Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sub/Contest Ops

Atom Jack Magazine has an open call for The Butterfly Effect, a SF e-anthology of "alternate future fiction." According to the site: "These are stories that ask questions like what would the colonization of the moon be like if the Nazis had won? What would first contact be like if the Confederates had stomped the Yanks? How might the negation of the extinction of the dinosaurs affect the zombie wars of 2059 and 2170? Change an event in the past and see what the future holds for mankind (or apekind, in the case of however the hell Planet of the Apes works.)" Now there's someone who never suffered through the originals.* Payment: Poem / Flash - $15 (<1000 words or 100 lines); Short story - $30 (1000 words to 10K words.) No reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines page for more details. Deadline: May 31, 2009.

The 2009 Al Blanchard Award Contest is now open for submissions; prizes: $100.00, publication in an antho, and admission to the New England Crime Bake Conference. Stories must be by a New England author or take place in a New England setting, 5K or longer, and should be in the mystery, thriller, suspense, caper, or horror genres. (No torture/killing of children or animals.) No reprints, see guidelines page for more details. Deadline May 31, 2009.

Niteblade Horror and Fantasy Magazine has an open call for their as-yet-untitled print anthology #2. Looks like you have to get accepted by the mag first, then their readers vote for whoever gets into the print antho. Looking for SF, fantasy and horror fiction and poems, Pays $1 + contributor copy, length 10K or less, no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines page for more details.

ReviewFuse has kind of an interesting monthly contest going; evidently you submit short stories but you win the contest for $50.00 by giving the best critiques of the three finalist stories selected by the staff. That's definitely different. No fee, but you must submit a select number of crits as per their guidelines. This could be fun for those of you who give good crit -- check out the guidelines page for more details.

Rymfire Books has an open call for horror stories for an anthology titled Vermin; they're also looking for novella submissions by single authors for e-books. Reading period for both is April 15, 2009 through June 15, 2009. Anthology subs: Payment $3.00 per story plus possible royalties, lengths: 2.5-7.5K, stories should be about "those tiny, menacing feet inside the walls, creatures watching you from the darkenss of the halls at midnight... you tell me, and make it creepy! And PLEASE no generic 'rat-creature in the attic, kills the exterminator, etc.' tales... be original!" reprints okay. Novella subs: Payment $25.00, lengths: 25,000 - 65,000 words, genres preferred: Horror, non-fiction Heavy Metal-themed, query on reprints, electronic subs only. They've also got another open-call anthology with a reading period beginning May 15, 2009; see guidelines page for more details on all three.

Who says you can't get paid to be a twit?** The first Twitter-only market I've found, Thaumatrope, has reopened to submissions for stories and serials. Serials: "Tell us a Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror serial (which will be published over the course of one month, approximately 30-45 tweets) with each entry being under 140 characters. Other than that, we’re just looking for good stories." Stories: "Tell us a Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror story in under 140 characters. Other than that, we’re just looking for good stories." Payment: "We pay $1.20 per entry—which equates to a minimum payment of approximately 5¢/word (considering a “word” to be 6 characters)" -- and this applies to both stories and serials. Evidently they're a little ticked that they're not considered by SFWA as a professional market***, but que sera, guys. No reprints, must submit via online form, see guideline pages for more details.

*That was not an insult.

**That was.

***You have got to be kidding me. Twitter? Not a pro market? Say it isn't so!

All of the above market and contest listings were found over at Ralan's place.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Scene Favorites

Of all the things I like to write, I think the dialogue in action scenes is the most fun for me. I rarely plan dialogue in advance, so it's the most spontaneous writing I do, but oddly enough when there is a lot of action going on in the scene it's also the easiest. People under stress or duress say the damnedest things to each other, and I never get tired of composing it.

Action scene dialogue between secondary characters or a secondary character and the protagonist or antagonist is also one of the better story opportunities to showcase the support cast and avoid them becoming mere window-dressings or sidekicks for the protagonists. Here's one such scene from Shadowlight that I had a lot of fun with.

I wish love scene dialogue were as simple to write; I find that the most difficult to compose. I can handle describing the action, no problem, but cooking up the appropriate lines for the lovers to say to each other is always a challenge. Love scenes with no dialogue aren't as interesting, though, so I try to create and incorporate the right words.

One thing that helps me with writing love scene dialogue is to read some romantic poetry first. I don't quote the poems in love scenes, but they put me in the romantic mindset. Occasionally I'll write a love poem or letter from one character to the other (that helped a lot with writing the dialogue in the love scenes from Evermore.)

What are you favorite scenes to write, and what are your least favorite? Do you have anything you do to help with writing the scenes that are difficult for you? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Writing the TC

One thing the paranormal romance, urban fantasy, romantic suspense and dark fantasy trends of the last decade have given genre readers is a different brand of female protagonist. She’s not the archetypal helpless virginal victim we so often met in the novels of the seventies and early eighties; this female is quite different.

Imagine a woman who doesn’t depend on her hero to define or redefine her, isn’t waiting for that someday when her Prince Charming will show up, and is not interested in fairy godmothers or glass slippers. She's not a shapeless lump of clay waiting to be molded by the hokey pokey of true love. This female could never be called helpless or spineless, and while she may welcome a little backup, she can fight her own battles just fine, thank you very much.

Readers often call this kind of tough chick female protagonist the kickass heroine. I’m not especially fond of that term because I find it somewhat demeaning to strong women, who in fiction as well as reality do not have to kick anyone’s ass to get the job done (so forgive me if I pass on the popular terminology and refer to her as TC for the rest of the post.)

Because TC-suitable stories are in genres that are most popular with women readers, the writer who chooses to cast this sort of character as a protagonist has to do more than arm her with independence, wit, and nerves of steel. The toughest job the TC has to accomplish – other than bringing down the bad guys in her story – is gaining the sympathy of her female readers.

From what I've observed of my gender, women seem to be stirred to sympathy most often when our nurturing or rescuing instincts are engaged, which is usually by something small, defenseless, injured, helpless, or otherwise in need of our care. Herein lies the quandary of making the TC sympathetic: Whether she’s cast as a cop or a PI, a shape shifter or vampire hunter, or just the girl who ends up in the wrong place at the right time, the TC is generally not in need of nurturing or rescuing . . . or so it seems.

When you strip a female protagonist of the classic vulnerabilities, you have to find other aspects of her character that have the best chance of engaging the reader's sympathy. How do you do that when you've created a self-reliant, resilient female who appears so invulnerable?


Let's say something in the past turned your female protagonist into a tough chick, and it still haunts her or has an ongoing effect on her life. If you take this approach, the reader will likely view her as a survivor versus indifferent or callous.

Here's a character sketch from my novel If Angels Burn: abandoned as an infant, Dr. Alexandra Keller spent her early years on the street with only her young brother to protect her. Her adoptive parents later die when she's a young teen, at which time her beloved brother dumps her in a boarding school and goes off to do missionary work in another country.

Alex has had no choice but to be self-reliant and resilient; life has shown her little pity. When we first meet her we discover that she lives alone, has no real ties, few friends, is estranged from her brother, John, and is practicing a profession that not only makes the most of her unusual talents, but demands exacting self-control and precision. She's independent to the point of being unreasonable about it, refuses to ask for help, and finds it very difficult to trust, much less love, anyone.

Why do we sympathize with Alex? Beneath the smart mouth and demanding personality, the fastest reconstructive surgeon in the world is alone, lonely, and scared. In one way or another, everyone she loves has left her to fend for herself. And despite her bitterness toward John and the curve ball fate throws her after she's forced to perform surgery on a disfigured immortal, Alex is still committed to help others, from helpless victims to her own kidnapper. She may have been abandoned, but she never abandons others. To walk away from someone in trouble is unthinkable to Alex.

According to disgruntled readers, Alex is the most unlikeable and annoying TC character I've ever written. Oddly enough those same qualities are what endears her to many other readers who are devoted Alex fans. Alex, it seems, is a TC you either hate or love -- but then, most of the strongest females among us usually are.

Under the Circumstances

Present day events can also make a tough chick out of the female protagonist, even when she’s the sweetest and nicest female in existence. Case in point: In Dark Fever by Karen Marie Moning (which I think Amie recommended I read back when I took suggestions for my current TBR), MacKayla (Mac) is the fluffiest pretty pink girl I've ever seen turned into a tough chick in the space of a couple chapters.

Mac, who travels to Ireland to investigate her sister's murder, discovers that she is not who she thinks she is. She has a rare ability that allows her to see things other humans can't, and even do something about them. Why has this never come up before? Mac lived in a little podunk Georgia town and never went anywhere, and thus never ran into the Inhuman Unseen before. In Ireland, however, she's inundated with them. She also has to join forces with one of the bigger and badder guys in order to protect herself and find out who killed her sister and why.

We sympathize with Mac because she is so fluffy and sweet, and is gradually transformed by circumstances beyond her control into a very different character. Mac is every woman who has undergone some ordeal and emerged from it fundamentally changed as a person. The thing I find admirable about Mac is how she still fights to hold onto some of that fluffy pink sweetness despite the horrors she's exposed to. It's the same reason we deeply admire women who don't abandon hope even after fate tears their life to shreds. We pray if we're ever in their shoes we can be half as strong.

I can't speak for other readers, but I know I sympathize with Mac because she isn't just a ball of fluff turned TC, she's an embodiment of hope -- what is left in Pandora's box after all the terrible things are unleashed.


Sometimes things happen to us without our permission, and to deal with them we have to undergo a transform that usually begins as a defense mechanism or a facade for some other important reason, and over time becomes an integral part of who we are. In other words, the role we play becomes real.

Jayr from my novel Evermore is a female protagonist whose body never fully matured, and after she is transformed into an immortal, she finds herself trapped in that boyish form. She deals with this by living the life that body fits -- that of a seneschal, traditionally a male role in her society. This also allows her to remain close to the lord she loves and yet believes she can never have any other type of relationship with.

When I proposed writing Evermore, the one comment everyone I discussed it with made is that no one wants to read novels with a female vampire protagonist, because it's the male vampire who is most appealing to women readers. I didn't totally agree with this, but I knew it would be tough to make a female vampire sympathetic. Still, I was pretty sure that my girl-knight had what it took.

Almost every female endures a lot of angst during puberty, especially in that time period just as all our lovely hormones wake up and attack us. We go from being children to young women, and it's a torturous process. In those few short years, we struggle daily with our self-esteem and self-image, and those scary and foreign desires that we don't yet understand.

I believe Jayr is sympathetic because nearly all women understand her struggle intimately, but we also know she can't grow out of it. Being stuck between child and woman, potentially forever, is an impossible situation for any female.

Building Your TC

There are an infinite number of other ways to make a TC a sympathetic protagonist; they’re not just limited to these three examples. I suggest the writer look at the strong female role models in their real life who most inspire them, and see what brought them to their place in the world. What drove them to strive beyond whatever cards they were dealt?

Poverty, deprivation and personal loss are all powerful motivators. So are the gifts some are born with or are called to, such as faith, teaching and healing. Don’t forget those circumstances, either; very often strong women don’t consciously choose to become TCs, but are shaped by their time period and significant life events. I know it's a lot to think about, but as writers we work very hard to make our TCs legitimate tough chicks. The same effort should go into also making her sympathetic to the reader.

One more thought: when I write the TC, I endow her with a suitable personality and whatever abilities she’s entitled to. At the same time, I deliberately flaw her, and I give her fairly serious flaws. On occasion I also allow her to fumble things, make bad decisions and otherwise mess up, just as real women do. The last thing I want in my story is a towering paragon of unshakable ability and endless confidence who never does anything wrong, because I know I’m not going to sympathize with her; I’m not going to believe she's real at all. And that's the kind of TC no one wants to read.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Count 'Em Ten

Ten Things About Word Counters

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

If you're looking for a wordcounter widget that uses straight HTML versus images, check out Another Little Progress Meter (and here's what it looks like on a blog.)

The Dreaded Daily Word Count by Chris Stewart takes a practical look at wordcounting and suggests how you can custom design a daily quota you can live with.

Allena Tapia has some good tips on how to trim your numbers in her article Five Ways to Cut Down Your Word Count.

LanguageIsAVirus has an online wordcount code generator (which looks like this on a blog.)

StoryToolz requires you to register first (free), but then you can get their progress meter.

If you just wanted to count your words and don't trust your word processor, cut and paste your text into the box at Word Count Tool, click submit, and get your count.

Word Counter is a "Macintosh OS X application that performs a word count and a character count, but it can do much more. It can be used independently or in conjunction with other applications such as TextEdit, Microsoft Word, Pages, TextWrangler, and others" (OS:Macintosh OS X 10.5 or higher)

The Word Counter Widget is a "Dashboard Widget for Macintosh OS X. It provides word counts and character counts and can also count the number of instances of a specified word or phrase" (OS: Mac OS X 10.4 or later)

WordFlood 1.2, which offers customizable word and phrase lists, one-click word usage frequency stats and a displayed worcounter, is now being offered as freeware (OS: Windows 2000/NT/XP/Vista)

Writertopia offers two free wordcount widgets; one that is a simple, no-frills meter, and the other to display your mood as well as your progress.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


I've just got home from my day trip, and it looks like Blogger is having some issues with my scheduled posts. Nothing major, and hopefully Tom will be able to sort that out tomorrow.

In the meantime, I had the magic hat pull a second shift this week, and the winners of the Pajama Girls giveaway are:

Sarita Leone

Liana Brooks

Lanette (whose comment was I love the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. It's captivating and a great tear jerker til the end.)



kimi (whose comment was Charlie Huston - I read his books last year and his writing blew me away. He writes thrillers and horros.)

traveler (whose comment was Thanks for this lovely giveaway. Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh is a novel that was memorable.)


Cursing Mama

Kerryn Angell

Winners, when you have a chance please e-mail your full name and ship-to address to, and I'll get these books out to you. Thanks to everyone for joining in.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Shadowlight Cover

First look at the cover for Shadowlight:

Also, just a heads-up: today is one of those rare days when Tom and I will both be out of town, so new comments will probably not post today until after 7pm EST.

Friday, April 24, 2009


I really enjoyed reading through the entries for the Three I's giveaway. You guys always give great answers, and often surprise me, but this time there were a lot of unexpected sources of inspiration, ideas and instruction -- some I have to try myself the next time I hit the writer doldrums.

We revved up the magic hat, and the winner of the giveaway is:


Amanda, when you have a chance, please send your full name and ship-to info to, and I'll get your package out to you. Thanks to everyone for joining in.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pajama Girls

Last year I wrote about one of my favorite books of 2008, The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square, and handed out copies to my friends and readers throughout the year. Now that it's out in trade paperback I have another chance to get more people hooked on Rosina Lippi.

The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square takes place in a small South Carolina town, the sort of place that breeds characters, complications, and captivating relationships. If the town isn't enough to make you keep reading until dinner singes, you'll also meet restless wanderer/entepeneur John Dodge, a man who likes to stay on the move, and local shopkeeper Julia Darrow, who isn't going anywhere. As John comes to town (temporarily) to revive a dwindling business, he tries to figure out the mystery of Julia, a woman who works in her pajamas (as do all of her employees. If only they were hiring!) And that's when . . . well, let's just say at this point in the story, you'd better turn off the stove and order pizza delivery.

Authors are often called "master storytellers" and "unique voices" but that's almost become the standard hype cliche. Which is a shame, because Rosina Lippi is the real thing -- a voice that is unique, and a storyteller who is a master. I can't compare her to anyone because there is no one like her. Reading Pajama Girls, practically every line shouts this.

But as always, you don't have to take my word for it. In comments to this post, name a book or an author you enjoy and want people to read (or if you can't think of one, just throw your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Saturday, April 25, 2009. I will draw ten names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned trade paperback copy of The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square by Rosina Lippi. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Three I's

I'm going to steal three keywords off the cover of one of my favorite magazines to illustrate today's post.


This is the cover of a blank journal (ISBN#9781593594930, published by Peter Pauper Press) with a detail from of one of Josephine Wall's paintings, The Spirit of Flight. It contains 192 ruled blank pages of acid-free/archival paper, and the binding lies flat when you open it. One of the prettiest blank books I've seen at the store.

I make most of my own journals, but every so often I'll pick up a ready-made that catches my eye. Beautiful cover art on a blank book may seem like a waste, but each time I see an image that inspires me, I usually need to write as soon as possible.


One of my favorite magazines, Art Scene International, has wall-to-wall ideas for characters, settings, scenes, etc. in every issue, with art from some of the hottest young artists from around the globe. Finding this magazine for me was like discovering Frank Frazetta all over again.

Reading fiction these days I recognize a lot of characters and ideas modeled on celebrities and television. There's nothing wrong with this, but I'd like to see more writers stretch their imaginations in other directions. Magazines like Art Scene are great alternative idea wells.


When I wanted to learn how to properly paint watercolors, I picked up an issue of Watercolor Artist to have a look-through and see if I could find any useful tips. While I will never get anywhere in the same solar system of ability that the contributors possess, I have learned a lot about technique as well as expression, meaning, reasons to paint and why people even bother with a medium that is so demanding, unpredictable and frustrating. I think the cover art of this issue pretty much answers that question (and also gives away where I stole the three keywords, too.)

Almost every writer I know does something creative that has no writing involved in it, such as painting, sewing, knitting, crafting, gardening, dancing, playing a musical instrument and so on. It's not a requirement that a writer have another creative hobby or sideline, but I think it helps. Maybe because writing is the only art that takes place inside the head where no one else can see it.

Inspiration, ideas and instruction should also be shared. In comments to this post name a source where you find one or more of the three i's (or if you're running low on all three, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Thursday, April 23, 2009. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner the brand-new unused blank journal, both magazines, and a surprise. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I finished a small art quilt over the weekend. If you follow the photoblog, it's the fiber art quilt I was working on last month. I didn't want to go back to it, but I needed to get the thing finished, so I could burn it as soon as I was done.

Why, you ask? Because despite great care, effort, focus and many hours of work, I did not achieve even remotely what I had hoped to do. Or, in simpler terms, I failed.

I try to learn something from my failures (after I whine and sniffle and kick a few pillows first.) Here's what this experience taught me.

1. Other people's fiber art is beautiful. Mine? Is not.

2. Fibers are pretty until you put them on things. Then they just look hairy.

2a. Colorful, but hairy.

3. Beadwork does not camouflage this effect.

3a. It doesn't make it look ethnic, either.

3b. Actually it has kind of the same effect as putting lipstick on an orangutan.

3c. A great big hairy orangutan.

4. Setting aside something you think is ugly for a couple of weeks does not make it look prettier.

5. I now believe contemplating using glitter glue between the beadwork in another effort to disguise said hairiness is the art quilter's equivalent of hitting rock-bottom.

I was disappointed, sure. I spent a couple of weeks pinning and stretching and rearranging and tacking down those blasted fibers. I could have made something I know how to make instead of wasting my time on this stupid project. I wouldn't have little bits of fiber all over the sewing room, either. I know I'll feel better after I paint and sulk for a couple of days, but still. All that work!

But I learned something else in addition to all of the above. Aside from the glaring fact that fibers are not my friends, I need to do this again. Oh, believe me, I'll practice on something simpler, smaller, or less involved than an art quilt when I make another go of it. But if I give up after just one attempt, those evil quilt-ruining fibers will win. No furry textile string on this planet is going to get the best of me.

As writers, we all have our failures. We envision something, but try as we might, we can't translate it to the page. We submit, only to receive nothing but rejections. We publish, and watch our book go unnoticed, or worse, tank. There's more than one novel sitting on my hard drive or filed away in the cabinet upstairs that I never finished, or never got an editor to read. I have several books that didn't sell well; I have a couple that hardly sold at all.

In today's society we're expected to succeed, and that's something we should all strive for, but I think we also have to expect to sometimes fail. No one does everything perfectly every time. Sometimes it's our fault, and sometimes it's simply the luck of the draw.

I don't like failing, but I understand that failure can be friend or foe, fuel or frustration. I can let failure depress me (and there is nothing more depressing than looking at an endeavor I botched) or I can let it fire me up. Failure often makes me angry, but it also feeds my determination. I didn't do something right, then I'll try again. I'll remember what I did the last time. I'll use that to guide me, not grind me down.

I love quilting and making beautiful things, so it's embarrassing to have something I quilt turn out to be not so pretty. But it's also good for me. I know I need an ugly quilt every now and then to remind me that I'm not perfect, and I need to keep learning from my mistakes. Whatever we do, it is just one thing, and we can always do another thing.

I'll have a picture of the ugly quilt up on the photoblog tomorrow -- and I'm not going to burn it. I'll probably hang it up on my Wall of Why. In the meantime, how do you guys cope with failure? Do you think it's as valuable to our personal growth as succeeding is, or am I full of nonsense today?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Imagery Ten

Ten Things About Images and Graphics

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

If you're looking for images that contain the same colors as one of your own, you can upload your pic and get an entire page of them with Idée Labs' BYO Image Search Lab.

FotoSketcher is "a 100% free program which can help you convert your digital photos into art, automatically. If you want to turn a portrait, the photograph of your house or a beautiful landscape into a painting, a sketch or a drawing then look no further, FotoSketcher will do the job in just a few seconds" (OS: Win 2000/XP/2003/Vista)

Mark Tyler's mtPaint is a paint program that "uses the GTK+ toolkit (version 1 or 2) and runs on PC's via the GNU/Linux or Windows operating systems. Due to its efficient design it can run on older PC hardware (e.g. a 200MHz CPU and 16MB of free RAM.)" Also operates in several languages other than English (OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3; Linux)

Multicolor browses for images on Flickr that match a color you pick out from their grid.

If you'd like to try uploading an image to a sketch generator (like an online version of FotoSketcher), stop by's Sketch Generator.

Retrievr will also find Flickr images that match something you sketch in their little paint window or upload as an image.

Sqirlz Morph multi-morphing freeware allows you to "mark features on several images, and the program mixes the images so that each feature on one image moves smoothly to the corresponding feature on the other images - a technique widely used in the film industry" (OS: Win ME/2000/XP/Vista)

Someone (you know who you are) asked if I knew of a search engine that would match an uploaded image to something on the web (helpful if you want to check and see if your cover art had been used before) -- you might try the reverse image search engine Tinyeye.

Also from Idée Labs, the Visual Search Lab Alamy Set allows you to search by tag and pixel color.

In need of public domain clipart? Browse the 30,500 images over at WPClipart.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Flash Me

The May issue of The Writer has an insider's guide to flash fiction by Mary Miller, along with a short list of info on seven flash fiction markets: Elimae, Hobart, Juked, Quick Fiction, Smoke Long, Subtropics, and Wigleaf. No payment info offered, but if you're a flasher, check out the web sites for more details.

Our blogpal Simon Haynes got a double mention in this issue as well; Scott Rhoades listed his yWriter and Sonar freeware in his article Great Software that Won't Cost You a Dime.

Poets & Writers magazine May/June issue has a big splashy article on author Jay McInerney and his well-publicized woes and trimuphs, but I liked the indepth article about author Joe Meno and how he survived what was supposed to be the end of his writing career. He did it by selling a novel his former major publisher and twenty others had passed on to an indie upstart publisher. What's interesting about Joe's story is that he's a literary writer, but was considered washed up after his first two novels sold fewer than 3K copies each. I've heard of that happening with four or five books, and once in a while with three, but given only two shots? Given the amount of competition, especially in the lit end of the biz, and the fact that very few books earn out anyway, I think that's unrealistic.

I'm just curious -- how many chances (as in published books) do you guys think a writer should be given to turn a profit for a publisher?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Story Flares

Ear Flare, 700-900 A.D.
Moche/Chimú, North Coast, Peru
Copper, clay, turquoise or chrysocolla, mother of pearl, spondylus shell
3-1/4 X 3-1/2 X 1/2 inches
(Scanned postcard; click on image to see larger version)

"Elite or high-ranking individual within the Chimú culture wore ear flares or ear ornaments like this one. The figure on this piece is a warrior holding his shield and club." -- description of object by OMA

You'd never think what amounts to an ancient earring could inspire an entire novel, but this one did.

When I first saw this tiny relic, it was in a glass display case of Ancient Americas Collection of artifacts at the Orlando Museum of Art (where it's still in display until the end of 2009, if you're ever in that part of the city.) To me it stood out from the other beautiful artifacts for a couple of reasons: the craftsmanship, which is tiny, precise and exquisite, the colors, which a millenia have not really faded, and the thing the figure is holding in his right hand.

The museum's description says it's a shield. My first impression from the shape of the object (two eyes, a nose piece and either a golden beard or hair) and the way the figure is holding it was "that's a mask." Which led me to wonder (if I were right and the experts were wrong) how a warrior would use a mask as a weapon.

I took that impression home with me, let it percolate for a while, and then started shaping it into a workable idea. For a mask to work as a weapon, it would have to make the beholder think the warrior was someone else -- someone who would never scare or harm them; someone they wanted to be around; someone they would absolutely trust. On the flip side, what sort of person would you have to be in order to use that kind of weapon? When wouldn't it work? What would be the consequences? It all came together and I had the plot, the conflict, and the book.

Very often in writing how-to books we're given situations, characters, and other ready-made ideas and prompts, which are all good writing practice. These are the story sparks we always hear about. But sparks fade quickly, and for an idea to endure and illuminate the path ahead of you, it has to burn a little brighter and longer. So to borrow the word from this Chimú jewel and use it in a sifferent context, what you want aren't story sparks, but story flares.

I think the best flares for your stories have to come from within, from some emotional reaction you have to a person, place, situation or object, because then you're dealing with inspiration born inside your head -- something no one but you can know or tap. This is how you stay original, too -- while everyone else is writing variations of ideas they've picked up from proven bestsellers, you're working from a new place where no one has been. Even if another writer uses the same story flare as you do at the same time (which has been known to happen) unless the two of you share your impressions their interpretation is most likely going to be very different.

Finding your own unique story flare is as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. You may hear a song on the radio, notice a gorgeous painting for sale at an art show, or notice something about house you drive past. You can make day trips to places like art museums, parks or the seashore to look for specific types of story flares (and I find art and relics fascinating, which is why I haunt art museums) but all you really need to do is open yourself up whenever you are outside your writing space and take in everything and everyone around you. Story flares are all around you, just waiting for you to notice them so they can light up the way through your story.

Now, your turn -- have you ever used something as a story flare, or have a dependable source of them? What's the most unusual story flare you've ever found? Let us know in comments.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Off to Synopsize

My editor is waiting on a synopsis, so I am taking off today to finish the final buff and polish.

Over at the group blog my post this week (scheduled to publish at 6 am EST) has figures and links to the first actual royalty statement for Twilight Fall. If you want to know how much $$$ you get for having a NYT bestseller, definitely check it out (and I promised you guys years ago that I would share the data, as soon as I had a top twenty bestseller and gathered all the figures, so I'm simply keeping my word.)

Some updates on our latest and newest backyard drama:

The baby wrens are doing fine. Mama wren stays with them all night and most of the day, so we try not to disturb her. When I saw her fly off this morning to get breakfast, I took this shot of the nest (a bit blurry, but I had to move fast -- click on image to see larger version):

This time I put my hand next to the pot, both to hold back the leaves and so you can see how tiny the babies are.

I then went over to take down the cabinet on the other side of the porch and clean it off, something I've been meaning to do sincer Martin and Teresa flew off with Shy Thing. Guess what:

I thought, oh, no, not this again. And sure enough, as soon as I stepped closer, the new occupant flew off, and revealed:

Which serves me right for leaving the blasted nest there, I suppose. So here we go again, take two.

See you all tomorrow.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fun X 3's online graphics generator, Apply Color Moods, takes the colors from the first image you select or upload and applies them in Andy Warholistic fashion to the second, which allows you to recolorize an image to have the colors of a peacock, a sunrise, or pretty much anything you like. It's great for graphics and designs, and although they say it's not for photographs I tried it and it worked on mine. This would be a neat tool to use to transfer colors from cover art to another/promotional graphic like a header or even an author photo.

If you're looking for some dark story title ideas or writing prompts, give's online Heavy Metal Album generator a test run. Some of the fictitious track titles are silly or funny and no doubt most are as offensive as legit heavy metal can be, but I saw a couple that gave me instant ideas, like Doubt Front and Pact of The Revenant.

My favorite online toy of 2008, Wordle, has been nominated for a 2009 Webby award, in the category Best Use of Typography. Now you all know how I feel about awards, but in this case Jonathan Feinberg, the creator of Wordle, actually deserves it. If you agree with me, I hope you'll take a minute to vote for him -- voting ends April 30th.

Added: my blog partner Sasha White is giving away a $15 B&N gift certificate over on the group blog, for a chance to win stop by and tell her about one of your fantasies.

(Thanks to Gerard over at The Generator Blog for the generator links above, which as usual I swiped from him.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


According to Blogger, tomorrow's post will be the 2000th entry I add to Paperback Writer. My count is 1856 published, but I checked the archives and turns out there are 144 draft posts I've also written that for whatever reason I didn't publish. I think I'll queue them up and take off the next twenty weeks. See you all in October.

Kidding. Would I do that to you guys? Well, at least now you know I can.

I don't do open thread posts (for reasons that would doubtless insult the bloggers who do them) but I like polls and visitor request posts, and whether we're at the two thousandth or eighteen hundred fiftieth mark, I think we're about due for one. So if you don't mind answering some questions:

What writing- or publishing-related topics are you interested in reading here?

Which posts are the most helpful to you?

Would you like to see more humor, less humor, or is the current amount okay?

What can I do to make PBW a better resource for writers?

Readers, anything specific you'd like to see here on the blog?

Disgruntled stalkers, getting tired of coming here every day yet?

Visitors, paying attention now, aren't you?

Want me to shut down the blog after post 2K? If so, why?

Thanks in advance for any suggestions you care to make, anonymously or otherwise.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Free Updated Reissue


To celebrate my ninth year of giving away free, original fiction to readers online, I've put together and posted on Scribd a reissue edition of my very first free e-book, Sink or Swim, a collection of a year's worth of short stories I published on my old web site way back in 2000. As with all my Scribd e-books, this is free for anyone to read online, download, print out and/or distribute for non-profit/educational purposes. *Note 9/3/10: Since 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. This reissue and all of 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.

I've added a new introduction as well as some retrospective bits on each of the stories in the e-book, as many of the stories went on to inspire new novels and series ideas. Thanks to the very talented and possibly psychic Deena Fisher, I also have lovely new cover art.

It was fun to look back at what I was writing at the turn of the century, and to realize just how much I've accomplished since those first terrifying months of being a pro writer. Now to plan more radical ideas to try out for the next nine years . . .

Monday, April 13, 2009

Employment Ten

Ten Things About Jobs for Writers

Academic research/Writing assistant neededt needed "to work on academic research project, re-write and edit current research material, Applicant needs excellent analytic/writing skills, Experience writing academic work, Graduate experience (Masterd or Ph.D), ability to work from home, but adhere to schedule." No info on compensation, part time, send resume plus short letter demonstrating your writing abilities, see job listing for more details.

Blogger Needed to "discuss screenplay/novel/audio book of the same sci-fi/fantasy story, writers must be fluent English speakers and able to write articles with 100% perfect grammar and spelling. In addition the writer should be able to inject personality and flavor into the post, writer must be familiar with the story by listening to the audio or reading the book. Writer works from the comfort of their homes at their own time 3 times a week and must blog in popular social blogging sites. A report must be provided at the end of each monthly cycle. Please submit resume or short sample of writing." Part time (3X a week), $10/hr for each session ($120/Month), telecommuting okay, see job listing for more details.

CelebLove web site needs Celebrity Gossip Blogger/Editor to write blog posts, edit content, and oversee the site. Applicant should have some experience working for a high-traffic celeb gossip site. Part time, competitive compensation, telecommuting okay, see job listing for more details.

Content Creator for Sex Advice Web Site -- looking for writers to create questions and answers for start-up site. Knowledge of contemporary sexuality, excellent English required. Prudes need not apply. Apply with sample title/question. Position is temporary but may lead to permanent job once site becomes established. Part time, $10/hr, telecommuting okay, see job listing for more details.

Creative Writer/Editor needed for multiple ventures i.e. "ebooks, instructional guides, educational products, inventions, publications, blogs and other entrepreneurial projects." Part time, $12/hr, telecommuting okay, see job listing for more details. is looking for writers, bloggers and aspiring writers interested in Fitness & Weight Loss to cover a variety of topics. Part time, contract job, very competitive compensation, telecommuting okay, see job listing for more details.

Online Shopping Editor needed to "help us find amazing deals and write creative marketing copy to pitch to online shoppers who visit our portfolio of shopping websites." Part time (about 25 hours a week), no info provided on compensation, telecommuting okay, see job listing for more details.

Social Media Guru needed to maintain company's social media presence. Requirements: "Established social media accounts (i.e. Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, etc), Superior writing skill, Very comfortable with the internet, Ability to work from home, but adhere to a set schedule." Part time, $10/hr, telecommuting okay, see job listing for more details. is launching new web site, and needs writers. According to how I'm interpreting the ad, this is an unpaid position at first but they believe if they do well that in 30 to 60 days they'll be contacting writers to work as columnists (which is a nice way of saying it's an audition/intern job now that might turn into paying work later if they make money and you're lucky.) Still, this might actually lead to a real job, so I'll add it to the list. See job listing for more details.

Writer/Content Manager needed to create content for online advertising broker's clients. Applicant should be comfortable writing about: Live Poker, Online Poker, Music Industry, Barack Obama/Politics, and Online Movies. No information provided on expected work hours but it sounds like a full-time job, max salary $12-15/hr, telecommuting okay, see job listing for more details.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Wishing You

Added: The baby wrens have arrived! Pics over at the photoblog here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


When I Am an Old Writer I Shall Write Purple Prose

(Dedicated with love to Jenny Joseph)

When I am an old writer, I shall write purple prose
and ask for erotic red cover art that offends the art department
And I shall spend my advance on the Levengers catalog
and buy voodoo candles, and say I've no money for medical insurance.
I shall sit down at writer conferences when I am tired
(even if I have to kick Jan Karon out of my way first)
and gobble up Godiva and write scorching parodies
and use my laptop to write a love scene during another writer's workshop
and make up for everything I was too afraid to do during my rookie year.
I shall go out in my favorite Oh, Blow Me T-Shirt at reader conferences
and recommend on my blog books by competing authors
and learn how to swear at my agent.

You can write terrible tell-alls and piss off reviewers
and eat three pounds of M&Ms at a go
or only french bread pizza and popcorn for a week
and hoard promotional pens and bookmarks and giveaway books in boxes

But now we must write books that keep us employed
and pay our internet bill and not tell the editor to shove those revisions
and set a good example for the Aspiring.
We must have writer friends over for critique group and read Publishers Weekly.
But maybe I ought to practice ruining my career a little now?
So people who know me are not too dismayed and confused
When I start hanging out at PBW
and write purple prose.

Friday, April 10, 2009


If you writers out there are ever looking for ideas on what sort of heroes to build, you should read through the many excellent descriptions posted for the Read Along with PBW giveaway.

We put the magic hat in action, and the winners are:


Kate, whose comment began with My favorite hero/heroine are the ones that are a wee bit broken . . .



Robert Gregory Browne

Winners, when you have a chance please send your full name and ship-to information to, and I'll get your books out to you. Thanks to everyone for joining in, and congratulations to Larissa Ione, our newest New York Times bestselling author.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sub Ops

Coscom Entertainment has an open call for a poetry anthology tentatively titled Poems of the Dead, looking for zombie poetry (now there's a theme you don't see everyday in verse) of any length, although 20+ lines are preferred. Rights: "First print and electronic rights to your poem and exclusive rights for 1-year after publication. After that you can resell it." Payment 1 cent per word plus contributor's copy; no reprints, electronic submissions only, reading period open now; deadline when filled, see guidelines for more info.

Damnation Books is "a new ebook publisher. We specialize in dark writing: horror, dark fantasy, thrillers, science fiction and erotica (within the genres of horror, dark fantasy, thrillers and science fiction). Being new, we are focusing on ebooks. We have plans to go into trade paperbacks with novel length and anthology works within a year." Looking for e-book shorts to novel length dark fiction, most genres. Payment: 5-10K 3¢/word; less than 10K 40% net. Length: 5-120K. Reprints okay, electronic submissions preferred, see site for more details.

Rogue Blades Entertainment has posted an open call for submissions for their Demons: A Clash of Steel Anthology. According to the site, "You are hereby cordially invited to submit your tales of demonic wickedness and diabolical wages! For this shall be an anthology devoted to the devilish fiends who seek to wreak havoc among mankind upon the mortal plane – and of the paladins and warriors who return the vanquished denizens of all the hells
to whence they’ve come!" Nice to see that kind of enthusiasm out there. Length: 2500-5000 words, Payment: "RBE is offering a flat $30 within 90 days of signing contracts, plus two complimentary copies (1 print/1 electronic) of the book at publication, the permanent right to purchase additional copies at the contributor price (RBE’s standard 42% off the cover price), and the opportunity to include half-page vertical ads for other works of the author for $5 each (a savings of $37)." Reprints okay, electronic submissions only, for more details visit the site; deadline June 15th, or when filled.

Oz gets a kick in the pants with the open submission call for Shadows of the Emerald City. According to the site, "What we want to see are horror stories based on the world of Oz. This includes the characters, the settings, the world itself. We're deconstructing an American institution, so we'd like to see what you can come up with. Blood and gore, or explicit sex? By all means. As long as it reads as part of the natural progression of the story and not some [bleep] up penthouse letter. Scare us. Disgust us. More than anything though, give us a reason to turn the page." Sounds like someone has Dorothy issues. Anyway, length is 10K or less, pays $20.00 plus copy, query on reprints, electronic submissions only, deadline July 31st.

Whortleberry Press has an open call for submissions for "A Halloween book! And, of course, our traditional Christmas anthology." According to writers guidelines for the Halloween book, length is approximately 2-4K, genre is "your choice of sf/f/h, mainstream, memoir, or whatever -- even detective/mystery! -- just as long as the story has something to do with Halloween" PG-rated, pays $10.00, reprints okay, electronic submissions only, deadline: June 15th. See guidelines page for more details (They also have details on the Christmas anthology listed but the reading period doesn't open until August 15th.)

All of the above ops were found over in the amazing market listings at Ralan's place.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Read Along with PBW

The HaulI'll bet author Larissa Ione has barely had a chance to catch her breath since the release of her second Demonica novel Desire Unchained. The book has been the talk of NetPubLand, and then she hit the USA Today bestseller list (which stomps into the ground any possibility of second book syndrome.) Still, we don't care how breathless she is, do we? No, selfish readers like us are ready for the next installment in the series, and we don't want to wait another six months or a year to read it.

Fortunately, we don't have to. The third Demonica novel, Passion Unleashed, is hitting the shelves right now. This one is Wraith's story, and of all the characters in the series I admit, I have kind of a crush on him (I know, it's because he's blond, he's a bad boy, and he's a vampire -- all the things I love in a hero.) If you happened to read the excerpt of Wraith's story at the end of Desire Unchained, you know he was in another impossibly bad situation, only this time it looked like his brothers weren't going to be able to bail him out of it. As story dilemmas go, that's also one of my favorites.

I haven't had a chance to read the book yet, as I saw the first copies in my area tonight. But I did grab up all of them, so I have an extra five to share. If you'd like to read Passion Unleashed along with me, in comments to this post tell us about the type of hero or story dilemma you really enjoy (or if you don't play favorites, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight on Thursday, April 9, 2009. I'll select five names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned copy of Passion Unleashed by Larissa Ione. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


A constant visitor (you know who you are) sent me a link to a YouTube video that evidently a reader made about my books. At first I couldn't get it to work, so I finally asked my teenager to fix whatever has been keeping me from watching online videos (just a setting, as it turns out.)

It's beautiful, and melancholy, and I liked it very much. It's always interesting, too, to see how someone else interprets your work in another medium. I don't know if you're out there, Sarah, but thanks for taking the time to make it. I have to get the album with that song on it now.

Yesterday I received a couple copies of the new audio reissue of my Rebecca Kelly novel Going to the Chapel, which I didn't realize was going to be released so soon. Sherri Berger does a nice job of reading my work (way better than I could) but I had to laugh; the narrator before her makes an oops and calls me "Rebecca Clark." It's also a little weird to hear an audio interpretation of my work in the car that isn't coming out of my mouth. They sent me only two copies (which means one for me, and one for Mom) but I'll order some more from Oasis to give away here in the near future.

As for the last of the unexpected interpretations, remember when I heaved a sigh of relief over the happy ending of our last backyard drama? That wasn't just for the birds. With Shy Thing, Martin and Teresa gone now I could finally go out, clean up the porch and get rid of some of the plants a late frost killed, like this one (click on images to see larger versions):

Now I can understand how things can be interpreted differently, especially from different points of view, but that photo emphatically says dead plant to you, right? Me, too. In fact I don't know anyone who would look at that plant and think Ooooooh, pretty.

So you can imagine my reaction when I went to empty the pot into my barrow, and something flew out of it. Want to guess what it was?

Uh-huh. And do you know what she was doing in there? Napping, you think? Hiding out from her boyfriend, perhaps? Saying a prayer for the poor dead plant, maybe?

Ah, no.

Forgive the quality of the photos, but the bird in question is about the size of a healthy mouse and the eggs are the same size as peanut M&Ms. Which is good, because the space she's nesting in is about the same size as a treat-size package of M&Ms.

P.S. I give up.

Monday, April 06, 2009

William's Ten

Ten Things I Learned From Shakespeare About Being a Writer

He jests at scars that never felt a wound. (Romeo and Juliet.)

I scorn to change my state with kings. (Sonnet XXIX)

If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not. (Macbeth)

Kill me tomorrow, let me live tonight. (Othello)

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind. (A Midsummer Night's Dream)

No profit grows where is no pleasure ta’en. (The Taming of the Shrew)

Not mad, but bound more than a mad-man is. (Romeo and Juliet)

To hold, as ’t were, the mirror up to nature. (Hamlet)

We must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures. (Julius Caesar)

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, haply I think on thee. (Sonnet XXIX)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Writing with the Stars

ANNOUNCER: Live from New York, this is Writing with the Stars!

JOHN: Yes it is! Welcome to an all new season of Writing with the Stars. I'm John Burgeoise--

SMANTHA: And I'm Smantha Airhead. Tonight in this live, two-hour premiere event, we kick off a random search for brand-new champions.

JOHN: As you may have heard, the drama has already started, and our writers haven't even been properly introduced. And so as they take their first steps down our brand-new grand staircase, let's welcome the writers of season eight!

(Band plays intro music, audience applauds wildly)

JOHN: Horror legend Steven "Twinkletoes" King and aspiring writer StephaReneeEsme Mayer!

SMANTHA: Suspense powerhouse Deano "Pup-Daddy" Coontz and aspiring writer Patti "Armed and Dangerous" Cornwall!

JOHN: Romance wonder Nick "I Don't Write Romance, You Ass" Sparklies and aspiring writer Laura "What's Romance Mean Again?" Hammytown.

SMANTHA: Literary giant Tom "Big Bad" Wolfman and aspiring writer Audrey "Betcha Can't Say it Five Times Real Fast" Neffenhortonhearsawhonegrabutnotasluryouunderstandegaraffra!

(audience cheers)

JOHN: I love opening night! So there they are, the most anticipated collection of publishing darlings and hopefuls ever assembled. Only four of this season's thirteen couples stand before us, as last week the other nine dropped out due to self-inflicted injuries, which some have said were bullshit excuses so they could accept better offers from Publishing Idol, but that's how it is with writers, money-hungry lying gold-diggers that they are. Later on we'll reveal the names of whoever we could scrounge from the Tiki bar at the Maui conference to replace them.

(audience boos)

SMANTHA: As for some other writers, love is already in the air. We've got Polaroids of what was going on in the green room between takes. (wags finger) Stevie and Laurie, you naughty wordsmiths.

STEVEN: (indignantly) It was just some research for my next love story: Laurel's Story. See, when I was a boy, my grandfather, the mayor of our small little town in Maine that was hiding a terrible secret that all of us knew about but didn't really know about, sat down and told my father--

LAURA: (studying manicure) Oh, please. (to Smantha) I'll have you know that he wouldn't even slap me around a little.

STEVEN: (turns red) Well, at least I didn't come here wearing a merry widow, spike heels and screw-me red lipstick.

LAURA: (smothers yawn) Why not, did the wife borrow yours again?

PATTI: (takes out nine millimeter) I brought my piece. The one I sleep with under my pillow. You know I'm being stalked, right?

(audience hoots)

JOHN: I was really hoping these relationships would last for a change. Guess not. But we've been chuckling over the training videos, as it seems this season we've got two of the worst writers in the history of Writing with the Stars.

(audience laughs)

DEANO: Hey, you better not be talking about me. My dog is sitting right backstage and I'm not afraid to give him the "kill" signal.

PATTI: (perks up) Really? Huh. (looks at gun) Never thought about keeping a dog under my pillow. Bet the right kind would make mincemeat out of my stalkers.

STEVEN: (to Patti) You're nobody. You have to be somebody to be stalked, you twit.

PATTI: (angrily) I am too somebody.

STEVEN: Are not.

PATTI: Am too, am too, am too!

TOM: Excuse me, children, but the bickering is getting a bit much. (to Deano) Oh, is that what happened to your last novel, dear boy? Did the dog get at it first, I mean? It certainly looked like your sales were, ah, terminal. So sad to see it happen, too, you being such a (makes air quotes) prolific little hack.

PATTI: Asshole. (to Deano) Want me to shoot him for you?

NICK: (to Patti) Now, Patti, put that gun away before it shoots someone's eye out. (to Tom) Tom, is that any way to talk to your fellow competitor?

TOM: (sniffs, looks up at the ceiling) That Sparkly man is trying to speak to me again.

AUDREY: (leaning over to glare at Nick) Yo, fruitcake. The Man in White doesn't want to talk to you. So shut the hell up.

STEPHARENEEESME: (folds arms) I'm not writing if Audrey keeps using bad language like that.

AUDREY: (flips off StephaReneeEsme) You're just jealous 'cause my pseudonym is longer and more interesting than yours.


AUDREY: Are too.

STEPHARENEEESME: (shrieks) Am not!

AUDREY: (shrieks back) Are too!

PATTI: (eagerly, to John) Want me to shoot one of them? I took lessons at Quantico. Really.

TOM: (sighs) Contrary to popular belief, that isn't a substitute for a penis, Patti dear. Trust me, in these matters I'm an expert.

STEVEN: (to Tom) You are so self-absorbed you're turning into a black hole. (to Patti) If you don't shut up I'm going to start stalking you. (to StephaReneeEsme) You couldn't write your way out of a paper bag even if it were open and being shaken upside down. (To Audrey) Audrey's Story has kind of nice ring to it. What are you doing after the show?

LAURA: (to Audrey) Don't go there, girlfriend. Guy is so not the woman-hater he's made out to be. I speak from boring experience.

JOHN: Ladies and gentlemen -- and I use those terms loosely -- it's time to start the competition!

(Stage hands wheel out computer stations with eight old used Gateway computers, coffee-splattered keyboards, and one shared dot-matrix printer with a frayed splitter cable.)

STEVEN: (to Laura) Am too a woman-hater. Just ask her (pokes StephaReneeEsme).

SMANTHA: Okay, writers, time to sit down and do some writing with the stars!

DEANO: (checks watch) Oh, dear, it's time for Bestseller's kibble and bits. Must run. S'been lovely. Ta. (walks off stage.)

PATTI: Hey! You want me to shoot you? (follows Deano offstage.)

STEVEN: I can't write like this. I need a beer. Brownies. Baseball. Something other than this blank-page loving bimbette. I remember when my uncle, who was the town sheriff during that terrible summer, told my older brother, who told me . . . (walks offstage.)

STEPHARENEEESME: Wait, Stevie. I can prove to you I'm a great writer. It's all implied, you see. (follows Steven offstage.)

TOM: Come, darling, let's go and get an espresso. (offers his arm to Audrey) I'll tell you all about that summer when Updike and I went midnight skinny-dipping in Buckley's pool. Did you know he wasn't circumcised? (Tom and Audrey walk offstage.)

LAURA: Great. And to think I spent two hours having myself laced into this black satin whaleboned mother for nothing. (walks offstage.)

NICK: (shoves hands in pockets, takes center stage, smiles sheepishly) Looks like I win again.

SMANTHA: (admiringly) And you didn't even have to type a single word to do it -- just like the last seven seasons! You're such an amazing writer!

JOHN: Well, folks, that does it for another season of Writing with the Stars. Although at this rate we may have to rename the show Not Writing with the Stars. Anyway, thank you for joining us, and be sure to tune in for Season nine next week!

Saturday, April 04, 2009


I'm really proud of you guys -- you offered up a great variety of new ideas on how we can all jumpstart the muse for the Are You Write Brained giveaway. It was also a nice surprise to see author Bonnie Neubauer drop in to say hello (and I think you all impressed her, too.)

We cranked up the magic hat, and the winners are:

shanchar77, whose comment was I haven't found a way out yet. I've been reading like there is no tomorrow instead! (a great book always revives me too, shan.)

LJCohen, who switches writing modes and takes her pup for a walk (I'll have to try that with Cole next time I get stuck.)

Winners, when you have a chance please e-mail your full name and ship-to information to, and I'll get your books and surprises out to you. Thanks to everyone for joining in.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Doves Away

A few weeks ago I discovered Shy Thing, a mourning dove who had nested in a rather precarious spot between our birdhouses. At the time I questioned her intelligence (but admired her stubborness) while trying to figure out how I could help protect the nest.

We did what we could to make the top of the cabinet a little safer for her and the nest, and the eggs hatched into two very quiet and rather adorable chicks, which we named Teresa and Martin.

Shy Thing did not leave the nest that I saw except whenever I came out on the porch to set out some seed for her, and then she'd return as soon as I went back into the house. Because she was so timid, I finally declared the porch off-limits to everyone but me (and I tip-toed out once a day only to put out some seed for her.) We stayed inside and watched through the windows as Teresa and Martin grew.

And boy, did they grow.

The twins never seemed to move, and none of them made a peep, but yesterday it became apparent that the babies had outgrown their nursery. Shy Thing couldn't even get to them anymore; there simply wasn't enough room for all three birds to fit in between the birdhouses.

That evening when I went out to refill the seed bowl, Shy Thing and the biggest of the twins, Martin, abruptly took off and disappeared into the neighbor's trees. They went too fast for me to get a shot, and never came back, but I felt pretty privileged to have seen Martin fly for the first time.

Teresa hung around until this morning, and allowed me to take this final shot before she made her first solo flight:

So our latest backyard drama has reached the happiest conclusion, and we can all relax. Until the next Mama bird comes along looking for a nursery, anyway . . .

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Are You Write Brained?

The HaulAuthor/inventor Bonnie Neubauer has a neat writing prompt book out that I discovered on my last trip down the writing reference aisle at the bookstore. The Write-Brain Workbook offers 366 daily exercises (one per page) designed to (as the cover says) "liberate your writing."

I liked the book the minute I flipped through it for a couple of reasons: it's very visual, with 100% full-color pages, unique graphics, interesting prompts and a quirky sense of humor all its own. The exercises aren't intimidating; they're friendly and provocative without being snotty or annoying. I think it would be appropriate for writers of just about any age, too, whether they're youngsters just starting out or old battleaxes like me.

When you're dealing with a block or feeling just depressed in general about writing, this is the kind of daily prompter that actually helps you ease back into the work without putting a lot of additional stress on you (something some other, more serious inspy-exercise books can tend to do.) Sometimes I think we learn more from having a little writing fun versus being endlessly lectured to about the work.

The book was too large to fit in my scanner, so I took a couple shots with my camera (one-handed, no less) of some of the pages to give you an idea of what's inside (click on image to see larger version):

Normally I would whine a little about the cost (it's a big trade pb priced at $19.99 U.S. and $23.99 Canada) but for once I think it's actually worth it. This was not a cheap book to produce, not with all the color pages and graphics, and if you figure you get a year's worth of decent writing prompts out of it, that works out to about a nickel a day. These days bubblegum machines cost more.

As always you don't have to take my word for it. In comments to this post, name something that has helped you get through a blue period or break a block (or if you're still searching for a cure, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Friday, April 3, 2009. I'll choose two names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned copy of The Write-Brain Workbook by Bonnie Neubauer 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.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The New Venture

The agent e-mailed me tonight to let me know that yes, several publishers are interested in providing financial backing for my new venture. So I think it's safe to finally unveil the project: a brand new web site devoted to exposing the most serious problems affecting the publishing industry today.

I think the title says it all: Bootleggers, Buzzkillers and Blurb Sluts

Has a nice ring to it, don't you think? Kind of like lions and tigers and bears, only without the fur. Anyway, my new web site will be devoted to hunting down, exposing and perpetually plaguing the three Bs, who are of course the root of all evil in our industry. Here's a look at some of the debut week articles:

Meet Your Favorite Bootlegger!: Names and addresses of those misguided souls who illegally scan and post print books online, along with driving directions and car pool forums for authors who want to go as a group to talk to multiple offenders.

A Day at Work with the Buzzkiller: How to organize a protest rally at your favorite buzzkiller's workplace, and let their boss know what they've been doing on their work computer when they were supposed to be balancing out those toilet seat accounts.

Correcting the Blurb Sluts: Sharpie marker giveaways all month so you can black out the b.s. quotes from cronies on the covers of all those over-hyped underwritten books. Markers also come in handy when you want to draw funny mustaches on the blurb slut's book jacket photo.

Bonus: Interview with a Buzzkiller! Find out why Ms. Anonymous really posted 978 one-star reviews on last month, just as soon as we find her, tackle her and threaten to tickle her until she confesses.

I can't wait to get started on this, frankly, because it's the kind of work I was meant to do. Yes, I know, I'll have to give up writing novels, change my name, dye my hair and live in a small village that has no indoor plumbing in France to escape persecution, but the work is so important I feel that any and all sacrifices on my part are simply worth it.

As soon as Bootleggers, Buzzkillers and Blurb Sluts goes live you guys will be the first to know. In the meantime, cross your fingers, wish me luck and mark this date on your calendar. You do know what day it is, right?