Sunday, February 28, 2010

It's Hip to Be Us

Over at Fan to Pro, Bonnie Walling's post Romance Fiction X Geekery OTP! celebrates how hip the romance genre is for embracing geek culture. I also think she's right on the money as to why romance has finally caught up with the times:

So how did a genre so associated with being unhip become hip? Simple - young women raised on geeky entertainment entered the industry, bringing their interests with them and sweeping away a lot of outdated attitudes. The result is a subset of the industry which has weathered the economic storm while other segments of publishing are struggling to survive.

I'm a bit older than geek culture (yes, I predate the personal computer) so I remember only too well the days when romance was mostly about chicks in long gowns being swept away by brutish rakes. Fortunately I'm also young enough to have enjoyed quite a bit of geeky entertainment, and no doubt I brought some of it with me when I went pro.

I think geek culture has greatly improved the quality of my writing life, too. The internet opened up an enormous new world for me as a writer, one where I could meet other storytellers, talk shop, and put some stories out there that anyone in the world could read (and that still seems like such a huge thing to me.)

Now I see the next generation of writers coming up and publishing some of the most exciting and innovative fiction I've ever read, and that inspires me to no end. I think it also pushes me to think in new directions and keep moving forward with the work versus sitting and stagnating.

Where do you think geek culture has had the most impact on you? Let us know in comments.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Your Site Rocks -- Literally

If you've ever wondered how your blog would sound as a song, you should try feeding it to Simply type in the URL of your blog, web site or anyplace, and your content will be translated into a piece of music, which the site will create using a complex algorithm, and then it plays the song for you.

I liked the one it generated for PBW; reminded me of all that glam-rock we used to listen to back in the eighties. The song it made for the photoblog had a faster beat, but the notes that played sounded just like crickets (is that bad, I wonder?)

(Thanks to Gerard over at The Presurfer, from whom I nicked the link.)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Final Pass

This afternoon I finished the copy-edit on Dream Called Time, which I thought would be an ordeal but turned out to be pretty much a breeze. It's funny how some books seem to fight you tooth and nail, and others just stream over you and through you like moonlight and music.

Other than correcting the proofs, the novel is finished, which means today I wrote the very last word of the StarDoc series. As before when I finished the final draft of the manuscript, it was a serene experience.

Today I'm giving myself the day off. I think I've earned one.

If you'd like to see something oh so sweet, stop by the photoblog and check out a couple of truly scrumptious delights.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Is This Your Query?

Literary Agent Janet Reid has a great post here on the reasons she turned down fifty queries, along with stats on how many of the queries fell into each no-thanks category. Aside from the fact that this is an excellent chance to get into an agent's head and see queries from her POV, it also serves as a quality assurance checklist for the query-writing author.

Let's run through the list of her reasons (quoted from her post), and I'll give you some ideas on how to tell if your query will get bounced for the same:

Thinly disguised novel that's really a memoir

Many things can trigger a novel-wrapped memoir, and writers usually go through at least one of them: a dysfunctional family, an unhappy childhood, a wretched adolescence, a lousy marriage, loss of a loved one, a career meltdown and/or a terrible divorce. So if the prominent features of your story and/or your protagonist bear a striking resemblance to you/your life, you've likely gone memoir in your novel.

There is nothing wrong with writing a memoir; I don't particularly care for them but there is a market, mainly celebrity-driven, for them. That said, a memoir is not a novel. Presenting it as a novel probably feels the same way it did to use code in your high school diary so that if your little brother snitched it from your room and picked the tiny lock he still wasn't be able to figure out who Chipmunk, Sassafrass and Mr. Whoopsie were. Don't assume the agent or the reader has to be treated like your little brother.

Recitation of events

Could your query pull double duty as a chapter summary or a synopsis of your novel? If so, you're event-reciting, not pitching. This type of play-by-play query often comes from an unwillingness or an inability on the part of the writer to condense a story into a pitch. A pitch is not a breakdown or a summary of the parts; it's a brief presentation of the whole.

Example: I could tell you I have a front end, a custom modified engine, tires, a chassis, a metallic flake scarlet paint job, a steering wheel, high-grade fuel, leather-upholstered seats, brakes, headlights, a trunk, a license plate and a rearview mirror. Or I could tell you I have a little red sportscar so fast that no cop can catch me. Now, which do you think is more interesting? Which better relates the concept of the object?

Interesting concept/query so over written it boded ill for novel

You can spot a story that suffers from over-writing (or over-workshopped writing, or over-critiqued writing) from a mile away, because by the tenth or eleventh paragraph the reader become losts in the writer's strange, complicated and mostly unidentifiable Novel LaLaLand. Same goes for the query.

I've seen a couple of these. Generally the writing is mysterious, beautiful to look at, and mainly incomprehensible; the writer tosses around enigmatic-sounding phrases like coalesced chiaroscuro conflicted characterization or denuded dichotomous delineation departure to show how well they spent a hundred grand of their parents' money on that MFA in the signature block.

No one in NY offers you a contract because no one can understand your novel, your concept, or you. Simplify, use common language, let your concept shine without loading it down with sparkles, and stop trying to outword Umberto Eco. Over-writing won't sell your book, and I think it annoys Bert.

Spent so much time telling me what the novel isn't, didn't tell me what it was:

The pitch is about your book, not about everyone else's books. An agents business is to know what's been published; they will be able to tell, right off the bat, what your novel isn't. They don't need a checklist provided upfront by you.


Measuring the ewww-factor of your query is pretty simple: you should be able to read your query letter out loud in a crowded public place and get the people around you to listen. If instead they would throw up, run away, or have you arrested, you need to consider toning it down. Way down.

I think the author is seriously deranged

A long rant or a short manifesto presented as a novel query might make an agent think this. Common inclusions in a query that are warning signs: obvious ax-grinding, bewailing the state of the Presidency/the country/religion/sex/Publishing, insulting a majority or a minority, a laundry list of heart-breaking personal problems, emotional blackmail, the state of your finances, etc.

If you are pissed off at the world, that's okay, we all get to that place at some time or another. But a query is not a soapbox or a therapy session, so don't try to make it one. (P.S. Don't tell Janet that we're all a little deranged.)

sadly out of touch about publishing time lines

Janet explained this one better than I think I can, but here's my shot: because books take so long to get into print, you need to think ahead. If you're writing something that was popular five or ten years ago, and there are no signs of a resurgence in that popularity, you're going to come off sounding dated and out of touch. Make sure your novel has enough wow factor to be considered contemporary two years from now.

Sadly out of touch self-help book

I think this is the same as being out of touch about publishing time lines, just with a specific corner of the market. But the self-help market is like any other genre, in that it's just as subject to trends and categories and such. If I were going to write any kind of self-help, the first thing I'd do would be to extensively research the market, see what's out there and what people want to read.

Non-author submission

If you have to convince a friend in the biz to front your query, you're saying "I know the secret handshake." The problem is, there is no secret handshake.

blatant ripoff of another popular book or movie

Knockoffs are always being published, so I don't agree with this 100%, but I know a lot of writers go for writing clones instead of knockoffs. The difference between original and ripoff novels is pretty obvious, but if you're still not sure, look at it this way: Since my SF series predates James Cameron's Avatar by ten years, and has nothing to do with his movie, I am allowed to keep putting tall, exotic blue people in my books. If you want the same privilege, you'd better have a more compelling reason than you adored Avatar so much that you saw it fifty or sixty times.

Don't want to read this/cliche characters and plot

This likely comes from too many writing workshops and not enough original thinking, and the writing organizations out there who harp so much on homogenization and conformity. You can actually be brain-washed into believing that everyone wants to read Yet Another Novel about a cynical P.I., a secret baby, or a vampire brotherhood. Selling that to an agent, on the other hand, is a little tougher.

Writing is not about gaining the approval of one's peers, satisfying the Thought Police, or in any other way placating the masses. It's not something you do to fit in or make yourself look good. Writing is about setting the reader's imagination on fire; how are you going to do that by serving up something that barely registers as lukewarm in an already glutted market?

Nothing compelling or enticing about the novel

Your ability to competently put together one hundred thousand words that are spelled correctly, obey the rules of grammar and make sense does not entitle you to a publishing contract. There has to be something in all those pages that is going to provide serious competition for TV, movies, the internet, video games, sex, food and now texting. If there's not, it likely won't sell.

Nothing fresh or new with usual elements of a novel

Some people say nothing is fresh, nothing is new. And some of the time when I'm reading yet another blatant knockoff, I think they're right. But the one factor in the writing/publishing equation that is always fresh and new is you. There is only one of you. So what do you bring (or can you bring) to the novel table that no one else has?

Bad writing

No one is exempt from this, not even published writers, and I think it has several causes, like the writer's state of mind, poor editing, poor planning, stagnation, phoning it in, rushing, or just not being interested enough to present your best work. And nothing shrieks "I don't care" like bad writing.

I feel for people who have no formal writing education to speak of; I am one of you, but that didn't stop me from employing my public library card and improving my understanding of fiction, writing, and the ten thousand other things I had to learn to become a pro. And I'm sorry, but with all the free resources at hand on the internet to help you improve, polish and otherwise bring your writing up to professional level, there's simply no excuse for bad writing.

Don't want to read this

Not every agent is going to be right for you. Sometimes it's not personal or even a reflection on your work; it's a matter of an agent or editor who is a bad match for you. Remember that these people have to sell us, and if they don't feel passionate about our work, they aren't going to get us a dime. So in a sense this kind of rejection is good because it avoids a partnership that isn't going to work.

No idea what the novel is about

Writing is a journey. Whether you choose to use a map to take yours, or simply wander down this road or that to see what you find, by the time the journey ends you should be able to tell someone about it. If you don't understand, you don't remember it or you're not sure why you took the journey in the first place, this is not a time to try to sell it. Ditto for those of you who find it impossible to condense an entire journey into a couple of concise sentences. Rambling on and on in a disconnected fashion isn't going to interest anyone in taking the same journey. You have to relate what makes it worth the trip.

Querying is not a skill most of us are born with; it takes thought, practice, decision-making, concept spinning, presentation, showmanship and a lot more thought and practice. Every novel is different, so every query is new territory. The biggest favor you can do yourself is not to send out the first draft of a query you wrote in a few minutes. Set it aside. Think about it. Querying is not typing a business letter. As Janet wrote, it is HARD. And for my two cents, I think it's an art all on its own.

Look at examples of different query letters that are posted online. Read the thoughts about queries from other writers who have been able to sell a lot of books (and before you ask, mine are here and here, as well as these posts: Novel IV: Pitch, Ten Things About Novel Proposals, Queries and Synopses, and Query Nation.)

Another thing you can do is role-play with another writer or someone suitable in your family or circle of friends (and pick someone who won't kiss your backside because they love you) and have them play agent and read it. Get their reactions and think about what they tell you.

Look for rough spots in the query -- look for any place you are not writing like a professional -- and edit. Revise and rewrite. Keep at it until you have achieved the absolute best version of your query. Also, if you get any specific editorial feedback from an agent or editor who's read your query, think about that, too. They don't often have time to give us meaningful feedback, but occasionally you'll get a comment that does flag a real problem that you need to address.

In a sense, a query is like an agent all on its own: it serves as your pitchman, your sales force, your PR rep. You'd never send some smelly, lazy, loud-mouthed slob in a wrinkled suit to sell your book; don't make the mistake of mailing off the query version of that.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Backstory Cafe

It's midnight at the cafe, the time when all my regulars straggle in to have a cup of coffee and a snack before they head out to do whatever it is they do when they're not around me. You gotta love these characters; they've always got a backstory to tell.

Take the dark-eyed, bearded guy sitting by himself in booth nine. I tell him about the specials every night, but he orders black coffee, the five-alarm chili and a side of hot peppers.

"I hate hot, spicy food," he says. "And black coffee keeps me up until dawn. But it's good for me to suffer. I deserve it."

"Honey, it's not the coffee." I don't jot down a word because he orders the same thing every night. "You should try the guilt goulash over at Marty's Internal Conflict Corner sometime. It's right up your alley."

I move on to the cute couple who are bickering in booth seven. "Evening, folks."

Neither of them hear me. He's saying, "It's over" and she's saying, "No, it's not" like a couple of kids tussling on a playground. Which, when you think about it, is all they are.

I clear my throat. "We've got type A, O, and a nice B negative chilling in the fridge."

"It's not over until I say it's over," the woman snarls. To me she says, "Do you have any copper-plated butcher knives?"

This one sends me plenty of customers, but she can be a big troublemaker, too. "Burying the hatchet is a metaphor, Alexandra." When her boyfriend smirks, I lean over and whisper to him, "As I recall, Frenchman, you never did tell her what you were doing in Rome seven years ago. You remember, when you got your face beat off?"

Like magic, he quits snickering, and I straighten. "I'll bring you both some B positive," I tell them. "Consider it a hint."

I pick up a small tip from the next table (sweet old Louise; although she's out of work she still always leaves something for me) and go behind the counter to warm up the coffee for the homeless girl who's trying to hide in the corner. While she looks like a dirty bundle of rags, I know she could tear this place apart if she wanted.

"Yours'll be up real soon, honey," I promise her.

All she gives me is a sweet, patient smile. "Thank you, ma'am."

I go in the back to check on the stove, which as usual is crowded; I count seven orders up front and twice as many on the back burner. I make sure things keep simmering instead of boiling over and notice a new delivery sitting by the prep table.

"It's not squid," the delivery girl calls to me as she wheels her handcart out the back.

"It never is." I survey the delivery, a hodge-podge of ingredients shipped from Denver that are spilling out of their frosty containers. "Hey, I didn't order this," I yell after her.

"You never do," she says before the door slams.

I hear the bell chime over the front door, and leave the delivery for later while I go to seat the new customer. He's built like Thor but has dark, Sun Tzu eyes. He also looks like he's been rode hard and put away wet; his expensive coat all tore to hell and showing stitched-up wounds through the slashed fabric. He walks with a cane when he should be in a wheelchair.

I don't need a headache like him tonight, but when he smiles through his golden beard my heart melts a little. "Booth, counter or table, mister?"

"Counter, I think, my dear." He hobbles over to sit beside the homeless girl, who never talks to anyone but starts chatting him up like they're old friends. I have to make another note to remind myself that they do share a very old connection, although neither of them knows it just yet.

I take Thor's order, which is just about everything on the menu and a few things I'll have to improvise, and head back to make room on the stovetop. I don't appreciate seeing the scowling, rangy brunette in the search and rescue gear hovering by my pots, but she just pulls up a stool and watches as I shuffle the orders.

"So what's my deal?" she asks.

I give her a sour look. "You save people."

She looks down at her uniform. "Duh. But why do I save people?"

I think about it. "Because they never saved you." She nods amicably, and I start reeling off a few things. "Car accident. Bad one. Road rage. Hmmm. Jack-knifed semi? Exploding gas tanker?"

"Did the exploding thing twice already," she reminds me.

"You can never have too many explosions," I scold her, although I know she's right. "Okay, no trucks, just a huge chain reaction pile-up on the freeway. Six units respond to the scene, but yours . . . " I smile. "Gets hijacked by the nutcase who caused it all."

She laughs. "You are so mean."

"All part of the job, honey." I turn the burner on low to let things simmer, but have one more thing to add. "By the time you sort that out, you're alone with Thor at your place. That's when you'll realize that you can't take him to the hospital."

"And the only blood I have for the transfusion he needs is the one he's carrying," she adds on. "Or mine."

I grin. "Either way, not a match made in heaven."

We chat a bit more until I have a better feel for her -- she may seem edgy and tough, but she's got a good heart -- and then she wanders out to mix with the regulars. I start the new pot of stew and stop for a minute to have a cup of tea and think about what I'll have to add to the menu for tomorrow night.

"Too much, I daresay." Velvet-gloved hands start rubbing my shoulders and neck. "Have I never told what happened with the cross I left on her grave? You know, the one that had a few of my hairs caught in it. No? Well, it was taken by her killer to Rome, where you know how fanatical they are about preserving mystical bits of wood and bone and such, and then . . . ."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Future Read

In response to the endless nagging popular demand, I've posted an excerpt from my final StarDoc novel, Dream Called Time, over on the stories blog. Warning, there was no way to post anything that would avoid spoilers from book nine, Crystal Healer, so if you haven't read that one yet you might want to pass.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Wordy Ten

Ten Things About Word Processors

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

Blue Writer is a "lightweight fully functional, open source word processing application built completly in Java. Main outputs are RTF and TXT. Soon to come is BlueOffice the rest of the BlueWriter suite." (OS: designer notes that it runs on most operating systems, including Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and Solaris)

BookForm is a program that takes a file of text and reformats a
version of it in such a way that the pages printed can be put
together as a book after being printed out from a standard A4 printer (OS: Windows 95/98)[Someone was looking for this one the other day, but I couldn't remember the name of the freeware]

Breeze is an "easy to use word processor/text editor that does everything you ever wanted of a text processing program, This program has been designed with one thing in mind... PLEASURE." (Well, obviously Microsoft wasn't involved -- PBW.) "Features: pop-up hypertext help system, attractive multi-menu environment, text to .EXE converter (converts documents into self-displaying executable programs with menus, printing and text search features), multi-windows/files (multi-edit), clipboard, file selection menu, exploding windows, handles large files, RAM dictionary for fast spelling checks of whole documents or as you type, create your own personal dictionary if you wish, print spooling (lets you print and edit at the same time, saving hours of time), mail-merge/form letters, scientific calculator, ascii table, analyze text readability, sort paragraphs or lines, statistical analysis, pick list of recent files, mouse supported, fully configurable, automatic line and box drawing, fast find and replace, text styles, word wrapping, auto paragraph reformatting, autoindent, autosave, restore line function (undo), columns, comprehensive print options, menu operated printer control, full block operations including column blocks, powerful macro functions, index words, operate in condensed line mode on EGA and VGA systems, DOS shell, insert date into text, centre line, execute other programs and any DOS commands from within the editor, go to line and page functions, set place marker, duplicate lines, auto screen save" (OS: Windows)

CopyWriter is a "basic editor for all day use. As a lightweight general purpose editor it is capable of opening *.txt, *.rtf, *.doc and binary files." This one has been around for a long time, but it'sd simple, does the job, can run off a USB stick, has multi-lingual capabilities plus a ton of small helpful add-on utilities. (OS: Windows 95/98/Me/NT/2000/XP)

Twenty years in the making, and still completely free, Open Office is a "software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose" (OS: Just About Everything.)

Rizon Voice is a "text to speech program with many features. Some of the features include: Reads Text, Rich Text and Word Documents aloud." The neat thing about this one is that it includes a document editor, clipboard monitoring and processing, so you can have it read to you and do a little word processing when you hear something you don't like (OS: unspecified, probably Windows)

I can't put together a ten things list about word processors without including a link to the one writers recommend most often to other writers: Richard Salsbury's Rough Draft: "RoughDraft is a freeware word processor for Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000 and XP. Although suitable for general use, it has features specifically designed for creative writing: novels, short stories, articles, plays and screenplays. It's designed to be as practical as possible, offering all the features you need, but without being complicated or awkward to use."

Spine Page 07 is a word processing program that "has pulled out most of the features that Word Processors such as Word has, as the average user only uses 10% of them! Some of the features (it still has, apparently) include: Transparency; Saving, Printing, Opening; Bold, Underline etc.; On-Screen-Keyboard; Resizable Workspace!" (OS: Windows, Vista compatible.)

Tomahawk PDF+ is "the freeware version of Tomahawk Gold. The freeware version may not have all the bells and whistles of the full version of Tomahawk Gold but it is still one of the most advanced word processing/pdf creation software packages available for the Windows platform. This comfortably designed program with a familiar interface that's easy to use, allows documents to be produced and saved in a number of formats, including rich text; exported as HTML; or converted to PDF" (OS: Designer notes "Tomahawk PDF+ runs on all Windows systems from Win9x up to Win2003. And now Tomahawk PDF+ also runs on Linux systems using Wine 0.9.19")

Our blog pal Simon Haynes offers yEdit, "a simple text editor with frequent auto-backups and a countdown word counter." He also notes: "Last year, like every year, I used yWriter on my PC to keep all the bits and pieces of my Nano project together, and I bashed out my daily word count on the laptop. Unlike previous years where I wrote in Word or OpenOffice, this time I used a new tool called yEdit, which has a countdown word counter. (You put in 1700 as the starting count and start hammering out the prose until you see '0') I found it easy to set it up with 500 words and then type as quick as possible until I'd done them all. Music on the headphones helped, and Nano 2007 was the easiest I've ever done." Can't beat that kind of rec. (OS: Windows XP or later, Mono 2.4 or later)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

3 Hot Contests

Our blogpal is giving away two copies of author Kim Harrison's newest release Black Magic Sanction over at his place, and all you have to do is comment there on the following: "To enter tell us which Kim Harrison Hollows book is your favourite play on a Clint Eastwood movie title."

At the end of February author Lisa Valdez will be giving away a copy of her much-anticipated second novel, Patience, to a member of her Yahoo group (and there's a widget under the announcement where you can join it.)

To celebrate the release of her new novel Broken, Shiloh Walker is holding a contest for a brand-new Nook. You get 100 entries in the contest for pre-ordering the novel, or buying it during release week (see contest post for more details) but you can also have a no-cost shot at winning by posting a bit of promo on your blog.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cover Fits

Sometime next week someone in NY will decide what sort of cover to put on my next book. As always, I hope for something attractive and dignified, and pray to be spared anything demeaning or ridiculous, but it's not up to me. At best I'll get something that I won't be tempted to drop in the office shredder along with handfuls of the hair I pull out after I'm finished sobbing. Which is silly, because I know I shouldn't do that; the hair always clogs up the shredder and I look awful until the bald spots grow back in.

That most cover art usually fails to live up to a writer's hopes is not unusual or even unexpected; writers know publishers have other concerns that outweigh the artist's vision of the story. I don't think publishers can see the story the way writers do; they aren't invested in it the way we are. To illustrate this, here are two versions of the cover for Dreamveil: one mock-up that I made up myself to show what I felt was the perfect look/theme/style for the cover, and the cover the publisher chose to put on the novel:


Still, there are some publishers and writers who do seem to be on the same wavelength and do produce books with covers that do suit the story very well. I was thinking about this as I was pre-ordering some upcoming titles, and saw three I thought were excellent examples of cover art that fits:

Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs

Although my favorite Mercy Thompson cover is still the gorgeous art they used for Bone Crossed, I liked the style of this one. The body art is highly detailed, and the setting composition is interesting and tells a bit of a story all on its own. I also chuckle every time over the perennial shop rag hanging out of her back pocket; my guy has the exact same rag on his work bench.

A Wild Light by Marjorie M. Liu

You can't see this cover yet on the bookseller sites but I nicked a copy from Marjorie's blog. It's a simply gorgeous cover, and I love that they continued the theme but added another character (presumably Graham) to the composition. Also, note the cuff ornament on the right hand; that's one of those tiny details that delights because it came straight from the story. Ace really does seem to get Marjorie as a writer, because all the Hunter Kiss covers have been seamless fits. An indy bookseller once told me that red is the hottest-selling cover color theme because it most often draws the eye of the casual browser. I don't know if that is true, but this one seems pretty riveting to me.

Roadkill by Rob Thurman

Not only great art, but a killer tag line, too. To demonstrate the power of a great cover, I actually started reading Rob Thurman because I spotted the exceptional art on the first Cal Leandros novel and thought, Hey, that looks cool. And was pleasantly shocked when the story delivered what the cover promised. Since then I think the Gods of Cover Art have showered Rob with a straight run of equally outstanding covers. When I talk about unique-to-the-author style (I can pick out a Rob Thurman novel from across a bookstore), thoughtful presentation and story-appropriate art, Rob's covers are the ones I most often use as shining examples.

Now it's your turn: what writer out there has cover art that you think best fits their
book(s)? Why does it work so well for you? Let us know in comments.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Catch-up Day

I've been so swamped this week I've had everything on auto-pilot, but light is finally appearing at tunnel's end.

Today I have to nail one more chunk of the current copy-edit, do one more contract review, make one more trip to my shipper, and endure one more day of invoking the busy writer's mantra, aka Please God Don't Call Me About That Because I Swear My Head Will Explode. Then I get the weekend off to cook, clean, do laundry, file, update the ledger, answer comments, answer e-mail, answer voice mail . . .

Yes, I love my job. All nine of them. Who wouldn't?

Anyway, a few things I actually did accomplish of late, so you don't think I've been a slouch:

1. Dreamveil, Kyndred Book Two, is completely done production and off to become a print book.

2. Frostfire, Kyndred Book Three, is finished and in NY.

3. Primary and alternative outlines for as yet untitled Kyndred Book Four are roughed out and ready for brooding over.

4. Prepped and ready to test out my new writing workshop on a class of unsuspecting public school fifth graders. (I love fifth graders. They're too old to be adorable and not old enough to be obnoxious. And they write like total fic fiends.)

5. Finished all but one of my interviews of expert folks who are advising me on various aspects of my new publisher/new genre trilogy. My final expert, the horse trainer, I saved for last because we're going to be spending a lot of time together. And there will be horses and barns and saddles and stuff.

So what's up with you guys? Anything interesting happen out there while I was slaving away over a hot keyboard?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Blonde Ambition

I've always secretly wished I were a blonde. It's probably because I grew up with a gorgeous golden-haired sister and a bottle-blonde mom, both of whom were my first standards for beauty. But back then the most popular girls in school were always blondes, too. If you'd asked me when I was a teen for the names of great beauties, I'd have reeled off Lauren Hutton, Farrah Fawcett and Cheryl Tiegs. I was stunned by one especially ethereal Goldilocks, Michelle Pfeiffer, when she came onto the movie scene, and I still think she's one of the most beautiful women on the planet.

It was not in the cards for me to be a blonde. I was born a redhead, and the one time I streaked my hair with Sun-In (a product that claims to give you lovely sun-streaks in your hair) it turned clown orange. I don't have any pictures of that, but trust me, it was beyond tragic. I sometimes wondered if the fact that the great love of my life and our kids are all blondes was the universe's way of needling me, or comforting me.

At some point in life everyone wants something that they simply can't have, like the straight-haired who long for curls or the curly-heads who lust after the the straights -- which is why hair styling products that straighten or curl or bleach or darken are never going to leave the shelves. But I went the other way, and let myself become bitterly jealous. It turned me into a blonde-hater for a while. I collected a million blonde jokes, and I liked nothing better than perpetuating the myth that blondes are stupid.

Fortunately I grew out of that. I also mostly made peace with being a redhead, which was about the same time I began to go gray. Majorly gray, both temples and Kelly-Clarkson-wide streaks in the back. Ten years later I would find out the color change was due to the horrible stress I was under combined with an undiagnosed health problem, but when the gray started showing in my senior year of high school, I was flat-out horrified. I became one of Miss Clairol's best customers for the next twenty-five years.

During all those years of covering up the gray I never tried to dye my hair blonde. I could have, quite easily, as I'd been double-processing my mom's hair since I was old enough to pull on a pair of plastic gloves and hold the dye bottle. Something held me back, though (maybe a leftover fragment of jealousy, or a shred of common sense.) Still, when I went every other month to pick up my hair dye (usually red, sometimes a dark brown) I would stop and admire all the Natural Blonde boxes first.

So pretty, those golden ladies were. Like fairy women. Who wouldn't want to be one of them?

Some of my very close friends knew about my secret hair color obsession, and no doubt wished I'd get over it. It finally happened back in 2002. I lost a bet with one of my friends, and the supposedly humiliating forfeit he picked was for me to bleach my hair blonde. Armed with that excuse, honestly? I couldn't get to the drugstore fast enough. I spent an hour looking over every single shade of blonde before I picked out this beautiful warm golden tone by L'Oreal. I bought that, along with enough bleach and drabber to double-process the Rockettes, and went home to make my dream come true.

Bleaching out my current hair color (a dark brown at the time) took three attempts, and I knew I was quite stupidly frying my hair with over-processing, but I didn't care. At last I was going to have what I'd always wanted. I was so excited I could hardly sit still through the last thirty minutes of toning. Then I washed it out, towelled it off, grabbed the brush and blow drier and went to town.

And then I was finally a blonde. Finally.

To give the chemists who work at L'Oreal their due, the color did look just like the hair of the model on the box. If that was all you had to look at, you probably would have thought it was lovely. Only under all those glowing golden tresses was my face, which was covered by this odd-toned freckled skin of mine. Which the blonde hair around it did not suit at all, and in fact made it look as if I were suffering from jaundice. Major jaundice. Rush-her-to-the-hospital-she's-dying jaundice.

Of course I tried to fix it. Makeup didn't work, and neither did pulling my new shiny locks away from my face. As a blonde I utterly bombed, and not in the good way. This one bit of borrowed beauty I had always wanted for myself was in reality a disaster, and it demolished me to look in the mirror and see how awful I looked under all that pretty gleaming gold.

I believe in learning from your mistakes, no matter how heart-breaking they are. After letting everyone see it and have a good laugh (my guy and the kids almost went into shock, and then all of them begged me to change it back) I waited a couple week (and wore a lot of bandannas and hats), and then dyed my hair back to a nice, safe unexciting brown. And immediately looked 200% better, although it would take another two years before all the damage I'd done to my hair grew out enough to cut off.

Hair dye and I finally parted ways in 2004, and I let my hair grow out to its natural color. I thought I would have a little red left, but my natural color had gone completely white and silver. For a while there I went to the mirror every morning, expecting to see that wretched, jaundiced-looking face again, but (weirdly) going gray suited me. I am now the lightest-haired person in the family -- a platinum blonde -- and while it's never going to be fashionable, I like it fine. It may be silver instead of gold, but it's not fake. It's who I am.

Wanting what we don't have drives us to learn and work and improve ourselves, and I don't think that's a bad thing. Where would this world be if we were all satisfied with the status quo? But wanting what we can't have, on the other hand, sets us up for serious disappointment. Some people seem to be born with the wisdom to know the difference; others like me have to find out the hard way. But it's the kind of painful lesson that once you're taught, you never forget.

So the next time you're standing in front of that shelf in the bookstore, the one that is packed with those hot-selling wildly popular novels of that writer you hate, or love, or envy beyond all other things, the writer that you know you can write rings around -- or maybe you can't -- don't beat yourself up for not being him or her. You might be able to imitate some of that solid-gold writing, and tell yourself you're just as deserving of success, but you may find that when you look in the mirror that you won't much like what you see.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

3 Books

This year I considered adding one of those "What I'm reading" sidebar elements to the blog, because I like to see what other writers are reading and I often don't get a chance to write as many recs as I'd like. The main problem is that I go through between fifty and seventy books a month, so all I'd be doing is changing it.

As a compromise I'll be writing a post now and then about three books from my TBR: what I've just finished, what I'm currently reading, and what's next.

Just Read: A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh, hardcover

Why I picked it up: Mary Balogh is one of two historical romance authors I still read, and is the sort of writer who could publish her grocery list and I'd happily buy it.

What I liked: This little jewel is a new spin on what she does best (classic Regency romance), wonderfully structured with great characters. The twist is such that I saw it coming but still found charming anyway; builds to an excellent conclusion.

What I didn't like: The book jacket, which is mainly evil yellow, but I took care of that by removing it.

Reading: Inked anthology featuring Marjorie M. Liu, paperback

Why I picked it up: I needed a Hunter Kiss fix, thank you, Marjorie.

What I like: Marjorie writes short stories as well as she does novels, and so far Armor of Roses is terrific (I'm reading first because I'm a brat that way, and I'm not rushing because I don't want it to end.)

What I don't like: I'm not crazy about anthos for the same reasons I won't ever again write for one: no choice over which authors are included, the quality of the writing is often a mixed bag, and sometimes the editing is just all over the place. That said, I'm pretty sure I haven't read anything by the other three authors in this one, so this is a good opportunity for me to test-drive them.

Will Read: The Daily Reader by Fred White, trade paperback

Why I picked this up: Fred White is the author of guided writing exercise how-to The Daily Writer, which despite all the literary content I liked and found quite useful.

What I expect to like: He manages to talk about writing from a literary perspective without insulting me the genre writer in the process, which I rarely find and greatly appreciate. Although this looks like another great big pile o' lit, I'm hopeful for a repeat experience.

What I expect not to like: I already dislike the cover (why so many evil yellow covers out there this month? I'm about to break out in hives.) And I haven't looked but I'm almost positive there's going to be a reference to Chekhov (Anton, not the Star Trek dude) and then I'll remember being forced to read and analyze The Cherry Orchard in ninth grade and have those inappropriate fantasies about punching out my English teacher again. Do we ever get over the damage done to us in high school? I wonder . . .

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Excuses, Excuses

I am not here today; I am a filigree of your imagination. But so you that have something other than my non-presence to amuse you:

Write your own captions for the Dark Knight and his sidekick with the Batman and Robin Comic Generator.

Take some verse, turn it into images with Flickr Poet.

Everyone should have at least one Obamicon Poster.

And if that doesn't entertain you, by all means, Romance Novel Yourself.

All of these very cool generators were found over at my one stop on the web for all kinds of online toys and fun, The Generator Blog.

Monday, February 15, 2010


We love series followers here at PBW, so it was fun to see which series "finale" books you enjoyed the most. In addition to my admiration for The Endless Forest, one of my favorite finale books that was mentioned is I Dare by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller (and I agree, Joni, it's probably not the last book, but would serve well as one, as the authors wrapped up one of the major themes of the series with great skill and a fabulous twist.)

We started up the magic hat, and the winners of the Endless Possibilities giveaway are:




Bethany K. Warner

Winners, please send your full name and ship-to address to, and I'll get your copy out to you. Thanks to everyone for joining in.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Only one official bio pic exists of me, the one I was forced to take during my rookie year. It was a disaster because a) I'm not photogenic, b) I hate to be photographed and c) they piled so much make-up on me that I was obliged to remove it with a hammer and chisel after the shoot. Honestly, I hate the damn thing, but what can I say. Back in those days, I was a terrified rookie who was easy to browbeat.

Eleven years have passed, and after being repeatedly bitched at asked many times to update that pic -- the only official photo Publishing has of me, btw -- my obnxoious attitude began to seem, okay, a little unreasonable. None of my editors know what I look like; my agent has only a few fuzzy memories and the readers must think I'm Cover Girl's #1 customer. I don't look like that strange person smothering under all those pounds of foundation and eyeliner. Maybe it was time to set the record straight and show the world once and for all exactly who I am.

I went into this stressful project with a list of demands: no make-up, no phony lighting, no attempts to make me look thinner or younger or prettier (the only way to do this is to put me in a plus-size junior outfit, stick me in a giant vise and drop a bag over my head.) Even knowing how unphotogenic I am, I've never wanted to been seen as anyone other than the real me.

The Canadian company I hired to do the portrait agreed to my demands, and got started. It was kind of a process, but then, these things always are. They worked hard on their end, and today they finally delivered the finished product.

For once I'm okay with the results. I know it isn't at all what the publishers want, but it is 100% me. I also personally picked out the color theme, which I thought was a nice change from the usual authorial chick pink twinset and pearls. So for everyone who is curious:

PBW's Official Bio Photo 2010

Not too bad, huh? I'm pretty happy with it. Of course, feel free to let me know what you think in comments.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Endless Possibilities

There are very few real perks to being a pro writer, but one of the ones I love and covet most is to see another, seriously talented writer's book evolve. The road from from first draft to final edition is seldom traveled by anyone but the author and their editor, but often it's where you can learn the most about editing, revising and improving your own post-manuscript skills. It's a bit like being a spotter at the Olympics; you get to see all the hard work, preparation and practice runs that happen behind the scenes before the big event.

This is why a couple of years ago I jumped at the chance to follow the journey of The Endless Forest, Sara Donati's final novel in her Wilderness series. At the time I had not read any of the previous books in the series, so I was able to offer the perspective of a new reader. It was also an opportunity for me to see how another series author wrapped up a much-loved and complex story, something that at the time I really needed as I was also working on my final StarDoc book, Dream Called Time.

The whole experience was a delight from start to finish, and I probably learned more than I would have spending a year at university. I'm also happy to report that it's a great book to start with even if you haven't read any of the other Wilderness novels, although I will warn you, by the time you finish you'll want to have the rest of them. Because this is a final novel I don't want to give away any spoilers, but I will say that the book isn't really about endings; it's about new love, time and people coming full-circle, and the endurance and strength of family. The story reminds us that whatever happens in the here and now, some things are eternal. I don't think there is a finer way to arrive at the finish line than with the grace, style and satisfaction you'll find in The Endless Forest.

But as always, you don't have to take my word for it. In comments to this post, name the final book in any series that you really enjoyed (or if you can't think of one, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Sunday, February 14, 2010. I'll draw four names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned hardcover copy of The Endless Forest by Sara Donati. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Where's the Mothership?

I'm reading a badly-written how-to book on writing. Yes, I'm a masochist, but there you go. Writing, according to this woefully misguided little tome, is described as something like a magical process, largely unconscious, that belongs in the realm of fairies and wizards and sparkly stuff. Over the last thirty pages my state has completely shifted from utter disbelief to appalled fascination. Where are the orcs? I'm actually waiting for orcs to show up.

Oh, well, maybe they're off working on the new Google Settlement.

Odd theories about writing are like fad diets -- everyone tries at least one to see if it works (and, like those silly diets, they generally don't work.) I read this one writing how-to that claimed switching hands while writing to fill out lists of questions about your creativity (or lack thereof) allowed your right and your left hands tell you what they were thinking. Which is what you were thinking. But you didn't know that you were thinking that. That one made me very grateful that my hands generally do nothing but sit around and whine about being achy and cold.

Then there was the one with the breathing method of writing. Little did I know, writing is all about how one uses one's lungs. In with the good writing, out with the bad writing. By the time I got to chapter three I should have been in imminent danger of hyperventilating a novella.

No, really, didn't you know that all wonderful writing springs from great breathers? Don't be a pantser, be a panter. I might develop a similar method and publish my own book about it. I could call it Blow Me.

Seriously, for the most part I like reading writing how-tos, even the ones that are way out there past left field, or whose authors just got off the mothership from the alternative writing universe where books are created by channeling light and dreams and communing telepathically with three-fingered aliens. The wackiest ideas can sometimes be the thing a writer needs to push them through a difficult phase. If telepathic ambidexterity or heavy breathing really do make someone a better writer, or just comfort them, who am I to criticize?

It's like this girl I knew who went on the grapefruit, Ritz crackers and Certs diet. She didn't really lose a lot of weight, but she had terrific breath. Hmmm. I wonder if she's the one who wrote that book . . .

Anyway, I think when you write a book about writing meant for writers, you have to deliver a little more than pixie dust and precious ideas. Frankly, I would love to breathe a book; I breathe all the time, so it would shoot my productivity through the roof. I could even have a coughing attack and not have to work again until 2014. But sitting around and exercising my lungs does not put words on the page. I know, I've tried that. Ditto for the letting my unconscious being take over the work. All that lazy slob wants to do is turn on the bed heater, snuggle up under the covers and snore.

Writing is a job. It's a great job, and at times it can seem almost magical, especially when it's going well. When it's not, it can be anything from mildly annoying to a personal tour of Hell. But to write a story requires words to be put on a page. No alternative method, no matter how pretty it sounds, will do that for the writer.

Every time you write, you go to a construction site in your head. The words are waiting there, like a couple truckloads of loose bricks. They're not going to build themselves into anything, no matter how often you talk to your hands or mouth-breathe or get in touch with your inner Tinkerbell. You pick up the bricks. You mortar them together on a page. You build a story out of them. And that's it. The sweaty, nerve-wracking, non-glittery, unglamorous, orc-free work of writing.

Wait, I think my left hand finally wants to say something to me. It's curling over . . . it's lifting up one finger . . . hey!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Strange Houses

My guy and I love to drive around different towns and look at houses. I'm always checking out the architecture, while he evaluates the property and the landscaping. Since both of us have worked in the past as house painters (there, another bit of professional trivia you didn't know about me) we always talk about the color choices and condition of the exterior paint. This is yet another way in which we're totally boring, but it's one of the few hobbies we share and we think it's fun, which is all that matters.

Since getting more into photography, I've been taking the camera along with me on these drives to snap shots of unusual houses. I especially like small houses versus the big ostentacious McMansions; people who live in little places tend to be less uptight and more creative in their choices. For example, I was fascinated by the long, narrow windows and green roof tiles on this little house (click on any image to see a larger version):

I have to do a little research and find out why those windows are so narrow (probably antiques, and had something to do with weather conditions and/or cost.) I liked seeing the two chairs set out by the flowering shrub, too -- they're facing west, so I'll guess whoever lives in this small charmer likes to come out and watch the sunset.

Here's another home in the same neighborhood:

I can't say the pea-green exterior color, blue roof tiles and the red brick chimney do anything for me, but there was a definitely a castle-type feel to this one. Very stately for a single-family home. I wonder if the owner feels a bit like the ruler of a small kingdom.

Occasionally we'll spot odd things people have on their doors, in their yards or do to things around their home that I also photograph. One of the weirdest I've seen was the very strange fruit of this front-yard tree:

I know in Alsace the makers of brandy put empty bottles on the buds of pear trees so the fruit grows into the bottle (then they pick the bottle and fill it with brandy, and the effect of seeing a whole pear in the bottle is pretty neat) but I'm mystified as to why you would stick wine bottles into the trunk of tree.

When you're creating living spaces for your characters, you're generally concerned about the interior, where most of the action probably happens. But don't forget about the outside of the home -- if someone were to drive by your protagonist's house, what would they see? Adding some personal details and quirks like color choices, architectural features and even something as strange as wine bottles stuck in a tree can give the reader another glimpse into the personality of your character.

Small details can be just as fun to play with as the larger features, too. I thought one of the creepier house shots I took for the photoblog last year had excellent story potential. While standing outside a tea room to read the posted menu, I noticed a trio of suspicious-looking characters hanging out in the corner of one front window:

These cheesy vandals have since relocated from the tea room into one of my novels, because the moment I saw them I knew they were something that my protagonist would paint on one of her window frames. I just didn't know until I saw the real thing.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Don't What?

Over the years I've been slowly building a nice collection of reference books on quilts and quilting, one I've asked the kids to donate to a public school or place of free learning if they don't want to keep them after I'm gone. My favorites are the books about crazy quilts, because to me they are the elegant renegades of the quilting universe, and probably the most artistic of all quilts.

The needlework involved in crazy quilting is advanced and quite extensive; a master crazy quilter can use hundreds of different stitches on the surface of her quilt and never repeat any of the stitch patterns. I'm not that ambitious, but one of my lifetime quilting goals is to complete a crazy quilt with at least 100 different historic stitch patterns (which at the speed I presently hand stitch will probably take the rest of my life.) So to reward myself for finishing my last manuscript, I invested in a copy of Carole Samples' The Treasury of Crazy Quilt Stitches, which I've heard is the unofficial Bible on the subject.

The book arrived and was so amazing it blew me away; if crazy quilt stitching had a goddess it would be Carole Samples (btw, this is a pattern-show book only, and does not include how-to instructions, so if you're a beginning quilter and/or novice needleworker it's probably not for you.) As I was drooling over the two hundred and twenty-two pages of 1,700+ intricately hand-rendered stitches, something fell out into my lap:

It was about half the size of a bookmark, printed on thin cardboard, and appeared to be a sliver of a photo page, or maybe a piece of a book jacket. I hunted through the book to see if there was a correspondingly-shaped hole somewhere, but no such luck. And the words on it -- Don't Squat with yer -- seemed like something you probably would never find in a quilting book. Quilting calls for lots of things, but squatting? Not unless you drop a needle.

Obviously it was a message from the cosmos. But Don't Squat? Where? Why not? And what wasn't I supposed to squat with? I don't squat anyway. One must have two functioning knees to do so. What I do is hold it and wait for a nice clean handicapped restroom. The cosmos needs to remember who it's messaging.

Finally I couldn't stand it another minute, went online and did a search with the words I had to see if I could find what the words belonged to. Great thing about the internet: I instantly got an answer. I figure the sliver of cardboard must have fallen out of one cutting machine at the printer and dropped into the pages of my quilt book.

I also liked finding the full text, because as it happens it was some pretty timely advice that I needed to hear right now. So, merci, Cosmos.

Have you found any odd things in your new books lately, or received any odd warnings from the cosmos? Let us know in comments.

Monday, February 08, 2010

I Heart You Ten

Ten Things to Do for Your Valentine
(that won't cost you an arm & leg)

Auld Lang Snapshot: You've probably got an unused photo album around the house, but you can also pick up a little brag-book album at practically any dollar store. Go through all your pics of you and your darling and make copies of the ones you like best. Write a caption (this can be the date, something funny, or how the picture makes you feel) under each one, put them in the photo album in chronological order, and make the last picture the one you like best along with the caption Happy Valentine's Day.

Bath for Two: Set up your bathroom for a romantic bubble bath for two (candles, soft music, flowers, your favorite beverage, maybe a little plate of nibblies) and invite your honey in to have a soak with you. You know that really great bathtub scene in Bull Durham? Shoot for that. If you don't have a bathtub, offer to share a shower and set up the bedroom for fun after the two of you dry off.

How Do I Love Thee?: Write a poem for your sweetheart using the letters of their name for the first letter of each line (so when you read down it spells out their name.) If you want something more challenging, write the poem so that the first letter of each line spells out a sweet message.

Kisses Hunt: you'll need a pad of Post-It notes, a bag of Hershey kisses, and a few hours to set this up. Start with a Post-it placed where your loved one will see it first thing in the morning, with a clue as to where to find a kiss. The clue should lead them to the next note and a Hershey's kiss. Give them another clue to find the next note and kiss, and repeat as many times as you like until you get to the next-to-last note. That one should have a clue that leads your hunter to you, with directions to kiss what's under the last note. Then put the last note over your mouth (or whatever body part you'd like to have kissed.)

Letter Love: when was the last time you wrote the one you love a real letter? Not e-mail, not a twit, but the kind you need paper and pen for. If you can't think of how to express your feelings, make a list of all the reasons you love your honey. Be as sentimental and mushy as you like.

Major Massage: Have you ever given your better half a really long, slow, thorough full-body massage? This is the perfect day for one. If you're not sure how, take some lotion, have them strip and stretch out face-down, and starting at their feet, rub the lotion into their skin until it disappears. Work your way up to their shoulders, then roll them over and do the same in the reverse direction. If they want to know how they can repay you, hand them the lotion and take off your clothes.

Picnic on Memory Lane: Take your loved one to a romantic outdoor place from your past (the place you first met, first kissed, confessed your feelings, agreed to marry, etc.) to (weather and location permitting) have a picnic.

Spell it Out: While your sweetie is out of the house, get some sidewalk chalk (also something you can buy at most dollar stores), go outside and draw a huge heart in your driveway. Write your sweetie's name in the center of the heart, and surround it with all the reasons you love her/him. You'll probably want to keep it G-rated in case of nosy neighbors or visiting in-laws. An indoor variation is to do the same thing with soap crayons on the wall of your tub or shower (and there you can be more intimate, too.)

Truth or Strip: This is a romantic hybrid of Truth or Dare and Strip Poker. The game is, you ask each other intimate questions, and if the other person doesn't want to answer, they have to take off one article of clothing. Whoever ends up in their birthday suit first has to do what the winner wants for the rest of the night.

Two Feasts: this one is for the stay-at-home parents who don't want to fight the crowds at the restaurants. Make a little Valentine's Day-themed dinner for the kids (mine was always heart-shaped grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup and pink lemonade.) Once the kids are down for the night, serve your honey with a dinner version of breakfast in bed, with candles, soft music and maybe that French maid's costume you never had the nerve to wear.

Do you have any ideas of things to do for Valentine's Day that won't cost someone a limb? Let us know in comments.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Arguing with Fortunes

Do you ever argue with Chinese fortune cookies? I do, all the time. Here are the ones that came with our last take-out order:

Or a warm smile is testimony to the amount of personal pleasure the owner is going to take in screwing you over. The trouble is, they look exactly the same.

To forgive others one more time means you didn't learn from the first time you had to forgive them, stupid.

You're feeling the need to think longer-term, and you're a writer? Baby, are you in the wrong business.

A dream will always triumph over reality, given enough wine, valium or other mind-altering substance. Otherwise, reality rules. With an iron fist. Studded with razor-sharp spikes. Coated with poison. A half-inch from your face. Okay, I'll stop.

A human being is a deciding being in a parallel universe, maybe. Here, we can't even decide what we want for dinner. For example: do you know how long it took me to get everyone to agree on Chinese? The Magna Carta took less time to write.

Saturday, February 06, 2010


You all mentioned lots of excellent reads for this last giveaway; my BAM shopping list is now two pages long. Thanks to author Larissa Ione for stopping in, too; you made me get all sniffley here.

We cranked up the magic hat, and the winners of the Demons and Angels giveaway are:

SandyH, who got involved in Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran

Anne Velosa, who needs a new book for her TBR

Pat L., who couldn't put down Robyn Carr's Forbidden Falls

DeeCee, who refused to quit reading A Veiled Deception by Annette Blair.

Ilona, who would not set aside Fire by Kirsten Cashore

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

Friday, February 05, 2010


My quilting guild recently offered a member challenge that really got me where I quilt: finishing and/or selling a project we don't want to part with, aka a CLG (Can't Let Go.)

Among my guild, a CLG is usually a large work-intensive project (like a hand-quilted king-size bed quilt), or an especially hideous one (think a hot pink and electric blue tumbling block baby quilt. With Hello Kitty and Bob the Builder embroidery.) Sometimes it's both. Often they come from wonderful ideas that burn so hot they quickly fizzle out (other guilds call such pieces UFOs, but while you can give up a UFO, you can't let go of a CLG.)

One of my CLGs is a king-size quilt I pieced together in 2001 from all the blocks I screwed up while teaching myself to quilt during the eighties (and for some reason, saved.) I thought it would be a great teaching piece when it was finished. I even named it "Don't Do This" and got as far as hand-quilting about a fourth of it.

I don't remember when I stopped working on it, only how I felt when I did: I couldn't stand looking at all those idiot blocks for another second. Why didn't I ever throw them away, or make them into a rag rug? But I'd already sandwiched it together and quilted a quarter of it, and while it's easy to throw out a screwed up block, it's a lot harder to do the same with a 106" X 106" quilt that's all but finished. Off to the supply closet it went.

Another of my CLGs is a tiny project by comparison -- a fat-quarter-size wholecloth silk wall hanging with metallic thread. It was my rendering of the front facade of the Hyde Park Crystal Palace (which was destroyed by fire in 1936.) The silk I used was so delicate I had to do every stitch by hand and go very slowly. Only once I was about halfway through quilting the main structure lines, I noticed a tiny tear in the surface silk. I didn't know how it got there. There was no way to repair it (if you've ever tried to repair a rip in real silk organza, you'll know why) or trim down the piece to get rid of it; it was smack in the middle. I tried to keep working on it, but my eyes kept going to that tiny, unfixable flaw and it spoiled the entire piece for me.

Both projects are sitting on a shelf in my quilt supply closet. They've been there for about seven and two years, respectively. Every time I look at them, I feel guilty and angry. All that work, for nothing. Then I go sew on something else until I forget about them, until the next time I go into the supply closet for something, and see them, and hop right back on the guilt/anger/avoidance train.

I know why I can't let go of my CLGs. I tell myself I will finish them someday and be a better quilter for the effort. But I avoid them because they make me feel like I'm a fumbling moron pretending to be a quilter. I've made them into a paradox (or maybe they've made me into one.)

I think writers have just as many CLGs. Partial manuscripts, half-finished stories, the novel that petered out at Chapter five, the article that turned into a mindless rant. We save them and file them away while promising ourselves that we will come back to them someday and fix all the problems and make them worth the effort we put into them. As we swear that vow, a part of us stands aside and snickers because we know we'll never get back to them. Our anger and disappointment have already built a wall between us, over which we might peek now and then but never try to climb.

I talked with one of my quilter pals about my two CLGs, and how much I loved/hated the idea of trying to finish both (forget about selling them or even giving them away. I'd burn the damn things first.) She said the usual things, about how no one is born knowing how to piece and that there is no fabric on earth that is invulnerable (I brought up Kevlar, at which point she told me to stop being a smartass or the next guild challenge would be to make something out of pieced bullet-proof vests.)

Then she reminded me of something I did with an experimental novel I'd asked her to read: originally I wrote about two-thirds of it, shopped it around, and when no one would buy it, I cannibalized it -- cut it up, took the parts I liked most and incorporated them as a running subplot in another novel (which eventually sold like hot cakes.) So if I could do that with my writing, why not do the same with my quilted CLGs?

Looking at my CLGs as materials and components instead of whole pieces was exactly the push I needed. I might never want to go back and finish my "Don't Do This" king-size quilt, but I could certainly (happily!) cut it up and make it into a series of smaller "Mistake!" pillows. As for the silk wholecloth, I've been wanting to experiment with embellishing quilted silk with beads; why not use my ripped CLG as a test piece to see how the fabric reacts to different sizes and weights of beading? Not like I care if it's going to rip again.

So the next time you're in your Maybe Someday file, and feeling guilty about not finishing your CLGs in there, take a minute to think about how else you can use them other than what you originally intended. Is there a particularly great character you can introduce into another story? Was the setting a place you'd like to revisit under different circumstances? Even if your CLG is a total mess, would parts of it make good teaching examples in a blog post about what not to do?

It's not easy to take apart something you worked hard to put together in the first place. But if you can get some use out of your writing CLGs, isn't it worth a try versus just letting them sit there? Unlike quilted CLGs, you can also keep the original intact and just use copies, so if your experiment doesn't work you can put it back in the Maybe Someday file. But I think if you try this approach, in time you'll might find that file starting to shrink in size.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Demons and Angels

Larissa Ione's fourth novel in her Demonica series, Ecstasy Unveiled, has just hit the shelves, and Underworld General Hospital is about to get very, very busy. To earn his freedom, Lore, an enslaved half-demon assassin, has to make only one more kill: Kynan, a human who he brought back to life so he could fulfill an important destiny. Of course when Lore refuses, he learns there's a catch: if he doesn't kill Kynan, his sister Sin will die.

Idess is a beautiful half-angel trying to earn her way into Heaven, and part of the job is to protect a few special humans like Kynan. She also has to remain pure of heart, chaste of body and otherwise worthy of the wings. When she discovers Lore preparing to kill Kynan, she intervenes, and ends up capturing the handsome, reluctant assassin. She doesn't want to kill Lore, who is as wildly attracted to her as she is to him, but she will if she has to. At least until Heaven sticks her with the job of also protecting Lore.

This was a lightning-speed TGV of a book; I don't think the pace let up for a second. I certainly couldn't put the book down long enough to get anything done that night, so clear your schedule for this one. I also really enjoyed how the author explored the themes of loyalty and temptation, and what happens when the two collide. As a series author I can assure you that weaving in multiple-novel backstory becomes more difficult with each progressive book, but Larissa actually makes it look effortless. This is a great addition to the series, and I'm looking forward to the next book, which will have Sin's story (and there's a tantalizing preview of Sin Undone in the back pages.)

As always, you don't have to take my word for it. In comments to this post, name the last book you read that you couldn't put down (or if you haven't read anything riveting lately, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Friday, February 5, 2010. I'll draw five names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned copy of Ecstasy Unveiled by Larissa Ione. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Oh, Man

Just a quick heads-up for anyone who wants to read an early copy of Dreamveil, my second Kyndred novel due out in June: there will be a chance to win a signed galley along with a copy of Shadowlight some time during author Amie Stuart's 14 Days of Love at her blog.

Also, for those of you in need of some no-cost e-reads, Suvudu has put up some new freebies for February: Elizabeth Moon's Sheepfarmer's Daughter; City of the Dog by John Langan and two short stories by Kelly Meding.

Now onto our regularly scheduled blog post:

The minute I saw this, I thought "Marjorie!"* I'd have bought it and shipped it to her, but I think it's tough to find a place around the house to park a quarter-ton concrete gargoyle, too. She'd probably never speak to me again.

Do you ever see things when you're out and about that make you instantly think of other writers and/or their work?

*If you want to know why, you have to read this marvelous book.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


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Monday, February 01, 2010

Sub Ops

Sub ops caution: to avoid scams, always thoroughly check out writer job listings as well as any contracts you are offered. A real writing job is one where the writer is paid to work, and does not have to first pay any fees, material charges or any other expenses to the employer.

Outsourced copyrwriters and editors wanted: BookSurge/CreateSpace is currently looking for "experienced copywriters to join their outsourced team. Potential applicants must be creative self-starters comfortable working independently, while adhering to strict deadlines. The most qualified candidates will have book publishing experience and a background writing for an array of genres. All applicants must be proficient in Microsoft Word and comfortable with using the Internet" as well as "experienced editors to join their outsourced team. Potential applicants must be detail-oriented self-starters comfortable working independently, while adhering to strict deadlines. The most qualified candidates will have book editing experience with an emphasis in some of the following genres. Fiction: general, science fiction, historical, fantasy, chick lit., or children’s literature. Nonfiction: business, self-help, social science, spirituality, or religious texts. All applicants must be comfortable with Chicago Manual of Style 15th ed., proficient in Microsoft Word’s track changes feature, and comfortable with using the Internet." Payment based on assignment; see job listing for more details.

Ghostwriters for succesful humorous greeting card line needed: humorous greeting card maker Calypso Cards is "currently looking for writers for our Selfish Kitty line. This line has a loyal following and is contemporary, clever and edgy, although never mean, cruel or degrading – please keep the card sender and recipient in mind when writing. Selfish Kitty buyers tend to be college-educated, college-town or urban dwellers, women and men aged between 20 and 50. Please see our website to get an idea of what sells: Calypso cards pays a flat fee of $50.00 for full copyright on complete, well-written card copy (both inside and outside text) with no editing necessary. After work is accepted for publication, a writer must sign a Calypso Cards Copyright Assignment Areement. We are looking for submissions for the following occasions: Birthday, Anniversary, Friendship/Love/Thinking of You, Get Well, Sorry, Baby, Thank You, Belated Birthday, New Home, Congratulations, Wedding, Retirement. We also publish some blank cards and other products such as refrigerator magnets and notebooks." Electronic submissions via e-mail only; see job listing for more details.

Creative writers needed for Local New York City website: "We are looking for compelling storytellers who can get people out of their seats and bring tears to their eyes. Who can sensitively experiment and challenge conventions to inspire our readers. Who can create attention grabbing content and knows how to handle wordpress. Who has in-depth knowledge and interest in any of the following topics: events, outdoor activities, real estate, fashion, sports, everyday life in NYC. Who live and love New York City. Responsibilities include: writing and publishing (including spell check and grammar) of two blog posts per week; pitching ideas and developing them into featured articles for publication on the blog and article networks; occasionally do live interviews and live-blogging at events as needed." This is a telecommuting job, compensation is part commission. See job listing for more details.

Quarterly print pub Dark Discoveries, edited by James R. Beach, is seeking horror fiction, nonfiction and art: "Must be in the Horror/Dark Fantasy and Dark Mystery veins (no straight Science Fiction, Mystery, Fan Fiction, or Sword & Sorcery). Looking for well-written, powerful, original ideas and new twists on old Horror conventions. Vampire and werewolf stories are a tough sell, but we are open to those with an original twist. Especially looking for stories that examine the darker side of the human condition, but we are also interested in supernatural tales. New writers are welcome to submit." Length on fiction 500 words - 5K (query if longer.) Payment: 5¢/word to a min. of $25.00 and a max of $250.00 Reprints okay, electronic submissions preferred. See guidelines page for more details.

Freelance Writers Wanted for Leading Social Media Site: Gather is "hiring freelance writers for its new Socialwrite program. Gather Socialwriters are paid to start discussions in the community on the day’s news stories and other popular topics. All Socialwriters are trained by Gather's channel managers on topic selection and how to write for the maximum pickup from the search engines, other media sites, blogs and social networks. Gather is currently hiring up to 20 new Socialwriters to cover: Celeb News, Entertainment News: Movie reviews, TV show roundups, General News/Politics, Sports, Seasonal/Holiday. Payment: Socialwriters can earn up to $500 a month and are paid: Per Article: $2.50-$10 for any articles posted on Gather that receive a minimum of 250 unique page views and Monthly Bonus: $25-$100 based on the popularity of their writing throughout the month." Apply online at website; see job listing for more details.

The International Aeon Award charges an entry fee of €7 for their contest, but since I don't often come across too many Irish SF/F/H sub ops I thought I'd include it. They're looking for "short fiction in any speculative genre, i.e. fantasy, SF, horror or anything in between or unclassifiable!" Grand prize is €1000 and publication in Albedo One, Ireland's magazine of SF/F/H as well as "an additional Bonus Prize for the winning story, which will also be given the option of one year's free publication courtesy of the respected in their Storywire section." Second and third place are "200 and 100 euro and guaranteed publication in Albedo One." Electronic subs okay, see contest page for more details, deadline March 31, 2010.

Sci-fi, adventure, fantasy, humor writers and editors wanted for Moot Mag: "Moot Mag - Today's Amazing Stories is a fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, and humor magazine whose stories are illustrated with the finest digital art. Moot Mag could be compared to the old pulp mags and the Onion for it's attitude and satire, but Moot's focus is the paranormal, supernatural, and oddity. Moot Mag is also an extension of Moot Movie. Check out to be sure this is for you. We are seeking writers and an editor for our first issue to be released at WonderCon in San Francisco this April. Please send resume and samples that reflect a unique edgy point of view. We have specific 500-1000 word articles and stories that need to be written." Contract job, telecommuting okay, see job listing for more details.

The Australian Horror Writers Association is holding The 'Nameless' Challenge contest which includes an entry fee of $10AU, but they donate it to charity so that's why they made my list. Rules: "Read the story (Part I here; Part II here), get to know the story elements, the characters, their journey and their motivations. Then, write a fitting ending for ‘The Nameless' and give the tale a title while you're at it." Grand prize is $500.00 cash (I assume AU dollars) plus lots of goodies; judge for this one is horror author Ramsey Campbell. Electronic submissions only; see contest page for lots more details, deadline March 13, 2010. is looking "to recruit freelance writers from all different levels of their writing career to write authoritative and prolific online articles. Job responsibilities: A minimum of 10 x 400-600 word non-fiction articles every 3 months; Research to support fact based, unique articles; Self guided use of training materials; Commitment to following editorial guidelines. Applicants should have: Excellent writing and grammatical skills; High level of self-motivation and fastidious attention to detail; Ability to accept and respond to Editor feedback; Experience writing for the web considered an asset, though not required; Familiarity with social networks and online marketing is beneficial, though not required. Benefits: Freedom to write about what you want, when you want; Lifetime royalties with added bonuses and incentives; Exposure to over 24 million monthly readers; Free, comprehensive training on writing for the web; Access to a vibrant online writing community and forum." Apply online at website; see job listing for more details.

Turner Publishing is looking for an author "with a background in Queens history to complete captions and chapter introductions for a book entitled Historic Photos of Queens. The book will be hardcover and will be sold in local bookstores. This book is one of a series. Responsibilities: captions and introductions, collaboration in image selection, and participation in events such as signings at local bookstores. Qualifications: expertise in Queens history, previous published writing a plus. Compensation: Author fee based on experience." Send resume including a list of books or articles written and published (if any).

Some of these ops were found among the many marvelous market listings at Ralan's place.