high advance for a book which doesn't make an outstanding performance on the market? A

Q: How do you know if you're writing in a genre that's 'right' or 'wrong' for you? A
Q: How rare or common is it for a writer to be successful in multiple genres? A
Q: Can you address the pros and cons of writing different sub-genres under different pseudonyms? A
Q: What things do you suggest doing to keep current with what's happening in a particular genre? Other than reading voraciously? A
Q: What can give me a feel for the current style/voice in writing urban fantasy? A
Q: What advice do you have for someone wanting to move into a new genre, pertaining to referring to past work? A
Q: Do you think publishers will become more genre-driven than acquiring manuscripts from 'known' authors? A
Q: Any tips on writing a love story, as opposed to a an adventure with a romantic sub plot? A
Q: How should a multi-genre writer establish themselves? A
Q: How do you handle both mental switching from one genre to another and the business side of it? A

Q: How does a writer know when an idea is viable enough to sustain an entire novel? A and A
Q: How do you remain focused on one project when you have other story ideas impeding your progress? A, A, A, A and A
Q: How can I keep from being distracted by my Muse so I can focus on one WIP? A
Q: How do you overcome being bored with your WIP? A
Q: How do you choose between two ideas for the same novel? A

Q: Which hair color (real or fake) brings the most respect/authority to a writer? A
Q: Given that there are more women than men reading, do you consciously write for a female market? A
Q: How, in your opinion, is writing for women different from writing for men? A
Q: Does a writer have to "live a little" before attempting to write about life? A
Q: Why is it so difficult to write about myself? A
Q: What do you anticipate being the next big thing? A and Q: Who are the writers to watch? A
Q: Any advice on a neo pulp fantasy novel protagonist who indulges in "competitive swiving" to choose between two love interests? A
Q: How do I keep from killing my back during NaNoWriMo? A
Q: Who is the oldest person to (recently) publish a novel? A
Q: How come some writers who claim never to read other peoples' books, ever, are wonderful writers anyway? A
Q: What do you think about using signature tags in e-mails? A
Q: Why is it impolite to say that you've never read another writer's work? A
Q: Define the 4th Rule of Write Club (Only one coincidence per novel.) A
Q: How do you know that a book is officially out of print (as opposed to just hard to get)? A
Q: I'm debating pen names. At what point do you start using one? A
Q: Is there any difference between an ARC and a store bought copy? A
Q: How do you determine your word count? What is your best advice on length? A
Q: What's the right way to go about getting blurbs/cover quotes? A
Q: In a query letter, should you give away the ending of the novel? A
Q: Where do you use your pseudonym in your submission (and when do you use your real name?) A
Q: How do you find your market? A
Q: Does watching market trends ever make you feel torn over what to write? A
Q: What makes you give up on reading a book not worth your time? A
Q: What's the stupidest thing you've seen writers do? A
Q: What is the most useless technique, process or bad habit that you see writers fall into? A
Q: What sort of printer do you use? A
Q: Do you recommend joining writer organizations? A

Q: What is the industry standard definition of a novella and a novelette? A
Q: How can I successfully make the transition from writing short stories and other short-form fiction to writing novel-length fictions? A
Q: If your book seems finished but you still feel something is missing, how do you identify what's wrong with it? Is it better to try to fix an old novel that's completed and had promise or start something new? And finally, how do you go about setting goals? AAA
Q: What are the merits of writing a standalone novel versus a trilogy or series? A
Q: Do you approach short stories the same way you do novels? A
Q: What is the ideal chapter length? A and A
Q: What are the merits/drawbacks of being published in hardcover versus paperback versus “paperback originals”? A and A

Q: Any advice or posts on pitching? A
Q: How should I pitch my series novel? A
Q: How do you manage to put together multiple proposals simultaneously? A

Q: I'm stuck on plotting, and bored with it. Advice? A
Q: How do you avoid "tea party scenes" and inject more action into a story? A
Q: How does one find a good balance--planning without stifling the fun of writing and writing with enough of a plan to stay on track? A
Q: How do I prevent a novelette from growing into an epic novel? A
Q: I think I'm plot blind -- is this normal? A
Q: Do you plot in key suspense points? A
Q: At what point do you fill out your character worksheet, gauge how much story each outlined event will take up, and add details to the outline? A
Q: Any suggestions on how to actually get more into the habit of plotting something out? A
Q: How do you come up with plot twists? A

Q: How do you make promotional bookmarks? A
Q: What can I do with the promotional postcards my publisher sent to me? A
Q: What are your thoughts on writers' newsletters? A
Q: How do you get your publisher to be okay with the fact that you'd rather write than promote? A
Q: Where is it okay to announce you've landed a book contract? A
Q: What are your top suggestions for promoting and marketing a new release? A
Q: How can I figure out what sort of promotion will work for me? A

Q: How should I handle a call from a publisher who's interested in my work if I'm unpublished and don't have an agent? A
Q: Do publishers attempt to keep their writers from taking their sub-genre books elsewhere? A
Q: Regarding profanity, is there an unspoken rating system for publishers? A
Q: What phrases or tricks do publishers have that allow them to keep their authors restricted as to what genres they can be published in, or at least published by that one company? A
Q: Any advice on how to deal with a former publisher that's being sort of difficult? Not responding to email, that sort of thing. A
Q: Can you clarify the conditions of the standard "Options on Next Work" clause in a publishing contract? A
Q: Is there a right way to self-publish? A
Q: What does it mean when a publisher says your novel is good, but “not good enough for a first novel”? A
Q: What are the benefits of publishing with a major publisher versus self-publishing? A

Series Writing
Q: How do you write a series so that it could end at any time and yet stays open to more books? A
Q: What do I call (and how do I market) a nontraditional trilogy? A
Q: What are the pros and cons of writing a series versus stand-alone books? A and A
Q: What's the knack to making a series just arced enough, without being impossible to pick up 12 books through? A
Q: What are some of the challenges of writing a series of standalones set in the same universe, and how do you handle them? A and A
Q: Do you need to publish a stand-alone before a series if you want any chance of sale/representation? A
Q: How do you handle a publisher not wanting anymore books in a series you want to continue to write, and if you do press on, how many series books per year should you publish? A and A

Q: Can you write SF/F about ordinary lives versus the extraordinary? A
Q: Is there an easy-to-read source out there for physics research? A
Q: How do you plan out a SF novel? A
Q: How do you find out all of the different things you needed to make your SF books believable? A and A
Q: What happens when you can see the alien race in your mind - but can't think of a way to describe them without sounding oh-so-20th/21st century? A
Q: How do you think the SF market is doing these days? A
Q: How explicit can you go with a sex scene in an SF novel? A
Q: Is it an unwritten law that the character has to learn something this life-changing at the start of a SF series and not later on? A
Q: When you're creating a science-fiction universe, how do you put in a lot of description without losing the pacing? A
Q: What do you think of futuristic romances? A

Q: Do you have any advice as to what kind of VR software works well, or how to use it to best advantage? A
Q: What writing software do you recommend that is content-appropriate for teen writers? A
Q: Any scriptwriting software suggestions? A
Q: What VR software do you recommend? A, A, also Taming the Dragon, also Links to alternatives to the Dragon
Q: Is there a tutorial on MS Word for its editing features? A
Q: What sort of software programs do you use for writing? A

Q: Any advice on coming up with titles for a novel? A and A

Web Sites
Q: Do authors really benefit from having lots of things on their websites? A

Writer for Hire
Q: How do you get started doing WFH work? A and A
Q: How do you go about finding a writer-for-hire job? A and A
Q: If my publisher approached me with a WFH project, is it okay to tell them NO without damaging our 'real' relationship? A
Q: Is money the only reason a writer goes writer-for-hire? A
Q: What types of projects are generally WFH work? A and A

Q: How should I handle ending a first draft? A
Q: Should first drafts be rewritten until they are perfect, or is okay to write one that isn't so polished? A and A
Q: What do you do when you get lost in plot, and you realize a good portion of your WIP has to be rewritten? A
Q: What do you do when you know what you want to write but can't settle on the right words to express it? A
Q: Any advice for writers aspiring to pen a historical? A
Q: How do you deal with your inner critic/editor while you're cranking away on a first draft? A
Q: Is a writing process that has you producing scenes with approximately the same wordcount a bad thing? A
Q: How do I overcome forgetting to add in setting and other descriptions when I write a scene? A
Q: Is it possible to fake your way through a scene? A
Q: How much detail should you use to establish setting? A
Q: What's your opinion on collaborating with another writer(s)? A
Q: What do you do when you have difficulties with the final scenes of a novel? A
Q: Any advice on how to write that 'perfect' ending to a story? A
Q: When do you know you've done enough preparation and you're ready to start writing the story? A
Q: How do you go back, fix and begin writing again on a partial WIP that you stopped working on? A
Q: How do you practice to write in a totally different style? A
Q: Does voice grow and change and evolve as you write? A
Q: Do you have any tips on how to help add description to your work? A
Q: How do you think a writer can better define their voice to bring it to the level that you have without killing the natural tone? A
Q: How much world-building do you recommend someone do before they get into a novel? A
Q: When writing an as-yet-unsubmitted standalone that may have a sequel or series potential, can you leave a few plot threads unresolved? A
Q: How do you decide whether or not to put sex in your book? A
Q: How can a writer learn to develop narrative voice? A
Q: Do you have any pointers for writing good action/fight scenes? A
Q: How do you handle writing a scene that may be too intense or inappropriate (pushing the envelope) for the genre? A
Q: When should I move on to writing my second novel? A, A and A
Q: How do you know if what you're writing is interesting? A
Q: What do you think about using flashbacks? A
Q: Do you have any tips on how to write comfortably in third person? A
Q: What are your thoughts on writing in first person present tense? A

Writing Life
Q: How do you manage to make time for writing when your life is extremely busy, chaotic, etc? A
Q: How do you manage anger? A
Q: When you get stuck on a project, how do you break loose? A, A and A
Q: How do you get back into a project you've set aside for a while? A
Q: How do you block out negative influences while writing? A and A
Q: How do I get back to actively writing after taking a significant break from it? A
Q: Should I wait for feedback from an interested agent on a submission before I begin a new project? A
Q: Any advice for writers who are about to become new parents and want to keep working? A
Q: Any tips on writing in the presence of small children? A, A and A
Q: Do you have any recommendations about how to improve self discipline? A
Q: What do you do to plan your output for the upcoming year? How do you work in the inevitable changes to your plan? A
Q: Just took six months away from my paying job to write my first novel ... any words of advice? A
Q: What do you do to keep the doubts at bay? A and A
Q: What do you do with a book you believe in but you can't sell? A
Q: How do you avoid writer burnout? A
Q: With a busy life, how do you find time to write? A
Q: What do you do to minimize/ignore/avoid distraction? A
Q: How do you keep up the momentum for your work when you're swamped and tired? A
Q: How do I deal with the people who say that e-publishing isn't 'real' publishing? A
Q: Is it normal to go back and work on a novel you haven't written on in years? A
Q: Have any encouragement for a writer starting to *enjoy* writing for the sake of it again? A
Q: How do you handle work, home, getting in enough exercise AND writing? A and A
Q: Can you get a day job in publishing? A
Q: I'm feeling pretty down lately about my writing. Any tips on rejuvenating? A
Q: How do you get back into your writing after a long, unplanned hiatus? A
Q: How do you know when to let a project "go?" A
Q: What do you do to avoid burnout? A, A and A
Q: If you're shy or afraid of fame, how do you deal with the public side of being an author? A
Q: Do you ever lose motivation to work on something, or did you in earlier years? How do/did you get over it and keep writing? A
Q: How do you make a shift from writing at night to writing during the day? A
Q: What do you do when worries get in the way? A