Monday, May 31, 2010

Sub Ops Ten

Ten Things About Submission Opportunities

Asimov's Science Fiction print magazine is now accepted submissions via an "online submission system"; seeks science fiction "character oriented stories, those in which the characters, rather than the science, provide the main focus for the reader’s interest. Serious, thoughtful, yet accessible fiction will constitute the majority of our purchases, but there’s always room for the humorous as well. Borderline fantasy is fine, but no Sword & Sorcery, please. Neither are we interested in explicit sex or violence. A good overview would be to consider that all fiction is written to examine or illuminate some aspect of human existence, but that in science fiction the backdrop you work against is the size of the Universe." Length and Payment: fiction - <7½k=6¢/word; 7½k-12½k=$450, seldom buys longer than 20K; >12½k=5¢/word; poetry - $1/line 40 lines or less. No reprints, see submission guidelines for more details.

The 15th ChiZine Short Story Contest is now open for entries of "dark, well-written stories" Length 4K or less, prizes: "1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes: Publication in ChiZine: Treatments of Light and Shade in Words at seven (7) cents per word (USD). There will also be five honourable mentions." No reprints, electronic submissions only, see contest guidelines page for more details. Deadline June 30, 2010.

Comet Press has an open call for submissions for their extreme zombie anthology Deadcore: "We are looking for hardcore, gruesome, twisted, zombie stories." Length: 15-30K, Payment: 1/2 cent per word, $150 max, plus three contributor copies, no reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline July 1, 2010 or when filled.

UK science fiction audio magazine Cossmass Infinities is look for "short stories, ideally, between 4000 -- 8000 words. Stories should be either Science Fiction or Fantasy, or even a blend of both. Try to avoid mediaeval-fantasy though. We pay £20 a story, upon acceptance, for non-exclusive audio rights. Previously published stories are welcome. You do not need to have been published elsewhere. Payment is through Paypal." Submission by online electronic form only, see guidelines for more details.

Kitsune Books is "a traditional small-press literary publisher and offer standard publishing contracts to authors on whose works we are willing to take a chance." Looking for literary fiction, memoir, poetry and more. Length: fiction/nonfiction 70-95K, poems 100+ pages. Payment: varying advance, 10% royalty on net. No reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Library of Horror has an open call for their Malicious Deviance anthology, and seeks "well written speculative fiction with a heavy horror element focusing on bad protagonists from all walks of humanity. Everyone has the capacity for evil. Some people are born with it while others acquire evil through life's experiences or bad influence. Whatever the reason, I am seeking out stories of bad people doing bad things, meeting bad ends, or even reigning victorious in the end (though I will give preference to the bad guy getting it in the end. I'm not looking to completely glorify evil.) This does go against the lexicon of Good vs. Evil, but I don't give a shit. We're breaking the rules here. Bad people have stories that need to be told, and it's about time they're published in an anthology. The stories must have a strong horror element, but feel free to cross your genres. I would like to see a good mix of styles and genres as long as horror is at the root of your story. Any time frame is welcome. You can use whatever POV you like, though 2nd and 1st person are a hard sell. Be creative. Serial Killers, vampires, zombies, werewolves and other such well-worn themes must be absolutely fantastic and mind blowing; even then they're a hard sell. I'm looking for all kinds of bad people, not just the ones we are used to reading as antagonists. Remember, anyone can be evil... Anyone." Length: 3-9K, Payment: "1 cent per word plus one contributor copy", reprints okay, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Now open to novel submissions in multiple genres including romance fantasy, mystery, SF, and more, Canadian e-publisher MuseItUp welcomes "new and seasoned writers to send us their manuscripts. Although a submission doesn't guarantee an acceptance, we will offer comments with tips on how to improve your manuscript and invite you to resubmit. Simultaneous submissions will be accepted provided it is clearly stated in your cover letter that another publisher is considering your work. Our authors do not pay a fee to e-publish their books with us. We provide editing and cover art for all our books, and assign the ISBN number to your work." Length 3K - novel length, Payment: no advance, unspecified royalties, query on reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Annual print mag Science Fiction Trails is open for a brief time to submissions for "stories with science fiction content that are set in the Wild West era. Stories must take place on earth during the time period 1850-1900 AD. All stories should have a strong connection to the western region of the United States [this can include western Canada or northern Mexico]. We very much appreciate historical accuracy." Length: 1-7K, Payment: $10 + contributor copy, reprints okay, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Steward House Book Publishing is "open to a variety of genres, both fiction and non-fiction, if the writing shows skill and care with words. At this time we are not accepting book proposals: only finished manuscripts will be considered for publication. We are not interested in and will reject outright any submissions of an autobiographical or poetic nature." Length: 15-150K, Payment: varying advance/royalty based on author/content, query on reprints, prefers electronic submissions, see guidelines for more details.

Australian publisher Ticonderoga Publications has an open call for their More Scary Kisses anthology, and seeks "your best stories in the paranormal romance vein. We are looking for submissions with romantic and paranormal or speculative elements. These can be humorous, scary, sexy or thought-provoking, but the primary focus should be romance." Length: 1-8.5K, Payment: "2 copies and Aus 2 cents/word (GST inc., maximum payment $100) on publication", no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

All of the above sub ops were found among the many marvelous market listings at

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dream Retreats

Summer is just around the corner. In a couple of weeks the kids will be out of school, the days will stretch out long and lazy and I'll be shamelessly wallowing in picnics, beach days and cookouts -- which I need after this past seemingly endless winter.

For all those reasons summer is my favorite time of year, but especially because it's my season to read. No school = more spare time for me = extra hours to read. I can go to the bookstore or the library and not rush to make my selections. I can curl up with a novel and stay curled up. I never have a summer TBR; I constantly demolish it. I'm also in more of a mood to try new-to-me authors and genres I don't read that often.

When and where we read often has a direct effect on how much we enjoy reading. Certainly I'd rather be on a beach watching the waves roll in than sitting in a doctor's waiting room or being twisted into a pretzel by my physical therapist. Most of my time is spent at home, however, so I have reading nooks all around the house. My bathtub (I love to read when I'm soaking), the comfy but not-too-comfy sofa in my office, and a folding chair in the garage are popular reading spots.

My latest and favorite reading retreat is this corner of my back porch. Every morning and afternoon the pup and I are out here hanging out, watching the birds, enjoying the breeze and soaking up the peace and quiet. Since my guy screened in the porch we can be out here whenever we like and not have to worry about bugs and critters interrupting. All I need is to come out here with a cup of tea and my latest read (today it's Chimera by Rob Thurman) and I instantly relax. It's such a great retreat that I often do my editing out here, too.

I'd love to send you all a personal reading retreat, but the shipping would be outrageous (never mind trying to find a box big enough to fit it in.) However, I can send you something to kick off the summer reading season and enjoy: a fully-stocked retreat bag. If you'd like a chance to win this, in comments to this post tell us about your favorite spot to read (or if you're not that picky, just toss your name in the hat by midnight EST on Tuesday, June 1, 2010. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner my dream retreat bag stocked with:

--Unsigned hardcover copies of A Secret Affair by Mary Balogh, The Endless Forest by Sara Donati and Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

--Unsigned trade paperback copies of The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark and Broken by Shiloh Walker

--Unsigned paperback copies of Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs, The Hellhound King by Lori Devoti, Desire Unchained by Larissa Ione, The Fire King by Marjorie M. Liu, Scarlet by Jordan Summers, Chimera and Trick of the Light by Rob Thurman and Hard to Hold by Stephanie Tyler

--Signed paperback copies of Shadowlight and Dreamveil by yours truly

--Melissa Etheridge's new album on CD Fearless Love

--A cool blank journal to write in

--The Nature poet magnetic poetry kit to play with

As always, this giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Hate, Write, Love

While we were at the mall last night, I went to visit my new book, which is out on the shelves a week early. Half the copies the store ordered were already gone; something I consider a good omen. Love seeing my latest book in the stores for the first time; it's always a thrill.

This week I'm finishing up Kyndred #4, Nightshine, in between running here and there for graduation stuff. I just realized this will be the fourth book I've written this year and I think my batteries need a serious recharge. Aside from the manuscript I have two more awards ceremonies and finals week to get through and I'm scared I'll forget something so I've got alarm reminders set for every morning. My old stove finally died and I'm gradually learning how the new one cooks. Jak has a nasty respiratory infection but he won't take the medicine to clear it up. Or, rather, he takes it and then returns it almost immediately, usually on a carpeted area. I need a haircut (badly.) Last night at 2 a.m. I tried to do my nails for the first time in years, and this morning it shows. I hate being behind on everything, so I write a little more each day to channel my frustration.

When I saw my dad a couple of weeks ago (Dreamveil is dedicated to him) I gave him a copy, but I had to read the dedication to him. Because he's dyslexic he's never been a great reader, but his Alzheimer's has stolen what little he could manage from him. Still, the week before that he answered the phone and didn't know who I was, so I considered it an excellent moment. Love my dad.

This weekend I have to buy a decent outfit to wear to my kid's graduation as they frown on parents in jeans and T-shirts. All I have in the closet now are jeans and T-shirts. I hate shopping so much I seriously considered borrowing a dress from a more fashionable friend. Since sneakers and flip flops aren't exactly dress-friendly I'd still have to buy new shoes. I need a personal shopper. I need a wife. Note to self: add pantyhose to the list. I'm going to write a sonnet tonight about how much I really hate pantyhose.

I have almost everything I need for my next giveaway, and last night I found a great tote to put it all in for 50% off. It looks beachy but it's not beach-only, so the winner should get plenty of use out of it and yes, I worry about such things. Found a fun, well-written YA duology I want to tell everyone about and I have to write up that post, too -- but I have to finish reading the second book first. Book will have to go in the purse and run around with me while I finish up the giveaway stuff. And then there's the other big release-week surprise I have for everyone. I love surprises.

Proposals for the next contract pitch are next on the schedule. My series plan for the Kyndred novels is open-ended, which helps, but I don't have a feel yet for how this series is going to perform. Everyone is on book two, I'm on book four, and anything can happen. So I walk around all day wondering if I should pitch two more books, one book and one with something new, or other? Or do I wait for them to tell me what they want, which is what usually happens at the very last minute and and means more plan changing, which I hate. One way to cover all bases would be to put together at least three different sets of proposals. I don't mind writing them, and that way I'll be prepared.

I have an entire year to write the next book under another contract, so for the first time in ten years I think I'm going to take the entire year to write it -- with a quota of 232 words per day. I probably write more than that for a PBW blog post; it'll be like a writing vacation. I love giving myself more time to play with story.

My back hurts. Some kids toilet-papered one of our trees out front (one of the joys of graduation week, I assume) and I spend half an hour each day picking up the pieces that fall onto the grass. There's still toilet paper in the top of the tree, which I can't reach, and I can't climb the tree, which is driving me nuts. This is the busiest time of year for my guy at work, so he hasn't dealt with it yet. But I can't let it blow all over the neighborhood, so I'm out there every day picking up the pieces. Who invented this prank? I'd really like to know so I can give them a good talking-to. And then I think, Lord, I'm turning into that grouchy old lady I swore I'd never be, and hate myself for behaving like one. Maybe I'll kill off my grumpy self in the next book -- or toilet paper some teenager's trees.

In another month it will summer, my favorite time of year. The economy seems to be recovering a little, and things are gradually getting better for my family and friends. Writer friends are starting to sell again in promising new markets. The next generation of writers are among the most talented I've seen in years; going to the bookstore is a pleasure. I have the best job in the world, and I still remember to be grateful for it every day I sit down at this computer. And when I do, and when I write, the things I complain about fade away, and all I'm left with is the joy.

I am reasonably healthy, gainfully employed, and definitely blessed. I am a writer. What's not to love?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sneak Peek

Cover art for the German language editions of Private Demon (to be released in July '10)and Dark Need (to be released in February '11) -- click to see larger version:

They're carrying on the theme they began with the If Angels Burn/Versuchung des Zwielichts, which is gorgeous. I couldn't be happier.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


I know, you're probably tired of hearing about my latest bird drama, but this is kind of cool.

First, some backstory: my guy watches television when he can't sleep, but when he falls asleep before shutting off the TV I usually wake up to the sound of infomercials at 3 am. Which annoys me to no end, but it's one of those compromise things you do in a relationship (in return, he never makes a peep about me leaving books I'm reading on virtually every flat surface in the house.)

Tonight I was trying to think of some way to save my sweet potato vine without disturbing Sweetie, and one of those obnoxiously advertised products popped in my head. I told my guy about the idea, and he thought it might work, so we drove over to the mall and picked up these from the As Seen on TV store:

First I think I'll test one on the other (unoccupied) sweet potato vine to see just how damp it makes the soil in the pot. Has anyone out there ever used these things, and if so how have they worked for you? Let me know in comments.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I like surrounding myself with beautiful things. For me the top five on that list are family, quilts, art, books, and plants. Every spring I make extra time for gardening so I can insure I'll have lots of flowers and green thing to inspire and calm me for the rest of the year. It also adds a little joy to every day (whoever said you can't be unhappy in a garden was right on the money.)

We can't keep plants in the house because the pets won't leave them alone, but the back porch is fully stocked with containers now and we're planning a new rose garden around my much-loved miniature Japanese maple. I also put out my favorite hanging plants, sweet potato vines, on the front porch (I love how fast they grow and the way they spill over the pots like leafy waterfalls.)

I went out to water the front porch pots when I noticed a shadow among the leaves. At first I thought it was some dead leaves cluttering the middle, until I got closer and saw some very familiar spots:

Yep. Seems I'm not the only one who appreciates sweet potato vines.

For a couple of minutes I was pretty ticked off, seeing as we just hung these pots up only two weeks ago. Now I knew I'd have to stop watering it and let it die while Sweetie nests, and then wait a couple more weeks until the babies were ready to go before I took it down and replaced it with a new plant. This was going to totally ruin the look of my front porch.

Some people would chase off Sweetie, I know. And I was briefly tempted, because I didn't want her mate defending her and the nest by flying at the head of anyone who came to the front door (which we have learned the male doves will do because they're never far away during nesting.) I also knew it was my own fault for feeding them. If I didn't put out so much wild bird seed, the local avian population wouldn't spend so much time on my property or decide to nest in all these weird places.

It would be more logical just to stop feeding the birds. Eventually they'd get the message and then leave us alone. Life would be far less nerve-wracking.

Actually, life would also be kind of boring without our bird visitors. We wouldn't wake up to all this chattery birdsong in the morning. The pup and I would have no one to watch when we go out to sit on the porch. I'd never find another blue or red or gray feather in the grass, or see tiny baby birds cuddled together, or watch fledglings bravely take their first flights.

I do love my plants, but I have plenty on the porch and in the backyard. Until we moved to the country I'd never seen birds nest, or eggs hatch, or fledglings fly, not up close like this. Not on my front door step.

I like surrounding myself with beautiful things: Family, quilts, art, books and plants. These are all things I choose to have in my life. That Nature decided to surround me with nesting birds may be a little inconvenient, and spoil some of my plans, but they've become part of the beauty now, too. Then there's that look nesting Mama birds like Sweetie give me when they see me. They're wary of me, but there's also something else in their eyes. Maybe it's a smirk. Or maybe it's a little smile of thanks for the safe haven.

Oh, hell, I can always buy another damn plant.

Added: Sweetie wasn't sitting in the sweet potato vine this morning, and one of my friends said she might just be hiding out there, so I very carefully took down the pot to have a look. I was right, she's not just loitering.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Scene On-Call List

I've been trying a couple different things with writing the Kyndred books, and one of them is creating an on-call list of characters for each scene. This is like a crib sheet that breaks down every chapter by scene and POV, along with a list of the characters who should make an appearance (this doesn't always work out; while I'm writing I may add or subtract characters as needed.)

My on-call list looks something like this (note: POV characters' names are underlined):

Intro A: Palace War Room -- Soko imprisoned, accepts fate, kills ambassador, taken to goldworks [Tend, Scribe, Captain, guards, goldsmiths]

Intro B: Malibu Beach House -- Brent's confession to Randa, Emily gets out of bed, Nanny takes Emily upstairs, Randa argues with Brent about selling Emily/threatens to leave, Brent kills Randa [Randa, Brent, Emily, Nanny, hskpr?]

Chap 1A: Deployed Unit Doyle Drive SF -- Charlie and Vince finishing shift, receive 11-81, respond, find victims in road and CHP dead, Limo Guy shouts warning, Vince is shot, Sniper shows himself, jumps from bridge [Charlie, Vince, CHP, 3 GSW vics, Limo Driver, Limo Guy, Sniper/Jumper]

Using an on-call sheet like this is faster than reading the synopsis or even breaking up the synopsis into chapter or scene summaries (which is what I've always done in the past.) Each scene breakdown gives me a brief summary of where I am in the setting, what action needs to take place, and who is on stage or waiting in the wings. This also creates a great checklist for after I finish writing and go back to edit it (i.e. How far is Doyle from the bridge on the map to verify response time? Did I show all the vics? Where did I stage the jumper in relation to the fender bender to check line of fire?)

I've been preparing my on-call sheet for the entire novel in advance mainly so I can think about whose head I need to be in for what. Some scenes have to be told from the POV of a particular character to give them the maximum impact and effectiveness. Also, when you're writing in third person with multiple POVs, you can get caught up in one character's POV and forget that there are other characters who need to take the lead, and end up with eighteen chapters in one character's POV and two chapters in another.

For those who would like a blank worksheet to use for this approach, I've posted one over on here (I could only fit 2 scenes on the one page so you'll have to condense or print extra copies as needed.) Note 9/3/10: Since instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I have removed this document and temporarily transferred it to Google Docs here. See my post about this scam here.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Gen Ten

Ten Generators I Love From Chaotic

One thing you can learn while playing with The Civilization Generator is how to put together a synopsis of a fictional civilization and work from that as your foundation; this gen gives you a brief but very effective outline every time.

The Crowd Generator helps you generate 1-15 interesting individuals as characters.

Input text, choose a letter replacement option (or create your own custom alphabet switch) and get a new language from The Language Mixer.

The Medieval Game Generator offers such tantalizing archane fictional pasttimes as Books and Vipers, Rebels and Rubies and Quills and Moons (as well an option for some game requirement details if you don't want to make them up yourself.)

Defiance from Destiny ~ Perseverance is Vengeance ~ Trickery and Tranquility: three reasons I adore The Motto Generator

The Name Jumbler takes whatever name you feed it, juggles the letters and offers up a list of new names.

Like the Name Jumbler, The Name Mixer takes whatever name you feed it and offers a list of new names; the only difference it that this one uses the alphabets from the Language Mixer and some random letter replacements for the results (less chaotic, more logical.)

Seers hoping to be blessed with strength must offer a gift of bronze at a crossroads under a quarter moon on the spring equinox -- or try another result from The Ritual Generator.

You just never know when you'll need a Nuclear Macerar (NM-157), a Phantom Sniper (PS-116) or a Cargo Qualete (CQ-154), so do stop by and take The Spaceship Generator for a spin.

The Superstition Generator is not just good for coming up with fictional folksy warnings, it can spark story ideas too (one that captivated me: Don't make a wish in a grove of rowan trees during a storm.)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Strange Gardens

Author Charlene Teglia wrote a very neat post here about her adventures in gardening as they relate to writing, and I can't resist nicking her topic for some observations on what's growing in my little corner of Paradise.

This year among other things I'm growing grapes, raspberries, and stevia in containers on the porch (this is the trellis I rigged for the grapes.) Two of the plants were my daughter's idea; she wants to make homemade raspberry iced tea (our favorite flavor) and she's fascinated by how sweet stevia is (it's pretty much all I use now to sweeten my beverages.) The grape vine was something I simply couldn't resist; I love grapes and I think the vines are beautiful, especially when the grapes begin to ripen. Gardening should be about what makes you happy and gives you a real sense of anticipation.

I've grown a lot of things over the years and I think I'm a fairly knowledgeable gardener. I'm best with herbs and flowers but I've planted and harvested my share of potatoes, tomatoes, watermelon (which grows like weeds), pumpkins, corn and pretty much every type of citrus known to man. I dream about future gardens; someday I'd love to have enough land to plant a little orchard of peach and pecan trees.

Despite this experience, I've never tried to grow raspberries, grapes or stevia, so they are strange to me. The logical thing to do would be to search for info on the internet, flip through my gardening books or talk to someone who has grown them before to find out more about them before I do anything wrong. Which I'm not going to do. I like to garden without trying to load myself up with too many worries in advance, and when I experiment I prefer to tend to the new plants as I think best, observe and see what grows.

Container gardening is good that way because the pots are like oversize petri dishes; you can control the environment, watch them closely and see what happens without a lot of effort. And even if in the end we don't get a single edible raspberry, grape or stevia leaf from our container experiment, the time won't be wasted. I'll have an entire season of observations to draw on for the next time I try something like this.

When you're trying something new with your writing, it can be like growing something for the first time. You're going to be nervous and excited; you probably don't know what to expect. If you begin doubting that you can before you start the work, you may find reasons to put it off. You may think you need to study the type of story you're going to write, and see what everyone else has done and follow their example before you commit a word to the page (this would be when the fun begins to dwindle away.) You may even talk yourself out of it because you could do all that work and still end up with an end result that is unpalatable. And if you do that often enough, you won't ever try to grow anything but what you already know how to do.

I'm not saying you have to plant only things you've never tried to grow in your garden, or write things you've never before attempted with story. But consider setting aside a little time and space for an experiment here and there, and see how your garden grows.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Right Vs. Left

I was reading an article by Deb Schwartz in the June '10 issue of Real Simple magazine entitled Organizing for Your Personality which opens with this brief review of personality types:

"Right-brain types are visually oriented. They tend to think in images rather than words, focus on the big picture rather than the details, and go through life in a somewhat seat-of-the-pants (a.k.a. scattered) way. Left-brainers are those who think in words (attention, list makers!), do a lot of advance planning, and approach challenges in a rational, linear way."

Now when you consider the habits of writing's right-brainers (pantsers) and left-brainers (plotters) it makes a lot of sense why it's often so difficult for pantsers to plot and plotters to go organic. It's not laziness or paranoia, it's probably the way our brains are wired.

As a writer and a quilter I'm a classic lefty: disorganization makes me uncomfortable and unhappy; I work out and plan everything way in advance before I write a single word of story or make a single stitch, and I write/quilt from start to finish without deviation.

Now here's the interesting blip: as a photographer, a poet and a painter, I think I'm a righty. When I'm snapping pictures, writing verse or fooling around with watercolors I tend to be very spontaneous, play with compositions and colors, dwell more on an idea than the actual execution, and try not to plan too much in case I want to change things.

I think I know why I've got both sides of the brain engaged, too: I write and quilt for other people, but I take photos, write poetry and paint for myself. Also, outside influences like editors and quilt guild friends are usually somehow involved in the process with my writing and quilting, which I also sell. My other arts are strictly solitary, personal projects that I don't sell and other people rarely even see (and this is not to say why you guys might be righties or lefties, it's just why I think I evolved into an ambidextrous brained person.)

Btw, Deb's article has some helpful hints on how to organize your life based on the type of personality you have. I think most right-brainers already know they can't be happy compartmentalizing and labeling everything like the lefties, nor can the left-brained start making spontaneous collages and stack heaps of stuff in artful disorder like the righties. Still, I think there is always room for a little experimentation to see if you can get some fresh inspiration from the other side of your brain. I'm going to set up a cork board in the office so I can create a visual memento collage like one in the magazine. I think putting up some stirring images might give my creative batteries an extra charge before I sit down to work.

So what sort of writer or personality type are you? Righty, lefty, ambidextrous or somewhere in between?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Which Austen Heroine are You?

Does this mean I have to marry a fickle vicar?

I am Elinor Dashwood!You are Elinor Dashwood of Sense & Sensibility! You are practical, circumspect, and discreet. Though you are tremendously sensible and allow your head to rule, you have a deep, emotional side that few people often see.

Take the Quiz here!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Teach Thyself

With all the biz emphasis on costly MFAs, seminars, workshops and what have you in regard to learning how to write fiction, I think the next generation of writers may not always consider or even understand the merits of self-education.

Before I start offending the academics out there, I don't think there's anything wrong with formal education in general. For the medical, technical and scientific professions obviously it's a must. Most of us attend public or private schools as kids, so usually the first thing we think of in regard to learning is continuing that type of education. Also, many people do learn a great deal by going through traditional/institutional forms of education. I'm sending one kid to college this fall and the other to vet school in a couple of years, and I'm paying for all of it. I wouldn't waste my hard-earned money on something I thought was utterly worthless.

That said, I am a completely self-taught writer, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I've made it work fairly well for me, so I thought I'd pass along some of the benefits and perks of teaching yourself:

Internet access + public library card = 100% free education. This works for writers who do not have wealthy parents, spouses, partners, an unused fifty grand sitting in the checking account, or the ability to qualify for those hefty student loans. Also for anyone who would rather spend their money on the little luxuries like food, shelter, clothing . . .

You don't have to quit your day job or give up your daily responsibilities to attend classes, and you can attend whenever you want wherever you want for as long as you want. Not everyone decides to become a professional writer at age 18; sometimes the calling comes much later in life. I didn't decide to seriously pursue publication until I was 28, and I was pregnant or had babies in diapers while I taught myself what I needed to know. If you're already employed, a stay-at-home parent, an elderly caretaker or simply have an insanely chaotic life, self-education can be the best fit for your busy schedule.

You work at your own pace, and can take as long as you need to master a concept or element of writing. Some people can master an idea in a split second. The rest of us mortals generally need to spend a little time wrapping our brains around it, trying it out, etc.

You custom-design your education by by choosing what information you want to study from what resources. Unlike what was hammered into our heads in school, this means things like no required reading. Which means if you don't like Chekhov, you don't have to read Chekhov. Or Conrad. Or Hawthorne. You're tingling already, aren't you? I can tell.

No grades involved whatsoever. Aside from the fact that traditional grading systems are corrupt, inaccurate and wholly inappropriate ways of motivating the learner, you don't have to worry about showing your mom your report card because there isn't one.

You can choose what works for you and discard what doesn't by testing it out yourself. Like on-the-job training it works beautifully, plus you won't have to cater to the preferences of some professor who thinks Melville is timely or that every author born after Salinger should be shot.

You learn independently, so you don't have to rely on anyone else, their schedule and what they think you should or shouldn't know. I think this helps make a writer a better self-starter and problem-solver. It also frees you from dependence on others becoming a necessary part of your writing process (aka writing by committee.)

No pressure to audition, be accepted, perform or obtain any sort of official certification. One thing I've noticed about some of the more critically-acclaimed writing workshops is the fact that you have to first audition for them; then they decide who they want to teach (aka students who most likely are already 90% the way there.) Nothing wrong with this, it's good PR: if you want your writing program to look highly successful, definitely stock it with only those writers who demonstrate that they are already very accomplished and only need a bit of buffing and polishing. How many of us fit that profile when we start out on the road to publication? I certainly didn't.

Self-education is not the easy road. What you learn depends on how determined you are to pursue your own education. When you teach yourself you're not just the student; you're also the teacher. You have to be part hunter-gatherer as well, because in order to acquire your course materials, you have to get online or go to your library and look for them, analyze them and figure out how to work with them. As with working at home, studying at home can be a real challenge, too.

Another thing to consider when contemplating what sort of writing education you want is the likelihood of whether or not you will become a full-time writer. According to the U.S. Department of Labor/Bureau of Labor Statistics: "Median annual wages for salaried writers and authors were $53,070 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $38,150 and $75,060. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,020, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $106,630." This sounds great, until you consider that these statistics are for salaried writers who probably work for a company. As a freelance/contracted writer you don't receive a weekly salary; you're paid for what you sell. There is no guarantee that you will sell everything you write every time.

If you're careful the expenses involved with writing don't have to be crushing, but few people can make a living working as full-time writers. For the newly-published writer, the industry standard advance of $5K per book, an agent who collects 15% of your earnings, and the heftier taxes you have to pay as a self-employed worker does not add up to a lot of income. If you're not an overnight success, under those circumstances you could be looking at writing and selling 4+ books per year just to get within spitting distance of that lowest 10% figure the Labor Department cites. Now imagine that level of income while you have yourself and possibly a family to support as well as 100K in college loans waiting to be paid off.

Only you know if you have the resources or the inclination to continue on or go back to school for writing, so I can't tell you what to do. All I can say is that self-education is always there if you can't go the formal route, and for that reason it's definitely worth considering. Teaching yourself won't reward you with a diploma, or credentials you can display in a signature block acronym, but if you stick with it, you may find you end up with everything you need to become a successful professional writer. For free.

Related links:

2010 Average Salaries for Writers and Editors by John Hewitt

50+ Open Courseware Writing Classes from the World's Leading Universities

Learn Free

Ten for Free

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How Much US Have You Seen?

I never really thought about how much of my country that I've seen until I saw a link to this online mapping generator over at Poppy Brite's LJ:

visited 42 states (84%)

Evidently I do get around. The only states I haven't visited are Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Rhode Island (actually I think I drove through RI at night once but I'm not sure so I didn't check it) Utah and Vermont.

I won't visit Ohio or Utah for philisophical reasons, and the plane trip to Hawaii would be too much for me, but the rest are remote possibilities. I'd love to drive up and see Maine and Vermont someday, maybe in the fall when the leaves are turning colors.

My favorite state is Florida, where I grew up, but I've also loved living in Georgia, Colorado and California. Not so crazy about Texas or Mississippi. Alaska was majestic and astounding but also unbelievably expensive and COLD. One week I spent in Wisconsin was a big surprise; great people, pretty country and lovely weather (all we ever seem to see of Wisconsin on TV is Packer games during blizzards.) If I could go back to one state I've already visited for another vacation it would probably be Washington State; I really liked Seattle.

How much of the U.S. have you visited? Has anyone gotten to see all the states yet? Create your own visited map of The United States

Monday, May 17, 2010

Support PBW Ten

Ten Reasons You Should Consider Buying (or Requesting) Dreamveil by Lynn Viehl

Alexandra and Michael from the Darkyn series make a cameo appearance in the book.

Everyone so far has been surprised by the ending. Seriously surprised. Well, not my editor or my agent, but they read the synopsis before the manuscript so they cheated.

How well this book does will have a direct effect on what novels I will be writing and publishing in 2011. If you like my dark fantasy, buying this one or requesting it at your library is an effective way to vote for more.

I finally caved in responded to many reader requests and this time included a French-English glossary in the back pages so that you'll know exactly what words like Écrase mean. Not that I'm saying Écrase to everyone who wrote and demanded a glossary. Dansant says it in the novel to Bernard. They're French. What?

It's shipping two weeks early, so you probably won't have to wait until June 1st to get a copy (and you don't have to wait; I've already hit the top twenty of the NYT mass market BSL twice so they aren't yelling at me about that anymore. But if you want to wait so that my release week numbers look stunning and my agent has to stop whatever she's doing and e-mail me when the Times list comes out, I won't argue.)

Recombinant DNA: it's a beautiful thing that inspired me but that I do not use as an info dump sledgehammer with which to club you throughout the story. Promise.

Rowan from Shadowlight is the protagonist; you'll also see more of Drew and meet Paracelsus and Taire. Originally I had not planned to make Rowan a protagonist until book three or four, but requests for more of her story came in such a flood after Shadowlight released that I decided to shift her novel to the number two spot in the series plan.

Sales from the purchase of the novel will provide much-appreciated income for my publisher, my agent and yours truly. I don't know what they do with their take, but among other things my share finances 100% of the things I do here at Paperback Writer (which is also why there are no ads in your face when you come here.)

The print novel is lightweight, highly portable, does not require batteries, a power cord, on-off switches or scroll buttons to operate. Simply open the cover and, like magic, the story begins. Alas, I can't say the same about the e-book, but since that now appears to be trapped in price-squabbling limbo, you might want to get the paperback.

There is an orange tattooed man wearing a wrinkled wife beater featured on the cover, but I personally guarantee that in the story he's not orange, wrinkly or a wife beater (disclaimer: he is tattooed, but his sleeves cover up the ink most of the time.)

Buy Dreamveil from my favorite online bookseller, Barnes &

Buy Dreamveil from

Buy Dreamveil from

Buy Dreamveil from

Sunday, May 16, 2010

For Fun

What do Amsterdam Yellow, Bridal Strawberry, French Haze, Harvest Swirl, Lily Shadow, Sea Sunrise, Timeless Emerald and Warm Magic have in common? They're all evocative color names randomly generated by Serendipity's Color Name Generator.

If you need to create fictional ABCs and aren't sure how to start, check out's On Creating Fantasy Alphabets.

Register with Malinche Entertainment and they'll give you a free Interactive Fiction eBook entitled Azteca. They also have another page offering lots more free stuff.

He's a raging vampire. She's an eater of souls with bad debts. But he is under a spell. Will they find love? Want another plot like this? Test drive The Paranormal Romance Plot Generator.

Passionfruit Games is offering a free demo version of Marjorie M. Liu's Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box for download here.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

3 books

Just Read: Robin Hood: The Story Behind the Legend, novelization of screenplay by David B. Coe, mass market

Why I picked it up: A friend wants me to go see the movie because he's crazy about Ridley Scott films. I didn't like the last movie I saw by Ridley so I thought I'd at least see what the story is like first. Generally I enjoy most Robin Hood books because I like Robin Hood, period, but if anyone can ruin it for me, Ridley can.

What I liked: Russell Crowe on the cover certainly doesn't hurt. Some great fight scenes in this one. Novelizing a screenplay isn't a walk in the park; I think the author did a decent job of it

What I didn't like: The first four chapters, which were overwritten; I'd have cut them and started with chapter five. The characterization of Robin missed the mark for me, and I felt there were a lot of great story opportunities with the characters that were bypassed. The book often reads more like an epic fantasy than historical fiction; subconsciously I kept waiting for the dragons and orcs to show up.

Reading: Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris, hardcover

Why I picked it up: I enjoy Charlaine's writing style so I usually buy her vampire fiction. Also, it's not difficult to pickup and follow the story even if I do miss a book or two, kind of a rare quality in a lengthy novel series (this one is book ten; last one I read was seven, I think.)

What I like: The writing, which is easy and fun and effortless. The protagonist continues to evolve in subtle ways. Eric is finally regrowing a heart, I think, and it seems Bill got his ass kicked again, which always cheers me up immensely (not a Bill fan.)

What I don't like: The cover art for this series has never worked for me; it's childish, annoying and it never suits the books. The first thirty-seven pages are mostly backstory or the protag's recovery from/reconciliation with the backstory, which is a bit more than Charlaine usually does (yet this is book ten, so I know she's hauling around a boatload of series backstory now.)

Will Read:The True Love Quilting Club by Lori Wilde, mass market

Why I picked this up: This was a random/new-to-me purchase to expand my reading horizons. Every now and then I make myself buy a book by an author I've never read so that I can try something different and not get into a reading rut.

What I expect to like: The quilting bits. It's kind of impossible to write a bad book featuring quilters and quilting.

What I expect not to like: The true love. Any time that phrase is invoked it sets off certain internal intelligence alarm systems. But nothing ventured, etc.

So what books have you guys read, are reading or plan to read in the near future, and why? Let us know in comments.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Character Therapy

Authors, are your protagonists not in pain? Do your villains suffer from compulsive kindness? What about those sidekicks who simply refuse to be be supportive?

Here at The Character Wellness Center our award-winning staff of storytelling psychologists, conflict counselors and motivational coaches are ready to provide the real answers writers need to craft fully-realized characters, through immediate in-story interventions to long-term quality series care.

Here's just a small sample of some of our critically-acclaimed programs:

Alpha Heroes, No Hidden Pain

Sure he's big, strong, grim, silent and carries more weapons under that leather jacket than a battalion of Green Berets, but why? If your answer is "no reason in particular" then your hero needs to acquire some significant backstory in emotional anguish -- which we're happy to provide. Treatment plans include addition of dysfunctional families, endurance of ill-fated first love affairs, youthful inability to thwart horrific events, and the classic Best Friend Boinked the Fiancee scenario.

Dialoguing with Meaning

If you've ever stranded your main characters alone in remote, abandoned farmhouse during a white-out blizzard and they've still refused to speak to each other, we can provide conversational therapy topical options such as "My Deepest Darkest Childhood Trauma" "Why I've Had Only Cheap, Meaningless Sex Until I Nailed You" and "The Worst Thing I Ever Ever Did But For Which I Had An Utterly Redeeming Motive."

Ferocity Through Fight Scenes

Everyone says they want beta heroes, but it's hard to pump up an emasculated quivering wimp enough to really impress the ladies. Through this program we will teach your dishrag to evolve into the thoughtful, quiet warrior who can and will slaughter hundreds in defense of his lady before returning to the castle to bathe and kiss her pretty feet while he apologizes for his lapse into brutality.

How to Live Happily Ever After

Your characters are damaged, suspicious, depressed people who have inexplicably fallen in love with each other in thirty-two hours: now what? Our hypnotherapeutic sessions will induce in your unlikely couple an appropriate fairytale state of unnatural euphoria, cement mindless commitment and assure your characters will exist in virtual uninterrupted Nirvana for the rest of their natural lives (or, for series characters, until the next sequel.)

Surviving the Black Moment

He's a career assassin; she's a cop who has been hiding his secret baby at her mother's place for the last three years. In real life they'd probably shoot each other, but as characters we can help them get through this painful revelatory period by inventing plausible explanations and/or super-secret identities to justify any surprising dark secret that threatens to tear them apart (i.e. he's a secret assassin but works deep undercover for the CIA; she's a cop who has left the baby with her mother and faked that APB in order to search for him for three years.)

Unlocking the Door on Sex Scenes

Birds do it, bees do it, and your characters can, too -- right out in the open. We can help your shyest characters develop the perfect setting, dialogue and action to explore their most intimate moments without fear of inadequate performance or euphemism-riddled stuttering through the introduction of playful food items, hormonally-charged passionate arguments and even the archetypal "Kisses Gone Wild" progression (virginity loss scenes require a mandatory workshop on location and duration of the female hymen.)

We also have a wide selection of half-day specialty seminars for secondary characters, which include:

Being Funny in Five Lines or Less

Cardboard No More ~ How to Quit Being Part of the Novel Wallpaper

Don't Hurt Your Relationships with the Main Characters; Insult Intelligently

Securing Your Story Position (and Potential Sequel Appearance) Through Subplots

You're Supposed to be the Heroine's Best Friend, So Why Aren't You Acting Like One?

Your characters are as important to us as they are to your story, so why wait for trouble to happen while you're writing them? Be preemptive and avoid massive editor-requested revisions by making an appointment with The Character Wellness Center today (all major credit cards accepted; endorsed by all major writer organizations that didn't ask for a fee.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sub Ops Ten

Ten Things About Submission Opportunities (Kids & YA Special Edition)

Annick Press publishes Canadian authors of teen and middle grade children's fiction and nonfiction; does not accept manuscripts from outside Canada. Regarding teen fiction: "Annick Press invites writers to submit proposals for teen novels which possess a high degree of originality and capture strong and distinctive contemporary voices. There should be creativity in the use of language—language that is lively, dramatic and vivid. The story must involve and stimulate the reader. It is essential that it have authentic dialogue and richly visualized settings. The reader must see the real teen experience reflected through the story line. We encourage the use of appropriate and well-timed humor. Please send a synopsis, together with a sample chapter." No electronic or FAX submissions; see guidelines page for more details.

Anvil Press is looking for progressive, contemporary literature by Canadian authors; no formulaic genre novels. From their web site: "Anvil Press is a literary publisher interested in contemporary, progressive literature in all genres. We must stress that we are a small publisher, publishing 8 to 10 titles per year. In general, we are planning at least 12 months in advance and, at present, are only considering work by Canadian authors. We are not interested in seeing formulaic genre novels: Sci-Fi, Horror, Romance etc." No electronic submissions; see guidelines page for more details.

Boyds Mills Press publishes children's books (picture books to novels) of literary merit; welcomes submissions from unpublished writers. From their web site: "At Boyds Mills Press, we welcome unsolicited submissions from published and unpublished writers and artists. The review procedure is time consuming. In order to review fairly the large number of submissions that we receive, we are unable to acknowledge their receipt. To the same end, should we decide that a manuscript is not for us, we will respond to the sender with a form letter. We review each submission in the order that it was received and try to respond within three months." No electronic submissions; see guidelines page for more details.

Captsone Press publishes fiction and nonfiction books for libraries and classroom use for pre-K through high school. Also interested in reviewing artists' portfolios for freelance illustration work. From their web site: "Capstone is keenly interested in meeting authors and illustrators. In fact, they play an integral role, connecting with our young readers and often deepening the reading experience by interacting with them online. Most of our titles are conceptually developed in-house and written and illustrated by freelance writers and artists. However, we are interested in receiving writers’ manuscripts and reviewing artists’ portfolios." E-mail submissions only; see guidelines page for more details.

Clarion Books, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, publishes picture, chapter and some nonfiction books for kids from ages 7 -12. No electronic submissions; responds only if interested, see submission guidelines for more details.

Curtis Brown Ltd., whose agents include Nathan Bransford, represents among their many clients children's authors and illustrators in all genres. "If you would like to submit a manuscript or proposal, please send us a query letter, a synopsis of the work, a sample chapter and a brief resume. Illustrators should send 1-2 samples of published work, along with 6-8 color copies (no original art)." Tip: Check the links on the agents page; some of the agents like Nathan do accept brief e-mail queries.

David Fickling Books publishes picture book and fiction for kids age 5-8, 9-12, teens and YA. Submissions outside the UK should be sent by e-mail. From their web site: "David Fickling Books is a small story house based in Oxford. Three of us editors work here, David, Bella and Hannah. We choose the very best stories or narratives we can find for people to read. It’s a great job. We don’t choose very many, sometimes as few as just one book a month, sometimes a novel, sometimes a picture book, sometimes poetry. We are not so much interested in how many pages a book has, as to how much space the storyteller needs to tell the story properly. And we choose our storytellers and writers very carefully indeed. We don’t think we do a whole lot, but making that choice is the most important thing we do. Our proudest boast has always been that our books ‘work’. That doesn’t sound like a big claim, I suppose, but it is. By ‘work’ I mean that we reckon that if you pick up and read a DFB book or if you give it to a child then the chances are that you or they or both are going to be taken by it in some way, taken to tears or to laughter or to a world that you won’t want to leave. A DFB book will move you." [I think that's the best mission statement by a publisher I've read in years.] Submissions outside the UK should be sent by e-mail, see their submission guidelines for more details.

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers publishes picture books, middle reader and young adult fiction and nonfiction. From their web site: "We seek manuscripts that that are honest, wise, and hopeful; but we also publish stories that simply delight us with their storyline, characters, or good humor. Stories that celebrate diversity, stories of historical significance, and stories that relate to current issues are of special interest to us at this time. We currently publish 12 to 18 books a year." No electronic submissions; see guidelines page for more details.

Holiday House Inc. publishes children's hardcover book ranging from picture books to YA. From their web site: "Holiday House is an independent publisher of children's books only. We specialize in quality hardcovers, from picture books to young adult, both fiction and nonfiction. We publish children's books for ages four and up. We do not publish mass-market books, including, but not limited to, pop-ups, activity books, sticker books, coloring books, or licensed books. Due to the volume of manuscripts we are receiving, Holiday House will no longer be able to respond to or return materials that we are not interested in publishing. We do, however, make every effort to carefully consider each submission we receive. If we are interested in your manuscript, we will respond within four months of receiving it." No electronic submissions; see submission guidelines for more details.

Walker & Company publishes young reader books ranging from picture books to YA novels. From their web site: "Established in 1961, we publish a small and select list of children's books, and we take great pride in our continued commitment to finding and fostering new voices in children's literature. Currently, we publish three lists per year, each consisting of approximately ten picture books and four to five middle-grade and/or YA works, for a total of forty to forty-five titles annually. Due to the limited number of titles we publish, we must be extremely particular about the projects we take on. Often our decision is based on a number of factors apart from a submission's literary merit. For example, due to our philosophy of publishing authors, not books, we rarely accept non-fiction that focuses on nature or wildlife, as we have established strong relationships with many authors specializing in this field. At the moment, our strongest needs are for middle-grade and YA novels and for well-paced picture book manuscripts for both the pre-school and early elementary age levels. We do not publish folk tales, fairy tales, textbooks, myths, legends, books in series format, novelties, science fiction, fantasy, or horror. Submissions that fall within these categories will be returned unread. We do not accept submissions of material written by children." No electronic submissions; see submission guidelines page for more details.

Most of the above sub ops were found in the market listings of the June 2010 issue of The Writer.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Artisan Seller

One of my first jobs in high school was working as a telemarketer. I was fifteen at the time, and spent three hours a night five nights a week cold-calling people to offer them a free 8" X 10" portrait if they'd purchase a modestly-priced photo package from a national photography studio. I used a call list, read from script cards, and after the first week I got the hang of it and started selling pretty steadily (this is also why to this day I try never to be rude or hang up on telemarketers. I know only too well the confines of that tiny cubicle and the evil eye of the shift supervisor.)

I didn't love the job, but I didn't hate it. I earned enough money to help my mom out with the groceries and keep my little brother and sister in shoes. I probably would have worked there longer than a year if I hadn't gotten a godawful case of laryngitis (for which I was promptly fired.)

Since then I haven't had too many other sales jobs. I've sold commercial A/C parts, industrial materials for paper product manufacturers, and of course books. I liked being a bookseller best because I never felt like I was selling. Connecting people with great reads was already my personal mission; I was just getting paid to do it. I moved a lot of inventory and sold a ton of discount cards, and my boss never yelled at me, so I think I was pretty good at it.

Working as a salesperson taught me a couple of things: find out what your customer wants first, know your products well enough that you can speak knowledgeably about them, and if you can't give the customer exactly what they want, offer something that fits their needs just as well. If you can be sincere and honest versus hitting them with the hardsell, you'll at least interest most of them. It also gives you the bonus of maybe enjoying your job a little versus actively despising it.

The online writing community has always been something of a virtual book store, through which thousands of potential customers browse every day. Some are window-shopping or looking for freebies; some just want to watch the artisans at work. Nothing wrong with this; those who can't buy today may be able to buy tomorrow (and yes, others want to vandalize the merchandise or shoplift it, but that's the price of doing business.) Happily many of our browsers are looking for something to buy, and they're the reason we put our work on display.

Publishers now expect writers to be sales people as well as artisans. They want us out here on the sales floor covering every aisle, working the browsers, handselling to anyone who will stop long enough to listen to our pitch, and moving as much inventory as we can. We do this because our job performance is not based on the quality of the products we produce, or the number of customers we wait on, but by the number of units we sell -- and if we don't sell enough, they let us go. Again, the price of doing business.

I don't have a problem with handselling books online; I do it all the time. I know I'm better at recommending other writers' work over my own because I can revert back to my bookseller self and sell it on the level of one reader to another. I've tried but I can't do that with my work. I don't have the same relationship with my novels; I'm not able to disconnect the writer and pretend they're just another bunch of units I have to move. Also, by the time a book hits the market I'm usually writing something that is three or four books ahead of it on the schedule. It's not that I'm over it, more like I'm way past it. The time lag is no one's fault but it does create a significant obstacle.

This past year I've been working on a different approach to the problem and came up with a radical solution, one that began with the concept for the novel and that I developed along with the proposal package. This time I didn't tackle it like a salesperson, however; I took an artisan's approach. As in, what can I create now that will sell the book next year when I'm busy doing something else?

It's the second time I've worked on marketing and writing a book simultaneously, but the first time I will have complete creative control. It was also enormously helpful to have the idea before the book was written so I think about both versus brooding over marketing once the story was finished and trying to market it twelve months after that. I don't know if my idea will work, but along with eliminating the time lag between writing the book and releasing the book it allows me to sell without having to disconnect the writer at all. If nothing else it should be a decent learning experience.

Writers, are you trying anything new with your self-promo? Readers, have you noticed anything interesting and/or creative out there that convinced you to buy a book? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


We're finally back online here at Casa PBW, which is good, because much has happened since last I blogged, such as:

My youngest has started driving, and she's doing very well. When I'm not sobbing into a damp Kleenex while I look through her baby picture albums, I'm being brave. Sort of. Do you think everyone else on the road would stop driving for a couple months if I asked nicely?

Stubborn Thing's eggs hatched, and she had twins. We've named them Benazir and Ernesto. No one has fallen off the edge or made a peep, but Mom and Dad are both very watchful and rarely leave the babies alone for more than a few minutes. Which is when I watch them.

I finished and turned in the manuscript for After Midnight, my May 2011 release and the first book in my new trilogy (more details on this once I've talked more about it with my new editor.)

For those of you who are participating in Coyote Con, I've also posted my answers to the Q&A on SFR.

So what's up with you guys? Anyone have any news to share? Let me know in comments.

Coyote Con Chat Questions

From Heather Massey:

Q: What were the joys and challenges in bringing the Stardoc novels to life? Were there any publication obstacles?

I wrote the first StarDoc novel just as a fun writing exercise, a way to explore an idea I’d written in a short story, and to pull myself out of a major depression. From the beginning that book was a pure delight to work on. I loved writing the story and once I got started, I couldn’t stop, which resulted in book two. I didn’t even mind when I tried to get some editors to look at the first novel, only to be resoundingly rejected (one editor told me I’d never sell it anywhere.) In a way it was a relief. I could keep having fun and not care about publication – or more rejections. I stopped sending it out and just wrote for myself.

My bliss abruptly ended when a friend who had read the first manuscript made a copy and sent it off to a publisher without telling me, which resulted in a two-book contract offer (my first.) Imagine the most horrified person that you’ve ever seen, triple that meltdown, and you’ll have an idea of how I felt when I found out. But after I calmed down – it took a couple weeks – I thought, “Stop being so ungrateful. How bad could it be? This is my chance.” and jumped in.

Writing the StarDoc series has never been a problem; publishing the books has provided enormous insight into that old saying “Be careful what you wish for.” Since the first book was published, StarDoc has been everything from a genre bestselling series to a dead five-book series to the foundation for a standalone and a disrupted trilogy spin-off to free e-books to an old series that would not stop selling and finally was brought back to life and, at long last, finished (the tenth and final novel will be released in August 2010.) StarDoc has been through just about everything Publishing could throw at it, and as its author, so have I.

Aside from the joy of writing it, I’ve had privilege of building a readership of people who simply refused to abandon the series. They kept talking about the books and giving them to their friends and spreading the word, even after the publisher had announced in mid-series that it was all over and dumped it. My readership is responsible for the StarDoc books because without them and what they’ve done, solely by word of mouth, the books wouldn’t exist. I’d have given up long ago and wrote them for myself.

I’ve written other novel series that have brought more financial success, critical acclaim and popularity on the market, but I’ll always consider the StarDoc series to be the most important novels I’ve ever written. These books taught me what it means to have a loyal readership, and what an honor it is to write for people like them.

Q: I'd be interested in hearing S.L. Viehl's perspective on SFR in general--what's been her experience with it in both her writing and the response from the publishers with whom she's worked?

The term Science Fiction Romance wasn’t in use when I got into the game (shortly after the Jurassic period.) I believe at the time that category of books was called “Futuristic Romance.” Not very many of them were being published after the 90’s when Futuristics peaked and fell out of popularity. I thought it was a shame, too, because while I was pursuing publication in the nineties I’d really enjoyed reading some futuristic romances by Ann Maxwell and Jane Ann Krentz. The only SFR author I can even remember being shelved in Romance at the time I turned pro was Catherine Asaro.

Purist attitudes about science fiction novels have always been very Victorian and uptight, and while my StarDoc series is science fiction/medical adventure, I did include romantic elements and relationships that were evidently quite offensive to the rocket ship crowd. Broke just about all their rules, I believe. My books were marketed and shelved as what they are – science fiction – but under the circumstances, the series probably would have been more popular if it had been marketed as SFR (I’m not sure about this because plenty of romance readers have complained about how the StarDoc series breaks too many romance rules, too. Maybe it doesn’t belong in either genre.)

I’ve worked with four science fiction editors, and while not all of them have been a good match for me, their responses to my work have been for the most part professional. Even when editors don’t like you or don’t get you, they usually try to do a good job. When they don’t, you deal with that, too. You have to remember something whenever you work with any editor (good, bad, indifferent, horrible or other) at the end of production, it’s not their name on the cover, it’s yours.

From the Coyote Con Chat:

[tina_writes_thecleanwhitepage] 1:39 pm: Does Stephanie Meyer's The Host come under this genre? There are alien lifeforms in an earth setting and although they have medical advances that we don't, there isn't much technology involved but there are strong love themes.

After I read “The Host” I came away with the feeling that I’d read a teen novel, so I was surprised that it had been marketed as adult fiction. It had a little romance and some SF world-building, but to me it felt more like YA than anything.

[John] 1:41 pm: How much romance do you need in SF to make it SFR? In my SF novels, such as Beyond Those Distant Stars which has a starship heroine (Mundania Press), there is a romance. But while it's an important, vital part of the story, it's not the overriding part. Would you still categorize it as SFR? Or perhaps SF Romantic Adventure?

The Futuristic Romances I used to read presented the romantic relationship between the hero and heroine as the primary conflict; the development of their relationship was always the engine that drove the story. Also, there was always an HEA. I think SFR Writers who want their work to appeal to the widest range of romance readers should probably stick to that approach. John, your books sound like crossover SF – they’d appeal to readers in both genres. If I were still a bookseller, I’d probably shelve them in SF and Romance.

[Oliver] 1:42 pm: Can you define the term space opera? (Is it like televisions ST or SG?)

Space Opera is a term used for novels set in the future that incorporate an adventurous chronological storyline that usually includes classic SF elements such as star ships, alien encounters, culture clashes, epic good vs. evil themes and that sort of thing. Star Wars is the best example of space opera I can think of.

[Marva] 1:46 pm: Is an R+ rating required for SFR? How about heat levels for YA?

I think now that romance readers are more receptive to explicit content that you can pretty much have as much heat as you like and still find a market for it. If you want to appeal to a certain segment of the genre, read the books that are most popular in it and see how explicit the content is, and that should give you a good idea of what readers are most likely to buy. When it comes to explicit content, YA also has a range, and I’ve been surprised by how graphic some YA books marketed to older teens are. Marva, if you’re aiming for readers in the tween portion of the market (10-13 years old) I’d keep the content PG, as involved parents are most likely to screen these books and/or object to their content.

[Babs M] 1:48 pm: Are the "rules" the same as in traditional romance that people have to meet by page X and have to fall in love by page Y and have the black moment on page 225, and so on? Or are these more flexible?

Babs, there are people out there running around with rules for everything in romance, and if you sit still long enough they will pile them on you until they crush the life out of your story. I never write to follow anyone else’s rules so I can’t help you here, but my advice is to always write what serves the story and not what caters to someone else’s idea of what you should or shouldn’t be writing.

[DavidKM] 1:52 pm: is it possible that there is "light" erotica for young adults written outside the United States?

My 15 year-old daughter reads manga, and I’ve found some of those books to be a bit more explicit than I expected. Still have not come across anything I’d call erotica, light or otherwise, but it may be different across in the pond.

[John] 1:55 pm: This question has been raised, sort of. How much romance or sex do you need in SF to make it SFR? What if the Adventure part or some other aspect is more important than the romance?

As I mentioned earlier, what you’re talking about sounds like a crossover novel – a book that will have appeal to readers in SF and Romance. Sometimes writers simply can’t be strictly classified as writing one thing or another; they resonate with readers on both sides of the fence. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, either.

[Oliver] 1:58 pm: Any suggestions for books or websites that takes technology and breaks it down so even a neandrathal (sorry Geico cavemen) can understand? (I can write great adventures, wonderful characters, conflicts galore and hot romance - but I suck in a rather unpleasant way when it comes to tech stuff...)

I think looking for research depends on the sort of world-building you’d like to do. If your story prominently features space ships, you should look for books and web sites about space travel and theories as to what kind of ship would be necessary to carry people through space, and then build on that.

There is no shame in looking at materials that are written for children; they're more geared toward educating than impressing, and I’ve found a lot of kids' books that were enormous helpful to me (I’m not a tech-head, either.) Don’t discount magazine articles, either. I’ve gotten plenty of insight and ideas from magazines like Discovery and Popular Mechanics, which are also written in terms that I could understand.

[Marva] 2:01 pm: Follow up on Babs Q: If "black moment" is the hero getting killed, is it still HEA if the heroine (MC) gets a new guy? For that matter, is HEA expected?

HEA is always expected by someone. It’s like your mom wanting you to get married, and when you cling to your freedom, she nags you unmercifully. The thing is, are you going to enter into a bad marriage and be unhappy just to please your mother, or are you going to do what’s right for you?

[Babs M] 2:09 pm: Headhopping. I just started a book that every time a new character is mentioned, they switch to everything you want to know about that person and what they're thinking. It's MADDENING. How many POVs would you find acceptable, and is alternating at chapter or formal breaks a better plan?

Head-hopping is really a style choice. Some writers are good at it and some aren’t. As styles go, it’s hard to do well. I avoided the problem in my SF series by sticking to first person/single protagonist journaling style for nine books (The one time I did use third person/multiple character narrative was to make a series transition. Since everyone was expecting first person they were startled, and some weren’t too happy, but it served the story.) Even when I use third person/multiple character, I never headhop inside a scene because I think it’s sloppy writing and can be very confusing for the reader. When I change POVs, I change scenes.

[FrancesP] 2:16 pm: Hi, I had a question in response to Oliver's M/M sfr note. I write primarily m/f sfr and avoid the scenes that "make me blush." If I wanted to try some m/m am I limited to erotica? Or is there really a market for sweet to sensual M/M romance?

I have a m/m romantic subplot in the final five StarDoc books, and it’s definitely inside the sweet range of romance. Reader response has been very positive, and I’ve been thinking about giving my guys their own novella. I’m not aware of a specific market for this type of romance, but I think new territory like this is definitely worth exploring.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Technical Difficulties

Sorry I'm late posting. My main frame went a little haywire last night, and I've been on the phone talking to the very patient folks at tech support about it. At this point they are considering using sock puppets via video conference to explain the fix (to me.) No, not really, but wouldn't that be cool?

Seriously, since the problem involves my firewall, my e-mail and my anti-virus program I have to unplug and shut down until we clean it up.

Be back when I know I'm not infectious.

Monday, May 03, 2010

More Free Ten

Ten Things You Can Have for Free

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

Desktop-Reminder is "a freeware task planner for Windows to manage your tasks and other to-dos’ in easy way. Always during start of Windows it lists all tasks, which are urgent for that day. In case, there is additionally time of day in task defined, according notification message will be shown, when the time comes" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

Ease Pdf to Text Extractor is "a free software designed to extract text from Adobe PDF files. It does NOT need Adobe Acrobat software.It processes at very high speed and you can convert multiple PDF files to text files at one time. The program is freeware, which means that you can use it either persionally or commercially for free. Convert PDF documents to text format, Fast, Accurate, Free . Batch conversion of multiple PDF documents to text files. Support all Windows platforms" (OS: Win95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP/2003/Vista)

Foodnetwork and celeb chef Emeril Lagasse is celebrating 20 years by giving away a free e-cookbook in .pdf format with 32 pages of recipes from his New Orleans restaurants. To download the e-cookbook, click right here.

Golden Rules Organizer is a "GTD-compliant personal effectiveness tool includes project management, task management, contact management, scheduler, goal setting, diary with time tracking, notes, bookmarks manager" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

myPortablePIM is "a calendar with many functions . . . designed to be portable, used from a USB stick to always have with you your data.There is no installation. Just unzip the downloaded package and you're ready: no key and no log file written by myPortablePIM outside of it's installation folder. Features: Easy to use; Event of the day, activities and reminders; Different views: monthly, weekly, daily and custom; Send the day's events, tasks and reminders via email; Two main views, called Desktop 1 and Desktop 2, where arrange your windows as you want; Password manager; RSS reader; Launcher; GMail checker; Notes; Ability to protect access with password; You can change the look and feel to your liking, there are dozens of different themes; Weather forecasts and current conditions; Image viewer; Address book; Compatibility with iCal and vCard standards" (OS: Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7)

Panopreter Basic " reads text files, web pages in .htm format and Word documents in many languages, such as English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, or Japanese. It also converts such files into wave and MP3 files, so that you can hear the reading of the files with a MP3 player. Panopreter Basic is also a good aid to any language learning program. You install the text-to-speech voices for the specific language, then you can hear the files being read to you. Because Panopreter Basic reads with Microsoft voice installed on your computer by default, when you like to listen to other voices, you need to install the corresponding text-to-speech voice engine on the computer. Windows XP users are recommended to install a third party voice to get a better English reading, for the default voice engine on the Windows XP isn't as clear as that on the Windows Vista/7" (OS: Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7)

RedNoteBook is " is a graphical diary and journal helping you keep track of notes and thoughts. It includes a calendar navigation, customizable templates, export functionality and word clouds. You can also format, tag and search your entries" (OS: Win 98/ME/2000/XP/2003/Vista/7)

Suvudu Free Library has a new freebie title up for May: Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith: Savior by John Jackson Miller (.pdf. Sony and B&N formats available for download; Kindle coming soon.)

TextSTAT is "a simple programme for the analysis of texts. It reads plain text files (in different encodings) and HTML files (directly from the internet) and it produces word frequency lists and concordances from these files. This version includes a web-spider which reads as many pages as you want from a particular website and puts them in a TextSTAT-corpus. The new news-reader, too, puts news messages in a TextSTAT-readable corpus file. TextSTAT reads MS Word and OpenOffice files. No conversion needed, just add the files to your corpus. In TextSTAT you can use regular expression which provides you with powerful search possibilities. The programme is multilingual. Because it uses Unicode internally, TextSTAT can cope with many different languages and file encodings" (OS: Windows, GNU/Linux and MacOS)

World Wide NotePad is "a small text editor similar to Microsoft's notepad but has some more useful features like an auto typer to make typing the same sentence or word more easy, also World Wide NotePad has a text to speech feature which reads all text in the current open document and speaks it out load to you" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7; host site notes that ".NET Framework 4 must be installed to run this application. To install the .NET framework run the dotNetFx40_full_setup in the zip file.)

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Free Alternatives

A few years back I bought Adobe Acrobat so I could make professional-looking e-books, and I've regretted it ever since. Not only is the program really complicated and difficult for a technoidiot like me to use, it's way more software than I ever needed. But at the time I bought into the idea that you get what you pay for, at least in software.

Not so. In the years since, almost all of the new programs I've acquired have been freeware or shareware. When I find something I like, I make a donation or register the product (and shareware created by independent designers is often very modestly-priced compared to the big-bucks versions on the market.) The next time my Microsoft Office program becomes outdated and/or Publishing demands I upgrade, I think I'm going to switch over to Open Office instead (trying to keep up with the way Microsoft keeps changing Word, which becomes more difficult to use every year, is just not worth the aggravation.)

Here's a list of the pricier programs and some free/low-cost alternatives that may serve just as well:

Adobe Acrobat - $449.00 and up; free fully functional 30 day trial.

Free Alternative: PDF995 - a free PDF maker trio suite with many of the same features as Adobe; installs as a print driver and shows a sponsor page in your web browser every time you use the freeware version (to skip the ads, buy the product from $9.95 for one program to $19.95 for the entire trio.)

Adobe Photoshop: $999.00 and up; no free trial version that I could find but they used to let you buy a subscription to make a certain number of .pdfs online for another hefty fee. (Sorry, my notes were mixed up on this. Adobe Acrobat used to have the hefty-fee/subscription online .pdf option.)

Free Alternatives: GIMP or -- both are free image and photo retouching freeware with many of the most desirable photoshop features; was originally developed to be a free replacement for Microsoft Paint and grew from there.

Carbonite - $54.95/year for unlimited online backup space; 15 day free trial

Free Alternative: Dropbox* - 2GB online and backup storage; offers pro accounts with more storage you can buy for a monthly subscription fee. (Windows, Mac, Linux and iPhone)

Microsoft Office: $169.95 and up; 60 day free trial of Office 2007 available

Free Alternative: Open Office - free software comparable to and compatible with Microsoft Office, offering Writer (the word processor), a spreadsheet, database program, drawing program, and presentation program.

Microsoft Outlook: included in Microsoft Office above and part of the free 60 day trial package.

Free Alternative: Chaos Manager -- a compact and easy-to-use virtual calendar and PIM freeware. I've been using this one since January and I absolutely love it because it has exactly the features I need.

QuickBooks: $159.95 and up; free to try online.

Free Alternative: GNUcash is a personal/small business accounting freeware for GNU/Linux, BSD, Solaris, Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows; includes what you need to manage bank accounts, stocks, income and expenses.

The downside to using freeware is that you don't get all the bells and whistles as you do with the big-name, huge pricetag programs. Also it's often difficult to impossible to get tech support for freeware. So if you like all the extra options, and you want to pick up the phone and get answers whenever you have a problem, these freeware programs are probably not right for you.

*Thanks to Charlene Teglia and her helpful article on backups here for the link as well as her frequent recs for GIMP.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Through the Reader's Eyes

One of my readers put together a dreamcast video for characters from my Darkyn series and posted it on YouTube (for those of you at work, there's also a soundtrack, so watch your speakers.)

Things like this give me the rare opportunity to see my characters (and by extension, my work) through the eyes of a reader, which is always interesting and often surprising. Writers do wonder how our vision of the story translates in someone else's mind;, but mostly what we hear are opinions (which are fine but can't become part of the writing experience.) Once in a while, though, something like this video will come along to give us what is hardly ever described -- the reader's vision.

You can't buy something like this or even ask for it; your editor won't give it to you and neither will your agent. You can only hope that your stories will inspire a reader to share their vision with you. Which is why it all comes back to the work: give your readers your best, always, and with a little luck your vision will truly become a reciprocal experience.

(My thanks to crimsonfrosst for creating the lovely video, and L. for the heads-up.)