Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hate-Mail Fun

I'm still working my way through e-mail, which has been about 95% enjoyable so far. The other 5%, well . . . I try to see it as a writing challenge. I mean when someone takes the time to tell you that you're going to burn in hell, the least you can do is assure them that you'll save a spot for them.

Honestly, I think we writers are too serious when we answer hate-mail. Yes, it's polite to say things like I'm so sorry you didn't enjoy the novel and I appreciate the feedback but you know you're lying and they know you're lying. At some point in the hate-mail they tell you that they're not going to buy any more of your books. So, why don't we ever have a little fun with them?

Reader: Apparently you know nothing about writing good books.

Author: No, they only pay me enough to write bad ones. Think you can get me a raise or something?

Reader: Did you have to end the series like this?

Author: My editor wouldn't let me publish the version where I blow up the Earth and everyone dies.

Reader: How could you kill that dog/cat/defenseless animal in your story like that?

Author: Because if I did it to real ones they'd arrest me.

Reader: I can write a better story than you!

Author: Yes, but how are you at selling it to clueless publishers who only print crap? Huh? Huh?

Reader: I hated your love scene. It made me sick.

Author: Gee, I practiced that one myself first, and your husband seemed to love it.

Reader: I should give up reading books if they're all as stupid as yours.

Author: I asked all the other authors and they said, yes, they are. So yes, you should.

Reader: I'm writing a letter of complaint to your editor.

Author: Good. While you're at it remind that bitch she still hasn't paid me D&A on the last manuscript, and mention that my ketchup and beans are about to run out.

Reader: No one should be allowed to publish stories like yours.

Author: They're not. It's called plagiarism.

Reader: What a terrible writer you are.

Author: Oh, that's nothing. You should hear me sing. Really. What's your phone number?

Reader: Your book sucks!

Author: Maybe you could use it as a little vacuum for your car.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Astronaut Pants Ten

Ten Things to Help Writers with Dialogue

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

Mary Emma Allen's Writing Captivating Dialogue for Children's Stories has tips that also hold true for other genres.

Janis Cramer's workshop Collaborating to Write Dialogue has some great tips for those of you who are working with a co-author.

Holly Lisle's Dialogue Workshop offers some valuable exercises to help improve your composition and delivery of dialogue.

Dramatist 1.5 freeware is "a playwriting dialog editor for writing drama screenplays" (OS: Mac OS X 10.2 or later)

How Not to Bore Your Readers: Write Better Dialogue by Helen Vance sees dialogue as the voice of the story, and offers some ideas on how to better analyze your own.

If you're not sure what makes an interesting argument, or how an argument is structured, check outHow to Recognize an Argument by Jonathan Dolhenty, Ph.D.

MagneticPoetry.com has an online Pickup Lines game that features such tried and true phrases as at first sight nice shirt and astronaut pants.

Writing Compelling Dialogue in Fiction by Nicholas Morine looks at the overuse of one particular/popular dialogue tag and offers some ways to combat it.

Writing Effective Dialogue by Michael Daniels is geared toward screenwriters but the tips are great for fiction writers as well.

Screenwriter Stephen J. Cannell has a good article and examples of Writing Exercises to help you with your dialogue.

Just for fun:

To see a master of dialogue at work, play with Jonathan Aquino's Jane Austen Pride & Prejudice Random Dialogue Line Generator (the link will give you three random lines from the novel; for more or less just change the number at the end of the URL.)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Such a Deal . . . Not

FantoPro.com pointed me to a troubling article on how Marvel plans to lowball and (essentially) own writers developing their B-List superheroes.

Some key points:

"Terms call for Marvel to own whatever the writers work on during the year."

Marvel has a history of demanding all rights from various artists and entities involved with them, I believe, so this doesn't surprise me.

This is what made me blink a few times:

"Also Marvel has included in the contracts that Marvel gets a first look and last refusal to any and all projects the writers have previously written or will write for 2 years in the future."

I can understand a first look on future work (publishers do that) but last refusal? Previously written work? Oy, not good. The article writer offers this final warning:

"So to sum this up if you are lucky enough to write for any B list Superhero's for Marvel they will own your ass even if they fire you for up to two years after the fact."

Agreed. One should not be forced to sell one's soul like this, even for the opportunity of exposure with a company as large and well-known as Marvel.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The RITA Drinking Game

Yes, it's that time of year again, ladies. Time to play the RITA Drinking Game.

To play this game you need only three things: some romance writer or reader buddies, a computer (to visit some romance blogs) and something to drink. Here at PBW we usually take sips of Maalox or Mylanta, but Crystal Light, Diet Dr. Pepper or designer bottled water also work (If you want to get tanked, we recommend you wait for the Stoker Drinking Game, which starts next month.)

Don't be shy about shrieking DRINK! if everyone else is busy bitching at each other. Whoever yells DRINK! first does not have to take a sip (unless they're thirsty or their tummy is starting to turn.)

One Sip:

The word mediocre is used at least once in the blog post (two sips if mediocre and boring are used in the same sentence.

Someone asks in comments what RITA stands for.

Someone in comments explains what RITA stands for.

Any commenter, including the author of the post, says something nasty but ends it with lol to remove the sting.

A member of RWA defends the awards.

Reference is made to how none of the nominees are bestsellers.

The scoring is questioned.

The scoring is explained.

The RITA judges are defamed.

The RITA judges are defended.

A nominee makes a sweet, semi-gushy comment on what an honor it is to be nominated (two sips if she says she doesn't expect to win.)

The name of the Golden Heart award is invoked.

The name of a popular author who is a member of RWA but didn't enter the contest is mentioned.

Two sips:

A list of authors who got "robbed" is offered up.

Someone mentions that e-book authors aren't permitted to enter because they don't meet the criteria.

A commenter theorizes that all of the erotica authors are now boycotting the contest.

A commenter theorizes that all of the Harlequin Blaze authors are now boycotting the contest.

What is and what isn't a romance is hotly contested.

The HEA ending is mentioned as a determining factor.

A member of RWA defends the judges while explaining the scoring and how important the award is for up and coming authors.

A non-member of RWA points out how useless the award is.

A reader states the RITA award does not influence their purchasing choices in the slightest.

Reviews of nominated books are mentioned or linked to.

The name of a former Miss America contestant/historical romance writer is invoked.

The name of a a Ph.D. student in cultural anthropology/historical romance writer is invoked.

The writing skills of past RITA winners are derided.

Three sips:

Someone offers up a realistic-sounding conspiracy theory involving writer org politics.

M/M romances are mentioned.

The words "popularity contest" are used in the post or in comments.

A fangirl makes a tearful protest over her object of affection, who entered the contest but was not chosen for the nom list.

The fangirl's author shows up to tearfully thank her for her words, which will inspire her to keep going on.

A reviewer states how meaningless RITA is to them (four sips if they've run at least two to four posts on their blog about the award.)

A nominee for the 2009 RITA shows up to defend the awards (four sips if she appears on more than one blog.)

Someone who actually judged the RITA books comments on the experience and how fair she tried to be.

Someone mentions how everyone's tastes differ.

One Big Gulp:

The names PBW or Lynn Viehl are referenced.

Please feel free to add your sip-taking requirements in comments.

It's Twins

Shy Thing finally left the nest to fuel up on some bugs, which gave me a chance to snap this quick shot of her infants (click on image to see larger version):

They hatched sometime in the last week; I don't know the day because I really haven't heard a peep out of them. Unlike the other bird babies we've hosted in the past, these two are so quiet you wouldn't even know they were there.

Now to keep the foxes, snakes and buzzards away from them until they can fly . . .

Friday, March 27, 2009


The New Venture proposal went out to the agent, who really liked it, and promptly asked for an expanded partial. Seems there is already some interest in it. Got that done and e-mailed off, and at this point I'm feeling cautiously optimistic about the possibility of seeing a little Publishing Fairy dust land on this project.

Work has kept me so busy I am now horribly behind on e-mail. I'm going to try to make a dent in it this weekend. Today the kids are off from school and they own me for the day, and it looks like the girls are planning to have an all-day Twilight party, which means twelve hours of watching this:

And the kissing scene! Must see that a couple thousand times, too. God, I hope I don't fall asleep again. Btw, there is nothing more insulting to a couple of 14 year old girls than when Mom starts snoring in the middle of the KISSING scene.

I can't help it. I know, he's cute, but I'm old enough to be his mother. Give me someone old enough for me to seriously lust over, like Daniel Craig, or I fall asleep.

Along with the mourning dove nesting between our birdhouses, we discovered a couple of beautiful red foxes have taken up residence in an old gopher tortoise den on our property. I haven't been able to get a photo of Mom or Dad because they're mostly nocturnal, but Dad has been running around a lot at dusk so I should be able to snap him soon. Since Mom hasn't left the den, we expect she'll whelp in a few weeks.

And, finally, Cole discovered where the black glider snake who keeps showing up in the front yard is living, in what I think are some old mole tunnels near our pine trees in the side yard. We saw this guy slither into the entryway concealed in the grass:

And now I'm so wiped I think I'm going to crawl off to my bed and be unconscious for a while. Good night, all.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

For the Mac Writers

I've had some e-mails come in complaining that my freeware lists don't have any programs listed for Mac users, and asking me to do something about it.

First off, I have done a Mac-only freeware list in the past. When any program I find is compatible with Mac I always indicate it in the OS notation at the end of the listing (as I did with Japplis Tool Box, SeeColors and TexFinder on this recent list.) Keep in mind that I don't own a Mac myself, and most freeware sites I frequent like Freewarefiles.com and Primewares.com (formerly Freeware World Team) offer freeware only geared for Windows users.

I've compiled the following list of what freeware I think may be of use to writers who use a Mac, and I will continue to keep an eye out for it in the future. As with any freeware I list, keep in mind the usual caution: always scan free downloads of anything for bugs and other threats before dumping the programs into your hard drive.

If you need a free word processor for your Mac OS X, there is the open source Bean rich text editor that features "live word count, a Get Info panel for in-depth statistics, a zoom-slider to easily change the view scale, an Inspector panel with lots of sliders, date-stamped backups, autosaving, a page layout mode, an alternate colors option (e.g., white text on blue), an option to show invisible characters (tabs, returns, spaces), selection of text by text style, paragraph style, color, etc., a floating windows option (like Stickies has), easy to use menus, remembers cursor postion (excluding .txt, .html, .webarchive formats), and all of Cocoa's good stuff (dictionary, word completion, etc.)" (OS: Mac OS X 10.5 Intel, Mac OS X 10.5 PPC, Mac OS X 10.4 Intel, Mac OS X 10.4 PPC)

The recently updated Jer's Novel Writer features a word processor designed for novelists, along with margin notes, automatic outline, database, full screen mode, bookmarks, and separate formatting options for print and screen. It recognizes chapters, provides a note panel for story issues and ideas, takes a word count, gives you more accurate page count estimates, and according to the designer, "performs better than most word processors for really, really big documents." This one is available to download for free and use as long as you like; purchase price is $30.00 U.S. and even better, the designer is willing to haggle over the price with you (OS: Mac OS X 10.5 Intel, Mac OS X 10.5 PPC, Mac OS X 10.4 Intel, Mac OS X 10.4 PPC)

LyX/Mac not only has its own wiki but according to Fraser at MacApper.com is a "different kind of word processor. Most word processors let you focus on content and style, giving you inconsistent documents most of the time. LyX allows you to create professional documents while focusing on structure first, and when you’re done, you can export your document as a PDF or web page. This tool is excellent for professional reports, scientific papers and so on." (OS: Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later, with a TeX installation)

myWords is "a simple application for writers of all kinds" and allows you to "track ideas, plots, people, places etc, write in fullscreen, create from templates\boilerplates, separate formatting for screen, print, export, password protection & encryption" as well as offers an "autosave feature - revert to saved in case of mistake." Designer notes that the producy is "extra handcrafted for slower (older) Macs." Because I use IE I couldn't gain access to the developer's site to get cost info, but VersionTracker.com lists it as shareware with a purchase price of $10, so you probably get a free trial or limited-use version when you download (OS: Mac OS X 10.5 Intel, Mac OS X 10.5 PPC, Mac OS X 10.4 Intel, Mac OS X 10.4 PPC)

According to the designers, with NeoOffice you get "a full-featured set of office applications (including word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, and database programs) for Mac OS X. Based on the OpenOffice.org office suite, NeoOffice has integrated dozens of native Mac features and can import, edit, and exchange files with other popular office programs such as Microsoft Office. NeoOffice is one of the most stable office suites for Mac OS X. We have created an office suite that is adapted to the unique needs of Mac users by taking the features in Sun Microsystems' OpenOffice.org office suite and adding improvements such as: Fast, free, and friendly support for all users, extremely stable Mac OS X code that has been in daily use by hundreds of thousands of NeoOffice users since 2003, significant speed improvements to the OpenOffice.org code, dozens of features requested by our users designed specifically for the Mac." (OS: Mac OS X 10.3 or higher)

Fraser at MacApper.com also recommends Skim PDF Reader and Note-Taker, "a PDF reader with a few powerful built-in editing tools such as adding an arrow/circle, or striking out unwanted text. With Skim, you can quickly sort through and edit your PDFs in a pinch." (OS: Mac OSX 10.4)

Resources to check for more Mac freeware:


MacApper's The Great Mac OS X Freeware List




Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I've been taking my little camera with me everywhere to keep up with the challenge of posting a new picture every day over at the photoblog. I could never do this for a living, but while working on this project I've been learning more about light and shadows, composition and perspective, and how to wait for the right moment rather than snap in haste. I've never thought of photography as just another form of storytelling, but turns out it is.*

Sometimes when you're taking pictures in odd light, however, very weird things happen. Like this shot I took tonight of the side of a neighbor's house. It was getting close to sunset but still completely daylight outside, and one of the big windows was reflecting the sunset. So I took a shot of the window with the sunset at my back, and ended up with this image (click on it to see larger version):

I swear, it was not that dark out.** It was still full daylight. I'm guessing the reflected sunlight made my camera go wonky. Or for a split second midnight descended six hours early and retreated just as fast. Or the neighbors have a really good security system that messes with digital cameras. Whatever it was, it produced a very cool, spooky effect.

Sometimes when you're writing that happens, too. Words seem to come out of nowhere and arrange themselves in ways you never expected or even considered. You know what you intended to get on the page, but in the process of writing it it simply comes out another way -- weird, strange, different, whatever you want to call it. Spooky writing.

When that kind of thing happens in one of my stories, my first impulse is to dissect it and analyze it (so I can figure it out and control it, of course) but I find myself instead backing away from it every time. Those spooky moments happen for a reason, and even when I don't exactly understand why, they're powerful. They feel right, where they are, the way they are. Other than an editing pass for spelling and grammar I don't alter or cut them.

How do you guys handle those spooky moments on the page (or anywhere else, for that matter?)

*I want credit for not making the obvious flash fiction pun.

**Added: I checked my camera and sure enough, I took a shot of the window before I zoomed in and snapped the spooky one. The before shot is proof of how light it was outside.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

BlogPal Contests

I haven't had much time to cruise through NetPubLand this week; I have to get something done doubletime for the agent and that's all I can say about it without invoking the Gods of Jinx.

While I was out there I noticed that some of our blogpals are having very cool contests, and thought you guys might want to join in:

Enter Larissa Ione's contest to help spread the word about her upcoming release, Passion Unleashed and have a chance to win one of many cool prizes, from gift certificates to the bookstore of your choice to signed books and ARCs to a demon duckie (the ultimate in adorable evil promotional widgets, of course.) Contest ends midnight on Friday, April 3rd.

All you have to do is comment to enter Alison Kent's Genreality giveaway; she's offering a BookWish (any new book of your choice from Amazon.com to a max cost of $25.00 U.S.) Contest ends on Friday, March 27th, at 8:00 p.m. CDT.

Save Jordan Summers from drowning in books by entering her contest for one of two boxes filled with books (looks like one of mine is in there, too.) She posts that she'll draw the names on Wednesday (which I assume is March 25th) so I'd definitely head over there today to enter. U.S. residents only for this one, guys, but she also has another contest for two ARCs of her upcoming release, Scarlet which is open to everyone, and also ends on the same day.

Does anyone know of any other blog contests going on out there that our visitors might like to check out? If so, please share details and links in comments.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Oooh Shiny Ten

Ten Things That Started as a Portable Apps List, Until I Got Distracted By Other Stuff

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

ClipSpeak is a "portable, lightweight text-to-speech tool that speaks text copied to the clipboard. It is intended to be as transparent as possible to the user, keeping user interface and interaction to a minimum. Features: Speak text copied (or cut) to the clipboard; stop ongoing speech with the right-control key; select the synthesizer used. If you want a free synthesizer that supports quite a number of languages, check out eSpeak.
Fully portable, small size" (OS: Windows XP)

GIMP Portable is "the popular GIMP for Windows image editor packaged as a portable app, so you can take your images with you and do your editing on the go" (OS: Windows 2000/XP/Vista)

HearPC that allows you to hear what you type into the program's text box (great if you want to quickly check how a line of dialogue or bit of narrative sounds out loud) (OS: Windows XP/Vista)

Notepad++is a free (as in "free speech" and also as in "free beer") source code editor and Notepad replacement that supports several languages. Running in the MS Windows environment, its use is governed by GPL Licence. Based on a powerful editing component Scintilla, Notepad++ is written in C++ and uses pure Win32 API and STL which ensures a higher execution speed and smaller program size. By optimizing as many routines as possible without losing user friendlyness, Notepad++ is trying to reduce the world carbon dioxide emissions. When using less CPU power, the PC can throttle down and reduce power consumption, resulting in a greener environment. Main Features: Syntax Highlighting and Syntax Folding; WYSIWYG; User Defined Syntax Highlighting; Auto-completion; Multi-Document; Multi-View; Regular Expression Search/Replace supported; Full Drag ‘N' Drop supported; Dynamic position of Views; File Status Auto-detection; Zoom in and zoom out; Multi-Language environment supported; Bookmark; Brace and Indent guideline Highlighting; Macro recording and playback" (OS: OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP)

Also from the designers of Notepad ++, Notepad++Portable is "the handy Notepad++ text editor packaged as a portable app so you can do your development on the go. It has all the same great features of Notepad++ including support for multiple languages and an extensive plugin system, but there's nothing to install. Main features: Syntax Highlighting and Syntax Folding (C, C++, HTML, ASP, Java, Pascal, CSS and more); User Defined Syntax Highlighting; Auto-completion; Multi-Document; Regular Expression Search/Replace supported; Full Drag ‘N' Drop supported; Zoom in and zoom out; Multi-Language environment supported;
Brace and Indent guideline Highlighting; Macro recording and playback" (OS: Windows 95/98/Me/2000/XP/Vista)

Planet Engine is "a 3D real-time planet renderer. It allows you to fly over the surface of planets and also to see them from space. You can explore real planets - like Mars and Earth - or use imaginary data. Main features: height-map for large scale terrain rendering; fractal generated bumps; high-res cube map texture; detail texture; geomorphing; atmospheric haze and fog; bump-mapping" (OS: OS: Windows 9x/ME/2000/XP/Vista; developer notes "Since this version relies on fragment programs, you need a DX9 card to run it (i.e: GeForceFX, Radeon9500.")

Quick Slideshow Creator allows the user to "create slideshows from images and music. Main features: multiple projects support; images formats: bmp, jpg, gif, png, tga, tiff, pcx; music formats: wav, mp3; over 160 transitions; sequential or random image selection; sequential or random music selection; sequential or random transition selection; selection of image and transition duration; drag & drop support" I think for those of you who want to make your own book videos but can't afford to invest in pricey software right now, this might be helpful (OS: no info provided, looks like Windows.)

Task Coach Portable is "the popular Task Coach packaged as a portable app, so you bring your to-do list and task manager with you so you always stay on top of things. You can place it on your USB flash drive, iPod, portable hard drive or a CD and use it on any computer, without leaving any personal information behind" (OS: Windows 2000/XP/Vista, WINE on Linux/UNIX)

Tintii Photo Filter allows you to "highlight the striking colors of a photo while desaturating the rest to greyscale. It is also known as color popping, and famous examples are the little girl in red in Schindler's List and the dramatic style of Sin City. tintii cleverly separates the color profile of a photo into a handful of major hues. All the user need do is select which of these hues to preserve and which to become black and white. Unlike conventional techniques, there is no need to trace around the outline of objects, apply masks, or be confined to a rigid set of colors spaced equally round the color-wheel" (OS: Linux and Windows; designer notes "You will need to purchase a key to activate the optional Photoshop plug-in, only available on Windows.")

Wiki in a Jar is "a small (one jar file, <100KB) Java Wiki implementation with great focus on simplicity. It is intended to run on a USB stick as a replacement for a paper note- and address book as a Personal Information Manager (PIM). It comes with a small web server and can handle vcard (vcf) contact files. The markup is kept simple (based on Wikipedia syntax) and content is stored in plain text files. Main features: Runs on USB stick, no dependencies expcept Java 1.5 Runtime Environment; create and edit Wiki pages; simple formatting (subset of official Wikipedia syntax); support for displaying vCard contact files (.vcf); Wiki syntax support for contacts; Full text search for wiki files and contacts; Tag support and smart grouping using tag trees" (OS: no info provided, probably Windows Correction -- since it's a Java application, it's platform-independent. Any platform that can run Java (Mac, Windows, Linux) can run it. Thanks, Lee.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

McLove Ten

Ten Things That May Indicate You're Writing a McLoveScene

Gimme Three Steps: When carrying the heroine off to the bedroom, the hero never stumbles, trips, complains about how heavy she is or aggravates his old back injury. If the heroine is somewhat unwilling to be dragged off to the bedroom, she will pummel the hero's chest (fiercely) with her small fists. The heroine is of course light as a feather, and completely unable to stop the hero from carrying her off to their love nest, even if she's six-five and works as Shaquille O'Neal's personal trainer.

I Can't Get No: The hero never jumps the gun toward the finish line. If he does, it is a one-time-only problem for which he immediately blames the heroine, usually for being so sexy that she made him lose control. The hero then proceeds to round two, for which he is instantly prepared and which always lasts several hours if not the rest of the night and part of the next morning.

Magical First: No matter if the novel takes place in a demilitarized zone, on Mt. Everest, in a submarine stuck in an ocean-bottom trench or an alien world about to be destroyed by nuke-hurling insects, as soon as the black moment is over and true love has finally been mutually declared, the hero and heroine are whisked off to have a 24-hour romp o' the heart in a real bed with satin sheets while surrounded by candles, soft music and erotic foods such as strawberries and champagne. The sex is always fantastic/mind-blowing/better than could be imagined in wildest-class dreams. No one bothers them, either.

Medical Confessions: Regardless of how long the hero and heroine have known each other, they will not discuss any tests they have taken for STDs until precisely two minutes before they have sex. Both will promise to each other that they are healthy; neither will provide lab slips or medical records to prove it.

Not Yet, Baby: Counting from the first page of the novel, there are at least two, preferably three scenes where the hero and heroine almost have sex before some annoying reason forces them to come to their senses and string the reader along for another hundred pages before they actually do the nasty.

Oh God We Must, Or...: The heroine discovers that because of an ancient curse/misfired spell/magic gone wild that if she doesn't have sex at once with the last man on earth she would ever have sex with (this would be the hero) that the city/country/planet will be destroyed.

Ouchee: Upon initiation of foreplay, the heroine will discover that certain parts of her anatomy have swelled like ripe melons while others parts have mysteriously shrunk like a wool sweater in boiling water. The former will happen the moment the hero bares said melons, the latter will have occurred gradually over the last ten years while she wasn't having sex with anyone.

Snap, Crackle, Pop Her: After much kissing, petting and stripping, at the very last possible moment the unprotected heroine makes a panting or strangle-voiced plea for birth control, at which time the hero impatiently wrestles a "foil packet" out of the back pocket of his jeans. The heroine is then startled and moderately dismayed that the hero came prepared to have sex with her.

Speech Impediments: At the beginning of the love scene the heroine protests (lightly) then caves in (totally) and spends the remainder of the scene not speaking but making a lot of respiratory noises (whispering, whimpering, sighing, moaning, etc.) The hero is incoherent and only mutters explicit words into the heroine's ear or under his breath, or simply grunts his way through the entire scene.

You Will Still Love Me Tomorrow: After making love, neither the hero or heroine smokes a cigarette, takes a shower, changes into their pajamas or eats a bowl of cereal and milk while watching and chuckling through the last half hour of Leno. There is never any post-coital depression or doubt; the act cements their relationship forever while instantly destroying their desire for nicotine, non-sweaty skin, their SpongeBob nightie or their midnight Cocoa Puffs fix.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Chloroform + Arsenic + Hydroxide = Love

My daughter, Ms. Fourteen Going On Forty, is turning out to be the other writer in the family. Lord knows I've tried everything to put a stop to it -- hiding pens and paper, snatching books out of her hands, forcing her to watch television -- but she won't quit, not even when I tell her the really scary publishing stories. Damn my DNA.

Unless she's trying to persuade me to let her have something, Kat keeps her writing private most of the time. Which I understand and respect; I had no privacy when I was her age, and had to keep my writing pads at school or write things in Spanish to keep my sisters and mother from snooping around in them (last year Kat started writing her journals in her own code -- rune symbols -- to keep her brother from reading them, which frankly made me a little teary-eyed.)

When my daughter does decide to share something with me, it's usually one of her humor pieces, like this poem she wrote while waiting for me to pick her up from school:

Phish Fly Backwardsee
by Kat

Oh, the stars on the earth,
The grass in the sky.
The wishing hole dies,
When the painting flies.

Trees with no branches,
Fish with no scales,
Nickel made of copper,
To the hobo the king hails.

Clockwork it is,
When water flows uphill,
When it rains lava droplets,
When the pickles aren't dill. (Oh no!)

The paper is made of bricks,
The clothes are made of wood,
Pulpy orange juice.
Ohmigawsh the giraffe is nude!

Birds swim in volcanoes,
Trees grow out of clouds.
Buildings built on the sun,
Mice are very loud(s)!!

All the world is nwodedispu
Even you and me
Chloroform + Arsenic + Hydroxide = Love
All I have left to say is...Phish fly backwards... ee!

She read this to me on the way home, and that second to last line made me laugh so hard I almost crashed the car. Anesthetic plus poison plus water equals love? I think the kid just figured out the chemical formula for all the mysteries of the heart.

If your child or a young family member does show interest in writing, it can be tempting to jump right on that and offer advice, critique their work and otherwise try to get involved. It can be helpful if your young one asks for it; my older brother gave me some writing advice when I was Kat's age (he had written a novel satire on Dante's Inferno.) But: I asked for the advice and voluntarily showed him my work. In return he was gentle with me and didn't pick it apart or rip it to pieces but offered constructive advice that didn't feed my doubts but built on what I was doing and was capable of doing.

Providing children with the means to write, such as giving them blank books, plenty of supplies, or access to a computer with a decent word processing program and printer is probably the most helpful thing you can do. The second is giving them the time and space they need for their writing. Letting them know you're there if they need some advice is great, shoving unsolicited advice at them is not.

It's also important to respect young writers as much as you'd respect a writer your age. Before I post anything Kat has written on the blog, I ask her permission. When she says no, I don't post it. It's also not a good idea to pass your child's writing around the family as an object of admiration without first getting their permission. If you can't understand why, imagine your spouse or partner doing that to you without asking, and you'll instantly understand how young writers feel.

You can invite your young writer into your writing space to show them how you do things, and if age-appropriate, you can also give your work to your young writer and ask them to critique it. Teaching them by example and by offering involvement in your process can give them new ideas on what to do with their own work.

Finally, if you don't have a young writer in the family, consider giving talks about creative writing at local public schools. Most children never have the opportunity to meet a real working writer in a classroom setting, and most schools have little to no curriculum that serves the needs of young writer. Any encouragement and insight you can offer may help some of those kids along the writing path, and that's the sort of investment in the future of Publishing that we all need to make on a regular basis.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Better Lies for Auto-Replies

I've been auto-replied six times this week. You know, that computer-generated response e-mail that tells you the person to whom you are writing is not in their office, will not return until such-and-such a date, and if you have an emergency you should contact this that or the other person.

Aside from auto-replies being mildly annoying (especially when it comes from someone who just asked me to drop everything to work on and send in something on deadline, and then they're not there to get it) I think they're utterly boring, too. If you're going to have your computer give me the brush-off, why not at least be a little more creative with the wording?

Artistic: When the planets align in the proper formation, my crystals realign my chakrahs and Pices enters the seventh house, I'm sure my muse will be at the level of maximum energy to allow me to compose the perfect organic reply to your e-mail. Until then, I hope you'll respect my process and pray to the Earth Mother for my well-being, as I do yours.

Busy: Look, I can't read this right now. In fact, I'm so swamped I can't remember the last time I went to the bathroom. So give me a couple days and I'll get back to you. Unless I blow out a kidney.

Contrite: I cannot believe that I actually missed your e-mail. What was I thinking, taking this week off to sit by my mother's bedside while she's in ICU? She's a strong old gal, I'm sure she'll live. I am so, so sorry. Believe me, you have no idea. And I won't be able to make it up to you for at least a week. Can you ever forgive me? Say you'll forgive me. Please.

Environmentally Conscious: Sorry I'm not here to answer your e-mail. I'm off trying to reduce my carbon footprint before the polar bears go extinct. Please don't waste any more of our planet's resources by trying to contact me until I get back next Monday, thanks.

Honest (artfully): Hey, thanks for your e-mail. You know, I'd respond personally but I'm in this terrible place right now, and I need some alone time. At least that's what the people at Intervention are telling me. You understand.

Honest (brutally): You again. Jesus Christ, if one more damn person whines at me I swear, I'm getting Daddy's rifle and climbing a water tower. Save some lives and leave me the hell alone for a week, will you?

Incapacitated: Would love to reply to your note, and plan to just as soon as I make bail. And just so you know, those sheep? Were asking for it.

Reassuring: Not to worry, I'm still speaking to you. Just not this week. Pay no attention to those rumors about me putting out my resume and looking to jump ship; I am 100% committed to you. Any calls asking for references are just for a car loan, I promise.

Superior: I'd answer this e-mail, but obviously you're not important enough to bother. Write back when you've achieved a bit more in life. If you ever do.

Tired: They're calling it (yawn) narcolepsy but basically twenty years of (yawn) insomnia just caught up with me. So (yawn) I'll get back to y . . . .zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Oddly enough writers never send me auto-replies, or at least none have to date. I don't think that's fair; writers should also have auto-replies for those special days when we just can't get to the e-mail. Something like:

Thanks for your e-mail. I'm busy tearing out my hair over that scene where Lucan confronts Sam over the incident in the nightclub bathroom. You know how it is; he wants to make love; she wants to shoot him with the gun that has copper bullets. It's taking forever to get through this scene, and I think if my dialogue gets any lamer Christ won't be able to heal it. So talk to you when I figure it out or I'm bald, whichever comes first.

Okay, your turn -- how would you word your auto-reply? Let us know in comments.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Five Things You'll Have in Heaven

Everyone remembers Mitch Albom's first novel The Five People You Meet In Heaven if for no other reason than it spent something like 95 weeks on the bestseller lists and was the #1 bestselling hardcover debut novel ever (his web site is pretty cool, too.)

I already know the five people I'm going to meet in Heaven (right before I get kicked out, anyway) but I was thinking about what else might be waiting in the hereafter for me. If I had to pick the five things that imparted great wisdom and/or in some way affected or changed my life, they'd be:

#5 -- Art: One of the two things human beings create (other than writing) that make me think we're worth saving.

#4 -- Music: The other thing.

#3 -- Quilts: If Mom only knew what she would start the day she threw out my grandmother's wedding ring quilt, the talisman of my childhood, my shield against the monsters and the vampires and all things that go bump in the night.

#2 -- Poetry: I can't explained this one without sobbing all over you, but it saved me too many times to count.

#1 -- Books: Treasure chests anyone can find and open and sift through in wonder, no matter who they are, where they live, what they do, etc. The privilege of making them and filling them and putting them out there for others to find, well, there is nothing finer than that except reading them.

What five things do you think are waiting for you in heaven?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Making Your Own Place

Last year we had tenants in all of our birdhouses, and as usual a bit of backyard drama when one of the fledglings took a wrong turn. This year things have been pretty quiet, and so far I've seen only one timid little lady inspecting the properties:

Shy Thing is a mourning dove, I believe, and the above is the best picture I've gotten of her so far (everything else is a blur of feathers as she takes off the minute I snap the shot.) But while I've been skulking about trying to shoot her, she keeps returning to the same spot on the wall cabinet -- a small space between two empty birdhouses. Then she just sits there until she notices me and flies away.

Today I noticed a couple of twigs sticking out from the top edge of the cabinet. I can't actually see the top of the cabinet because I'm a shrimp, so I decided to climb on a chair to check out just what Shy Thing was squirreling away between the birdhouses:

No way was she building a nest between two birdhouses, I thought. Maybe she was cleaning out an old nest from one of the houses. Maybe she was trying to build herself a little bonfire and roast marshmallows. Even standing on the chair, I couldn't really see. So I held the camera up over my head and took a third blind shot:

Yep. She not only built herself a nest, she's already filled it.

I cannot for the life of me understand birds. There are three perfectly good birdhouses right there she could have nested in. Right there. All she had to do was move to the right three inches, the left two inches, or up six inches. She would have had a real roof over her head, and walls around her and the babies to keep them safe.

But it seems Shy Thing is also Stubborn Thing. Evidently when she couldn't find a place that suited her, she made one for herself -- not where every other bird that has nested here used, but a new and very different place. Okay, a really dumb place (baby, it's a seven-foot drop from the top of that cabinet) but one that obviously seemed right to her.

Sometimes doing that -- making your own place in the world -- is risky, and scary, and almost not worth the trouble it's sure to cause. But if playing it safe and doing what everyone else does makes you unhappy and doesn't feel right, how is that really better?

And who knows, maybe Shy Thing heard that we're bird lovers, and counted on us rigging something around the cabinet top to keep her babies from taking a header. Which of course we'll do. Shy Thing may not like our birdhouses, but she's chosen the top of our cabinet as her nursery. The least we can do is baby-proof it for her.

Added: I tried a different tactic this morning and Shy Thing finally let me snap a shot of her on the nest.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wishing You

Monday, March 16, 2009

Get It Done Ten

Ten Things to Help You Get Things Done

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

Susan Ward offers some sound advice on the art of getting it done with her About.com article, 11 Time Management Tips.

Everything will "locate files and folders by name instantly; features: Small installation file; Clean and simple user interface; Quick file indexing; Quick searching; Minimal resource usage; Share files with others easily; Real-time updating" (OS: Win 2000/XP/2003/Vista)

iQ-Notes "gives the user the ability to track notes on their computer just like Post-It notes. The application is freeware, which means you can download and use it, at no cost! One neat thing you can do with it is that it can synchronize with an FTP server so the notes on one computer is the same as the notes on your other computers or laptop. If you have notes all over your desk, or want to save information all in one place without losing them, you'll find this program very easy to use with many useful features. Simply just install this program and it appears on your task-tray. Whenever you want to create a fast note, just double-click on the post-it note icon on your task tray. It's that easy" (OS: Windows XP/Vista)

Japplis Tool Box is "a compilation of text utilities in one application . . . It can encode and decode URL, Base64, Hex, SoundEx or Metaphone; convert numbers from/to binary, octal, decimal, hexadecimal and to date; give you text information such as character count, word count, MD5 or SHA; get Java system properties, environment variables or Swing default values; checks and finds regular expressions" (OS: Win 2000/XP/2003/Vista, but developer notes that it "runs on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. You can also run it online as Applet")

Microsoft's Office Accounting Express 2009 is "the ideal accounting solution for new or existing home office–based small businesses. Office Accounting Express 2009 helps small business owners and bookkeepers save time on everyday tasks, work the way they want, and grow their business through online sales, online invoicing, and payment processes. Office Accounting Express 2009 comes with the familiar look and feel of the Microsoft Office system. For more advanced accounting features, you can upgrade to Office Accounting Professional 2009" (OS: Windows 2003/2008/Vista/XP; also noted: "Microsoft Office Word 2002 or later is required to create customized invoices, sales orders, quotes, customer credit memos, customer statements, and purchase orders")

SeeColors is "a simple application to preview RVB, HTML or decimal color values for use in CSS and HTML production . . . features: Ability to choose colors for 2 backgrounds and 4 text samples; Eyedropper tool; RVB, CSS (HTML) or decimal color conversion; CSS document can be dropped to extract color styles; Import/export features; Up to 10 color sets can be saved and loaded; Easy to use with its friendly interface and its intensive use of drag and drop" (OS: Mac OS X, Windows XP/Vista)

Task Coach is "a simple open source todo manager to manage personal tasks and todo lists . . . designed to deal with composite tasks" (OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3)

Also from iXoft, TexFinder is "a powerful and accurate tool to search and replace text inside entire folders . . . features: Search and replace text - with regular expression or not - in entire folders with the ability to filter desired files; Search and replacement can be case sensitive or not; Replacement Tables allow to replace multiple strings of characters in one pass; Ability to create your own Replacement Tables; Ability to create droplet for most using Replacement Tables (Macintosh only); Ability to create on the fly backup copy of files before string replacement; Ability to convert text files from Mac to Dos, Dos to Mac, Unix to Mac and Mac to Unix format; No more "mysterious" replacements! TexFinder shows you exactly what has been found and replaced on different fields for easier files management; Ability to refine your search and replace on the found files; Easy to use with its friendly interface and its intensive use of drag and drop" (OS: Mac OS X, Windows XP/Vista)

The Mayo Clinic has a good article on time management here that offers a very decent list of simple strategies to help get you back on track.

Penn State University also has a Time Management page geared toward helping students better manage their time, but I thought writers could benefit from it, especially the section on procrastination.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fiction Becomes Fact

Weird writer moment #9999: sometimes real life imitates your fiction.*

Back when I started creating the Darkyn universe, the old superstitions about vampires and the Black Death appealed to me as an interesting jumping-off point for my world-building. No one else was taking that approach, either, also a bonus. Ultimately the vampire-Black Death connection inspired a good portion of the series conflict as well as some of the backstory and plot for Stay the Night, but for the latter so did Hawthorne, Genesis, Coleridge and other somewhat unorthodox sources.

Still, it's pretty strange. This must be my weekend for creepy coincidences.

*Thanks to Jess for sending me the heads up and the link.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Open or Opportunistic?

I collected ten open call sub op leads from classifieds in the back of the March/April issue of Poets & Writers magazine this month and started pulling up the web sites to get the details for a ten list. Five offered no payment information (one asked for a reading fee and is a contest, not an open call), four were obviously for-the-love or paid in copies, and one firmly states that they no longer accept unsolicited subs (so why the heck run an ad asking for book manuscripts?)

Not one of them was worth listing here, so I'm writing a letter to P&W to suggest they reclassify their classifieds. I don't think they should be running ads for open calls that are really attempts to get writers to bankroll these projects or contribute something for nothing in return.

Back when I used to sell my poetry, I'd often run into open-call type ads in poetry magazines that were really fundraisers in disguise. You know the type: "Submit up to twenty poems for consideration" for something that was inevitably titled a variation on "The Best Loved Poems In America." I actually tried one out once when I was a kid, and got accepted, and even received a lovely little certificate -- along with an order form for copies of the anthology, which I would have had to pay $3 each. But no payment, no gratis copies, and no assurance that my poem would actually be published in the antho if I didn't buy a copy.*

If you're cruising the antho open call market, here are some things to watch out for:

Camouflaged Contests: these you can flag pretty easily; they always ask for an entry fee upfront, and generally the only writer who gets paid is the one judged to have "the most moving submission" or something along those lines (note: there is nothing wrong with entering a contest for publication in an antho as long as you don't have to pay to enter.)

Confusing Guidelines: if the guidelines for submission are unclear or not specific, e-mail and ask questions. If the contact person avoids giving you more details or your e-mails go unanswered, pass on it.

Kitchen Sinkers: an anthology usually has some sort of specific theme, length, form and/or genre requirement; be wary of kitchen-sink antho calls that are open to everyone and everything under the sun. Just because it touts itself as an anthology of "The Best-Loved Short Stories in America" doesn't mean it genuinely will be.

Lack of Experience: I can put up an open call for an anthology tomorrow -- it doesn't mean I know how to do one properly. Anyone headlining, editing and/or publishing an antho should have some experience with publishing them, or someone on board who does. If you submit to a first-timer, ask questions about what they plan to do.

No Publication Schedule: anyone editing and/or publishing an anthology should have a publisher or printer already on board for the project as well as an established date schedule for submissions, production and publication.

Reading Fees: if you're expected to pay just for the privilege of submitting, don't.

Thankfully there are plenty of open call anthologies out there that are legit and are run by ethical editors and publishers; the best source for these I've found so far are the market listings over at Ralan's place.

*By really creepy coincidence, today I received this poetry antho invitation in the mail -- not for me, but for my kid, whose teacher evidently sent off poems my kid and the rest of her class wrote for an assignment to this vanity pub.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My Evil Vera Tote

Fashion designer Vera Wang doesn't know it, but I own one of her T-shirts. No, I didn't steal it, it was a gift from a much more fashionable friend. It's also my favorite T-shirt and I've just about worn it into rag-status, because 1) it's violet and I'm still going through a violet phase from last year and 2) it's sinfully comfortable. It's the only article of clothing I own that can rightfully be called designer or fashion.

Since receiving the T-shirt I've been avoiding Kohl's, the only place in town that sells Vera Wang on the rack stuff. I don't want any more of her T-shirts. They scare me. Vera scares me. But I wanted to get a nice tote for our first giveaway winner at my group blog, and so like an idiot I went to Kohl's. That was when I saw the most sinfully lovely and utterly evil tote bag I have ever beheld:

It's black. It's shiny. It has this snake-like golden-green-bronze glow. It has not one but two zippered pockets on the inside. And perfect zippers. And perfect handles. And it's the perfect size for all the stuff I lug to the library . . .

I resisted for exactly a week, until I went back to drool on it one more time and saw that the evil lovely thing was marked down 40%. And there were only two left on the shelf. Now I can resist full-price Vera, but discount Vera? Only two left Vera? Don't get between me and the nearest cashier.

The bag is sitting in my office now, glaring at me. Daring me to use it. But it's also shiny and perfect, not a scratch on it, and I just want to look at it for a while before I begin the process of destroying it like every other tote bag that has had the misfortune to fall into my careless hands.

Or maybe I'll just keep looking at it like the spellbound fashion-helpless mouse that I am, and snarl at anyone who tries to touch it. The weird thing is, now I finally understand why some women have to have those $600.00 stupid-looking designer shoes. That's their evil Vera Wang tote bag.

What's yours?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Writing Residencies

The Cabin at Shotpouch Creek has a two-week residency to take place between August 16th to September 13th in the Oregon Coast Range along the Pacific Ocean for two poets, fiction or creative nonfiction writers who'd like to work together on a collaborative project. Open to writers whose work "takes inspiration from the natural world." Residents are provided with a $250.00 stipend. Submit 3 sets of up to 10 pages of poetry or 15 pages of prose, a one-page project description, and a CV. No application fee, deadline May 1st.

Also from Oregon state, The H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest has one-week residencies in the Oregon Cascades to poets, fiction and creative nonfiction writers in March, April or May. Open to writers whose work "reflects a keen awareness of the natural world." Residents are provided with a three-room apartment that includes kitchen facilities, access to the forest research site, and a $250.00 stipend. Submit 3 sets of up to 10 pages of poetry or 15 pages of prose, a one-page project description, and a CV. No application fee, deadline May 1st.

The Kerouac Project of Orlando has three four-month residencies for writers at the historic home of author Jack Kerouac in Orlando, Florida. Includes room and board; open to poets, fiction and creative nonfiction writers. Residents have to do some community outreach and give a public reading. Submit 2 copies of up to 10 pages of poetry or prose, a statement of intent and a resume. No application fee, deadline April 30th.

The MacDowell Colony has residencies of up to two months on a 450-acre estate near Mt. Monadnock in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Residents are provided with room and board, and travel expenses and personal expense grants are available based on need. For residencies between October 1st and January 31st, submit six to ten poems, 25 pages of fiction, or two to three essays as well as a description of the proposed project. (This one has an application fee of $20.00, but they offer to help out with travel and personal expenses for those who need it, so I thought it was worth listing.) Deadline April 15th.

The New York Mills Regional Cultural Center has two to four week residencies in New York Mills, Minnesota, from July through December available for poets, fiction and creative nonfiction writers. 51% of all residencies are awarded to writers from Minnesota or the five burroughs of NYC. Two-week residencies include a grant of $750.00; four-week residencies include a grant of $1500.00. Both offer living and studio space. Submit 5 copies of 12 pages of poetry, fiction or creative nonfiction, two letters of recommendation, a brief biography and a community outreach project . No application fee, deadline April 1st.

All of the above residency listings were found in the March/April 2009 issue of Poets & Writers magazine.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Extreme Character Names

I stopped by Seventh Sanctum to test drive their latest online name generator, Extreme Fantasy Names, and about laughed myself into a stitch over the results:

Chastity Solitaire
Curse Lord
Eternity Typhoon
Grave Amberviolet
Honor Rubyseeker
Machete Lanceknight
Opera Victory
Purity Roguelord
Reaper Killerhunter
Sheol Maverick
Song Rogue
Totem Grimdread
Valentine Talon
Warden Chaos
Warlock Shadow
Wind Direcaster

Actually I like extreme character names if they're single words (Machete Lanceknight might be really silly and over the top, but Song and Reaper by themselves aren't bad at all.) I also don't mind if an author uses extreme names that seem ridiculous to me because it's a personal style thing, and getting upset over it would be like me spitting on every woman who wears sunshine yellow (which I don't. I promise.) I'm also sure some of mine are just as laughable.

I gravitate toward unusual, rare and coined names, but I don't think the majority of mine are especially extreme. Still, I've been forced to rename five female protagonists and two males; the most common complaint has been that my female name choices aren't "pretty enough" and the male name choices are "too uncommon."

A bit of Darkyn trivia: if Jayr hadn't already been mentioned in Dark Need, my editor would have made me change her name to something else before the publication of Evermore. Another "it isn't pretty enough" situation. Still, despite its apparent ugliness, Jayr's name has (to my knowledge, anyway) never earned a single reader complaint.

The two extreme character names that are forever burned on my brain: Bellis Coldwine and Lovey. The first is one of China Mieville's characters, and while his Dickensonian approach to naming characters generally doesn't bother me, that one always crawls up the back of my neck like jabs of an ice pick. Every time I see it, I envision a barfly projectile vomiting a couple gallons of cheap Sangria. Don't ask me why, I just do.

I can't remember who had a character named Lovey, only that it was a romance novel. While it may not be considered by most readers to be all that extreme, my Pavlovian response to it certainly is. Lovey is what my least favorite relative used to call me during holiday visits as she was appraising how little I'd improved over the last year: Oh, lovey, that pixie cut is just not right for a girl with a big old face likes yours orYou should eat more, lovey, you're all knees and elbows. So every time I see or hear the name Lovey I want to go kick a nasty old lady in the shins.

How do you guys feel about extreme character names? Have you ever been tempted to christen a Chastity Solitaire or Machete Lanceknight in one of your stories? Any extreme character names permanently branded in your memory?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

FYI for Pubbed Authors

I'm posting this for published authors who haven't gotten a heads up from their agents yet:

"This" is the settlement administration website for the Google Book Search Copyright Class Action Settlement. The purpose of this website is to inform you of a proposed Settlement of a class action lawsuit brought by authors and publishers, claiming that Google has violated their copyrights and those of other Rightsholders of Books and Inserts (click for definitions), by scanning their Books, creating an electronic database and displaying short excerpts without the permission of the copyright holders. Google denies the claims. The lawsuit is entitled The Authors Guild, Inc., et al. v. Google Inc., Case No. 05 CV 8136 (S.D.N.Y.) The Court has preliminarily approved the Settlement. For further information, please review the Notice."

Important Deadlines: Claim forms: January 5, 2010 Opt out: May 5, 2009

Also, please note -- I am not discussing this offer here on the blog nor do I have any further information or advice for other authors. If this proposed settlement affects you and you don't know what to do, talk to your agent and/or your attorney.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Leftovers Ten

Ten Things Left Over from Other List Hunts

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

Businesscardmonster Designer PRO 2.1 is "an easy to use Designer Program to design your personal Businesscards. With the 2.1 version you can upload your own Background or choose one of over 1000 High Quality Backgrounds and over 3.000 Free Fonts. Design your Businesscard with a twist in under 5min" (Win 98/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3/Vista)

FontStruct allows you to build, share and download fonts you design and customize (registration required, and you have to agree to release the fonts you create online under CCL.)

For the Mac users out there who are looking for new/different fonts, check out what's available over at FreeMacFonts.com

OpenGoo is "an Open Source Web Office" which allows you and a team to "create, collaborate, share and publish all its internal and external documents. . .collaborate on: Text documents, Spreadsheets (coming soon), Presentations, Task Lists, E-mails, Calendars, Web Links, and Contacts. . . OpenGoo is a server application that can run on XAMP installations. It currently requires: Apache 2.0+, PHP 5.0+ (5.2+ recommended), or MySQL 4.1+ with InnoDB support. And can be installed, configured and used with Firefox 2+ and Internet Explorer 7+" (OS: Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP/2003/Vista, Linux, Mac OS)

Paint Star is "a versatile digital image processing software suitable for such tasks as retouching of photographs, image morphing, composing and authoring images, screen capture, and displaying image thumbnail in Windows Explorer context menu. It supports alpha, layer, path ,and the most common editing techniques. Paintstar has many of the tools and filters you would expect to find in similar commercial offerings, and some interesting extras as well" (OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP)

Photoscape 3.3 is "the fun and easy photo editing software that enables you to fix and enhance photos" that offers the following features" "Viewer: View your folders photos, slideshow, Editor: resizing, brightness and color adjustment, white balance, backlight correction, frames, balloons, mosaic mode, adding text, drawing pictures, cropping, filters, red eye removal, blooming, Batch editor: Batch editing multiple photos, Page: Make one photo by merging multiple photos at the page frame, Combine: Make one photo by attaching multiple photos vertically or horizontally, Animated GIF: Make one animation photo with multiple photos, Print: Print portrait shot, carte de visite, passport photo, Screen Capture: Capture your screenshot and save it, Color Picker: Zoom in screen on images, search and pick the color, Rename: Change photo file names in batch mode, Raw Converter: Convert RAW to JPG" (OS: Win 98/ME/2K/XP/2K3/Vista)

SSuite Office ~ The Fifth Element might just live up to its boxoffice title; this office suite "runs on all Windows platforms and all hardware systems. With its full 32-bit architecture and stability, it can improve your productivity and document format compatibility.
This office suite introduces some new innovative concepts in interface design and user-friendly application interaction. You get instant system access, top class application design and a cleaner desktop to name a few. The graphical-user-interface has been made into a more iconic-toolbar, mouse centric type of interface. This increases user-interaction speed and user productivity. So... if you enjoy a more uncluttered desktop, cleaner looking application interfaces, and faster software interaction, then this office suite is for you!" (OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3/Vista)

Sysygy Image Viewer "generates a virtual 3D museum with your pictures on the wall. You can walk freely through the gallery and look at your pictures. This is a complete different dimension of a slide show. While visiting the gallery, you can listen to your favorite music, too. You just have to create a your own playlist, which is very easy. But thats not all. Sysygy Image Viewer supports a Multi visitor mode. This means, that you can create a server where you AND others are able to connect to. Then you can walk through the gallery together with your friends or your famliy members, although they might be hundres of kilometers way. This method can be interpreted as a virtual couch. You can chat with everybody, who is connected to your server, too" (OS: Windows 2000/XP; Vista and 98/ME might work but are not officially supported)

Someone (you know who you are) asked Tom to find the link to "that word editing lister freeware with the wordcounter PBW mentioned last year." I think you mean Wordflood, which offers customizable word and phrase lists, one-click word usage frequency stats and a displayed worcounter. Would probably be a godsend for copywriters. This is not freeware, but they do offer a 14-day free trial download if you'd like to test drive it first.

Wordopedia is "a free dictionary program, designed to be redistributed. You simply edit the 'wrdped.lst' file to create your own dictionary. Then you redistribute this EXE file and the dictionary file. You may also elect to simply use the dictionary on your own computer. In any event, each copy of the program needs its own dictionary. Thus, it's like having your own custom-made dictionary program. You can customize the appearance of Wordopedia, by including your own bitmap (just call it "logo.bmp") and assigning your own title, version and dictionary description. You can even make the logo clickable, so that clicking on it will open an URL/webpage. Furthermore, you can choose whether or not users may add/delete entries from the interface" (OS: Windows 9x/ME/XP/2000/NT)

Sunday, March 08, 2009


1000 Artist Trading Cards by Patricia BoltonLast year I began collecting ATCs, or artist trading cards. Those of you who hang out at sites like Etsy.com or Quilting Arts are familiar with these miniature wonders, which are 2-1/2" X 3-1/2" one-of-a-kind works of art. Recently I snagged a copy of Patricia Bolton's 1000 Artist Trading Cards, which offers detailed photographs of, yep, one thousand ATCs along with some helpful instructions on how to make them from different materials.

I've also been fooling around with making my own watercolor, photograph and quilted ATCs (click on the images to see larger versions):


This has mostly been just for fun, but the more I think about ATCs, the more I want to see what writers and bloggers can do with them.

Last year we talked about using an online generator to make character cards as a fun way to remember our character stats and possibly to serve as a form of self-promo to hand out at signings and conferences. I think we can get more out of it, though; possibly come up with a writer's version of the ATC -- a writer's trading card.

I've seen writers handing out business cards and fridge magnets with cover art, release dates, ISBN#s and so forth, but I've never had a writer hand me a card with a quote or mini-excerpt from a story on it. Since words are our art form, I tried making a card with some of mine:

One problem is size -- you can't fit a lot of text onto trading card. Even with the smallest readable font, I'd say fifty to seventy-five words, max. With such a small space, the temptation is to write a teaser instead of using an actual excerpt. You could fit on a card a URL to an author's website, blog or an longer excerpt posted online -- but what's going to make the recipient curious enough to check it out? A great hook line or hot premise, i.e. "She knows your darkest secret" or "See what everyone is hiding" Or maybe a one-line joke? "This is why I didn't get the laundry done for three months."

Another problem is the visual aspect -- words aren't exactly colorful or attention-catching. I think using weird fonts in other-than-black shades makes the text hard to read, and any background image would have to be very light, semi-transparent or somehow muted to keep it from overwhelming the words. Unless you used an image on one side and words on the other.

I don't know. I've been thinking it through for a couple days now, and I'm a bit frustrated. It's as if there's an answer dancing just outside my brain's reach. What I do know is that these cards would be simple for a writer to make, print out, swap and otherwise distribute. The trick is to figure out what to put on them to make them a) one of a kind, b) irresistible to readers and c) potentially collectible.

I probably need to let the idea percolate for a while, but in the meantime, what do you guys think? Good idea, bad idea?

Related links:

Author Joumana Medlej has an amazing page with all you ever wanted to know about ATCs: Art in Your Pocket: ATCs.

Artist Trading Cards ~ a Collaborative Cultural Performance

Added 3/13/09: I removed the acronym for writers trading cards because a visitor reminded me of what else that acronym stands for, and I apologize for not realizing it until after it was mentioned.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Off to Catch Up

I have a couple hundred e-mails, comments and other stuff in the do-this-right-now-you-ninny queue. Since Tom refuses to impersonate me, I really have to bail on you guys today and catch up before everyone thinks I've gone total divasnot on them.

Three posts out there you might check out when you get a chance:

If you're thinking about joining a critique group, definitely read Alison Kent's Genreality post on pros and cons.

Author Marjorie M. Liu includes yours truly's Scribd freebies in a nice list of online free reads. *Note 9/3/10: Since Scribd.com instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I have removed my free library from their site, and no longer use or recommend using their service. My free reads may be read online or downloaded for free from Google Docs; go to my freebies and free reads page for the links. See my post about this scam here.

Over at Southern Fried Chicas, our blogpal Raine Weaver has up some interesting views from agents on the ongoing economic impact on Publishing and what that may mean for writers.

And now I'm off -- see you tomorrow.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Cover Art

My editor sent me the cover for Crystal Healer, StarDoc book nine:

Like the cover for Omega Games, this is the hip new look they're giving my latest SF novels, and it isn't pink. I'm not a fan of changing cover art styles in mid-series, and I prefer the former unhip look, but it isn't pink. The art seems interesting, it isn't pink, and the scene depicted is appropriate to the story. The echoing font and no uppercase letters on the title must be a SF art trend, but they aren't pink and I can sacrifice a couple of capital letters for the illusion of hipness. The angle is a bit weird; makes me wonder if the ship (which is not pink) is being sucked into a gravity well or something. I don't remember writing that.

Did I mention it isn't pink?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Publishing 911

Operator: Publishing 911, what's your emergency?

Reader: Yes, this book I've been reading has, you know, something really bad in it.

Operator: What is the bad thing, ma'am?

Reader: I can't say that over the phone. But it's really, really bad.

Operator: I need to know what the bad thing is, ma'am, or I can't help you.

Reader: Can't you just take my word for it and send the police to arrest the author?

Operator: No, ma'am, I can't do that.

Reader: Well, that's not fair.

Operator: You're free to destroy the book at your convenience, ma'am.

Reader: I can't, I need to turn in the book at the used book store to get credit for it.

Operator: Then do what everyone else does and post an anonymous review on Amazon.com. (switches lines) Publishing 911, what's your emergency?

Author: (sniffling) A reader just sent me a hateful e-mail and I read it and now I'm so upset that I can't write.

Operator: Was the e-mail accurate, sir?

Author: No, of course not. My book is wonderful. I'm a genius. This reader is a jealous idiot who's trying to make a name for himself by destroying my career.

Operator: Then why can't you write, sir?

Author: (lowers voice) What if I'm wrong? What if my book sucks? What if everyone in publishing is laughing at me right now?

Operator: I'm not laughing at you, sir.

Author: (eagerly) Did you read my book?

Operator: Sir, you need to delete the e-mail, block the reader from your mail account, and recite your writing mantra.

Author: But I don't have a writing mantra.

Operator: Repeat after me: "I am powerful. I am purposeful. I am published."

Author: I'm pathetic, aren't I?

Operator: That's not part of the writing mantra, sir. Please recite what I told you fifty times and stop reading e-mail for the rest of the day. (switches lines) Publishing 911, what's your emergency?

Reviewer: (whining) There's this writer who hates me. I read his blog every day. He says terrible things and I know he's talking about me.

Operator: Does the writer name you in his blog, ma'am?

Reviewer: Not exactly.

Operator: Has he ever mentioned your name once in his blog, ma'am?

Reviewer: You don't understand. He won't name me because then I'd have proof of what he does.

Operator: Does the writer ever link to you, or quote you?

Reviewer: No. Okay, look, he pretends like I don't exist. But I know he hates me. I can feel it.

Operator: Have you ever had any direct contact with the writer?

Reviewer: Well, I've read and reviewed every book he's ever written.

Operator: He doesn't hate you, ma'am. He doesn't know you. Stop reading his blog and read someone else. (switches lines) Publishing 911, what's your emergency?

Author: I've just seen my new cover art and it's horrible.

Operator: How horrible is it, ma'am?

Author: Do you remember that book that came out in January with bright metallic glow-in-the-dark pink albino Robin Hood on the cover?

Operator: (winces) Yes, ma'am.

Author: Worse than that.

Operator: I'm sorry, ma'am, but that's highly unlikely.

Author: (furiously) Don't you dare tell me it's not as bad as I think, because I swear to God I will come down there and kick your ass.

Operator: Calm down, ma'am. What color is the cover art?

Author: Green. Lurid Green.

Operator: Everyone is going green these days, you know. (flips through calendar) And St. Patrick's Day is coming up. You could do some clever tie-in promo and turn this tragedy to your advantage.

Author: Can't you just send the police to arrest my editor?

Operator: No, ma'am, I can't do that.

Author: Damn.

Operator: (tentatively) I can transfer your call over to the That Can't Be My Cover support and recovery group for cover-traumatized authors. The writer with the albino Robin Hood cover runs it, and she has complimentary chocolate-covered Valium at every meeting.

Author: Really? I thought she killed herself. Okay, transfer me over.

Operator: Thank you, please hold. (transfers call, switches lines.) Publishing 911, what's your emergency?

Reader: Hi, it's me again. I'm ready to tell you what the bad thing in the book was.

Operator: Go ahead, ma'am.

Reader: (whispers) Gee. Ay. Why. Es. Eee. Ex.

Operator: I don't understand you, ma'am.

Reader: (dismayed) I can't actually say it. I'm spelling it for you. Can't you spell?

Operator: No, ma'am, that's not part of my job requirement. (switches lines) Publishing 911, what's your emergency?

Reader: (angrily) I wrote a letter of complaint to this terrible author about his lousy book and he didn't answer and then he blocked me from his mail account.

Operator: (sighs) Have you recited your reader mantra today, sir?

Reader: Authors write for me. Authors must please me. Authors tremble in fear before me.

Operator: I think you'll be fine, sir.

Reader: But I have to tell this author much, much more about how much his book sucks.

Operator: Then do what everyone else does and post an anonymous review on Amazon.com, and get all your friends to vote that it was helpful and it will end up as the first review on the page.

Reader: That's not good enough. Can't you send the police to arrest the author?

Operator: No, sir, I can't do that. Have a nice day.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Spinning Away

Writers are like spiders, in that we are constantly producing and spinning and weaving our words into stories, something we hope will catch a reader or two and give us a reason to keep spinning.

The last couple of days I've been alternately nursing my daughter through the flu, trying to make this new proposal shine, and working on a quilt guild challenge. Add to that taking care of the puppy, the housework, and dealing with NY. If I'm not doing ten things at once I'm not happy, but this was not the time I needed a couple of characters with unfinished business to come and bug me.

So of course they did.

If you don't recognize them, they're Kyan and Melanie from Twilight Fall. They decided to pop into my head at three a.m. while I was giving the daughter her meds. They had this wonderful idea for me to go in and get on the computer and write about them until I toppled over from exhaustion. They do this because they're characters, they don't live in the real world, and they never have to get up at 6 a.m. to walk the pup, make breakfast, pack lunches and get everyone healthy up and off to work and school.

I might be able to get around to exploring more about these two later this year, but I've already committed myself to the Chrysalis project, and I have another print book to finish before I can even start that. Simply put, I would love to write more about Kyan and Mel, but I don't have time for them right now. It's not their turn and they have to wait.

I didn't force them out of my thoughts; that never works. Instead I outlined a few new notes, added that to their existing file, and mentally promised them they'd get their turn eventually. They followed me to bed but by then I was able to shove them back into my subconscious or whatever place characters go when we're not writing them and got a couple hours of sleep.

I like to finish what I start, and I think the characters who try to railroad me into writing in the middle of the night know this. What I know is if I jot down the important points of whatever new idea they bring to me, I purge that creative urgency that can be so disruptive (and, at times, actually harmful) to a writer's real life.

Like the spider's web, what we spin is beautiful to us, and those gleaming bright threads of new ideas can be very distracting. If we go running off in all directions to chase this thread or that, we don't really build anything, or we end up hopeless entangled in our own creativity. That's why it's important to me to finish what I start, so at the end of the day I have something to show for all this spinning I do.

How do you handle those characters with their bright, shiny, distracting ideas when they come for you in the middle of the night? Let us know in comments.

Falling cover art photo credit: Geo Martinez

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A Scribd Observation

*Note 9/3/10: Since Scribd.com instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I have removed my free library from their site, and no longer use or recommend using their service. My free reads may be read online or downloaded for free from Google Docs; go to my freebies and free reads page for the links. See my post about this scam here.

A few weeks ago I passed the 100K mark on views of my online library of free reads over at Scribd. While my free fiction has done well, more than 15% of the total views were for my writing how-to, The Novel Notebook, making it the most popular e-book I've posted.

I've also had a healthy number of hits on The Ten Point Plot Template, The Blank Novel Wiring Diagram, LB&LI 2007, and John & Marcia ~ The Novel Crash Test Dummies.

The numbers surprised me. Frankly I thought sites like Scribd were mainly used by readers looking for free fiction, but it seems more writers are hanging out there, too. While I know a lot of you guys are responsible for beefing up those nice numbers, I've had enough contact from other writers who didn't know me or PBW before reading something on Scribd to attribute at least half of the views to new-to-me visitors.

Scribd also provides search engine indexing info over on the sidebar of the documents; almost nine thousand hits on The Novel Notebook came from Google, Yahoo, MSN and other search engines. You also get a list of handy search terms that led the bots to your document, which can help you when you're making up tags.

Anyway, if you publish how-to books on writing fiction and want to expand your readership, or you have a writing how-to blog or site on line and want to increase your traffic, you might consider posting a free how-to e-book on Scribd. It doesn't have to be a huge, involved deal, either -- the short documents seem to do as well as the lengthier ones.

Another suggestion: if you decide to do a freebie how-to, use real, original examples and full-length material versus excerpts and teasers, or copying your existing blog posts into e-book form. Fresh content that has no strings attached always does better than thinly-veiled promo and cut-n-pastees.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Take Note Ten

Ten Things to Help with Note Taking

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

Dustin Wax's article Advice for Students: Taking Notes That Work also offers some great tips for writers who want to improve their note-taking skills.

Efficient Sticky Notes will allow you to "Stick your notes on the desktop and you can read important information at any time on the screen. It saves your money and saves your time! The software allows various background colors, with optional gradient effect, to be set for the sticky notes. You can also customize the font of each note and set it to be semi-transparent so it will not fully cover up your desktop background or icons. To fully protect your privacy, the software encrypts the login password with the irreversible SHA algorithm and also encrypts data files. Besides, it offers various special features such as managing sticky notes by group, setting note importance, tracking the creation time and last modification time of notes, adding attachments to notes, Recycle Bin, etc." (OS: Win 98/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3/Vista)

GlobonoteGloboNote is a simple and easy to use desktop note taking program(Sticky Note). It lets you organize your ideas, ToDOs, reminders in one place and allows you to find it easily. (OS: any that has Java 6 installed.)

Hott Notes is "the free sticky notes reminder program for your desktop. Totally free. No ads. No spy-ware. Not only can you post sticky note reminders, you can make checklists, set alarms, draw on your notes, and archive. Pumped? Download away!" (OS: Windows XP/2000)

Note-It offers "Enhanced desktop notes that persist windows sessions, give you control of the look and feel, allow you to save and open notes, provides special notes that provide updated information, drag text to and from any application, and even email the notes or just a selection of the note. Notes on your desktop have never been easier and with Note-It you get all the power you will ever need in note application" (OS: Win 98/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3/Vista)

With Note Studio, "the priority is on getting the notes down quickly. It is inspired by wiki technology, which allows simple text formatting (headings, bold, italic, tables, etc), as well as pages which link together through hyperlinks. Dogmelon has found that people become much better organized when they start using Note Studio. Customers report that it is actually fun to make notes. The result? People make more notes, and their notes are actually useful. Note Studio was originally developed for handheld Palm devices. Dogmelon has learnt a lot of lessons for portable devices which apply equally to laptop or tablet PCs. An obvious example is security. A major concern for mobile users is having their important data compromised if their device is lost or stolen. Note Studio allows you to encrypt notebooks. This means that even if your device falls into the wrong hands, your notes will not be readable. But it is the ease of organizing notes that makes Note Studio most powerful. The way pages are organized in your notebook is very flexible. Because pages can contain links to other pages, your notebook can be arranged like a web-site. This allows simple, logical navigation through your notes. In case you're in a hurry, Note Studio includes a powerful search facility. Often you just vaguely remember that you made a note several months ago. With Note Studio you can search through all of your notebooks, to find the information you're after in seconds. (OS: Mac OSX 3.3.2)

For those who aren't familiar with notetaking techniques, CalPoly's Notetaking Systems page takes a look at the advantages and disadvantages of 5 different notetaking systems, explains how to do them, and shows examples.

Task List Task List is an one-stop management app for students. You can take notes, track assignments and grades, and set priorities, among a bevy of other handy student-y features. We've posted several great note taking apps for students (from Mac- and Windows-only to web-based note taking), but Task List is by far the most comprehensive student tool I've seen. Task List is freeware, Mac OS X only - complete with all the great iLife integration (with apps like Mail, iCal, iDisk if you have it) that can make your Mac such a handy place to work." -- Adam Pash, Lifehacker (OS: Mac OSX)

Tiny Notes is "a note/code organizer. It is meant as a small and simple tool that helps you organize small snippets of text, through which you can quickly search. Supports syntax highlighting" (OS: Win NT/2000/XP)

Wikipad is "a Wiki-like notebook for storing your thoughts, ideas, todo lists, contacts, or anything else you can think of to write down. What makes wikidPad different from other notepad applications is the ease with which you can cross-link your information. Links in a wiki are created by typing in WikiWords. A WikiWord is any mixed case word typed into the editor. TodoList or JohnDoe are example WikiWords. The term wiki means "quick" in Hawaiian, and wikis are all about quickly linking your information together. Wikis are not a new concept, in fact there are many web based wiki servers available" (OS: Win NT/2K/XP/2K3)