Saturday, July 31, 2010

GenArt Ten

Ten Things About Online Art and Image Generators

Custom design your own avatar image with the Avatar Generator.

Make a button, badge, sticker or other virtual doodad for your blog or website with Adam Kalsey's Buttonmaker.

Make gorgeous online art with the help of Bomomo (warning, highly addictive.)

If you're not HTML-savvy but you'd still like to design your own 2- or 3-column layout for your blog, try playing with the online blogskin generator Firdamatic.

This Gradient Color Generator allows you to "painlessly generate a gradient image of 3 types, with instant previewing so you get exactly what you had in mind."

Type any URL into the I Like Your Colors Generator and it will pick and provide you with that site's colors and the HTML codes for them.

Visually brainstorm with Mutapic.

Slideshow Wizard allows you to create your own HTML/Javascript slideshows (and figures out the codes for you, too.)

The Tile Machine generates your own original tiled images and backgrounds.

Grant Skinner's Tree Generator allows you to grow a random tree in a couple of seconds online.

Friday, July 30, 2010


After seeing all the titles you guys are reading, I have a desperate urge to hit the bookstore. Maybe if I ask Kat to babysit Skye for a couple hours today . . .

We revved up the magic hat, and the winners of the 3 Books + giveaway are:

Robin Bayne, who is working on both The Glycemic Load Diet by Dr. Rob Thompson and Along Came a Husband by Helen Brenna.

Robin K, who is reading The Host by Stephenie Meyer.

RK, who is also double-time reading The Killing Floor by Lee Child and Amazon Ink by Lori Devoti.

Carissa Thorp, who is reading Salt by Maurice Gee.

Angela Peters, who is working on The Greatest Generation Speaks by Tom Brokaw.

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

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Baby Girl

I'm not posting today because we brought home a new pup to join the family, this time a little girl Sheltie:

Kat and I met her a couple of weeks ago, and while I had not intended to get another pup until next spring, from the moment we all looked at each other it was pretty much a done deal. Sometimes with dogs you just know.

If she looks a bit skinny it's because her fur was trimmed for the summer weather. She just turned three months old, and is very sweet and dainty as she tip-toes around like a furry ballerina. Cole is already in love, too:

It's my daughter's turn to pick out the name, and she's decided to call her Skye.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

3 Books + Giveaway

Just Read: The City & The City by China MiƩville, trade paperback

Why I picked it up: The last time I read a book by this author was in 2001, at the RWA National Conference in New Orleans. At the time I thought his writing was unparalleled, but the story itself wounded me spiritually to the point that I later seriously considered giving up writing myself. I've actually compared that earlier book to a loaded gun that another writer can only point at their own face.

What I liked: My spirit must have gotten tougher over the years, or that first book was a one-off, because no particular wounding occurred this time around. The world-building was interesting, and the characters as exotic as I'd expected. I didn't feel like quitting writing after I read it, either, which seemed like a minor triumph.

What I didn't like: I didn't want to buy this book (I actually intended to buy his latest release, The Kracken, but the store didn't have a copy on the shelves, and after working up my nerve to read the author again I wasn't leaving empty-handed.) The complex politics the author found so fascinating about put me to sleep. Also while reading it I kept having fuzzy flashbacks to Martin Cruz Smith's brilliant Gorky Park, which I think I've read a couple million times. I don't know if it was the pseudo-Moscovita, the Renko-ish cop protag, or the gist of the overboiled plot, but my overall impression was Gorky Park on Pentobarbital with an LSD chaser. Finally, the ending, which ticked me off because the most interesting carrot that was dangled throughout the story magically went poof when I finally reached it. I don't like poofy carrot books.

Reading: A Wild Light by Marjorie M. Liu

Why I picked it up: I am an unashamed Hunter Kiss addict, so nothing could keep me away from Maxine and the boys. That and I figured I'd need one of Marjorie's stories after facing my own little book demons, and I was right.

What I like: The novel moves from page one, first like a big cat stalking in the shadows, onto ominous planes filled with menacing reminders of the past, and then it takes off. By the time I reached the third chapter I was so caught up in the startling unfolding of events I almost took it in the shower with me. In this series Marjorie writes prose that reads like poetry and invokes unforgettable imagery; the words dance through my imagination.

What I don't like: What happens in Chapter Two has me worried, especially the last couple of paragraphs, but I trust the author will eventually bail out Maxine and, by extension, me.

Will Read: 1491 ~ New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann, trade paperback

Why I picked it up: Aside from an ongoing serious glom I've been having for nonfic on Mesoamerica, I've needed a nice chunky history fix and haven't been able to find anything new. I've read a few articles by Mann in some magazines and I liked the preface so much I read the entire thing while standing by the bookstore shelf.

What I expect to like: Seeing the Americas in the time we were not taught about in school, from a narrative that is free of the usual white trash litter of conquistadors, Mayflowerites, etc.

What I expect not to like: Judging by the preface, the author obviously has a lot of admiration and sympathy for his subject matter, which is not a bad thing when you're an advocate of protecting historical sites, exposing artifact black markets etc. In a nonfic book it can really skew the facts, but I have yet to meet a historian who can write without sticking his prejudices in every nook and cranny of the narrative.

I must share my Maxine jones with you guys, so in comments to this post name the book you're currently reading (or if you're in a reading slump, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Thursday, July 29, 2010. I'll select five names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned copy of A Wild Light by Marjorie M. Liu. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Creativity Negativity

There's an interesting article about creativity in America in the July 19th issue of Newsweek magazine. You do have to plow through a lot of political garbage to get to it (the piece begins on pg. 44), but the topic was interesting enough to tempt me to buy the issue and wade on through.

According to Newsweek, things are pretty dismal in the creativity department. Evidently for the first time in decades creativity among American adults and children is in decline. Since this observation is based on a single test administered by psychologists to a limited number of citizens, I'm more than a little skeptical of the conclusions. The article does make some valid observations, such as noticing the creative deficits in public education (likely the culprit of budget cuts, which is now hurting even the ever-popular athletic programs.)

Some social and cultural changes seem to have adversely affected creativity in children, and the top two offenders may be video games and mobile phones. Instead of playing outside the way my generation did -- you couldn't pay us to stay in the house -- today's kids are closeted in their rooms with their Playstations and Gameboys. Inactivity causes obesity among children, so why not atrophy of the imagination? Then there are the phones. Now rather than hanging out and having real conversations with friends in person, kids are texting each other; as often as ten thousand times a month. Kind of hard to play pirates digging for buried treasure in the back yard on Twitter.

I will concede that video games and mobile phones do have a few good points. Thanks to computerized gaming, my kids have become so tech-savvy their dad and I defer to them now whenever anything electronic needs to be set up, tweaked, fixed or upgraded, and no, I'm not kidding. While neither of them texts in the ten thousand range per month, they both have scores of friends and can arrange get-togethers, movie dates and other gatherings in a few seconds (I remember spending half an afternoon riding my bike around the neighborhood just to round up enough kids to play a decent game of softball.)

I don't think creativity in American children is declining as much as it's changing, and the tests we used fifty years ago to measure it are now basically obsolete. I teach enough writing classes in public schools to know exactly how creative kids are, and trust me, they never fail to blow me away. Classes in the arts are important, but even without them children find ways to express themselves, explore their passions and create. We just don't see them because they're doing it after school, during weekends and over summer vacation. Creativity has gone off the grid, underground, and probably because teachers and adults have stopped paying attention to it.

Both of my kids are creatively active among their social groups in interesting ways. My daughter gave her spare flute to her best friend, taught her how to play it, and now they have their own practices and jam sessions, both at school with other friends in the band and here at the house. If I'd let her Kat would live in the band room, but when she can't be there she creates her own opportunities to indulge her passion for music, including dressing in character and playing her flute at a local RenFaire. For an end-of-the-year project, my son got together a half dozen other students and made a short spoof film on, of all things, Calculus theories. One afternoon when he and his friends were baking (and you really have not lived until you've watched four big, strapping young men take on the challenge of making Toll House cookies) they also studied for a language final by speaking to each other in French.

I try to contribute to their creativity by encouraging it in fun ways (and if you visit my photoblog, you've seen how we've made cake out of a poem) but even if I didn't, the kids would do it on their own. My kids are not exceptional; their friends are doing similar things. Children are so naturally creative that I imagine the only thing that stops them are adults with their outdated psych tests and their half-baked conclusions.

The Newsweek article's best points were in how we can foster creativity in children, ourselves and other adults, and they included common sense suggestions like turning off the damn television (hooray!), exploring other cultures, and allowing time and opportunity for the development and pursuit of our passions. Creative harpy that I am, I'll add a few more:

Arts Cross-pollination: Creative souls need outlets, and not just in their area of talent. I'm a skilled quilter, a decent gardener, a competent cook, a fair sketcher, a terrible painter, a scary poet and a journaling addict. I also make jewelry, books, clothes, pillows, handbags, digital art, and whatever else catches my eye (at the moment it's mixed media art.) I live this Renaissance life because I want to make things myself, and because I know there is more to me than the writer. I also learn from everything else I do, and aside from recharging my batteries, I get tons of ideas and images and concepts that I pour right back into the writing. Nearly everything I know about arts other than writing I got from books -- I even taught myself how to knit from a book -- so all you really need to try something is the willingness to do so, whatever supplies are involved, and a public library.

Failure: An essential part of the creative journey is not to succeed. As a society we are so focused on achievements and honors that we forget we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our triumphs. Adverse reactions to perceived failure discourage us like nothing else, which limits us creatively. I'm not saying we should celebrate every failure, but it would be nice if we curbed some of our negative reactions to it. The only reason we try again is if at first we don't succeed, right?

Fun: In our stressed-out world, no one seems to be having much fun these days. We're overworked, under-appreciated, and so exhausted we can't even enjoy a vacation. We also know that lack of joy = sour stagnant souls. So we desperately need things that we enjoy and that make us laugh. Feed yourself a steady diet of hate, negativity, depression and what have you, and after a while you can starve a sense of humor -- and the creative soul it nurtures -- to death. I try to do one fun thing every day, even if it's just for five minutes (I've been working on my fun little art book every afternoon.)

Non-Herd Mentality: We're a tribal species, so it's important to us to have a sense of belonging, both at home and at work. This is why personal and professional organizations are so popular. But group-think can become so corrupt and controlling that it squashes individuality and kills imagination, all for the sake of conformity. Social networking, self-promotion, and homogenizing ourselves so as not to offend anyone does have a price, and I think it costs us our creativity. Writers have always been the upstarts of the arts; I can't believe we'd give up that simply to be more acceptable sheep. So while belonging to a group is fine, letting them suck the creative life out of you isn't. See exactly what you're getting out of the group, and if you think it's worth it, keep some part of yourself and the work separate from them and their influence.

Zen Vengeance: There are people out there who take pleasure in your pain or even in causing that pain. They became the way they are because of people who did the same to them, and this is why they feel entitled to do it to you. Want to break the cycle and get even with them without hurting anyone at all? Practice Zen revenge. For every wrong done to you, and every pain you've been made to suffer, don't just turn the other cheek. Let your response be to do something positive for someone else. Be generous and caring, encouraging and helpful, and find ways to bring happiness to others. Let not becoming like the people who hurt you be your revenge. Because you know what? It is.

As for the outlook on the future of creativity, I'm not really worried. Creative people are the way they are from birth, even if they're not aware of it until later on in life. We are driven, too, by forces that people outside the creative community will never fathom. I have faith that we will always find ways to nurture ourselves and hopefully each other. It's part of who we are, ingrained in us on the cellular level, and that's not something Newsweek or a psych test can even begin to measure.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sub Op Ten

Ten Things About Submission Opportunities

Someone (you know who you are) asked about the UK SF audio mag I'd put up as a sub op a few months back; here's the listing: Cossmass Infinities is a Science Fiction and Fantasy audio magazine looking 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." Gotcha. Payment: "We pay £20 a story [note: via PayPal], upon acceptance, for non-exclusive audio rights." Reprints okay, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Fantastique Unfettered magazine is looking for "New Weird, Old Weird, Magic Realism, Slipstream, Alt Western, Planetary Romance, Surrealism, Mystery, Urban Fantasy, Literary Horror, Post Lovecraft, Aether Age, Interstitial, Steampunk... it is all welcome. We do not want Fantastique Unfettered to become a magazine that typically features a certain subgenre, but rather a source for great stories from all of the above and more. Well written work is important. And while we will publish mainstream, plotless stories if they seem to fit, the bulk of what we publish will fall into a genre of the fantastic and those stories, successfully told, tend to have plots that grow from character. Give us characters that we care about." Length: up to 5K, Payment: $33.00 (name authors may negotiate), query on reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Futurismic is looking for "contemporary, near future science fiction for online publication. We’re looking for innovative, exciting stories that use the tools of speculative fiction to examine contemporary issues and take a look at what’s just around the corner. Whether by established professionals or promising newcomers, we would like to see the very best in today’s SF, with an emphasis on work that truly connects with and illuminates the fast-paced, fascinating times we live in. Stories should be compelling and well written, with a strong emphasis on characters confronting or embracing imminent cultural, social, technological, and scientific changes. PLEASE NOTE: Near-future, Earth-based science fiction is our primary focus" Length: up to 15K, Payment: $200.00 flat, no reprints, submission via online form only, see guidelines for more details.

Games Magazine is looking for articles, reviews, humor, and othergame-related nonfic. Length 2-2.5K; Payment: $500-$1000 [Note: they buy all rights] Electronic submissions only, for mroe details click on Writer's submission link to open .pdf with guidelines.

Sam's Dot Publishing has an open call for their upcoming antho It Came From Her Purse, and wants "original short stories in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, and we will consider a very few horror stories. We will also consider original poetry and illustrations. We will remain open to submissions from 1 May 2010 until we are filled at 65,000 words, and anticipate publication in the spring of 2011. We leave the subject matter up to the writers, so long as the story is related in some way to the title of the anthology and especially to the tone of the title. It may be helpful to think of the title as that of a Roger Corman movie. We also hope to receive some humorous submissions, but please bear in mind that trying to be funny often falls flat. If you wish to write something humorous or off-beat, use a light touch. Subtlety and absurdity combine well for humor." Length: 2-5K, Payment: Stories ~ $10.00, Poems ~ $3.00, Illustrations ~ $5.00, Illustrations ~ $5.00, Cover art ~ $20.00. Reprints okay, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Misfit Magazine is accepting submissions of flash fiction in all genres, Length: 1/2-1K, Payment: $10.00, no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

The Library of Erotic Horror has an open call for their antho Nocturnal Emissions: Things that Go Hump in the Night. No, I'm not kidding, it's a real antho. Details on what sort of stories they'd like to see can be found on the submission guidelines; Length: 5-9K; Payment: 1¢/word +copy, no reprints, electronic submissions online, see guidelines page for more details. Deadline: August 31, 2010.

Science in My Fiction is "accepting science fiction story submissions. We will be publishing one story per month on the website. Each year the stories will be collected in an anthology and published in print and digital formats." Length: 1-6K (firm), Payment: $25.00 + contributor copy, no reprints, electronic submission via online form only, see guidelines for more details.

Sniplits audio shorts is looking for "emotionally engaging stories with fully realized characters and fresh imagery. We enjoy both traditional and experimental stories, but we only select stories that will translate well into audio. We recommend that you read or have someone else read your story aloud before you submit it. We do not want anything hateful or pornographic." Check rolling calendar on guidelines page for genre reading period. Length: 50 words to 9.5K, Payment: varies according to length and previous publication, reprints okay, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.

The First Line has two calls out for print anthos for stories that use first lines provided by the publisher; Fall antho's line: Three thousand habitable planets in the known universe, and I'm stuck on the only one without ______________. Due date for Fall antho: August 1, 2010. Winter antho's line: Until I stumbled across an article about him in the paper, I never realized how much Walter Dodge and I are alike. Due date for Winter antho: November 1, 2010. Length: 300 to 3K, Payment: $20.00 + copy, no reprints, electronic submission preferred, see guidelines for more details.

All of the above sub ops were filched from the amazing market listings over at

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Unexpected Blonde

Marilyn Monroe and I met on my birthday. I got her as a gift, and although she was half-dead I was very pleased. After I introduced myself, I set up a nice place for her and made her as comfortable as possible. Since then I've been spending a little time with her every day, talking to her and nursing her back to health. I know the trauma of being uprooted and sent to a strange place can be too much for some beauties, but she looked pretty tough.

After a week of TLC I discovered I was right:

Yep, she's a rose bush. You didn't think I had the real Marilyn here, did you? Euw.

I planted Marilyn the bush by my sweet Josephine, in a nice spot where I can see them both from the porch. I deliberately put a little distance between Marilyn and my Don Juan because frankly I don't trust those two together, but Josey is a nice old lady who will keep her company.

Marilyn lost some leaves, and then after a week or so took root and put out two buds. I wasn't expecting flowers for a couple months, so I felt like I'd gotten a lovely compliment.

I was also excited because I got her without any blooms, and I decided not to look up her colors on the internet, so I wouldn't know in advance what she would produce (it's like not finding out the gender of your baby; I prefer to wait for the arrival versus finding out ahead of time.) I thought she might be a pink like Josey, only hotter; I kept thinking of the iconic gown her namesake wore while singing Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend.

Seeing the first flower bloom on a rose bush is like watching a gift unwrap itself. As the bud swelled I was out there a couple times a day to check and see what would show. Finally Marilyn flaunted a little color:

For such a big, robust bud the color she showed wasn't a brassy gold but quite delicate; almost like sunlight on snow. I wasn't disappointed to discover she was a blonde, only surprised that I didn't guess that would be her color. After all, her namesake was the ultimate blonde. But I have only one other blondie in the rose garden, so she'll provide some nice contrast for Josey and the other ladies.

This morning her petals began to open, and I expect by tomorrow she'll be in full bloom. I know watching a rose flower sounds about as exciting as observing the growth of grass, but for me it's a little miracle. If she blossoms, she's decided to hang out here with me, and if I look after her properly, she'll give me roses all year.

As writers we have expectations of our characters, and build them according to a vision and/or a plan that serves the story. Characters without vision or purpose in a story are like weeds in a garden; they're unattractive, annoying, and too many of them can can choke the life out of a story. This is why we work so hard to choose the right character, put them in the perfect spot and give them whatever they need to bloom into full, vivid life.

Any writer can tell you that no matter how careful you are, sometimes characters turn out differently than what we anticipate. I think characters who don't evolve according to plan but seem to take on a life of their own are really coming from the writer's subconscious. I've had it happen to me a couple dozen times, and while I think it's annoying as hell, I always trust it because I know there's a damn good reason for it.

The next time you create a character, remember that you're planting something new in your story garden. You can think and plot and plan all you want, but until you write the character, you really don't know what you're going to get on the page. It might be exactly who you want, or an unexpected blonde; either way you should do your part, tend to it carefully, and see what grows.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

52% Chick

Perverse and surly wretch that I am, I decided to hunt around and see if I could find some online writing analyzers to play with that would not attract with pitchfork and torch crowd. There are a few of them out there that are fun, and a couple that are actually useful for editing purposes.

For a example, I fed a chapter from my current WIP into Christopher Park's Manuscript Analyzer and discovered that out of 3,757 total words I had 1,107 distinct words, 32 possible adverbs, 139 frequent offenders (words that are overused and/or need to be weeded out.) I really like this widget; it gives me lists I can sort and filter as needed.

I also ran it through this Test Document Readability online widget and found out among other things that the number of years of formal education that a person requires in order to easily understand the text on the first reading via Gunning Fog index is: 9.58 (basically, a tenth grader.)

The fun generators got into kind of an argument over my writing, though. The Genderanalyzer says my blog is gender-neutral (which makes me ridiculously proud) but that I'm probably a woman:

On the other hand, when analyzing a chapter from the WIP The Gender Genie is convinced I'm a guy:

I admit, I'm female. At least 52% of me is. All those rumors about me being male/female/alien are too much fun to completely dispell.

Finally, I tried running PBW through the SEO Analysis Tool (scroll down on page), and among a lot of neat info discovered this:

Title Tag

Title: Paperback Writer

The title tag contains 16 characters which is perfect.

The title tag relevancy to the page content is 100% which is perfect.

I keep telling people PBW is perfect, but they never listen . . . .

Friday, July 23, 2010


Those of you who live in the affected areas should keep an eye on the latest updates from the National Hurricane Center on Tropical Storm Bonnie. It would hit during the only week each year that my guy and the kids decide to go fishing in the Keys, but fortunately we have a lot of family down there, and they're also in a good spot to wait out the storm today.

A few people have e-mailed to ask what I will be doing during RWA Nat'l Conference next week. Obviously, I'm not going to it. I also decided last year to stop hosting LB&LI, but I know a lot of other blogs and sites will be having virtual workshops and stuff for those who are left behind. If anyone wants to share some links to free online events, please feel free to post them in comments.

Lately a lot of visitors have been stopping in to ask about future Darkyn books. At present there are none under contract; I finished the original seven-novel series with Stay the Night. My publisher presently has me writing Kyndred novels, and I have no desire to try to juggle two series in the same genre (assuming I could even sell them.) That said, I will continue to write Darkyn stories in my spare time for my readers; the next Darkyn free e-book will be Chrysalis, which I think I'll be able to finish once I get my kid off to college and life settles down a bit.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sneak Peek

Here's an early look at the cover art for Frostfire, Kyndred book three:

Barring any unforeseen acts of the Publishing Gods, this one will be hitting the shelves on January 4th.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Patchwork Generator

Today's incredibly cool link* is for the quilters out there, or anyone who would like to convert an image into patchwork:

With Victoria & Albert Museum's online patchwork pattern generator, you upload an image, select the number of colors and complexity of of the patchwork, and generate your own custom-designed pattern.

If you wanted to use cover art to generate a quilt pattern, I'd recommend using only covers with very simple imagery because the pattern maker does have its limits. Here's an example of what it did with the cover art for Evermore:

As you can see some of the detail and all of the words are lost in conversion, but if you've got a strong graphic cover you could probably generate a neat pattern of just the imagery.

*Gleefully swiped from Gerard over at The Presurfer.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cloud Profiles

I've been experimenting with Wordle again, this time for characterization purposes. Initially I wanted to create a profile cloud, or a word cluster that illustrated different aspects of one protagonist. I put together a list of keywords I felt described him, and fed them to Wordle, with the following result (click on any cloud to see a larger version:

Seeing all the profile keywords put together like this helped, and I think it's because I don't read a word cloud the same way I read a line or a paragraph. Wordle's juxtaposition of the character elements forced me to look at them both individually and in proximity to each other, creating new compounds and new ideas.

I like the effect so much I made a cloud profile for the other protagonist:

Then I thought, what if I add the two lists together and feed the whole thing to Wordle?

Aside from getting a whole new perspective on the protagonists, I noticed one word had been enlarged: brave. That was because it was on both characters' lists and when you repeat a word to Wordle, it makes a bit larger than all the others in the word cloud (which is why the names pop, I put them on the list a couple times so they would show up larger.)

I didn't intend to emphasize the word brave (I didn't even realize I'd repeated myself in both lists because I was working on this over the weekend.) In each character's case brave has a different meaning (Charlotte is brave because of her past and her job; Samuel is brave because of his condition and his Kyndred ability.) That said, it is the one character element that brings the protagonists together, helps them navigate through some extraordinary and dangerous events, and even attracts them to each other. Wordle had it all figured out before I even thought about it.

The happy accident also made me think that you could use Wordle to map out what things characters have in common. It doesn't have to be aspects of their personality, either; you can create lists of their likes and dislikes, physical attributes, possessions, routines, whatever area of their lives you want to explore, hand them over to Wordle and see what pops.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Contest Ten

Ten Things About Writing Grants and Contests

The Marie Alexander Poetry Series offers "A prize of $500 and publication by Marie Alexander Poetry Series, an imprint of White Pine Press, will be given for a collection of prose poems by a U.S. poet. Submit a manuscript of at least 48 pages during the month of July." No entry fee, see web site for more details. Deadline: July 31, 2010.

The Delaware Division of the Arts offers "individual artist fellowships and opportunity grants to individual artists. Fellowships provide funding to Delaware artists working in the visual, performing, media, folk, and literary arts. Fellowships are designed to enable recipients to purchase equipment and materials, allocate working time, or fulfill other needs that will allow them to advance their careers." Also: Emerging Professional Fellowships in the amount of $3,000 are available to artists wh"o have not yet established reputations in their fields. Established Professional Fellowships in the amount of $6,000 are available to artists who have significant achievements in their fields. A Masters Fellowship in the amount of $10,000 is available on a rotating basis. In Fiscal Year 2011, this award will be presented to a visual or folk artist." See guidelines page for more details. Current deadline is August 2, 2010.

Gemini Magazine is holding a flash fiction contest: "A prize of $1,000 and publication in Gemini Magazine will be given annually for a short short story. The editors will judge. Submit a story of up to 1,000 words." I don't know if I'd call that length flash fiction, but there you go. Entry fee: $4; $3 for each additional entry. See contest page for more details. Deadline: August 31, 2010.

Great Lakes Colleges Association awards "three prizes annually to a poet, a fiction writer, and a creative nonfiction writer to honor their first books. The winners will receive all-expenses-paid trips to several of the thirteen GLCA colleges, each of which pays an honorarium of at least $500, to give readings, meet with students, and lead discussions and classes. The judges are faculty members at the colleges." See guidelines page for more details. Deadline: Publishers may submit four copies of one book in each category by July 25, 2010.

The Memoir (and) Prizes for Memoir in Prose or Poetry are "awarded to the most outstanding prose or poetry memoirs—traditional, nontraditional or experimental—drawn from the reading period." Grand prize is $500 cash + publication + copies; no entry fee; see submission guidelines for more details. Deadline: August 16, 2010.

Memphis Magazine has a short fiction contest open to writers who live within 150 miles of the city of Memphis: "A prize of $1,000 and publication in Memphis Magazine is given annually for a short story by a writer who lives within 150 miles of Memphis. Unpublished stories and those previously published in magazines with a circulation under 20,000 are eligible. Submit a short story of 3,000 to 4,500 words with a $10 entry fee. Send an SASE for complete guidelines." No submission page, but here's the address: Memphis Magazine, Fiction Contest, 460 Tennessee Street, Memphis, TN 38103. Deadline: August 1, 2010.

Ohio University Press offers The 15th annual Hollis Summers Poetry Prize for an unpublished collection of poetry, and awards to the winner $1000 + publication. There is an entry fee of $25.00, which doesn't make me happy, but they welcome those who have not yet unpublished, and they award to as many female poets as male, which does. See guidelines page for more details. Deadline: October 31, 2010.

IFWG Publishing has Story Quest, what appears to be two annual writing contests. From the web site: "Entry is free. Two contests a year - the first commences 1 November and ends 31 May. The second contest commences 1 June and ends 31 October. Yearly. All genres are accepted - we are looking for quality short stories and cover art! Children and YA stories are also welcome. Note contest rules regarding content. Some contests will have a broad theme - in these cases stories must adhere accordingly. For short stories, we strictly require 1000 to 3000 words, title and author not included. . .The winning short story writer for the contests this year will be offered a publishing deal for any novel sized work and will have his or her short story published in SQ Magazine. Finalists of each short story competition will be published in SQ Magazine." Current deadline is October 31, 2010, see web site for more details.

The Uncovered Short Fiction Contest is offering "In total, $290 and two signed copies of THE TAVERNIER STONES is on the line. There is a $100 prize for first place alone!" Entries seem to be 250 words or less but that's all the details that are posted fo far; stayed tune to the host blog for more info(via Anne Frasier).

The Young Lions Fiction Award from The New York Public Library is "a $10,000 prize awarded each spring to a writer age 35 or younger for a novel or a collection of short stories." Note that the collection does have to be written for the adult market and already published; see submission guidelines for more details. Deadline: August 27, 2010.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


I've taken down the post that was up earlier today because of innumberable anonymous attempts to post links to discussions about it. This is not any sort of commentary on the content of said post, said links, said discussions, or the anonymous visitors involved. For personal reasons I'd simply like to have a peaceful day.

I do apologize for any inconvenience this causes.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Write Noise

In my endless pursuit of practical writing advice for the working writer, I have to plow through a lot of material online, in books and in the trades. A good chunk of it seems to be written by academics with impressive credentials but little to no industry experience, near or current retirees who like to reminisce about the good old days (which, remind me, were when?) and, of course, the newbie who has it all figured out before the ink dries on their first contract.

In reality it doesn't matter to me who offers it up. I don't care how many books are on your brag shelf, what is or isn't on your C.V., or if you even have a writing career to speak of. I'll listen, and if it's really good, I'll probably use it. As we all know, the Publishing biz has very little to do with the art of writing, and not all writers pursue publication. But this advice? Had better be real, and useful, and not something else in disguise.

What don't I want to read? Top of the list: Self-promo dressed up in a flimsy advice costume and holding out its empty goodie bag. Trick or treat, buy what I'm really selling: my book/workshop/seminar/editing service etc. Or the career mini-memoir. Yes, I'm sure that walking barefoot forty miles through the snow to mail a query letter by Pony Express to NY was a horrific ordeal, but knowing this helps me how? I'm especially tired of the rule issuers; I think we should make them fight cage matches: Write What You Know Nick vs. Don't Write What You Know Donald. Slow Is Better Than Fast Fanny vs. Fast Is The Way To Go Gloria. Plot it Paul vs. Organic Arthur.

Now that I think about it, the rule people would make pretty cool action figures, too, wouldn't they? Plot It Paul could come with his own whiteboard, fifteen notebooks, four hundred sticky note pads, a bottle of Mylanta and tiny bundles of index cards stuffed in all his pockets. Organic Arthur's accessories would include a little broken comb for his beard, a Jack Kerouac T-shirt with the sleeves torn off, wee empty whiskey bottles to pile around the base of his desk (if you can find it under all those dusty, unfinished manuscripts) and a button on his back you could push that makes him say, "I can't do that, I'm an artist and it would ruin the story for me."

Sorry. Sometimes I can't help myself.

But if all else fails, please, God, give me some ancient, threadbare, outdated, endlessly recycled and quoted gem o'wisdom that I've heard a couple trillion times, uttered by some Big Name before they had to worry about tax shelters, 12 step programs and botox injections. I mean, really, how can I go on if I don't make my writing mantra what Big Name thought was relevant back when Laurie McBain was raking it in?

Who is Laurie McBain? See? You're already feeling my pain.

When I consider offering writing advice, the first thing I think about is how helpful it will be to someone in the trenches. I can talk shop all day long -- who can't? -- but if it doesn't provide some kind of workable insight, what's the point? Once I feel like I have something that is worth talking about, I then attack the topic from a working writer's perspective, and ask myself a lot of questions, like: how practical is this? How much is it going to cost in writing time, resources, income, creative energy? Is it efficient and user-friendly? Does it provide real methods and/or tools the writer needs? Most important of all, does it really work?

I probably need to take a break from how-to for a while, especially the writer trades. Don't get me wrong, now and then I don't mind reading an open love letter from an author to an imaginary/nameless/highly-idealized reader, a glossary of lofty literary terms I use maybe once a leap year, fond memories from more successful writers on what the biz was like back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, or yet another pointless viewpoint on the Amazon-Publisher e-book pricing wars. But is it writing advice? No. Can I use it for myself or the blog? No. Should I pay for it? Why?

Friday, July 16, 2010

By Any Other Name

Growing roses is one of those things you do if you're kind of a masochist, as they can be the biggest pain in the garden. But the payoffs are very nice, and if you're interested you can check into the variety names and find out a little more about them.

Some rose names don't need a lot of explanation. For example, here is my Don Juan:

When you have a lush, romantic, beautifully fragrant red rose that climbs a trellis as quickly and easily as a thief in the night, what else are you going to call it but Don Juan?

Some roses have more complicated names, occasionally in different languages. Take my Rosa Tanabamar Caramba:

I wish I could do justice with my camera to the exciting, blazing colors of this rose. It can't be done; you have to see them in person to get the full smack in your face. Caramba is a Spanish interjection that means anything from good grief to damn it, and that suits the visual impact of this bloom exactly (although I think I would have named it Wildfire.)

Sometimes names have a great backstory that comes along with them, like the Sunset Celebration:

Back in 1988 Sunset magazine celebrated its 100th anniversary, and to help mark the occasion a hybrid rose was named after it. This variety, known as Warm Wishes in the UK, has a fairly wide range of colors (which are all golden-pinkish sunset shades.)

Funny thing about this one; I'm not convinced it is actually a Sunset Celebration. It's pale yellow with a darker apricot center, which fits the descriptions I've read of the variety's many colors, but the shape of the petals and leaves make me think it could be a variety of Floribunda someone mislabeled. I'm certainly no rose expert, so I'm having a more knowledgeable friend who is take a look at it the next time she's in town.

So what do the names of roses have to do with writing? Everything.

One of the most potentially memorable aspects of a character is what you name them. Names can be anything from beautiful, clever, exciting and illustrative to ugly, stupid, boring and dishwater-dull, but they should say something about the character the moment the reader is introduced to them.

I have a very specific process involved in character naming, which almost always includes historic resources, but I invent many names, too. Most of my characters' names have at least two meanings: one for the reader, and one for me. I frequently coin names from anagrams or acronyms; Jayr in Evermore was named after a few letters found inside a worn ring. She was also named after something else that I didn't tell the reader but that had intense personal meaning to me. In a way it's a private brain-jog; every time I used Jayr's name on the page I was reminded of why I chose it. I also like finding or coining unusual/uncommon names because it usually discourages other writers from appropriating them for their books.

What do you think about when you consider naming characters? Do you have a process that works for you, or are you more organic and just let the names come to you? Let us know in comments.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Buying Buzz

While I was getting my monthly magazine fix last night, I noticed on the back cover of one of the latest indy trade issues a single-page ad for an online book marketing service that promises authors will "get more bzzz" with "fewer hassles."

Once I got over my dismay that the ad copywriter couldn't spell the word buzz, I considered the idea of subcontracting self-promotion. It's a relatively new approach to marketing, designed to fill the obvious need for authors who want to promote their books but don't know where to begin, how to put together a plan or which direction to go with it.

I then visited the web site, which is very slick, and tried not to be blinded by all the flashy bits while I hunted down the services price list. There were two moderately low figures mentioned, both prefaced by the words "starting at" (which is a nice synonym for "what the cheapest/lousiest package will cost you.") Two vague paragraphs accompanied the figures, worded so as to insinuate as much as possible while not actually promising anything more than the unspecified attention of a publicist, press kits and releases, and a couple of ads in the trades.

Also, while on the pricing page I noticed that they promise they've helped thousands of writers fulfill their dreams, so I went to see who these fortunate souls were. There were only eleven authors featured in their online portfolio. Worse, I didn't recognize a single name among the eleven, or any of the eleven titles that this site has professionally bzzzed, which as testimonials makes them useless. Then I noticed in the wording of their portfolio banner that they did change the number of dream-fulfilled writers they've helped from thousands to many.

Here's my view: if you're in the author marketing business, your own marketing should definitely showcase the kind of work you're going to do for the author. If it's honest, meticulous, detailed and interesting, you've got my attention. If it's vague, flashy, squicky and non-specific, I'm going to think bottom-feeder and walk away.

The other problem I have with this approach is how effective it is. While I know an author can buy services that promise to provide buzz for your books, I don't think the kind of buzz that sells books is something that can be bought, sold, or artificially generated. We're bombarded every day on the internet by SPAM, press releases, flashy ads and buzz campaigns. I don't know about you guys, but these days I delete the SPAM and press releases unread, I dodge the ads and I actively avoid marketing campaigns. They've all become tiresome and annoying. The only marketing I'm even remotely interested in is something that's free, fun, or highly creative.

If you are considering buying marketing assistance services for your next book, do your homework first. You should shop around and compare pricing first, and see which services offer the most value for your buck. Also, get a list of exactly what services will be provided for your book, and if possible, real stats on how effective said services were for other clients.

One last tip: If you're repeatedly invited to call the author marketing service on the phone, it's usually an indication that you're going to be given a hard-sell pitch by a sales person who has been trained to separate you from as much of your advance money as is possible. Also, everything someone tells you during a phone conversation is not in writing, and until you actually see it in writing, they can't be held accountable for it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Series Separation Anxiety

It's always tough on readers when for whatever reason a writer has to wrap up an extended novel series. Because the fans have followed it for so long and/or are so emotionally invested in the story, they never want it to end. That's why the inevitable finale always seems a bit like a betrayal on the part of the writer, especially if s/he is still around and capable of writing more.

On the writers' side of the equation, investing years in a novel series is no easy commitment. You have to gather and sustain a series readership. You have to keep writing in a universe that is hopefully built in such a way that it will hold your creative interest and not become dated. At some point your sales plateau, and these days if they aren't stellar-quality, publishers lose interest, often in mid-series. We all know the only thing that's worse than the end of a series is one that is left unfinished because the writer couldn't sell any more books.

Most readers aren't aware of what goes on behind the scenes, so it's natural for them to blame the writer. I wish readers did know how hard we fight for our series. When you're cut off without a contract, you feel as desperate as they do (I speak from multiple unhappy experiences.) But for the writer, writing is also a business. You write what you can sell. You don't shut down just because you can't sell what you love to write. If you want to stay in the biz, you write something else.

Today's popular solution for disrupted series is for the writer to self-publish. It's an acceptable compromise; one I've taken a hard look at myself. The problem with self-publishing in print is that it's expensive, time-consuming, and the results aren't always on par with what a traditional publisher can produce. It hardly ever pays what you can make via traditional publishing, so it's also an income drain. Distribution is severely limited or non-existent. Electronic self-publishing is the other option, but that withholds the novels from any reader who doesn't care to read books from a screen or e-reader (I'm one of them) and also usually imposes geographical restrictions that prevent overseas readers from purchasing the books.

At some point the disrupted-series writer generally looks at the growing stack of bills on their desk, throws up their hands, says, "There's nothing I can do about it" and moves on. One of my favorite writers has done that repeatedly, and left me with two of my most re-read series unfinished. And yes, I'm still pissed off about both, to the point of where I've seriously considered writing new books and finishing the series myself just so that I could have the ending I wanted.

Anyway, the point of this post is not to yell at series readers for their devoted loyalty or whine about how hard it is to sustain an extended novel series in today's "what have you done for us in the last five minutes?" Publishing industry. It is what it is, and until someone comes up with a solution that suits everyone, or series novels are outlawed, we have to live with it. If you're pursuing publication, and you see yourself writing an extended series, this is something you really need to think about carefully and make some contingency plans.

I've considered self-publishing more StarDoc novels. There were five I didn't have the opportunity to write or publish, and while I do consider the series finished with Dream Called Time, those lost books are still waiting to be realized. I also doubt I'll be able to turn my back on the StarDoc crew; they've been a daily part of my life for going on fifteen years. It's a big, wonderful universe, and I've never gotten tired of writing about it.

But I'm also realistic. Science fiction doesn't have much of a market share to begin with, and while (thanks to my readers) I have one of the longest-running series currently being published in the genre, the sales are slow and long-term. Those are two things Publishing hates. To give you a comparison, my first Darkyn novel sold more copies in the first six months after publication than the first StarDoc book sold in six years.

In addition to the usual costs of living, medical insurance, the growing list of stuff that medical insurance doesn't pay for, helping out family, etc., I have one kid going off to college in a couple weeks and another who will be following in a couple years. As much as I'd love to be artistic about it, there is no contest between writing what I like most and earning a decent income. Decent income always wins.

That said, you know with me it's not all about the Almighty Buck. Once the StarDoc series is officially finished in print, then I think I'll be in a better place to seriously consider what more I want to do from there. Right now I just have to get over my own separation anxieties, which I admit, are pretty intense. And I thought I had a handle on it, too.

Now it's your turn: what would you like to see writers of extended series do for their readers? What do you think the best solution to the problems involved with publishing extended novel series for the writer? Let us know in comments (also, if you want to vent at me about StarDoc ending, go ahead. Just keep your shoulder handy so I can sob on it.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Photo Ops

It's strange, the number of odd things you can see in one week. I didn't know they were now making kites the size of a city bus (click on any of the images below to see larger versions):

Big, impressive, definitely an attention-grabber -- but like so many oversize, ambitious things, they couldn't get it off the ground.

I liked the smaller versions that were already soaring high overhead:

While we watched the kites, my guy and I fondly remembered the much plainer, clunkier versions we flew when we were kids. I made mine out of used gift wrap paper, Elmer's glue, twigs, strips from cleaning rags for the tail and kitchen twine (he swears he made his out of old brown paper grocery bags, which I think would have been too heavy.) Times have changed. A lot.

The backyard dramas continue, as always. I think two of our local black racers are in love; I keep finding them together:

I just wish they'd hold this courtship in the bushes instead of by the porch, because they're driving Cole nuts. That is, when the other resident reptiles aren't making him crazy:

After I shooed off the snakes and the turtles, my guy called me over to have a look at this:

I didn't retouch the picture at all; the sun made it look as if the spider had spun it out of gold. Probably the most perfect shot of a web I'll ever take.

So what's up with you guys? Any new books, updates or interesting links to share?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Don't Swat Ten

I'm home, and at the moment trying to catch up on work stuff, but I should get back on schedule soon. Meanwhile, here are:

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.

20 Tips* for Writers, a free e-book from author Doug Clegg that offers some tongue-in-cheek writing advice and probably explains why we writers are so wired all the time. Don't swat the fly.

7 Sticky Notes is "a good 100% free desktop notes software that creates Sticky Notes directly on your Desktop. It has a really good-looking realistic sticky note appearance for ultimate user experience and it offers amazing and cool features that makes 7 Sticky Notes at the same time powerful, simple to use, reliable, and light" (OS: Windows 7)

Desktop Fun from How-to Free Abstract Art, Castle and Dragon wallpapers.

Freebie Notes is "a great little program for users who just want sticky notes with an alarm timer. With Freebie Notes you can create notes displaying on your desktop. Your notes can be displayed immediately after creation or in the certain moments of time. You can create notes of custom sizes and colors and set different types for your notes" (OS: Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista/7)

LettersFall 2.0 Beta is a freeware educational/fun words game that looks like something both kids and grownups would enjoy (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

Ever wanted to build your own online e-zine, but you aren't a whiz with HTML or JavaScript? Check out PLWorx's freeware NetEZine.

Also from PLWorx, NoteWeb allows you to organize your notes into notebooks, and "Add, edit, delete, search, sort and filter different types of data including plain or rich text notes, hyperforms, sketches and web pages. Notes are indexed and stored in "notebooks", so that it's easy to keep your information organized. You can also store keywords and links to other notes, URLs or external files with each note (OS: Unspecified but it looks like Windows.)

This one is a heads-up for my UK pals -- author Terry Pratchett is having a first novel contest (terms/conditions/rules may be found at his web site here) with a publishing contract grand prize that includes a ₤20K advance.

Jonathan Feinberg explains how my favorite online generator, Wordle, came into being in this free .pdf chapter excerpt from Beautiful Visualization by Julie Steele and Noah Iliinsky.

Yea Chess allows you to cross virtual knights with your computer, and has "a simple interface and powerful and quick artificial intelligence. You can adjust the skill of the computer and save games" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


I appreciate everyone who has been e-mailing their thoughts and prayers; as soon as I get a chance I'll reply. My guy's brother passed away with his family around him, and now we're just coping with the loss and grief.

During times of sadness I think it's important to honor life as well as do things that lift your spirits. This is why I've decided to take a shot at the Cloth Paper Scissors mini-book challenge I mentioned last month. I know my guy's brother would approve; he loved to laugh. I've put together a mock-up of the images and text I'll be using for my project and uploaded it to Scribd; if anyone wants to see what I have planned click here. 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.

As for the blog, I'll probably get back to posting next week. Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Monday, July 05, 2010


I need to unplug for a bit and be with my guy; he's about to lose another brother to cancer and he needs me to be with him and help him deal with the loss and the necessities. Normally I don't mention things like this on the blog, but I know when I don't post regularly people start to worry.

Be back once life allows.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Wishing You

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Free E-book

I'm still off somewhere writing and editing, but I thought I'd post a heads-up for The Wicked House of Rohan by Anne Stuart*, a short story prequel to her upcoming historical trilogy that her publisher is offering for free in various formats for a limited time here.

There is some hoop-jumping involved; to get the e-book you have to register for an account with the publisher, put the e-book in your cart and then check out like you're making a purchase. I tried it out and they don't ask for financial info or charge you anything, so it's a legit freebie. The Adobe version downloads to Adobe Digital Editions and is not print-enabled so I can't read it, which was disappointing, but it probably works on most gadgets.

*Freebie info swiped from Jennifer Crusie's blog, where there's also some copy about the story posted.