Sunday, January 31, 2010

Why God Must be a Writer

Always thinks He's right.

Doesn't dress well; really needs a haircut.

Gets blamed for everything that goes wrong with His work, even when it isn't His fault.

Goes for the surprise ending.

Had one huge bestseller but hasn't done much since.

His only kid got famous using His name.

People who collect money supposedly for His works keep most of it to use for their own purposes.

Spends a lot of time alone; spotted in some very strange places.

Wackos He's never met or even talked to claim to know the precise meaning behind whatever He does.

Wants peace, love and happiness, but rarely gets them.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I Dream of Jenny

I'm at a writer's conference, trying to dodge the drinkers, smokers, spitters and touchers -- basically, everyone -- when I'm cornered in the only working elevator by the nastiest person in Publishing I've ever encountered.

Next time, stupid, take the stairs.

SwampBreath Nastiest Person tells me I've been invited to spend the weekend at a private retreat with four other writers, all of whom are RWA legends. One is Jennifer Crusie. HogFace Nastiest Person also makes it very clear that I can't refuse the invitation or my writing career will be roadkill. This is when I realize that I'm a) asleep and b) dreaming, but I don't try to wake up.

Come on. Jennifer Crusie is in my dream; how bad could it be?

I'm magically transported to this beautiful mountain cottage that is about the size of Hearst Castle and looks like it's been decorated by Laura Ashley. Personally. The air smells of heirloom rose potpourri, Botox and platinum American Express cards. There are no kids, men, pets or dust motes, anywhere.

Okay. This is not a dream. It's a nightmare.

I don't know why but I think that Barbara Samuel is cooking something wonderful in the kitchen. Naturally I can't find the kitchen. I can also hear the four legends talking but I can't find them because they keep moving around the cottage-palace. Jennifer Crusie is laughing a lot, not in the evil I've-got-a-chainsaw-waitin'-for-ya way, but in the good way. It's reassuring. She and the others are obviously having fun. Maybe there won't be chainsaws this time.

And maybe this time I will also escape playing the Open Heart Surgery Patient Who Stays Awake Under Anesthesia, or being the live offering to the voracious lava gods of the volcano, or becoming the evening's entree tartar (feeling pretty good about the last one because Barbara Samuel is cooking, not Fannie Flagg.)

On the other hand, I am horribly uncomfortable, and I don't want to touch anything because if I touch Laura Ashley anything there will be chainsaws. There always are. So I wander around like a ghost. I can't figure out where the other writers are or what I'm supposed to do. I should try to wake up, but part of me wants to see if it's my subconscious version of a Jennifer Crusie novel, so I still don't fight it.

Besides, I'm pretty sure it's only around 3 a.m. and if I wake up now I'll never go back to sleep until five minutes before I have to get up.

Finally I discover a room filled with unused art supplies, where I enter, lock the door and begin creating. My art seems to be defacing a wall covered with velvet-flocked pastel-colored paper with these truly cheesy cartoon flowers on it. The locked door opens, and the four legends start drifting in and out of the room, watching me but not speaking to me. Jennifer Crusie talks about her best girlfriends and cute dogs, and she sounds just like her blog.


Meanwhile, I'm now using a sledgehammer to knock out the cheesy flowers, and I keep on defacing the wall but I don't say anything to the four legends because as usual I can't think of a single clever thing to say. I'm painfully aware of how I'm covered in paint splatters and plaster dust, but hey, at least I'm not naked. P.S., my art project has become a 3D Swiss cheese-ish depiction of the Jado Massacre, complete with little blue bodies floating around a massive debris field in space.

You know, there's nothing wrong with admitting you need a little therapy.

About this time the television appears in the room.

No. Oh, no. If it's showing American Idol, I'm going to use the sledgehammer on myself. I swear.

(It's not showing American Idol.)

Thank you.

(You're welcome.) The TV is one of those old-school humongous big screens that looks like a portable billboard. The program being broadcast is a glowing retrospective on various modern Presidents. When they get to Clinton, whom they show as he looked in the seventies and portray as a saint, I make a rude remark.


Yep. Something rude.

Am I smelling some Eau de Wimpout?

All right, I refer to the former President as Saint Willie of the Wandering Penis.


Immediately all four writers gather around me.

Oops. Flag on the field.

While a very disappointed Jennifer Crusie sadly shakes her head, another of the legends tells me I have to leave the premises now.

Using an anatomically correct word for the former President's or any man's pee-pee violates RWA bylaw #9,895.2 paragraph D section 9: "If the member cannot use pee-pee or another word from the list of approved euphemisms for that Male Organ Of Which Nice Girls Must Never Speak, the member shall pretend there is no such thing as a member." Addendum: a guy member, not a member member. You know, that icky thing down there. Not you.

As I slink away feeling thoroughly squashed, I hear one of them say that they expected better of me. It's not Jennifer Crusie, though. She's talking about dogs again.

And now the chainsaws!

Instantly I wake up. It's 3:15 am, and I don't go back to sleep until five minutes before I have to wake up.


Nightmare analysis: Minus some elements, would make a decent horror short story. It was a bit like the David Lynch version of something that happened at my first Nat'l conference. The wall/sledgehammer thing is likely due to the permanent damage inflicted by the required reading of Poe's The Cask of Amontillado during my freshman year in high school. I thought writing that scene where Nick finds Gabriel in Night Lost would help, but no, my ninth grade English teacher really did scar me for life. Setting came from being pressured to attend a romance conference, which evidently left an unpleasant aftertaste in my psyche. Kind of like Clinton's administration. I wonder what Barbara was cooking. It smelled amazing.

To prevent a repeat, I probably should stop reading business e-mail, Barbara Samuel's books and Jennifer Crusie's blog right before I go to bed.

Friday, January 29, 2010


You were rude, arrogant, eccentric, reclusive -- and that's just what the people who liked you say. I admired you, not for that damn book, which annoyed the hell out of me, but instead for the way you ferociously battled to protect the work as well as the rights of the author. I bet you went out still swinging, too.

To reflect on your legacy, well, let's put it this way: my middle teen has a copy of that damn book sitting on his desk at this very moment. He's writing a paper about it, and he and I have already had several semi-heated debates over it. I expect we'll have many more.

Whatever people say about you, your writing and the way you lived, J.D., you didn't just talk it, you walked it. Rest in peace.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fun with Droste

The Droste Effect is named for a Dutch cocoa maker that employed a recursive image (an image which contains an image of itself that contains an image of itself that contains an image of itself, etc.) on its tin.

Escher had a lot of fun with the Droste Effect, too, which can be explained mathematically. If you loop a droste effect image, you can create a little piece of infinity, ala Rooney Design's Christmas Zoom Movie.

In fiction, we have a similar term -- mise en abyme* which is the practice of telling a story within a story. Usually this takes form as a character within the story telling a story, as Stephen King is quite fond of over-doing to the point of where I want to slap some duct tape over the mouth of every old guy who walks into one of his scenes. But for the sake of this post (and because the Dragon is not fond of French) I'll refer to the story-within-a-story device as droste.

If you look at them sideways, prologues and epilogues can be viewed as droste, as they're usually about what happened before and after the central story. Flashbacks, or prologue that is scattered throughout the story, is a form of droste, and so are those revelatory dream sequences. But the most common use of droste is usually delivered through dialogue as a character delivers backstory, a revelation, or something else that until that point has not been explained or made obvious:

Heather collapsed into the chair in front of the mirror, laughing until tears rolled down her satiny cheeks. "M-M-Morning Cloud?"

One of Nathan’s now-winged ebony brows rose. "It’s the special name I gave you when we were children playing together in the secret flower-covered meadow on the reservation where your father owned the general store and cheated my relatives for every dime he could get and beat you regularly but I still loved you and swore one day we’d be married which is why I’m defending you against the murder charges you were framed for."

Heather covered her face with her slim hands as her shoulders shook. When she could speak again, she said, "Hand me a beer, Running Bear."

"Bird. Running Bird."

"Whatever." She caught the can he tossed to her and drained it in five swallows. "I can’t keep doing this, pal."

Nathan’s other brow rose. "Oh, like I’m having the time of my life?" He stared at the pizza. "We haven’t eaten since Gena made us stop at the diner back in Nevada, and you threw your food at me --"

"That was to get you back for kidnapping me from the school for the retarded children where I was a much-beloved teacher and forcing me into your pickup truck and driving me out of the state before I could be arrested for the murder of my ex-husband who was never able to consummate our marriage due to an unspecified health problem and consequently treated me like dirt," she reminded him.

Aside from my little romance parody here (the rest of which you can read in my freebie Sink or Swim), these standard deliveries are all perfectly acceptable, and there's no reason why you shouldn't use them. But I think it can be fun to play with other forms of droste storytelling, and find new ways to incorporate these stories within the story without resorting to the tried and true.

Hand-written Artifacts: letters, journals, memos, reports, and all the other paper ephemera of life contain a lot of information, often in a neat package. Jane Austen was quite fond of having her characters write plaintive letters to each other to explain things, and in our generation we're seeing novelists do the same with voice mails, e-mails and texts. How about graffiti, shopping lists, or half-finished crossword puzzles? Anything written is game as droste.

Lyrical Fragments: Foreshadowing quotes from songs and poetry can be found in every other book on the shelf, but there is more to music and verse than Bob Dylan and Robert Frost. Consider the droste possibilities in opera, rap, chants, prayer, folk songs, marching cadences and meditations. And speaking of poetry, I'd love to see backstory delivered in original limericks, or haiku, or villanelles.

Everything in Print: we've all seen the droste newspaper headline or short article, but why not draw on other sources of news? Severe weather warnings or other community alerts that run across the bottom of the TV like ticker tape can be very dramatic, so can lab test results, a performance report, a page from a police blotter or a middle school student's typed science project outline (I used that one in Dreamveil, btw.)

When you weave a story within your story, you are in essence interrupting the reader, so the main point is to make it worth it. One of the most original and effective forms of droste storytelling I've seen in recent years were in Stephenie Meyer's New Moon, specifically pages 85 - 92 (hardcover edition). The pages list a single word -- the current month -- but are otherwise blank. They're not even numbered. This is because the protagonist, who narrates the book, is in such a terrible depression that she falls silent, and these pages are the only thing to tell us of her misery and that these months are passing -- without her or the author having to utter a single word.

Look around you and see if you can spot some unusual form of droste in your corner of the world. For a couple of weeks last fall I drove past one property whose owner kept in the front yard a hand-painted plywood sign with brief heartfelt messages for a woman we'll call Sandra, always punctuated with a blue heart, and positioned so they could be read from the road (obviously so she would read them whenever she drove past.) The messages were loving and G-rated, and could have just been a romantic gesture from a really cool guy, but it was the little blue heart that told me things were not so rosy.

I looked for and read the signs every time I drove past, and I still wonder if they disappeared because he gave up or they got back together. Maybe this fall he'll finish the story for me with a blue stork-shaped sign that reads It's a Boy!

*The French phrase was derived from a practice in heraldry of putting the image of a small shield on a larger one.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Letters to Dead Writers

Letters to Dead People, an online blogging project by Celine Song, is exactly what the title says: letters written to the deceased. They're short and sweet, like telegrams to the hereafter, and seem to range from wry to angry to painfully wistful. Every one I've read so far is addressed to a famous person, like the one above to Edgar (and yeah, I'm kind of partial to the wording.)

I can't recall ever writing a letter to a dead writer. For one thing, I like receiving replies to my letters. I have sent letters to a few ailing writers, mostly recently Kage Baker, to pass along encouragement, thoughts and prayers, that sort of thing. When you're in the hospital it's nice to know people care and are thinking of you; I speak from much experience.

If I had to write letters to the writers who have left this world, the ones whose work means a great deal to me, I'd likely pen something long, rambling, filled with awkward gushy fan stuff, earnest thanks, and end with a promise to carry on and pay it forward. But I think I can distill one down to a short version:

Dear Oscar Wilde,

Beautiful, brilliant man and writer, you've always nudged me to laugh at myself. Thank you. I wish the wall paper had gone instead.


Now it's your turn: Which writer in the hereafter would you write to, and what would you put in your letter? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Coining by Association

Jeroen Kessels' Word Generator creates artificial random words in your choice of seven languages. The helpful thing about this particular generator is that it produces words that look and even sound real (at least in English, Spanish and French; I'm assuming it does the same in the other available languages.)

It also gives you sixty words at once, which gives provides a nice selection to choose from versus the one-word generators out there. While I was playing with it, I started making a list of the artificial words that caught my eye:


When your a kid and you don't know the definition of a word or phrase, often you'll make up one in your head. Until I reached high school I thought a socialist was just someone who was very old, fussy-friendly and went to church a lot. There was even some logic to that assumption: the monthly meeting my grandma went to was called a social, and at them she would hang with her friends and make calendars out of felt and sequins and beads to sell at rummage sales. Therfore a socialist had to be one of those crafty-type old people.

Fortunately I never called my rabidly independent. group-hating Grandma a socialist; she probably would have throttled me.

There are any number of techniques writers can use to coin words, but I like returning to that childlike mindset and building words out of bits and pieces of other words that have real or personal meaning through word association. It means letting go of logic and knowledge and instead running with your imagination, and once you get the hang of it can become a kind of game.

Let's look at that list again, and this time I'll also add what goes through my head as I'm looking at the word:

ritabian: rit = writ; something written; abian = Sabian = cymbal (this is what I get for hanging with musicians when I was younger) = symbol (soundalike word.) Ritabian could be something written that is also something symbolic, maybe a type of pictograph made of words.

versompe: vers = something elegant, i.e. Versace, Versailles, ver à soie (silkworm); sompe = sump, a reservoir inside the bottom of a machine. I don't think there is such a thing as an elegant sump, but the image that forms in my head in some kind of boudoir oubliette; an elegant trap.

lortler: It looks a lot like chortle (chuckle + snort = chortle) but the beginning L softens the word, so maybe a chortler who whispers.

amesar:: ame = amiable, friend; I definitely hear "Tsar" in the end of this word, which is to me a dual symbol of power and corruption, so a kind of benevolent tyrant who isn't too clean or too awful.

cablere: two sound-alike words popped into my head: caballaro and cabala; the -lere makes me think of an organization. A secret cowboy society, or someone who runs one.

throtild: throt = throttle; -ild = gild; a beautiful but tight adornment worn on the neck to downsize it, like a throat corset.

feury: this looks like a blend of fey + fury. Angry faeries.

verislor: veris = Latin ver = truth; lor = lore. Legends based on something that really happened, or that expose the truth of some event.

thagic: thermal + magic. Phoenix-type magic, fire-based that burns or backlashes on the practitioner in some fashion. Magic of last resort; magic of the masochist. Sorrowful magic.

inkmande: ink = ink; mande = mandatory = directive. Although it would probably make more sense to define this one as homework or something one is made to write, I'm thinking it's a kind of writing instrument. Not a pen, but something that functions like a pen that is also plain but beautiful to look at.

If you have trouble coining words, coming up with titles or otherwise using words as building blocks, this kind of game can help stretch your boundaries and teach you to see words not as someone else defines them, but as what they mean to you. Getting in touch with that part of yourself who is still a kid and wants to define the world on your terms is never a bad thing, either. It's the kind of exercise every imagination needs on a regular basis.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Story Divorce Ten

Ten Things that Indicate You and Your Story Should Part Ways

Backstory Shortages: A description of all your characters' backstories can fit comfortably on a Post-It note, and you're okay with that.

Character Massacre: By page fifty you find yourself killing off the entire cast, and you're not writing a zombie novel.

Crit Partner Pass: You refuse to show any pages of your story to your crit partner, unless you really hate him/her, in which case you dump all the pages on them.

Flame Fodder: when your spouse needs some kindling in order to start a fire on a cold night, you hand him the first three chapters you just polished.

Involvement Deficit: While editing your story, you fall asleep. Serious: While writing your story, you fall asleep. Terminal: While you're writing your story, your spouse interrupts to nervously ask where you put your living will.

Lifter Turnoff: While you're talking about it at your monthly chapter luncheon, the writer who perpetually eavesdrops on your conversations and writes stories that are always remarkably similar to your own abruptly changes tables.

Pitch Confession: Before you tell your editor about the story, you first apologize for the premise, the setting, the characters, the main conflict and the writing.

Slipshod Synopsis: The first draft of your synopsis for the story reads something like this: Joe meets Janet. They talk. Stuff happens. Janet needs to pick up some OJ from the market. So do I. And remind Tom about fixing the sink. Pay electric bill. Call Susan about the car pool. Did Jill finish her Algebra homework??? Um, then more stuff happens. The end.

Title Apathy: You've titled your story "This Stupid @#$!* Thing" and you're not in a real hurry to change it.

Unhappily Ever After: By the time you finish your story, all the characters in it are dead, or zombies. Or dead zombies.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Seriously Neat

I am off writing again, but so that your stop here was not wasted, some neat links to check out:

True humor in advertisement is a rare thing; brilliant storytelling is almost always non-existent. Find an ad that has both and a run time of only 1:28, and well, you have Nolan's Cheddar* (animal lovers will likely be furious about halfway through, but keep watching, it's not what you assume. You folks at work, try to watch it at home or when you can listen to the background music.)

SF writers often have to employ transport pods of some variety or another (usually for evacuation purposes when a big ship is about to blow) but it's often hard to imagine how many necessities of life you'd be able to fit in such a small space. But now Belgian architectural firm dmvA has built blob VB3*, a mobile living unit that contains storage, sleeping area, bathroom, kitchen and more in a big egg-shaped construct with a surprisingly futuristic-looking interior.

Online radio that boldly goes where no science show has gone before: The Naked Scientists, a very popular group of Cambridge University doctors and researchers who are using podcasts, live lectures and other internet resources to make science fun, interesting and overall less terrifying for the general public. You get smarter just listening to it (and I thought this might be a great resource for you homeschooling moms, too.)

For those of you who are fans of Randy Ingermanson's snowflake method of writing a novel, designed a complimentary outlining freeware, Text Tree. This is "an outline based writer’s tool . . . designed make structured, understandable documents easily and quickly. Text Tree has been found useful for story writing, FAQ creation, novel planning, manual writing, software support, biographies, and lesson planning. What really sets Text Tree apart from other outliners is its export abilities. In other outliners, you make a outline of everything, then you have to cut and paste or go node by node to get your information out. Text Tree allows you to quickly export all or part of the information in your outline. For example, if you are organizing information to be displayed on the web, Text Tree can generate an html file with a table of contents to your information" (OS: Windows XP or higher, Java installed)

And last but not least, I have read the funniest galley-related blog post of all time. No lie; it was written by author Robin Becker, and features the arrival of the galley for her May '10 debut novel Brains: A Zombie Memoir.

*These two links were shamelessly filched from The Presurfer.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

In the Trades

The February issue of The Writer was a bit of a wash this month. Several articles in the issue focused on self-publishing, but I didn't feel they presented the reality and downsides as well as they might have. It's nice to hear about the handful of authors who make it big via self-publication, but hard stats on how many don't make it, how few writers earn back their investment, and exactly how time-consuming and aggravating the self-pub process can be would have provided more balance.

On the plus side, there are the six pages in the back with 47 concise agent listings with the latest contact info, query specs and so forth. It was a last-minute redemption, but it saved the issue for me.

Poets & Writers magazine was also a downer this month, as their Jan/Feb inspiration-themed issue was not at all genre-friendly. Granted, they're celebrating their 40th anniversary, and they're firmly entrenched in the lit pit, but I think genre deserved at least a nod (and of course, I'm prejudiced, but there you go.) I think the pages devoted to congratulating winners of grants and awards should be eliminated entirely. Vanity year book pages were cute in high school; in a writer's magazine they're a waste of good space.

What saved this issue from the trashcan was one article about writer's block by Dennis Cass, How to Get Unstuck (checking P&W's site to see if they have a free copy of it online. And they don't, rats.) Dennis explains the psychology of writer's block from a cognitive perspective, and the exact mechanism of thought that may cause so many writers suffer from it. I'm not a fan of writer psychology, because a lot of it seems to me like dressed-up excuses for Lazyass Syndrome. That said, this is the first time the problem has been defined in such a way that I finally understand and see it as a legit process. I'll also never look at a pair of pliers the same way again.

Regarding the shrinkage of the trades in general, I know most print magazines now are a lot thinner because they're not getting as many advertisers. This is good and bad; I can live without the ads but there are several magazines I don't want to see disappear, and The Writer and P&W are two of them. At the same time, I think both magazines could up the practical quality of their content. So:

P&W: It's all well and good to wax-on wax-off about how wonderful and frightful and life-changing the literary experience is, but enough already. If we want more, we'll just go hang with the laptop coffee shop brigade. FYI on your list of the 50 most inspiring living authors, there are plenty of genre authors who have also shaken up the industry, started trends, created readers where there were none before and inspired innumerable other writers. Off the top of my head: Sue Grafton. John Grisham. Thomas Harris. Linda Howard. Stephenie Meyer. And for that matter, you put Susanna Clarke on your list, but not J.K. Rowling? Not that I mean to be rude, but really, what planet are you guys living on? This eye-to-ceiling whistling you do while you pretend genre isn't in the room is unworthy of you.

The Writer: You've been better than most of the writer trades, so don't blow it now and turn into another Writer's Digest. Please, we beg you. One is already one too many. As working writers we want facts, market info, tools that actually work and a practical GPS for the career. The nuts and bolts stuff is the reason why most writers buy or subscribe to the trades, and now more than ever we need that kind of content. Writers are poor, and we can't afford magazines that don't work for us. So quit with the advertiser-slanted stuff and work for us.

Not that I think anyone is going to listen to me, but just in case Kevin Larimer or Jeff Reich are Googling their names today, there are my two pennies.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Wordling Poetry

I've discovered a cool new trick to do with Wordle, my favorite online word cloud generator, that can help with titles, coined words and other phrases you might need for a story.

On Wordle's Create Page, paste in the text box a poem that you like and/or that somehow relates to your story and click go. In the cloud screen, set up the layout to be horizontal with rounder edges, and choose a non-fancy font option like the one I have below (Scheherazade.)

Here's what e.e. cummings's poem Somewhere I have never traveled looks like once I Wordle it (click on any word cloud to see larger version):

From the resulting word cloud, I can see the words of the poem aligned differently, and begin to pick out some eye-catching phrases, such as always roses (great title for a sweet romance, especially if roses are a key symbol in the story), small beyond (maybe there's something to the left of the great beyond), and voiceclose (how close is he? Voiceclose.)

If I don't see any phrases that I like in the resulting wordle, I can reshuffle all the words by clicking on layout and choosing the re-layout with the current settings option.

Here's another Wordled Poem, this time Shakespeare's Sonnet XXIX:

From this one pops phrases like outcast love (nothing like a leper for a boyfriend, eh?) trouble hymns (the sort you sing when the world isn't being especially kind), and hopegate (there's a new synonym for heart.)

One more, this time using Lines on the Mermaid Tavern by John Keats:

Lots of cool word phrases in this one: deadsign (you mystery writers should be able to take that one to the bank), fineglory (perfect description for baby blond hair), mermaid gone (that sounds like a fantasy speed of some kind -- she was out of there so fast she was mermaid gone), underneath souls (what is underneath the soul, anyway?), smack Paradise (instant image of an addict flophouse), winebold (he wasn't beercrazy, he was winebold.)

I didn't use poems that were especially lengthy or overly wordy to generate these clouds; the Shakespearean sonnet is only 14 lines. If you're not a fan of poetry, of course you can also use prose, letters, word lists or anything else you prefer (any imagery-rich text will probably give you a neat wordle to work with.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Got Cover

Here's the cover art for the final StarDoc novel, Dream Called Time, book ten (to see a large version, click on the image.)

Made it to the last book of the series without a single unsightly cover in the bunch, too:

My only regret is that the publisher decided to change the cover design toward the end of the series to "update" it, as the last three covers don't mesh well with the first seven. But I also realize cover art styles and tastes change over the years and cohesion is not a top priority. Hardly anyone gets to write a SF series that spans a decade, either, so I think I'll just be happy and grateful that Cherijo was never depicted headless, semi-naked or dressed in hot pink DayGlo Spandex.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Blog Blocked

If writer's block wasn't bad enough, I'm seeing a lot of excuse posts out there in NetPubland that could all be titled "Why I'm Not Blogging." Makes me think a good portion of the online writing community has developed a raging case of blog block.

It's understandable. Anyone who is now trying to keep up with the demands of the social media promo trend has got to be exhausted; I honestly don't know how you all do it. If I had to spend that much time twitting and facebooking and scribbling I wouldn't even want to look at PBW, much less keep it updated.

There's also a kind of blog plateau one tends to hit after a few years where you feel as if you've said everything you have to say about yourself and your favorite topics, and you're starting to repeat the same things over and over. No one is the Energizer Bunny; everyone's batteries run low at some point or another.

I don't think anyone should keep a blog going for no good reason. If your blog has become a chore, you might have more fun twitting or facebooking or whatever. But if you're still passionate about blogging, and are just having a tough time putting together your posts, there are other things you can do besides phoning it in.

The first step around any kind of block is to see it for what it is: an obstacle that is in your way, and that should be treated accordingly. You can't go forward until you find a way around it, over it or through it, so stop making excuses for the block and why it's there, and start using your creativity.

Some suggestions on how to head in a new direction with your blog:

Listing: If the words just aren't there, make up some lists of interesting things: books you make other people read, movies that made you cry, songs you loved in high school. I love to make lists of free things that anyone can access online because everyone likes free stuff.

Other Interests: If your blog has been focused relentlessly on Publishing, take a look at something outside the industry that also interests you. If you have a hobby that is unrelated to writing, discuss it (I spent a year basically playing with my digital camera and posting the results each day, and that experiment inspired countless posts here on PBW in 2009.)

Self-Challenge: Set a writing challenge for yourself, ala NaNoWriMo, and blog about the experience, especially any new ways you find to solve problems with the WIP.

Switch Gears: if all you've been posting about is centered around you (your life, your writing, your family, your TBR, etc.) write a post about someone else. Pick someone you've never before written about on your blog and tell a story about them (I never wrote about my guy's mom until I put together this post about her Italian sausage sauce.) Write about one of your personal heroes, or someone who had tremendous influence over you in some part of your life. Discuss the most aggravating person you've ever encountered, or the kindest, or the strangest.

Themed Posts: Put together a pile of links to other places with a common theme. One week when I wasn't feeling especially creative I had a lot of fun looking around for links to art made of Post-It Notes, books, pens and words.

Visuals: Post an image or images that you find inspiring, interesting, unbelievable, bizarre or in some other way brings out a strong emotional response, and talk about why it does.

There are also plenty of sites out there that offer writing prompts, sparks and other jumpstarts for your blogging. Among them:

Creativity Portal has a one-button imagination prompt generator that asks questions you can turn into blog posts.

The Write Prompts offers a schedule of blog prompts for every day of the week: Journal Mondays, Image Tuesdays, Poetry Wednesdays, One Word Thursdays, Movie Fridays, Continue One Saturdays and Quote Sundays.

Writer's Block Archive over on LiveJournal offers thoughtful questions to blog about as well as archived answers from LJ'ers, too.

The Northern Nevada Writing Project's Writing Fix site has a pretty decent writing prompt generator that could give you some ideas for your blog as well.

And finally, maybe you just need to do a little creative doodling. Zentangles aren't about writing, they're just about that thing most of us do when we're thinking and have a pen in hand -- doodling. It may not seem important to doodle, but I've found it can give your mind a little breather when you're feeling blog blocked. All you need are paper and something to draw with (pencil, pen, marker, whatever.) If you're not familiar with the technique, you can find a step-by-step tutorial here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


It looks like a lot of you are finding some great reads out there to jumpstart 2010 -- thanks for the many recommendations you made for The Secret of Everything giveaway.

Tonight we put the magic hat to work, and the winners are:



Melissa, whose comment began with The Host by Stephenie Meyer. I liked it a lot better than Twilight because it was written more for adults and it was very character based.

Birgitte Necessary

Keita Haruka, who started 2010 with my free e-book Ravelin

Winners, when you have a chance please send your full name and ship-to address to so I can get these books out to you, and my thanks to everyone for joining in.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Worldly Ten

Ten Things About Worldbuilding

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

Want to see a worldbuilder at work? Stop by Are you a God?, Nils Jeppe's art, writing and worldbuilding blog.

AutoREALM is "a Free GNU mapping software (a "cartographer") that can design maps of castles, cities, dungeons and more. AutoREALM is generally used by Role-playing Game practicants who enjoy doing their own maps. But it could fits the needs of other people. If you are a Role-Playing gamer or else, you are cordially invited to join the AutoREALM community: fellows gathered around a free hobbyist map tool. Originally made by Andrew Gryc (say "grits"), AutoREALM is now Open Source, creating a unique opportunity for the RPG world to mix graphics and computer programming" (OS: unspecified; also I couldn't access the download link pages on the official freeware site but I found a download link over on here.)

If you need an interactive app to generate and view random fractal planets and terrain with oceans, mountains, icecaps and rivers, check out the Fractal Planet and Terrain Generator (OS: unspecified)

If you're interested in building a language, you might try the tools and advice available in's The Language Construction Kit.

One of my more recent finds among online sources about worldbuilding, The Mythopoet's Manual ~ Writing Multi-Cultural Fictional Settings by Loren J. Miller, is simply fabulous.

Terragen Classic is "a scenery generator, created with the goal of generating photorealistic landscape images and animations. Terragen is free for personal, noncommercial use, with only a few limitations. Terragen Classic is capable of near-photorealistic results for professional landscape visualisation, special effects, art and recreation. Terragen Classic has been used in a variety of commercial applications including film, television and music videos, games and multimedia, books, magazines and print advertisements (OS: Windows, Mac)

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" (OS: Windows)

One of the best matter-of-fact articles on worldbuilding that I've read in a while: The Power of Worldbuilding by Steven Savage.

To get some planetary ideas without having to plow through tons of generated stats, take the Random Planet Generator for a spin.

Patricia C. Wrede's Worldbuilder Questions are hosted on a fan site and contain all of her old FIDONET postings. The questions are like writing prompts for creating and fleshing out your fantasy worlds; they cover just about everything a worldbuilder could possibly want to think about and then some.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Off to Stomp

Create a sticky note online for your blog at's sticky note generator, Superstickies (link swiped from Gerard over at The Generator Blog.)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Secret of Everything . . .

. . . wouldn't be much of a secret if I told you, now, would it? No. Then it would be the Expose of Everything. The Tell-All of the Total. The Up front, In Your Face Entirety of the Enchilada. So I must tread carefully here.

A secret is a tantalizing thing, especially as almost everyone has at least one. But when along with it you invoke the sacred summa summarum, you take it to another level. Who doesn't want to know the secret of life, the secret of success, the secret of why the clothes drier eats only one sock instead of two? All you have to do is whisper the word secret and watch people's eyes light up.

It's no mystery that I'm always searching for a great read, and my latest find is author Barbara O'Neal's new release, The Secret of Everything. This was my first read of 2010, and I went in with no expectations (frankly I was too tired when I started it to want more than something to keep me from rewriting chapter five in my head for the hundredth time.)

Although the story sounded interesting -- after a wretched tragedy, a wounded woman returns to her forgotten childhood home to find herself and maybe a little peace, only to recover memories of a mysterious past and a far older tragedy -- I didn't really feel like reading women's fiction. Lately I have no patience for all that touchy-feely pseudoliterary stuff; I'd rather read nonfiction. Or even man fiction. Give me a good political thriller with shallow but testosterone-oozing characters and some blithely evil technogenius who figures out how to blow up Congress with toner cartridges. And then let me watch it go boom. That's the kind of mood I'm in.

But I needed to read something better, in the same way an exhausted person needs some serious sack time, and Barbara's lovely, lyrical writing wooed me out of my rotten mood. To my surprise, it wasn't touchy-feely or pseudoanything at all. Then, on page 12, the story had me. And held me. And kept me. Page 12, have mercy. As a writer/reader I don't have time to waste. Nor do I want to get in touch with my inner weepy female. I mean, I'm working here. I don't play hard to get, I am hard to get.

But damn if she didn't get me. She lured me in with luscious descriptions and effortless but intricately layered characterizations, the haunting storyline and in particular this truly amazing big strapping incredibly sexy guy named Vince who makes every scene he has in the book a shivery delight to read (no offense to the heroine, who was terrific, but Mother of God, Vince is so real on the page you can almost feel his body heat radiating off it.)

Then she started with the recipes at the end of every chapter. Remember, I'm the daughter of a chef. I love food, and I love to read about food, especially now that I'm stuck on this cardio-healthy bark-and-twigs diet. Barbara's recipes were magic -- real food, great ingredients, beyond tempting. No squirrel food! As for my inner weepy female, I admit, there were a few times my eyes started to sting while I imagined the food from the story (and I am making Vita's orange cinnamon rolls from the story, the hell with my diet.)

Finally, there are the dogs in the story, and I don't want to say too much about them because they're something you should discover along with the story. It's just that I'm a dog lover, but I love real dogs, not the silly over-idealized anthropomorphic caricatures you encounter so often in novels. Well, Barbara writes them real.

This novel was the best possible kick-off for my reading year. It's the first time I've read anything by this author, but I think three minutes after I finished The Secret of Everything I was in the car on my way to BAM to get whatever else they had of Barbara's on the shelves (scored The Lost Recipe for Happiness) because I must have more. You see, however many secrets Barbara knows, the way to write a beautifully absorbing, honestly shining gem of a story is definitely one of them.

As always, you don't have to take my word for it. In comments to this post, name your first amazing read of 2010 (or if you haven't read anything that great yet, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Monday, January 18, 2010. I'll draw five names at random from everyone who participates, and send the winners an unsigned trade paperback copy of The Secret of Everything by Barbara O'Neal. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Blog to Print II

To continue my post from yesterday, I had no problem creating and downloading the .pdf book version of Paperback Writer 2009 blog posts from Blog2Print. I then opened the file in Adobe Acrobat, and it looks very nice. The four-page per screen .pdf preview the site shows you before you buy is not replicated in the final product, it downloads in a normal document format. Here are some screenshots (click on any image to see a larger version):

Front Cover:

Sample Page with Image:

Sample Page with Multiple Images:

Back Cover (reduced in size):

The main problem with using Blog2Print to create a .pdf of your weblog is that it doesn't import the links embedded in any of your posts. That may not be a problem for most bloggers, but I post on average 15 to 30 links a week here at PBW. Adobe Acrobat has a link tool that would allow me to manually reinsert the links, but they'll have to be done one at a time, and that's going to take a while.(and I tested a couple of other things in Adobe to see if I could comprehensively edit the final product, and had no problem at all.)

Also, if you notice the poor quality of the image I used on the back cover compared to the better quality of the image on the front cover, that is all about resolution. I deliberately uploaded a medium res image (front cover pic = 743 X 880) and a low res image (back cover pic = 212 X 165) to see how they'd turn out. Low res is definitely not the way to go.

The only other flaw I've noticed so far is that some of my images on the blog run into the blog headers in the e-book version, which is probably bad coding on my part with the weblog posts.

I still think the print pub prices are too high, and the fact that it doesn't import links is a pain, but if you've got a large weblog and you've never created a personal archive of it, creating a .pdf of it with Blog2Print would be a reasonably-priced service (especially if you don't own Adobe Acrobat.)

If you'd like to see more of the final product, I've uploaded the .pdf file created by Blog2Print for anyone to read online or download for free here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Blog to Print I

Blogger has been running internal ads for Blog2Print, a self-pub service to which you can upload your weblog content and have it published in book form (softcover, hardcover or .pdf)

The front page features a price of $14.95 for a 20-page softcover "blog book", $24.95 for a hardcover and $7.95 for a .pdf version, the first two of which seemed a bit pricey to me. But I did want to see how the upload feature performed, so I had the site create a book from 1 year of PBW posts, 2009-2010. Which it did in about three minutes.

Once you upload your blog URL, the range of dates you want to publish, and any cover images you want to add, the site creates a virtual book for you to page through, which I thought was pretty cool, especially because I did it without registering with the site or anything. Here are some screenshots (click on any image to see larger version):

Front Cover

Interior Pages with Blog Posts

Back Cover

The price for a softcover version of 1 year of PBW blog posts (438 pages) would be $162.65 -- far too pricey for me. But I'd be fine with paying $7.95 for Blog2Print to make a downloadable .pdf of my archives, which right now I just have stored in HTML on discs (mainly because it would cost me a lot more than $7.95 in labor to convert my discs to .pdf). To save your virtual book (as well as edit it and so forth) you do have to register with the site, but all they ask for is e-mail, ID/password and your zip code.

I thought this would be great for writers who want to self-pub a book form of their blogs, but it's a vanity thing only -- you can't resell the book you create. Here's the resale no-no paragraph from the site's Terms and Conditions of Sale:

"Books purchased from SharedBook are for personal use only and are not intended for resale or commercial use. SharedBook reserves the right to audit orders, to cancel any sale based on its sole discretion, and to limit quantities purchased, as well as any other legal remedy allowed by law.

With respect to certain goods, such as cookbooks purchased from SharedBook through BigOven, these cookbooks may be subject to resale, for fundraising purposes. SharedBook shall still reserve the right to audit orders, to cancel any sale based on its sole discretion, and to limit quantities purchased, as well as any other legal remedy allowed by law."

Fair enough. To thoroughly test this service, I'm going to make a Blog2Print book of last year's posts today, buy a .pdf version and post it online as a freebie so we can see how it really works. More tomorrow on how it turns out.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Ten Ways to Go Green

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

Need more data storage for your netbook or mobile device? Roshi over at tells you how to get a free 500GB virtual hard drive with active sharing and downloading options here.

Read Bruce Britt's post, The New Stone Age, which talks about the pros and cons of using a new paper made from stone to save trees.

eDoc Organizer (Basic Edition) is "a document management software that enables you to import your receipts, recipes, bills and other paper documents via your scanner and file them in digital format on your computer. If you have Microsoft Office 2003 or 2007 installed, you can also import any existing Word, Excel, PowerPoint, XPS, or PDF Documents from your computer and include them in the archive. The documents can be organized with custom color tags and personal comments to help you filter the list and find specific documents with the simple keyword search feature. The free basic version can be used with up to 250 documents, if you need more than that, an upgrade to the paid version is required" (OS: Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7; see additional system requirements here)

Nokia's Green Explorer site "works with its partners to provide sustainable tips and advice on how to live green and travel clean. Share your experiences and ideas here and help make a world of difference."

GreenPrint "makes it easy to print only the pages you want saving you around $100 a year on paper and ink, as well as helping to save millions of trees" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

Paperless Printer is "a universal document exchange utility that can be used as a Virtual Printer to publish virtually any document in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF), Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), Microsoft Word Format (DOC), Microsoft Excel Format (XLS), JPEG or BMP, preserving the exact look and content of the original document, complete with fonts and graphics. You can distribute your PDF and HTML documents by E-Mail or store them on the World Wide Web, on intranet, a file system, or a CD. Other users can view your work on Microsoft® Windows, Mac® OS, LINUX, and UNIX® platforms. Paperless Printer also works as a preview tool. Users can print from almost any Windows® application to this printer and visualize the output on JPEG or BMP, without actually having to print on paper. Paperless Printer is a 100% software product. It has no hardware parts. Paperless Printer appears like a normal printer on a Windows PC. You can actually see the Paperless Printer object in the Printers folder [Start -> Settings -> Printers]. Using an application's Print command you can print anything to this printer. Instead of printing on paper, Paperless Printer creates content in PDF, HTML, DOC, Excel, JPEG or BMP files" (OS: Windows 95, 98, Millennium Edition, NT 4.0, 2000 or XP)

Did you know that each ton of paper made from recycled fibers saves 17 trees, 4100 kilowatts of energy, 7000 gallons of water and 60 pounds of air pollutants? I found out this, plus more Tips for the Environmentally Friendly Office, over at, manufacturer of EarthWise® 100% recycled office products.

Also from Nokia's Green Explorer Web site, a sub op note: "Are you a seasoned eco warrior or just a traveler with a conscience and a knack for writing? Have you got green travel and lifestyle inspiration to share? We're currently hunting for creative talents to contribute articles to the blog. A strong line in offbeat locations, thought-provoking stories, and eye-catching headlines is a must, tempered with concern for the environment and a critical eye for greenwashing. If you think you've got what it takes, send us an email with a sample of your writing and we'll be in touch!"

Text Block Writer is "a virtual index card program for writers. It can be used to organize research papers, articles, fiction, non-fiction, books and whatever related to writing. It is intended for people like me who use paper index cards to write all the notes and pieces of an essay, and then arrange the pieces and then use that to type them into the computer. With this program, you can type in the notes and arrange them on the computer, and then export them to an rtf document (that can be opened in word, open office, or just about any other word processor)" (OS: Windows)

Our blogpal LJ Cohen created TiddlyWikiWrite (TWW) to organize writing projects with an electronic relational filecard system that runs in any browser window on your local computer. She also has a link to an LB&LI workshop she gave a couple years ago that is definitely worth checking out.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Making Promotion Fun

Now and then I visit Adverblog to see the latest in online interactive marketing. I thought Give It a Ponder, the new LG campaign to educate consumers on thinking before they text, was smart, funny and interesting even to someone like me who doesn't text at all. It was genius to have James Lipton do the videos (that guy always tickles me.)

We still don't have a lot of advergames in Publishing, and I think that's an area of online marketing that needs some serious exploration. Author Douglas Clegg's Isis difference game was great fun as well as a brilliant promo idea. I became addicted to it and played it a couple dozen times and never got tired of it, plus the illustrations made me wonder about the sotry. I think I read somewhere (and forgive me if I'm wrong here, Doug) that half a million people have already played it (Added: via Scribd*, Doug tells me to date 2.3 million people actually played the Isis game. That seriously raises the bar for all author promo games.)

I just downloaded Orchid Games's Christmas giveaway, HeartWild Solitaire, features seven short romance stories incorporated into the game as prizes for winning. The graphics are nice, the background muzak isn't completely annoying, and there's an online top scoreboard you can post your score (not that I think I'm ever going to show up on it; the top score was like 3K higher than mine.) It works on Windows Vista, in case anyone is wondering.

While it's not free, the one game I'm really looking forward to is Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box, an interactive computer game based on Marjorie M. Liu's novel Tiger Eye (the very first video game to be based on a romance, I believe.) I think the preorder price is great, and if the game interests players in Marjorie's books, it definitely doubles as an advergame.

I wanted to see if I could create my own promo game for free, so I went around to a couple of sites and played with some online game creation generators. The easiest one for me was, although the first game I made doesn't work perfectly -- I messed it up, or the game template was flawed to begin with -- but this will give you a general idea of what you can do on your own (warning for people at work, if you start any of the following games they play music):

Added: I moved the games I made over to the stories blog here because they were messing up the front page of PBW. Have no idea why; maybe it was the coding.

Of the three I made myself I liked the WordSearch best because it didn't have a run-down timer, I could customize it with words from my novels, and while it wasn't too simple it wasn't impossible to solve. The slider puzzle was a bit too simple; it only took me 43 seconds to solve it. Of course I made the quilt so I know every inch of what it looks like; someone who wasn't familiar with it might find it a bit more challenging.

If you consider putting together a promo game for your blog or web site, my advice would be to keep it simple, use images versus words or titles (the smaller and more detailed the image, the harder it is to see) and don't make it impossible to solve. If you keep a running high score page or widget I can guarantee you people like me will be back to play again and try to improve our score. Somewhere near the game you should post an excerpt from your latest or upcoming release, a link to an online bookseller site where it can be purchased, and links to other online games by authors.

*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 no longer reccomend using their service. See my post about this scam here.

Saturday, January 09, 2010


I appreciate everyone who stopped in to help me celebrate StarDoc's tenth anniversary this week. I loved reading about all the memories and other authors you've stuck with through thick and thin, and I've printed out all of them and have added them to my series file as one more wonderful keepsake.

We revved up the magic hat, and the winners of the StarDoc Turns Ten giveaway are:

Torin, whose comment began with Happy Birthday StarDoc and Congratulations Lynn

Abigail Beal


A Simple Love of Reading

Anne Velosa


Jess @ Unsearchable Riches


Amanda J.

LaurieF, whose comment began with I've been reading Robert B Parker for a long time. Since the 70's.

Winners, when you have a chance please send your full name and ship-to address to so I can get your book out to you. Thanks to everyone for joining in.

Friday, January 08, 2010

All About the Agents

Nathan Bransford's The Secret Year/YA Diary contest nabbed 650+ entries in just three days. Amazing. I saw a lot of great entries in comments, and I don't envy him the task of picking the winners. As the mother of two teens I did chuckle a few times over some of the entries, especially the ones with decidedly eighties overtones (uh, they don't talk like that anymore, guys.)

Agent Kate Epstein is actively looking for YA and nonfiction submissions (link found in this post by Tanya over at SFC.)

Did you know The Donald Maass Literary Agency has a page here that they update every other month with specific info on what they're looking for from potential new clients? Very helpful; I wish more agencies would do this.

Over on Pub Rants agent Kristin Nelson sounds like she's swamped but says the agency should be caught up on all the queries that came in during the holidays by next week. She also has a bit of advice for querying writers: "I’m thinking that if you sent us a query between Dec. 18 and Jan. 4 and you began your query with the words “I’m an avid reader of your blog,” it was definitely non-effective. After all, if you were an avid reader of the blog, you would have known that we were closed and not accepting queries until January." Oops.

Reason #999 to love agent Janet Reid: how quickly she breaks a New Year's resolution, and why.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Inventions for Writers

With all the gadgets and gizmos for writers out there on the market, I still carry around a mini wish-list in my head of things I wish these tech people would invent for us writers. Such as:

Back to Work Reminder: This could be a screensaver that inspires me to stop staring at it and get back to work -- other than a photograph of this month's bills. Or maybe just a disembodied hand that would pop out of my screen and smack me in the head whenever I idle too long.

Comfortable Headphone/microphone Set: I mean so comfortable I can wear it all day and never feel it on my head. I'd say mink-lined, too, but I hate the idea of minks being slaughtered just to pamper my skull, so fake mink-lined.

Crick Relief Product: Something I can rub on, wrap on or brace my head on to get rid of the crick in my neck after I finish work for the day. A tall strapping young man who would either sit adoring at my feet (which he would rub now and then) feed me grapes or fetch me books would be a nice compromise.

Doubt Time-Out Cage: One exclusively designed to contain the obnoxious bitch my internal editor, as long as it comes with a matching muzzle and a beating stick.

End-All Counter: For once I'd like a 100% accurate across-the-board word counter that counts the same on every system, so I don't find out 24 hours before a manuscript is due that I went over my wordcount by 5K again.

Financial Spreadsheet for the Weary: A program that does not require the Treasury Department, a CPA and Einstein five years to explain its functions to me. One that accepts standard math formulas and does my taxes for me would be nice, too.

Hand Cream: My hands get seriously chapped in winter, but I need a lightweight, silky, 100% natural product that doesn't make my fingers sticky and that I can wear to bed at night without smearing it all over the linens, my face, my guy . . . okay, wait, I might want to think this over a bit more.

I-don't-want-my-period-on-deadline-week Pill: Until I finish menopause, one that will prevent Mother Nature from delivering my monthly "gift" seven days before a book is due, and that will also not give me a stroke, a heart attack or blood clots in my legs. Or just warp speed me through menopause, now, please.

Imagination Restoratives: Anything here -- bath salts, scented candles, or an exotic tea -- that gives my sense of wonder a nice nudge. A matching body spray that solves all my plot problems would be wonderful, too.

Mac for Dummies: No, really. I want to try out a Mac, but I'd need one designed for stupid people who can't even be trusted to make their own system recovery disks. I even have the name for it already: the iDiot model.

MP3 Player Minus Buds, Max Screen: I'd like one that does not have those ear bud things, which common sense tells me are very bad for your ear drums, and has a backlit screen larger than a matchbook so I can actually read it. It should also be simple enough for a not-too-bright three year old to operate, since that is the equivalent of my technical know-how (see Mac for Dummies.)

Multiple voice text-to-speech program: I would love to hear a manuscript read back to me with a primary female narrator but also additional different voices for the dialogue (something I could customize so I'd hear male and female voices reading the dialogue lines.) Then I want to program it with a steely Clint Eastwood voice to answer the phone whenever NY calls.

Non-glaring Reading Lamp: One that emulates sunlight and is adjustable to fifteen or twenty different illumination settings and can be easily moved, clipped on and used wherever I want to read, including the bath tub (and yes, it should also be fully immersible, unless you want the Kyndred series to be over really, really fast.)

Novelist's Word Processor: Simple page formatting, simple save, Courier New 12 pt. font, the ability to print or make into a .pdf, and that's all I need. Oh, and the ability to manually remove page numbers and restart them elsewhere without having to read an entire freaking manual, thank you, Bill Gates.

Permanent Ink Pens: I need the kind that do not bleed through paper but don't self-destruct and spit up ink in their own barrels and then leak all over your purse or pocket (yes, Sharpie pen, I am talking about you.)

Reader's Armchair: I really need one that is comfortable enough to read while sitting in but not so comfortable I fall asleep instead. Built-in hands to rub my shoulders when I'm reading a galley and hold me in a comforting embrace while I sob over the inevitable screw-ups would be lovely, too.

Simple E-reader: I want one that has a huge screen, is backlit, maybe two buttons at the most. One that will not tire my eyes and does not try to sell me anything else at all. The manufacturer should have absolutely zero access to the device as well. I'd also like to have a stylus and touch-marking system so I could make notes in the margins, save them and upload them to the computer. P.S., I'd like the model I'm sold not to be changed, improved or otherwise upgraded or made obsolete for a minimum of ten years.

Spill-proof, Dust-repellent, Bangable-enabled Standard-size Keyboard: Something along the lines of an AlphaSmart Neo, which my daughter now assures me is practically indestructible. I'd also like it to have an electrify option I could enable whenever a certain nosy family member visits and tries to sneak on and rifle through my computer after I go to bed. Not a lethal charge, of course, but just enough juice to singe off his eyebrows.

Universal Notebook: I'd like a one-size-fits-all, expandable notebook that will accept anything from a twenty-page synopsis to a six-hundred page manuscript and with three inner rings that refuse to warp, bend, or get caught on the holes in the pages, and that doesn't weigh a ton. It should also have a self-destruct charge that I can detonate remotely, say from my deathbed.

Writer Slippers: Be nice to have some that are heated and keep my toes from turning into little Popsicles during winter, and that don't make me look like the Cat in the Hat, Sam I Am or that kid from Where the Wild Things Are.

What are some of the inventions you'd like to see? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

StarDoc Turns Ten

In January 2000 my first published novel, StarDoc, was released. Naturally people made a lot of predictions about the book; none of them were particularly optimistic. I was informed upfront that StarDoc would never make a bestseller list, or turn a profit, or stay in print; I would be phenomenally fortunate if I earned back half my advance. I don't think I've ever had my hopes so repeatedly or thoroughly stomped by others as I did that last six months before the book hit the shelves. It was so dreadful that by the time the release date came I wanted to call the whole thing off.

Understandably I was confused when StarDoc made runner-up (#11) on the Locus bestseller list. This was not supposed to be happening, I'd been told, by very experienced people. So I thought it was a fluke until the sequel, Beyond Varallan, did a little better.

Today StarDoc turns ten years old, and despite all the predictions of failure and doom, is still in print and is still selling (the last new copy I saw for sale was a tenth printing.) Whatever other people think of it, this novel is the only book I display like a trophy, in a little case on my wall. It reminds me of what's important, and what isn't. More than anything, this one novel is an ongoing tribute to my StarDoc readership, most of whom have been with me since the beginning. You guys are the reason this book and the series is still around; for that I am astounded and deeply grateful.

In keeping with the anniversary, I have ten copies of StarDoc to give away today. If you'd like a chance to win one, in comments to this post tell me about a memory you have of reading StarDoc, or about an author you've been reading for ten years or more (or if you can't think of anyone, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Friday, January 8, 2010. I'll draw ten names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners a signed copy of StarDoc with a tenth anniversary notation. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Quickie Contest

For you YA writers out there, literary agent Nathan Bransford is holding a very cool contest on his blog for a signed copy of The Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard plus the winner's choice of a query critique, partial critique, or 10 minute phone conversation/consultation/dish session with Nathan.

To have a chance at winning, contestants must: "Write the most compelling (fictional) teen diary entry. It may be a diary entry or an unsent letter, but it should be in a teen's voice" not longer than 500 words, and put it in comments to the contest post on Nathan's blog (see contest post for more details.)

Contest ends tomorrow "at 4:00 PM Pacific Time on Wednesday January 6th. Finalists will be announced Thursday morning, and you will have the opportunity to vote on the winner, which will be announced on Friday."

If you've got a great idea for a YA and you want to talk it over with an agent, this is definitely the contest for you.

Two Years on Scribd

This week marks the second anniversary of moving my virtual library over to*, and while last year I had a lot of positive news to report, much changed with the site over the course of 2009 that didn't improve the service. The two primary changes that happened last year: 1) Scribd Twitterized itself, wiping out the helpful e-mail correspondence service it provided for me and replacing it with social media "scribbling" that I can't use because it's incompatible with my VRS, and 2) Scribd became an online publisher ala's self-pub via Kindle store.

As an experiment I did test Scribd's self publishing for profit venture by putting up Way of the Cheetah for a couple of months at a token $1.00/copy. It's safe to say that the only copies that sold were due to my announcements here and other writers who supported it on their blogs. I have not yet been paid for any of the copies that were sold on Scribd (evidently they hold onto the money until you earn $100.00, and since I don't intend to sell anything else on Scribd I'll probably never see a dime.) Since Scribd refuses to sell documents to overseas readers, I won't be using them again. Still, in good faith I have donated an amount matching what should have been my portion of the WotC Scribd profits to help out another writer with a legal battle (100% of my profits from WotC, btw, have been used to assist other writers and aspiring student writers.)

The few times I contacted Scribd's staff about a problem in 2009, I received mildly indifferent to moderately hostile responses. Which I find as puzzling as the aggressive tone of the unsolicited e-mails they've sent me. I'm fairly approachable, I think, and I always try to be polite, but I really don't care for some marketing person telling me to start immediately responding to messages from the twelve thousand people Scribd decided to give access to the "scribbling" area sprawling down the center of my home page -- this without even asking me if I wanted to participate in this social media blitz. In Scribd's defense, they obviously didn't know about my unusual situation or how much I depend on VRS now.

Also, when I politely asked that they remove my name off whatever star-studded author list they put me on (which I assume resulted in the flood of scribblers) they did finally stop the tsunami. The person handling that was very terse and unpleasant about it, however, and did not to restore my old account as it was, so I felt that wasn't resolved appropriately. A friend suggested I manually unsubscribe from all the unwanted scribblers, but I didn't subscribe to them in the first place; I don' feel it's my job to go through the unsubscribe process 12,000+ times (plus how do I pick and choose?) So now the few but helpful comments and messages I was getting from my readers on Scribd are lost among the thousands of irrelevant messages, spam, and other crap flooding my account (and I apologize to anyone whose comments or questions on Scribd that I missed since last August when they did this to me.)

On the plus side, Scribd remains (for now anyway) a free hosting site, and I'll probably keep my virtual library with them for as long as they don't try to charge me for the service. I don't know if I will upload any more free books to the site, though; I'm not really a fan of their staff or how they're doing business. I might talk to the guy over at LibraryThing (which is more my style anyway) and see if I can work out some kind of hosting thing there. I think with the direction Scribd is taking, they're going to eventually be gobbled up by Google or Amazon anyway, so it's probably best I start looking for some new accommodations for my freebies.

*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 no longer recommend using their service. See my post about this scam here.

Monday, January 04, 2010


Ten Things to Help You Start 2010

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

If you'd like to take some writing courses online but don't have $$$ to spare, check out this page of 50+ Open Courseware Writing Classes from the World's Leading Universities.

Need some new business cards? You can design and generate them online with's Business Card Generator (it will generate a .pdf with 12 ready-to-print copies of your design.)

FlashNote is "just a rough copy for your quick work with any text information. Just when you need a rough copy to save or to process some pieces of a text, here is Flashnote – small, quick and convenient. You just have to press the shortcut combination and in a flash of a second you will have your rough copy before you. This done press ESC and the program hides. Everything can be done quicker, simpler and in a more convenient way" (OS: Win 2000/XP/2003/Vista/7)

Also from, the Invent-a-Word online generator is a fun but also useful tool when you need to coin compound words (the example given is travel + velocity = travelocity.) I put in PBW, set the overlap at 1 and made it a prefix, and got 1,163 results (which I also promise never to inflict on you, no matter how often I am tempted to pbwaffle, pbwhine or pbwhistle.)

Display tinter ScreenShades is for "Users with sensitive eyes" who "might prefer to tone down the display because it hurts their eyes. Apple provides keyboard controls to control backlighting. Screen Shades lets you tint the entire screen" (OS: Mac OS 10.2 or later)

SpeedReading was "developed to help you determine your reading skills and explore one way to improve your reading speed and comprehension. The average reader reads at about 200 words per minute (wpm) with a typical comprehension of 60%. The top 1% of readers do much better, reading at more than 1000 wpm with a comprehension of 85%. Such highspeed reading requires serious concentration. This application lets you try reading by looking at two midpoints on each line and continuing to move forward without going back and re-reading. Ten text sources are included. You can adjust the speed of the moving window from approximately 200 wpm to 1500 wpm in three ranges (slow, medium, and fast). A slider is provided to adjust the speed within each range" (OS: Windows XP, Mac OS 10.2 or later; also see later versions SpeedReading II and SpeedReading III)

People like me who sometimes see text on a computer monitor "dancing" may be suffering from Irlen Syndrome (aka Scotopic Sensitivity.) If this is a constant problem for you, you may want to check out this UK site and freeware: T-Bar is a coloured bar which you can either drag around the screen or lock to your mouse. It can have ruled lines or not, depending on your preference. The colour can be chosen from pre-defined options, then tweaked by altering the red, green or blue sliders to get the perfect colour, the transparency level can be adjusted, again to suit the individual. All the settings are saved between sessions, so there is no need to readjust the next time you use it.

The Windows Speech Recognition Macros Tool (or WSR Macros for short) "extends the usefulness of the speech recognition capabilities in Windows Vista. Users can create powerful macros that are triggered by spoken commands. These macros can perform a variety of tasks ranging from simply inserting your mailing address to having full speech-control over your windows media player library" (OS: Windows Vista)

Blogger and Technical Evangelist (love that title) Mike Swanson has put together a free Windows 7 Theme Pack which contains "20 hand-picked, nature-themed macro photos that I've taken over the years. The desktop images are configured to shuffle randomly every 30 minutes. Otherwise, the theme uses the default Windows 7 color and sound schemes" (OS: Windows 7)

Zotero is "a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources. It lives right where you do your work—in the web browser itself" (OS: Firefox 3.0 for Windows, Mac, or Linux)

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Darkyn Strips

Click the image to see larger version; go here to make your own comic strip online.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Define Yourself

Five Questions About Branding

All About Me: Tomorrow you'll write your autobiography (or someone else will write a biography) with a focus on your writing life. What's the title?

If I write it, Cacoëthes Scribendi (read the poem on

If someone else writes it, That @$!&#* *&$!@# @*&%$#!

Catalyst: Your writing triggers a new literary movement. What will it be called?

The Unmoved

Symbolic: Your marketing department asks your for something animal, vegetable or mineral that they can convert into a logo and put on all your books. What do you choose?

What else? Cheetah

Tag Phrase: A book buyer wants a brief tag phrase to identify you in their catalogue (i.e. Stephen King is frequently touted as "Master of Horror".) How do you tag yourself?

Jill of All Genres. Ha. No, probably stick with Paperback Writer.

There Can Be Only One: Your publisher asks for one word to define all your writing work. What's your word?

Amaranthine (only because they probably wouldn't let me use αμαράντινος)

Now it's your turn to define yourself: what are your answers to the questions? Tell us in comments.

Image credit: © Paul Buxton |

Friday, January 01, 2010

Welcome 2010