Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I haven't been keeping up with upcoming releases lately, so I have to thank you guys for mentioning all the great titles for the the Early Frostfire Redux giveaway (I didn't even know about the new Patricia Briggs' novel -- that would have been painful to miss.) Now if I can just convince my family to give me lots and lots of bookstore gift cards for the holidays . . .

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

Lauren K

Lauren, when you have a chance please send your full name and ship-to info to LynnViehl@aol.com so I can get the book out to you. My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cyber Monday Ten

Ten Gift Ideas Under $10 for Writers or Readers

Books & Book store Gift Cards: We don't have to tell you again how much we love books do we? A book is a wonderful gift for the writer or the reader in your life. An even better gift is to give us the chance to shop for one on our own with an eGift Card (which is all done online, so you don't even have to leave the house.) B&N.com is currently running a special for a free $10 eGift card when you purchase $100.00 of Gift or eGift cards. B&N.com is my retailer of choice when it comes to sending e-mail gift cards because in all the years I've bought from them they've never once failed to deliver them to my recipients.

Bookends: These can be really pricey at department and book stores, so I suggest looking for the handcrafted or vintage variety. I found these these wooden book ends for $4.99 over on iOffer.

Booklights: Anyone who reads in bed with a sleeping spouse or partner uses them; so do writers with bad vision like me. I've tried a lot of booklights in my day, and my biggest complaint is that most of them either use watch-size batteries, which are hard for me to see much less change, or they die quickly. Someday I'd really like to have a reasonably-priced booklight that can run on my rechargeable triple-A batteries. In the meantime, the one I usually recommend is the no-muss no-fuss Energizer's LED clip-on booklight, which can be had over at Walmart.com for $10.00 (I did read an old article over on Slate.com by Tom Bartlett to see if there were any other cheap booklights out there, but he didn't seem to think much of the two under $10.00.)

Charms: A small charm related to books or reading could make a nice addition to your book lover's favorite necklace or bracelet. Shakespearesden.com has a cute sterling silver bookworm charm for $3.95.

Music to Write/Read By: If you already own an extensive music collection you can probably burn a CD mix tailored to suit your favorite writer or reader. Or head over to iTunes and download individual songs; $10 will buy you ten .99 songs [I love the first Prélude from Yo-Yo Ma's Bach: The Cello Suites (.99); The Theme from Harry's Game from Clannad's In a Lifetime collection (.99); and Chanter's Tune from Shelley Phillips's The Fairie-Round (.99)]

Neck Support: Both writers and readers have complained to me about suffering some sort of neck pain, which hits me pretty regularly, too. A pillow specifically designed to provide support to this area of the bod can be a big relief, like this Relaxzen memory foam neck pillow over at Wal-Mart.com for $10.00.

Totes: Writers and readers tend to be pack mules, so a sturdy tote is a very practical gift. B&N.com has this holiday-themed tote for $7.95 (this was the pretty tote I picked up on Black Friday, and at the time they were selling them for $4.97 if you bought two items from the store. I'm not sure if this is still going on, but if it is it's a little cheaper to get it from the brick & mortar.) If you're handy with the sewing machine and have some pretty fabric in your stash, this is also something you could make yourself

USB Drive: Having a backup of work, e-books and other stuff stored on our computers is a necessity, and a USB drive makes it easy and highly portable. Office Depot sells their name-branded 2GB USBs in different colors for $7.99, and for another $3.99 you can buy a USB clip-on case.

Wordy Gift: Words are something writers and readers can never get enough of, so look for word-themed or decorated items, like this Jonathan Adler words folding umbrella for $9.97 over at B&N.com.

Writing Instruments: Not on my gift list, but your favorite scribe probably goes through pens and pencils like crazy, so look for something interesting on sale, like this red and white holiday themed set for $7.47 over at B&N.com.

Finally, if you're looking for some new ideas, try giving the Gift Ideas Generator a go. Prices are in British pounds -- at this very moment, 1.00 GBP = 1.55970 USD -- but if you're not accustomed to converting that in your head, or you live in another country, you may also want to visit a currency converter like this one (and thanks to Gerard over at The Generator Blog for the link.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Early Frostfire Redux

One of the ARCs I had reserved for the Forecast: Early Frostfire giveaway back in September remains unclaimed to date, and I've been unable to contact the winner. Rather than let it sit here and gather dust I thought I'd do another drawing for it (if I ever hear from the original winner I'll send a signed first edition as a replacement.)

In comments to this post, name the title of an upcoming release you're looking forward to (or if you're presently in a reading anticipation void, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Monday, November 29, 2010. I'll pick one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner the unclaimed Frostfire ARC (which I will sign for you.) This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Endweek NaNoPost

I'm a bit late today thanks to temporary insanity + Black Friday + the most I've laughed in months, which convinced me to ditch my original draft of this post and write up something new.

First, a little backstory: I never leave the house on Black Friday because of the crowds and general madness; there is no sale that could ever tempt me to navigate through this annual mess. My guy also works in retail, and when he crawls home after a very long and arduous eighteen-hour day I like to be here and do what I can to make a nice evening for him.

Unfortunately this year my daughter and her friends wanted to go and see the new Harry Potter movie, and talked me into taking them to a Friday evening show in the city (this is when the temporary insanity kicked in, when I said okay. I couldn't help myself, the kid hardly ever asks me for anything.)

It's been so long since I've been out on a Black Friday that I was rather overwhelmed by the traffic, the crowds and the Herculean task of finding a parking space. Since I'm not much of a Harry Potter fan I decided to skip taking a nap in the theater while they watched the movie and instead dropped off the kids. My two-and-a-half hour wait, I decided, would be spent over at a big chain bookstore's cafe nursing a hot tea and hopefully doing some editing. I figured of all the shops in the mall, the bookstore wouldn't be crowded.

I was right and wrong. The store wasn't too busy, but every table and chair in the cafe was packed with the sale-shocked and exhausted, all of whom appeared to be hunkered down for the duration. Twenty more drooping souls stood waiting in line for counter service, and another ten or so were leaning against the railing waiting for a table to free up. More tired backsides had claimed every one of the benches by the magazine racks, and another dozen kids were sitting on the floor around them. So much for that brilliant idea.

I didn't really mind. I never met a bookstore I didn't like; it's a bit like being at a huge writer's conference where no one talks, touches you or infects you with whatever crud they brought with them (there's a conference I'd attend in a heartbeat: the Silent Germ-free Writers' Fest.) It's also been forever since I had the luxury of time to cruise the shelves for hours, and I had a list in my purse of titles I need for the holidays, so I picked up a pretty tote and went hunting.

The first novel I tracked down was a copy of Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas, which I've never read but my Sanctuary Reads winner Crystal posted as her pick (this is another way I try to expand my horizons; I often pick up what you guys mention in the giveaways and discussions here at the blog.) I also spotted Shiloh Walker's The First Book of Grimm, which went into the tote, along with Liz Carlyle's One Touch of Scandal and Stephanie Tyler's Promises in the Dark. Then I spent a few minutes facing out titles by me and my writer friends because that's another annoying thing writers do when we're in bookstores.

I didn't find anything tempting in the mystery or SF/F aisles, so I moved on to the remainder tables. Not much there but learn-how-to kits, coffee table books and untempting leftover hardcovers. The seasonal tables had a pretty dismal collection of themed titles, mostly buried under toys and other gift-giving junk. But I saw some encouraging things, too: Larissa Ione's Sin Undone prominently displayed among the latest bestsellers (go Larissa!); an endcap with all of Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson books artfully arranged (an amazing series), and Bill Peschel's Writers Gone Wild already faced out in Literary Theory (we definitely need some more humor in that section.)

I headed to the back shelves, where all the lovely nonfic shelves were waiting to be browsed. I always try to hit one section in particular, and there I spotted a shiny new title that I hadn't seen before. I picked it up and read the first page, which was rather awful and thus an instant sale-killer. I read a bit further and couldn't believe how badly-written it was, so I looked at the cover again. The byline belonged to the author of that wretched book I tried to read a few weeks ago. It was like finding a rattlesnake in my hands; I shoved it back on the shelf so fast I knocked another book off onto the floor.

As I picked up the book I'd knocked down, I started giggling over the rattlesnake release and my reaction to it, and then I couldn't stop, even when I went outside the store and laughed so loud I scared a couple of exiting patrons. Which only made me laugh at myself even harder. Once I did manage to control my mirth -- took a while -- I went back inside in a wonderful mood, and shopped merrily until it was time to pick up the kids, get everyone home and collapse on my couch. I found my guy there, cuddled up with the pups and snoring away. After I dragged him off to bed, I likewise fell asleep instantly (this never happens) and enjoyed six hours of uninterrupted Zzzzzzs.

My Black Friday bookstore adventure left my feet a little sore, but not a high price to pay for a pretty tote and a nice pile of books for myself and family. It was also a great reminder that as ridiculous and rife with rattlesnakes as this biz can be, it's also the world of great reads, wonderful writers and things to make you laugh at yourself. All you have to do is look for them.

I'm not finished, but I know some of you have been stacking up the stats on your NaNo novel this week. Anyone reach the finish line since my last post? Still slogging away this holiday weekend? Getting close? Let us know in comments.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Online Break Rooms

The American Psychological Association has just released its 2010 Stress in America Findings (for the .pdf version click here). I've heard plenty of complaints that the internet causes all kinds of stress, but surprisingly about a third of those surveyed reported surfing the internet as a method of managing stress.

I think it's all in where you surf and why. I view the internet as an endless virtual library with work rooms, play rooms, art exhibits, movie theaters and concert halls. You can join other explorers or lurk around by yourself. And yeah, there are also a range of not so great places, where the unwary can be pecked to pieces by hen parties, fleeced by scam artists and sold shoddy goods by the unscrupulous, but with a little common sense you can avoid all of them.

When I'm writing I like places where I can visit during my ten-minute breaks to have some fun (I employ a kitchen timer to keep me from spending more than ten minutes.)

Wordle is definitely my favorite online break room; I probably visit at least twice a week now. My latest trick is to feed it long lists of synonyms for my story keywords to get title ideas (poetry works great, too) or for descriptive bits that I'm having trouble composing.

Thanks to Gerard over at the Presurfer, I just discovered White Jigsaw, a virtual point-and-drag game with a puzzle that grows larger each time you solve it. Although at first glance it may seem intimidating, it's really not that difficult. I find it rather soothing (I also get tired of it quickly so it doesn't suck my brains out of my skull and tempt me to stay longer than ten minutes.)

I've always been something of a fiend for crossword puzzles, so I have to be careful when I go over to BoatloadPuzzles.com to take a break there. But I like this site because if you put in the wrong word it highlights it with red letters, and it's simple enough for a kid or anyone as technochallenged as me to use.

My oldest online break room is Seventh Sanctum, where there is a generator for just about everything an RPGer or storyteller could want. Much of what I generate is tongue-in-cheek stuff, but often I find bits and pieces I can recombine and mortar together into new story concepts, character profiles, plotlines and so forth. SS also reminds me not to take myself too seriously or slip into the blues, something I've really needed lately.

Do you think the internet is a stress-inducer or a stress-reliever? Where are some of your online break rooms? Let us know in comments.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wishing You

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Midweek NaNoPost

We're down to the final 7 days of NaNoWriMo, and today I'm prepping for my NaNo deadline week as well as Thanksgiving. I've decided to use my November novel as part of a presentation I'm giving in a couple of weeks to some marketing and publicity folks, so there's additional pressure to get it done, buffed, polished and ready for inspection (which means I have to finalize the cover art, too.) So I've given myself the somewhat brutal task of wrapping up this story in seven days.

Why, yes, I am a masochist. Sometimes I think every writer is.

I've got some stuff waiting at the finish line as additional motivation to keep going: three new novels by some of my favorite authors that I've been saving to read, taking my daughter and her friends to see the latest Harry Potter movie, and dinner out with my guy. If by some Act of Divine Intervention I make it all the way to 50K, I'll also give myself a little bookstore shopping spree.

A lot has helped me get back on track this past week, and it's not been related to my NaNo novel: spending quality time with my guy, my kid and the pups; finding my favorite apple strudel recipe (which I'm making into a bookmark so I don't lose it again.) I've also taken some time to read books by Erin Bolger, Alison Kent, Emma Holly, Jackson Pearce and Chris McKitterick. All of these things refilled the well of me the person, the lover, the mom, the reader and the caretaker.

There's something most folks don't think about: our self-esteem doesn't come from just the well of creativity. We can have many wells.

Example: this past weekend I cleaned out my fridge to make room for our Thanksgiving turkey. I try to keep it tidy, but when other people around here use it they only worry about remembering to close the door when they're through looking at everything. Thus my fridge is generally in some state of controlled to cluttered chaos.

To me a clean, organized refrigerator is like a sparkling bathroom; you don't mind anyone going in there (versus when they're in dire need of be sanitized, when you'd rather padlock them shut.) In the process of tidying up I realized I won't need to buy any sort of mustard again until maybe next June (how did we end up with seven different kinds of mustard? Beats me.) Anyway, it felt so good cleaning out the fridge I went ahead and tackled the freezer, too. At which point I determined I might need to talk to my daughter about her growing predilection for frozen pizza products.

Of course, once the fridge was completely clean, I had to tackle the pantry, rearrange my non-perishables, check expiration dates, and alphabetize the spices. Go ahead, snicker, but at my age it's pretty easy to look through the wrong spot in my trifocals and pick up the cumin instead of the cinnamon. Gives a whole new meaning to homemade coffee cake, too.

Getting my household stores re-organized for the holidays gave my spirits a nice, much-needed boost. Seems silly, arranging spices and stacking cans, but it's comforting to me to know where things are and to be able to see everything I've got at one glance (and no more hunting for my little cans of organic tomato paste that always seem to hide behind Kat's favorite canned pasta.)

A deadline week is when it all comes down to the wire, and it's a time when you really need your head to be in a good place writing-wise. At the same time, you need to balance the work with life. Doing something non-writing related that makes you feel better about yourself, your home, your job, your friendships, etc. may give you that extra dose of self-confidence you need to cross the 50K finish line. It doesn't have to be a huge, time-consuming project, either. Spend an hour playing Scrabble with your family, take care of a chore you've been neglecting, or call a friend you haven't talked to in a while. Here's another thing most people don't realize: fill one of your wells, and it will spill over into the others.

Your turn: how are things going with your NaNo novel? Are you doing anything in particular to keep your wells filled? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sub Ops Ten

Ten Things About Submission Opportunities

Blue Leaf Publications is "looking for completed novels--35,000 to 65,000 words in length--in the genres of: science fiction: hard/soft/space opera; fantasy: urban/shapeshifter romance; science fiction/futuristic romance; shapeshifter/werewolf only; other 'spec fic' works with similar themes. We prefer third person POV. Please have your manuscript critiqued, beta'd, proofread and/or edited before querying!! [Good suggestion.] Stories without a "happy ever after" are acceptable. For romance titles, intimate
scenes should be mild (PG-13). We will consider YA titles only if they fit in the above genres. Reprints by professional authors are considered if the title was previously published through a reputable publisher (print or electronic). Please do not submit any previously self-published works. A common inquiry about word count: Will BLP consider manuscripts over 65K? Yes, we probably will, but be warned: If you decide to send us something longer than 65K, the writing and story had better be dead-on." Payment: no mention of advance that I can find; pays annual royalties of 30% of net on e-books and 15% of net on print books. No reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

AE ~ The Canadian Science Fiction Review webzine "welcomes submissions from both established and emerging authors. We publish exclusively science fiction, though our interpretation of the genre can be quite inclusive. We are interested in stories from 500 to 3000 words in length. We are not soliciting poetry or screenplays at this time." Mentions they will accept subs from non-Canadian authors but are limiting how many of those they publish. Payment: "CA6¢/word (art=$20-$100)" No reprints, electronic submissions preferred, see guidelines for more details.

Corpulent Insanity Press has an open call for their Clones and Crucifixes anthology, and is seeking "tales of futuristic horror. Only, there’s a catch. Each story must involve a demonic possession. Think The Exorcist mixed with Blade Runner. We’re not interested in run-of-the-mill exorcism tales, either. We want something new. Something fresh. Something that will make our eyes widen and our sphincters clench. Well, maybe not the latter, but you get the idea." Length: 1-3.5K, Payment: 1 cent per word, no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: December 20, 2011.

Dark Metre is "an email newsletter published on the 1st Sunday of every month with the current issue being posted on the website for one month." From the editor: "I'm looking for poetry reprints in the horror genre and will publish two per issue. I will pretty much look at any style of poem but I do not want anything vampire related or anything that involves bad things happening to college kids, school kids or young children and definitely no woe be me poetry. Please send poems up to a maximum of 35 lines in the body of the email to poetrysub@katybennett.co.uk. Please put poetrysub - poem title - your name in the subject field. Also include details of where it was originally published and a short bio and a link to your web site or blog if available. You can submit up to three poems but only send one poem in an email. Payment terms: I'm paying £2.50 via paypal on publication." Reprints only, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Dragon Ink House has an open call for their 20Spec anthology, and they want to see "Speculative stories set in the grit and glamor of the Roaring 20s. Think gangsters, the Klan, and political upheaval; the rise of communism and fascism. Women’s suffrage, androgynous fashion, and bootlegging. Jazz and speakeasies; ”The Diamonds as Big as the Ritz.” The rise of the Machine Age– radios, Model-T Fords, and mass-production. Hyper-inflation and excess. Tell decadent stories that take place after dark, far from home, in abandoned stills. And don’t be afraid to travel abroad. Europe, Asia, Africa– anywhere is fair game! This is not only an anthology of Urban Fantasy set in the 1920s. While UF will most likely have its place, we welcome Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, including Bizarro, Slipstream, New Weird, Hard-Boiled Noir detectives, even (especially) stuff that defies a particular classification. The story is paramount, but we’d like to be able to represent all speculative-fiction fields. (Critter fiction (e.g. vampires, zombies, werewolves, ghosts, etc) is acceptable, but will be a tougher sell, due to the typical quantity of it.) [Ouch.] Attention to the culture, slang, and feel of the 20s is vital. Send us stories that roar, whisper and shriek." Length: "Ideally stories will be between 1500-5000 words, but we will consider flash-fiction and poetry as well. Nothing longer please." Payment: 1 cent per word on publication. No reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: December 20, 2010.

Eschatology, the Journal of Lovecraftian and Apocalyptic Fiction, is looking for some traditional ghost stories for a special Christmas Day edition [apparently during the Victorian era telling ghost stories was a Christmas tradition, which puts a whole new spin on a Christman Carol.] Their sub guidelines state they want: "well written, original short fiction up to around 1000 words. There is no firm maximum word count, though pieces exceeding the 1000 word guideline by too much are likely to be rejected." Payment: $5.00 via PayPal upon publication, no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: December 15, 2010.

io9.com is holding a writing contest: "We can't prevent environmental disasters without preparing for them. That's why io9 is going to pay $2000 each to two people who write the best stories about environmental disaster. It's io9's Environmental Writing Contest - for science fiction and non-fiction." Also: "Your story should be between 3,000-5,000 words. It must be an original story that has not been published elsewhere. The contest has two categories: Non-Fiction and Science Fiction. We will pick a winner from each." "Winning stories will be published on io9, and we will give $2000 each to the winners in each category." There's a lot more on what they want to see, so if you're tempted, definitely check out the contest subs page. Deadline: December 11, 2010.

Permuted Press is "now accepting queries for novel length horror, science fiction, and speculative fiction. We're interested in: Completed novels of no less than 70,000 words and no more than 125,000 words (around 85,000-95,000 words is perfect for us). We're trying to expand our horizons a bit here at Permuted, so we're looking for horror, sci-fi, and spec-fic of the following types: Apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic tales (not just zombies!). Obviously we love zombie novels, but we're really interested in new and unique takes on the apocalypse. Bring something new and interesting to the table! Lovecraftian and Cthulhu Mythos works. We're primarily interested in seeing some fresh takes on the old (elder?) Mythos. Think William Browning Spencer's Resume With Monsters and Seamus Cooper's The Mall of Cthulhu. Time Travel and multi-universe stories. We love to see this sort of thing done well. Examples include Ken Grimwood's Replay and Paul Melko's The Walls of the Universe.
Novels with false realities or realities in question. Think along the lines of The Matrix, Inception, or most of the works of Phillip K. Dick. Survival horror. Fun, fast-paced tales with a person or group trapped in bad situation. Great examples of this type of work include Richard Laymon's Island, John Carpenter's The Thing, and the television show Lost." No details on the website about payment, but the publisher states in their FAQ that they do pay an advance and quarterly royalties, terms of which they will discuss upon acceptance (I'd be sure to nail these down in writing before you sign anything.) Query on reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Realms of Fantasy magazine (recently purchased by Damnation Books) is "a professional market for the best in fantastic short fiction. Stories should be no longer than 10,000 words, and can address any area in the realms of fantasy: heroic, contemporary, traditional, feminist, dark, light, and the ever-popular “unclassifiable.” What we do not want to see is standard SF (this means no alien worlds, no hard-edged technology, no FTL drives, etc.) Additionally, ROF is not a market for poetry. What we do want to see is the very best in the field—Realms of Fantasy is a highly competitive market." Payment: "6¢/word & up (>7½k pay breaks to 4¢/word & up)" Query on reprints, no electronic submissions (will e-reply to non-US subs), see guidelines for more details.

The Library of the Living Dead has an open call for their Zombies Without Borders anthology, and are "Seeking original previously unpublished zombie stories. The theme of this book is about location. Instead of just stating where your story takes place use culture, geography, and other indicators to showcase the setting. Stories can take place anywhere on Earth except the United States of America. It is urged that authors submitting from outside of the USA choose a location other than their home countries. (e.g. if are submitting from England your story should not take place in England.)" Length: 4-7K, Payment: Pay: 1¢/word + copy, no reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: January 2, 2011.

Most of the above submission opportunities were found among the many market listings over at Ralan's place.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gift Pass Ten

Since Black Friday is just around the corner . . .

Ten Things I Don't Want for Christmas

Chocolate. Not only can't I eat it because it's not part of my heart-healthy twigs-and-bark diet, but I then have to give it to someone else and watch them eat it. Which is when I start sobbing.

Gadget Docking Stations, Accessories, etc. I do not own an iPod, an iPad, an e-reader, a fancy mobile phone or any of that other junk. I have nothing that needs a recharging station, and I don't want a netbook, a boogie board, a happy light, anything that displays up to ten thousand digital photographs, or that tells me on the hour what the weather is like in Sydney because I can't figure out how to program it for my time zone.

Grow Your Own! Kits. I'm not especially enamoured of tomatoes that grow upside down, herbs in tiny pots, Chia pets or ugly brown bulbs that are supposed to produce gorgeous flowers but no matter how carefully I follow the directions only remain ugly brown bulbs.

Hair DooDads. I am older now, and so is my hair. At long last we've made peace with each other. So you can understand why I might not want to bump it, extend it, french twist it, scrunch it, straighten it or otherwise torture it. Leave. My Hair. Alone.

Motion-Activated Candy Dispensers. Okay, this is just downright cruel.

Pens. You know when people say they own a thousand pens? I actually do.

Singing and/or Dancing Holiday Figurines. Seeing Santa in the throes of an epileptic seizure while he belts out Elvis tunes is simply not my thing. Same goes for the mounted fake bass that turns its head and starts talking (I saw that once at a friend's house, and I still have nightmares.)

The Snuggie. I'm a quilter and a quilt collector, so believe me, the one thing I am never going to be in my house is cold. Plus if I want to be warm and keep my hands free, I'll put on one of my thirty-odd quilted jackets.

Toothbrush Sanitizer. Soaking your toothbrushes once a week in some rubbing alcohol doesn't cost thirty bucks (just remember to rinse it thoroughly before using it again.)

Waterproof Shower Radio. We live so far out in the boonies that it only picks up live broadcasts from stock auctions and the exciting sermon of whatever nutcase evangelical minister is advocating burning the Koran this week.

What are some of the things you don't want as holiday gifts this year? Share the pain in comments.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

PBW Nation

Gerard over at The Presurfer always finds such cool things online. This time one of his links sent me to Sharenator.com's WebEmpires, which visualizes your blog or web site as a country. Naturally I had to see what sort of world power we'd represent:

Break out the strawberry margaritas; looks like we're a nice-size Caribbean island, a bit larger than Montserrat here:

If we all got together one day to hang out, we'd look a bit like this:

While WebEmpires is still tinkering with their demographics feature, we'd probably also have a nice-size international segment in our population:

I like PBW being an island nation: great views, no billboards or tourist traps, no ties to any other/bigger/nastier nations, and lots of visitors who stop by simply to relax and enjoy themselves. Now I wonder if I can string up some virtual hammocks . . . .

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Endweek NaNoPost

Before I get into my NaNoWriMo post, the winner of the Sanctuary Reads giveaway is:

CrystalGB, whose sanctuary read is Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas

Crystal, when you have a chance please send your BookWish request along with your full name and ship-to info to LynnViehl@aol.com so I can start waving the magic wand here. My thanks to everyone for joining in and sharing so many of your sanctuary reads.

If you don't know why I'm glad this week of NaNoWriMo is over, just backtrack a few posts. I think there are weeks like this during the writing of any novel, and the key to getting over them is not to drag them along like the unnecessary baggage they are. We've been there, we've done that, now let's burn the T-shirt and move on.

There are ten days left in November to work on my NaNo novel, and while there's a national holiday right smack in the middle of them, I know I can make the time I need to write. I will be getting up an hour earlier every day, and switching my editing and writing times around (I can edit while I'm cooking a turkey, but I can't write, not unless everyone wants an extremely well done bird.) I've also rescheduled a few things that can wait for me to do them until after December 1st. In addition to all this work, I've planned to do some extra fun things to keep my spirits up, because during crunch time play is as important as the work.

The ups and downs will continue on as they always do. Just today I've received some rather bad news, some very good news, and some more work to add to the December schedule. We call this gig a juggling act because the writing life doesn't just toss you silk scarves; occasionally it throws in some chainsaws. You can't handle either if you're afraid of trying.

This last stretch of NaNoWriMo will put you to the test, and I know some of you are tired, worried and/or feeling the pressure. You may not be happy with what you've accomplished so far, and in that respect I am right there with you. But I also know I have a week and a half on my side, and I'm not going to throw that away, not when I can use it to write exactly what I want. To give that up is like being offered a free ten-day vacation and saying, "I can't go because I'm afraid I won't have a good time." No way I'm doing that.

Now it's your turn: how are things going with your NaNo novel? What are you doing to keep yourself motivated? Any early finishers out there? Let us know in comments.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Heart Warming

Cooking is one of my self-prescribed therapies, and I've already confessed to being something of an emotional baker. So it shouldn't have surprised me when my daughter picked up this cookbook for me (the kid has the gift of spooky timing.)

Author/baker Erin Bolger combines a very funny narrative of her emotional life with simple recipes that literally define making your own happiness. There are so many luscious-looking treats in this one that I may spend the whole winter trying them out on my family. I also love the hilarious titles she bestows on her many baked delights: So Far So Good Bar, Who Needs a Man on Valentine's Day Biscotti, My Eggs Are Not Getting Any Younger Crème Brûlée and I'm So Done With You and The Horse You Rode In On Haystack Cookies. I don't know when I've laughed out loud so much just reading the names of recipes.

The Happy Baker was the perfect book to land in my hands at this moment; I'm definitely going to buy some extra copies to hand out as gifts this holiday to stressed-out friends. I'm also going to send a copy to whoever wins the BookWish for my Sanctuary Reads giveaway as a little something extra to warm up your kitchen and your heart.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sanctuary Reads

I've finally set aside the critically-acclaimed clunker from the remainder bin. While I haven't yet decided what to do with it (I've entertained various destructive fantasies which include but are not limited to burning, shredding, and strapping it to the business end of a Titan IV rocket) I am in great need of a sanctuary read.

I have a shelf of these in the book room, a special collection of poetry and novels that always restore my faith in the work. They're not just keepers and re-readers, they're healers; books that actively repair the damage done by exposure to the truly awful. e.e. cummings has bandaged the spiritual wounds inflicted on me by horrible reads more times than I can count; so have novels by Mary Balogh, Patricia Briggs, Virginia Coffman, Mark Kurlansky, Rosina Lippi, Catherine Nicholson and Nathaniel Philbrick, to name a few.

Mostly I run to them (okay, hobble) when I need to clear my head and remind myself that craft is more important than hype, not all the great storytellers are deceased, and there is always another sanctuary book out there, just waiting to be discovered. To remember that sometimes one must wade through a great deal of manure to find a rose.

Sanctuary reads have another important function, in that they offer a professional challenge. Every one of them murmurs You can do better to me the writer, and that keeps me from stagnating. After you've published enough novels and/or enjoyed a certain amount of success, it's easy to fall into the career complacency trap and believe you have nothing more to learn, and no need to improve. Instead of raising the bar for yourself, you weld it in place -- and that is probably the cause of innumerable clunkers.

Do you have a book that serves as a sanctuary read? In comments to this post, tell us the title and/or the author (or if you're still looking for one, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Friday, November 19, 2010. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and grant the winner a BookWish*. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

*A BookWish is any book of your choice that is available to order from an online bookseller, with a maximum cost of $30.00 U.S. (I'll throw in whatever shipping costs are involved.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Midweek NaNo Post

There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.

-- William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Three reasons why I considered throwing in the towel on NaNoWriMo this week:

Losing my cat. My head knows Jak is at peace, which he absolutely deserved; my heart thinks my head is a stupid cold bitch who should shut the hell up. Neither one can sleep.

Accepting the latest bounce. A snotty no-thanks came in on a referral pitch (when one editor sends you to another.) I knew going in it would probably result in some sort of slapdown, so my bad. It's so beautifully snide, though, that I might have to frame it for posterity.

Plowing through my latest read. I made the mistake of picking up a critically-acclaimed novel from the remainder bin and thinking, Oh, why not? (Can you hear Jesus weeping? I didn't.)

These and other challenges have made like leeches on my creative energy, and naturally the writing has suffered. I know I'm cranky -- I had to edit this post five times before it stopped singeing off my eyelashes -- and every morning I start off in combat meditation mode: I will find my center and embrace my grief and not utter a single whisper about how much this towering heap of unadulterated critically-acclaimed crap I'm reading stinks. Most days I still want to kick an inanimate object, so the easiest thing would be to quit now before I explode. Before I break a toe or dent the dryer. Before I fail.

I'm sure many of you are dealing with issues that make mine look like a stroll through the park on a fine day; maybe some of you are thinking the same thing. So we can all go lock ourselves in a dark room and stay there watching soap operas and game shows and wondering if we should invest in Mister Steamy, The Wonder File, or that bracelet that is supposed to give you energy (preferably in the next ten minutes, so we can get an extra one for free if we just pay shipping & handling.) We could stay there until December 1st, when the chubby lady breaks into song. So much easier.

Only if we do that -- if we bail on NaNoWriMo -- we'll miss a rare opportunity. Times like these are when we're allowed to spit in the eye of the universe. When we reach this point, we're permitted to flip off fate, and tell bad luck to take a hike. This is when we can look at the yawning abyss avidly eyeing us, and say: No. You're not taking a bite out of me, or sucking me in, or swallowing me. I say when I'm finished, not you.

The abyss never knows how to respond to this because the abyss has never had to work for it.

I don't know if I'll make 50K words by December 1st, and frankly? I don't care. When I finish editing this post (for the sixth time), I'm going back into that room, and open my NaNo file, and write my story. And I'm going to keep writing my story, whenever I can, however I can, right up until midnight on November 30th.

The damn towel stays where it is.

Image credit © Ilya Genkin | Dreamstime.com

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Writing Gremlins

I considered not posting anything today, but that seems cowardly. And seductive, because once you stop writing for one very good reason it starts breeding and suddenly you're buried under a small mountain of Reasons Why I Can't Write tribbles.

I have other writing gremlins, too, and I thought I should give them all proper names:

Bouncing Boogerat: Feeds on nasty rejections from snotty editors and piddles on any attempt to get over them by writing something new

Cast Crusher: Squashes the life out of characters one by one until the cast falls apart

First Line Fumbler: Scrabbles and scratches at the first line of a story while demanding it be rewritten a few thousand times

Happily Ever After Harpy: Screeches in outrage over any logical story conclusion that does not imitate an animated Disney flick finale

Plotwrecking Pouncer: Slithers out from unseen holes to hoot over the slightest inconsistency

Series Sniveler: Whines incessantly for prequels, sequels and spin-offs and is never satisfied

Title Trasher: Demolishes every potentially decent title by insinuating that there is a better one just waiting to be thought up

I'd like to say that I've developed a way to exterminate these little pests, or at least neuter them, but no such luck. For every story I write a whole new swarm of them pop into my head; sometimes they cross-breed and produce even uglier gremlins (the first line fumbler and the HEA harpy have spawned a whole slew of little chapter crashers and scene snakes.) So I've learned to live with them, and not to feed too much of myself or the work to them; most of the time that keeps the damage to a minimum. Unless the Depression Demon shows up, at which point I hide under the bed.

Your turn: in comments name one of your gremlins (writing or otherwise) and how you've learned to manage them.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Freely Ten

Ten Things You Can Have for Nothing

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

Dramatis Personae 2 is "the second version of an app designed to track the personalities and information used by authors in writing fiction novels/short stories" (OS: Mac OS X)

Escaro is a "personal organizer. In fact it's much more than that - it's a complete organization solution! Escaro has been designed to be fun, simple & efficient, while still giving you all the power features you need, so you can do what you want, when you want, with the minimum of fuss. Escaro enables you to quickly organize and access all your important information (including time-critical & date-critical events, todo items, contacts & bills) in a streamlined package that helps you get the most out of your life" (OS: Windows 98/ME/XP/Vista/7)

Mendeley is a "free reference manager and academic social network that can help you organize your research, collaborate with others online, and discover the latest research." Features: "Automatically generate bibliographies; collaborate easily with other researchers online; easily import papers from other research software; find relevant papers based on what you’re reading; access your papers from anywhere online; read papers on the go with our new iPhone app" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

Someone out there (you know who you are) asked me if there was a freeware program available to help calculator mileage for tax purposes. I found this one, which looks like it might be of some use: The MMC (Monthly Mileage Calculator) "stores Locations, Dates, Times Visited and Cents per mile for totaling at the end of the month" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

NaNoWriTool gives users "the ability to edit plain text files, much like Notepad; a real-time word counter in the status bar; the word counter exactly matches the counting algorithm of the NaNoWriMo website; showing the word count target for the day in the status bar (assuming you write the same number of words every day); a timer for word wars that also counts the number of words you have typed during the word war; a full screen mode that eliminates all distractions; changing of the display font to suit your preferences
changing of foreground and background colours for maximum readability; simple formatting features, in particular: chapter headings and emphasis; a wide margin that makes text easier to read and can be clicked and dragged to select lines of text" (OS: Windows with .NET platform installed, Linux and Mac OS X with Mono installed)

The next incarantion of Papel is almost here: Romanzo, an "open source software project currently in the requirements planning phase. When completed, it will offer much of what Papel promises but with several key advances." In the meantime, Papel is still available for download at the Romanzo developer's mirror site.

sqlDesktop "can help you organize documents, WEB pages, database queries, multimedia data on CD ROM or DVD, etc..as easily as in an ordinary office environment. With sqlDESKTOP you can place related documents in the same binder even if some are computer files and others INTERNET Web sites or database queries . . . Information is easy to find because you don't have to remember the exact name of the document or where you put it. Visually locate what you are looking for in a familiar office environment and click on the selected document. sqlDESKTOP will take care of all the tasks: launching the right program on the right data file, pointing the browser on the right URL etc.. It's easy because sqlDESKTOP works the same way your mind works" (OS: Windows (All) / Linux)

Story Surfer Integrated Writing Environment is "an application to write almost anything: magazine articles, short stories, or novels. It will handle creating and modifying the writing project's series/story information, as well as the story's characters, character/familial/organizational relationships, locations (from metaverse on down to local site information), items that need description, timelines, manuscript submission tracking, and a ToDo list. It will also be able to handle extraneous research (mostly html, rtf, or text files) to be integrated and searchable" (OS: unspecified other than independent/portable, probably Java-based)

Looks like Suvudu has revamped their web site to make it look snazzier, busier and as a result even more difficult to navigate, but while wandering around like a lost lamb I did find a free e-book, Star Wars Lost Tribe of the Sith Pt. 5 ~ Purgatory by John Jackson Miller.

taskTome is a "personal information manager which allows you to maintain a list of events, diary entries, tasks, notes and financial information. It is light-weight program that displays the information that you need to keep track of without cluttering it up with un-needed features and controls, while still allowing you complete control over the information - including the ability to search, format, print, export and customize data" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Our cat Jak has been ill for a while now, but today was his time to move on to the next place. He passed away in my arms, all wrapped up in his favorite quilt.

Jak was the sweetest and most affectionate cat I've ever known. He loved to cuddle so much that the minute anyone sat down he would jump in their lap. Every night for the last twelve years he slept curled up somewhere around me, usually next to my heart, like this:

I don't know how I'm going to fill the space he's left behind, but I'm glad he's at peace now. Safe journey, my angel.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Endweek NaNoPost

Today I'm playing with images as I put together a cover for my NaNo novel. Making your own cover art is not a requirement of NaNoWriMo, but I think it's good exercise for your imagination. Your vision of your story probably includes what you think would make a suitable cover, and if it doesn't, figuring out what would work is fun.

It's also excellent practice for that day when someone else provides your cover art. While most pros have little to no control over what our publishers put on our books, occasionally we are consulted for input and ideas. Sending a mock-up of a cover is a great way to show your editor what you have in mind. Here are a couple that I put together and sent to my editor earlier this year to illustrate my ideas for the cover of After Midnight:


For the purposes of this post I'm going to discuss making cover art for a book that will not be for sale. In other words, this is cover art for a free/no-cost edition; when you get into cover art a for-sale edition we'd have to hammer out buying licenses and copyrighted images and what you can and cannot do for it. The cover I'm talking about today is just for you and whoever you give a copy of the book to for free.

The best images to use for this kind of cover art are those you take yourself, or those that are available online for non-profit use. I use images from Dreamstime.com's free image archives for PBW all the time, so there's one source for you (always be sure to read the terms and conditions of use at any free image site to make sure your work complies with them.)

Here's a shot I took of a lake at dusk that would suit my NaNonovel:

Now we need title and byline. I use a photoshop program that is no longer commercially sold, but most Windows computers come with a similar/simple program now, and simple is really all you need. To my image I add a top and bottom dark background bar, where I type in the text for the title and byline in an interesting but easy-to-read font (and no, this is not my novel's title; I'm keeping the real one under my hat until I decide what I'm going to do with it):

Of course if you're more talented at photoshop than me (which means you're probably at least a fifth grader) you can get much fancier and more complicated with your design. If you're an artist and can create your own artwork for your cover, that's even better. Personally I like simple cover art because I think it has more visual impact than designs that are crowded, ultra-detailed or have a lot of text on them, but if you want to do a Where's Waldo type cover, go for it. The whole idea is to give your novel a cover that expresses your vision, not mine.

Some other links that may be helpful:

If you're drawing a blank on ideas for your cover, go over and play with the fake French book cover art generator to get some inspiration (I don't recommend actually using the fake covers it produces as it borrows the images from Flickr, and making use of them for anything other than playing with the generator could involve obtaining permission from the original photographer, signed release of lien, etc.)

Dreamstime.com does have a pretty sizable, searchable archive of free photos donated by photographers for non-profit use. I think you do have to create an account in order to download them, but signing up is free (and the terms and conditions regarding their use can be found here.)

Except for those that belong to other artists and photographers, all of the images on my photoblog are free for anyone to use for non-profit purposes. A credit line with a link back to PBWindow would be appreciated. I'm just an average photographer, and I take pics mostly of ordinary things; if your book is about art, birds, bugs, dogs quilting or nature you might find something. Oh, and spiders -- lots of spiders.

Upload your cover art to The Feng-Gui attention analyzer and (for free) it will create a heatmap simulating where the human eye is most likely to linger.

The Tiltshift Generator takes a normal photograph of a location or object and manipulates it so it resembles the photograph of a miniature scale model.

If you find a particular image online that has interesting colors you'd like to use for your photoshopped art, try feeding the URL to DeGraeve.com's Color Palette Generator, which will give you the HTML palette.

Want to see some of the covers that other NaNo'ers have created for their novels? Check out the current cover art posting thread here in the NaNoWriMo forums.

Are you planning to make (or have you already made) cover art for your NaNo novel? Want to share any resources, tips or tricks? Let us know in comments.

Image credits:

Raven midnight image © Ales Nowak | Dreamstime.com; horse rider on the beach image © Maroš Markovič | Dreamstime.com

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hold the Apps, Please

Today a nice young man helped me get my daughter a new mobile phone. It's an early 16th birthday present, plus she dropped her old phone during band practice and it now displays everything only in virulent shades of green and pink.

The process of buying the new phone took almost three hours, during which the nice young man did his best to sell me more services and gadgetry. This included something that wirelessly recharges all your gadgets; evidently putting a plug into a wall socket has become too much work.

"Along with your mobile, you can charge your iPod, eReader, game controller, and your [Netbook or laptop. I can't remember which] all at the same time," he assured me.

I politely refused. "I don't own any of those things." I've been thinking about getting my daughter an iPod for Christmas but I'm not crazy about the potential damage it might cause her hearing. If I do, she can certainly plug it into the wall to recharge it.

He gave me the usual weird Huh? look but recovered quickly and moved on to the final phase of the purchasing process, when he explained the features of the new phone. When we got to the apps, of which there were apparently several million that could be downloaded, he asked which ones I happened to use on my own phone.

"None," I told him. "I don't use any."

Now he stared at me. "You don't have any apps on your phone?" In the same tone someone might ask, "You don't have any panties on?"

To show him I wasn't lying, I took out the disposable cell phone I've been lugging around for the last four years. It still has nearly all of the 1300 minutes I got for free when the disposable phone company forced me to give up the original phone I bought (seven years ago) because their equipment no longer supported the clunky old thing (they also gave me a newer, slimmer phone for free.) P.S., it also has another 1200 free minutes I've collected over the last four years when I renew my airtime.

The nice young man examined it with the awe of an Egyptologist discovering a lost king's tomb. "What does it do?"

"It sends and receives phone calls." I thought for a minute. "And it rings. That's pretty much it." Before he could launch into the "But don't you want a phone that can take pictures, check the internet, play music, access Twitter and Facebook, realign the Hubble" speech I added, "That's all I need it to do."

He wasn't giving up. "I could transfer this line over to your existing plan with us for $9.99 a month."

"Sorry," I said. "It's thirty bucks cheaper to buy a year of airtime from them in advance. Plus every time I do, they give me another 400 free minutes I'll never use."

He was speechless.

"It's okay. It's a great phone, and it does exactly what I need to it to do: it sits in my purse in case of an emergency while I'm on the road. Plus it costs me less to use for a whole year than I will pay you guys for my daughter to use her phone for a month." I smiled. "Isn't technology wonderful?"

I think he was still muttering to himself when I left the store.

When you pursue publication, you can be persuaded to invest a lot of money in a whole pile of gadgets and special software, all designed to make storytelling easier. I'm sure they even have how-to phone apps for writers now. You can also pay to attend conferences, workshops and seminars; you can join writer's organizations and guilds and subscribe to indy rags and what have you. For every bell and whistle out there, there is someone to convince you of how much you need it. This is because their priority is to get you to buy it.

I won't tell you what to do with your hard-earned cash; what writing stuff we buy is something we have to decide for ourselves. If it weren't for the Dragon, I know I couldn't write my novels, so there's one example. Another is the AlphaSmart Neo, which other writers tell me is as helpful as it is durable. It's only logical that some other products out there are equally worthwhile.

But before you whip out that credit card or write a check, just ask yourself: Do I need this, or am I being sold this?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

True Publishing Tees

My mother gave me this T-shirt as a Christmas gift a few years ago, and every time I wear it someone asks if I'm really a writer. Instead of answering I just smile mysteriously. Mysterious smiles get me out of a lot of dumb conversations.

As long as I could write the logos, I wouldn't mind going into the Publishing T-shirt biz. I think we need some more truthful tees for writers and other industry folk, though. What would really be great is if everyone had to wear a T-shirt identifying who they really are. Wouldn't that save everyone a lot of time, misunderstandings and headaches? Imagine going to a writing conference where you saw writers wearing these:

Better Agent Hunter
I'd be a bestseller by now, if not for that last idiot

Competition Backstabber
I've got a 1-star Amazon.com review with your name smeared all over it

Cookie Cutter Novelist
What, Me Have a New Idea?

Erotica Writer
Yes, I am imagining you naked

Pathetic Poser
Why write when I can talk about how much I suffer when I write?

Promo Queen
Here, have a bookmark while we chat about my new release

Publishing World Weary
You think Home Depot is hiring?

Quote Slut
If you've got a pulse, I've got a blurb

Self-Published and Proud
Say one word about how crappy self-published books are and I'm beating the snot out of you

Title Snatcher
I've got a novel for every great title you publish first

We'd also have to have some T-shirts for the editors and agents, too:

Too many acquisitions, not enough TUMs

Aspiring Allergic (editor version)
If you don't have an agent, get away from me

Aspiring Allergic (agent version)
If you don't have a contract offer, get away from me

Author in Disguise
Here, have a bookmark while we chat about my debut release

Bestseller Snob
If I don't know who you are, I don't want to know who you are

Habitual Dumper
The minute you stop making money for me, out you go

Indifferent Idler
Yeah Uh-huh Whatever

Kindly Liar
It actually wasn't that nice to meet you

Secret Vacationer
I'm just here for the shopping and the theme parks

Way Overworked
Where's the damn Tiki Bar?

All right, it's your turn: what sort of true publishing tee would you like to see? Tell us in comments.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Midweek NaNoPost

I am not going to jump on the bandwagon intent on running down this year's nominee for Biggest NaNoWriMo Basher. I had a choice this morning of reading this nitwit's opinion of me and all my fellow NaNo'ers, or making an apple pie for dessert tonight. The apple pie easily defeated the nitwit.

I love to think about story when I'm cooking, especially when I'm baking apple pie. The oven warms up the kitchen, and the apples add a nice tart scent to the air as I peel and slice them. I add cinnamon and get a little reckless with the nutmeg; I love the smell of nutmeg.

They should call it baker's cocaine, my protagonist tells me as she invites me to walk with her through her next scene. And as I'm rolling out the pie crust, I'm also standing in an orange grove with her spying on her nemesis, who is doing laps in his heated pool. We both hate him, but we also both think he's got a killer bod. The mix of her feelings stirs along with my spoon as I toss the apple slices and consider the outward/inward manner in which she'll react when half-naked Nemesis discovers her lurking around his place. In the process I learn something new about both characters.

Finally my pie is constructed, and I take a photo of it before I pop it in the oven. It's not going to win any pastry beauty contests, but the taste will be a luscious, not-too-sweet delight. I know from experience that my guy and our daughter will demolish at least half of it after dinner. They aren't expecting it, either, so it'll be a nice surprise. Now it's time to get back to writing; I'm relaxed, happy, and mentally ready to put this scene on the screen. I have a couple of hours to work, then it's off to do school pick-up, homework patrol and get dinner rolling. Right now I feel like I could wrestle a couple of bears, too.

That's how I work, and I couldn't do it if I was busy running around the internet reading trash written by bashers. I knew as soon as I heard about this disgruntled little soul that if I read the piece, I'd get offended and depressed and pissed off, and probably spend another hour trying to detox from it before I even tried to write. There would probably be a couple of TUMs involved in that process. I wouldn't feel like cooking, so no homemade apple pie for my family, and no time to spend with my protagonist or walk through the scene with her. I wouldn't have discovered anything new about my characters, and the chapter and the story would have suffered for it.

As important as your writing time is, what you do during your non-writing time also has an impact on the work. Baking a pie is work, but it's also magic. It's like creative alchemy; it gives back a dozen times what it requires in effort. Just the aromatherapy benefits alone (my house will smell wonderful all afternoon) are worth the trouble. It also gave me time to wonder, and relax, and indulge in some imaginary choreography. As busy as my life is, that kind of time is unbelievably precious.

Living the writing life means making a lot of choices. You can spend your non-writing time immersed in contempt, and hatred, and cleverly-worded tantrums, and waste your energy going after the people who live for that crap (who could care less what you think, btw.) You can let it sour you, make you bitter and discontented, and eventually burn up whatever talent you have feeding the high-octane engines of your perpetual anger.

Or you can shut it off, walk away from the wolves and the sheep, and use your non-writing time to accomplish something personal that has meaning to you. Something that fills you with warmth and satisfaction (we do call it refilling the well for a reason), boosts your self-esteem, renews your sense of creativity and makes you and those who share your life happy. Something that gives back more than what you brought to it.

I know which one makes me a better writer, how about you?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

24/7 Story

If you have a camera to play with, you can challenge yourself as a writer by going out and in 24 hours taking at least seven pictures of the people and things you see that would make up the elements of an interesting story (and don't worry if what you photograph is painfully ordinary. Most of us rarely see knights in shining armor on a daily basis.)

Here's a 24/7 collection I composed over the weekend to use as an example for this post:

Begin your photographic story project by finding a setting that appeals to you. This lake here has inspired not one but three novels for me, so when we had a particularly spectacular sunset I thought this shot would make an interesting beginning. It's lovely but it's also a little eerie. Everything is very still, almost as if it's waiting for someone to arrive. So it can eat them? Or deliver them from the past into our time? Something to think about.

The next day I ran into . . . all right, all right, so occasionally I run into knights in shining armor when I'm out and about. Sue me.

This dazzling gentleman really epitomized for me the element of the hero (or protagonist) in the story. As archetypal characters go, you don't get any more classic than this. He's on the move, and definitely geared up and ready for battle; I feel sorry for anyone or anything that gets in his way. At the same time the big guy is also holding up a rose instead of a lance or a sword.

One flower, a million interpretations. He could be looking for a lady to give it to, or maybe a lady just gave it to him. It could also represent the sort of life he wishes he could live; perhaps he's tired of being a knight and now simply wants to settle down somewhere and putter around in the garden. What if he happened to be caught in a storm, and took refuge under those dark trees by my eerie lake, and woke up the next morning to find himself in 2010?

Wherever there is a knight hero, there is also milady heroine (or another protagonist.) It's a given, trust me. She's lovely, mysterious, and she has a thing for sideways glances and beseeching come-hither looks. Is she the Lady of the Lake, or La Belle Dame Sans Merci? What if she's a little of both?

I think she's hiding from something that wants to make sure she never receives the rose. Maybe it's the same thing that drove her down to the eerie lake, where she follows Sir Big Guy into the future (option #1). Or walks down by the lake to find him in her time of 2010 (option #2.) In my story I'd probably go with option #1, because if I wrote this heroine she'd have a spine to match Sir Big Guy's; I'm an equal opportunity writer. I also know that no matter what era they live in, very few women in real life are helpless or stupid. We may not wear the shiny armor or get the fancy titles, but we fight just as many battles as our guys.

What would a novel be without a motley crew of secondary characters? Deadly dull, I think. Secondary characters are fun to write, don't have to try to fill the hero or heroine's shoes, and can be the most malleable (and therfore valuable) story element. At first sight I'm almost convinced the guy on the left is my hero's younger brother. The handsome, harmless little bro who just wants to have a good time, but then has to grow up in a hurry when Sir Big Guy vanishes.

This trio of friends or lovers were obviously having a lot of fun, and amazing story power just radiated from them. I stared more than was polite because their open happiness fascinated me. That's not a dynamic you often see happening with 2 guys + 1 girl. Who are they? Should the lake toss them through time, too? Or are they going to be the ones who help my protagonists return to the past?

Wherever there's a hero and a heroine and a likeable bunch of friends, there's always someone who would very much like to ruin that forever, aka the villain (or the antagonist.)

Very often my antagonists turn out to be heroes waiting to be inspired to give up their wicked ways, and this guy is no exception. But until I figure out if/how I'd reform him, I won't believe a word he mutters. He may tell me he's just going to knock the apple off someone's head, but I still watch his aim -- it will always be lower. He's definitely from 2010; maybe a renegade scientist who turned the lake into a time portal so he could go back in time and steal Sir Big Guy's fortune, legacy, lady . . . or set himself up to take the place of an important king so he can change history (in his own favor, of course.)

Every story needs a conflict, or a problem for the characters to wrestle with and/or resolve. As a storyteller I'm attracted to both the dark and light sides of story conflict, and the ones I find most interesting are those that can't be quickly or neatly resolved.

Conflict comes with choices to be made by everyone in the story, and can be summarized by the image of the two bottles here. They could contain anything from a dark beer and a light ale to root beer and cream soda. Or poison and an antidote. Or something else. My characters won't know until they take a swig. Or perhaps they're permitted to try only one, so which one do they choose, the light or the dark? What if the choice my characters make decides which time they'll be stuck in? Some nice possibilities here.

Once we find out exactly what the eerie lake does, and the hero explains his armor and his rose, and the heroine likewise comes out from behind her fine feathers, and the motley crew do what they can to liven things up while the villain adjusts his aim and we discover exactly what is in the bottles of conflict and how they're going to change things for everyone, we come to the time when we have to shift into resolution, so we can solve the problems, wrap things up and finish the story so everyone can go home.

Or not, at least, not entirely. I'm a series writer, so every ending is an opportunity for me to see what happens next. Rather than let the characters vanish on the last page, I'd rather follow them somewhere else, see what they go from here. For me the characters really are what drives every story, and I like to take more than one journey with them. And that eerie time-shifting lake obviously isn't going anywhere.

The next time you'll be out and about for a day, take your camera with you, and snap some shots of your corner of the world. You never know who you'll run into, or what story they're waiting to tell you.

Monday, November 08, 2010

NaNoStuff Ten

Ten Things for the NaNoWriMo'ers

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

Artificial Planet is "a virtual world for artificial intelligence. The environment has water, land, suns, moons, and atmosphere. Plants, animals, fish, and insects can be added to create a dynamic ecosystem. Clouds, rain, wind, lightning, rivers, and icebergs naturally arise from the sun and other influences. You can explore your planet from outer space, by walking around, by tracking creatures, or by controlling a robot that interacts with objects. Artificial Planet is an OpenSource project built with GLScene" (OS: Windows 98/2000/XP)

AutoRealm is "a Free GNU mapping software (a "cartographer") that can design maps of castles, cities, dungeons and more. AutoREALM is generally used by Role-playing Game practicants who enjoy doing their own maps. But it could fits the needs of other people. If you are a Role-Playing gamer or else, you are cordially invited to join the AutoREALM community: fellows gathered around a free hobbyist map tool. Originally made by Andrew Gryc (say "grits"), AutoREALM is now Open Source, creating a unique opportunity for the RPG world to mix graphics and computer programming" (OS: Microsoft Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP; Runs under Wine on Linux systems)

CreateSpace is offering a free proof copy in paperback book form of every NaNoWriMo winner's manuscript. All you need is to sign up for a free CreateSpace account, and use a promotional code that will be issued to all winners on the NaNoWriMo site (available beginning December 2, 2010, valid through June 30, 2011.) For more information, read the details from Chris Baty here.

Get an occupation, a personality insight, and a nicely detailed physical description for a random character over at Serendipity with the Detailed Character Generator. Also for all those interior places and spaces in your story: a room description generator.

Want a free off-site backup space for your novel? A basic DropBox account is free, and comes with 2GB of space for as long as you need it (this one is also recommended by our blogpal Charlene Teglia.)

This Fake Name Generator allows you to pick your fake name's gender, ethnicity, country of residence, and generates them along with a whole slew of fake personal info.

Need to liven things up with your characters? Try FutureIsFiction.com's Let's put your character in a sticky situation generator.

Sweet Home 3Dis "a free interior design application that helps you place your furniture on a house 2D plan, with a 3D preview" (OS: Windows, Mac OS X 10.4 to 10.6, Linux and Solaris)

If you need to create a timeline for your novel, you can try the free level of TimeGlider here.

Jeroen Kessel's Word Generator creates artificial random words in your choice of seven languages. The helpful thing about this particular generator is that it produces words that look and even sound real; it also gives you sixty words at once, which gives provides a nice selection to choose from versus the one-word generators out there.

Sunday, November 07, 2010


Fall Back: In the U.S. "Standard time begins each year at 2:00 A.M. on the first Sunday in November, with clocks moving one hour back." So all my U.S. resident visitors who did not set their clocks back last night should go do it now because Daylight Savings Time is officially over. It's also an excellent time to change the batteries in your household smoke detectors (link: U.S. Daylight Savings Time in 2010: Clock Changes - When to Spring Forward and Fall Back)

Finished, Eh: Jean M. Auel, author of the Earth's Children series which started with The Clan of the Cave Bear thirty years ago in 1980, says that The Land of Painted Caves, the sixth and supposedly final novel in the series (due out in March) may not be the end after all. I've been reading this series since I was nineteen years old when I actually hung out with Ayla in the caves, so yeah, I'd like some closure. Jean, you're 74. Write book seven if you have to, but please, finish the damn series before one or both of us buy the farm, okay?

It's Alive: For those of you who chuckled over the Mash-O-Matic, you might want to check out Seventh Sanctum's new Classic Cool Creator. This is the one I liked: Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie) with alien abduction. Covers just about everything in the entire SF genre, doesn't it?

So long, Nathan: Literary agent and popular indy blogger Nathan Bransford has abruptly quit the rep end of the biz to work for CNET as a social media strategy coordinator. Makes me wonder if I should fly to NY, swipe my agent's Blackberry and toss it in the Hudson. All kidding aside, best of luck over at CNET, Nathan.

White Night: I stumbled across this beautiful and brilliant video while out surfing and thought it showed just how, um, shattering love at first sight can be (has background music, and is about four and a half minutes long -- runs mostly in slow motion -- but is entirely work safe.):

Nuit Blanche from Spy Films on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

EndWeek NaNoPost

This first week of NaNoWriMo I felt like I'd gotten caught up in a secret conspiracy to keep me from writing. To give you the Reader's Digest version:

Monday: Go to scheduled doctor's visit, have unscheduled minor surgery, hobble home, write while ignoring new and mysterious jaw pain, pain results in sleepless night #1.

Tuesday: Go for emergency dentist visit, root canal not required (hooray) but if I don't stop stressing I may have to begin wearing a mouth guard to bed (whine), too wired to nap but manage a little more writing, stress over stressing results in sleepless night #2.

Wednesday: Protagonist #2 refuses to let me in his head, write three pages of utter crap, my voice fails, indulge in hours of more stressing over whether I've taken the wrong approach (but I didn't clench!), massive tension headache, sleepless night #3.

Thursday: Shift into "keep busy mode" while having mental knock-down drag-out with Protagonist #2, I win, try to nap but can't, later fall into temporary couch coma and sleep through my editing time, then can't sleep when I should, sleepless night #4.

Friday: Have to skip my morning writing to edit Thursday's pages, daughter decides to have emergency BFF sleepover, set aside writing again to get guest room ready, my guy takes a day off and wants to hang with me, set aside writing yet again, I consider moving to a hotel with internet access until Dec. 1st, imagine my guy making Thanksgiving dinner, cringe and decide to write this post until they all leave tonight for the football game (I'm staying home to write in what had better be complete peace and quiet.)

The unexpected hits all of us, and one thing I've learned as a person and a writer is not to let it burrow under my hide. Life is chaotic, stuff happens, and you deal with it until you can get back to the work. Or you don't and the work grows cold, gathers dust or is abandoned.

It's hard not to feel inadequate when we don't reach the goals we set for ourselves. Guilt and blame start to settle in and gnaw at us. We envy others who don't have to arm-wrestle minor surgery or jaw pain or sleepless nights on top of the work; it's tempting to hate those who are sailing merrily along while we flounder.

Stay out of that place, because it poisons you and the writing. Laugh at it, tell a friend about it, write a blog post about it. Treat yourself to a little first-week reward for having made it through because I assure you, you had it a hell of a lot tougher than all those merry sailors who effortlessly rapped out 20K. You didn't just write twenty pages this week, you probably fought twenty battles to write those pages this week.

I would have liked my first week of NaNo to go smoother and myself to be more productive, but it's done, it's past, and I have three more weeks to play. More than ever I am determined to have fun. Can't do that if I'm too busy being disappointed over what I now cannot change.

What was your biggest challenge this week? How did you deal with it? Let us know in comments.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Everything I Didn't Want to Know (Almost)

Blogger via Google has now stuck me with a Stats section, which shows page views for Paperback Writer per day, week, month and year as well as referral links, search terms, countries where my audience resides and what every one of you were doing last night at midnight. Yes, I'm kidding about the last part (although God knows, that'll probably be the next invasion of privacy.)

I've never put any stealth software or traffic counter on PBW, so until now I've been able to pretend only a dozen or so friends stop by occasionally to follow my rambling. Turns out there are a lot more of you dropping in than I realized (more like four times the amount that ping the blog whenever I ask.) Thank you for so thoroughly tromping on my blogging fantasy, Google.

One good thing about this is I can see which posts and pages are getting the most traffic. Novel Outlining 101 is at the top of the charts today, as is my Freebies and Free Reads page. I'm glad the most popular posts are the ones about novel writing and free stuff; being a writer's resource is the whole point of PBW.

Another bonus is this global map, which shows where my visitors reside. I'm really not nosy, but it is pretty neat to see where everyone is (and the map only shades in the countries where the majority of my visitors live; there's no personal residence info or any other creepy invasive stuff.) The United States tops that list today, followed by the United Kingdom, Canada, Russia, Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, Slovenia, France and Israel. As I've always suspected, we are a very international bunch around here (and I know one young lady in France who is reading this instead of unpacking those boxes in the spare bedroom, which she had better do before her father comes to visit, hint, hint.)

I'm not happy about the rest of the data they're shoving at me -- sometimes ignorance truly is bliss -- but I suppose it'll come in handy the next time the Powers That Be want to know how popular the blog is. No more pinging required. That's rather depressing; I always liked the ping posts. Sniff.

What do you guys who are using Blogger think of this new feature? Is it just the next version of incessantly Googling yourself, or do you think we can get some practical use out of it?

Thursday, November 04, 2010


One thing about NaNoWriMo is that it doesn't exactly give us weeks and weeks to figure out who our characters are. With that in mind, here's a quick and fun characterization exercise I use in my creative writing workshops that may help you speed up the process.

First, compile an alphabetical list of quirks, traits and/or other aspects of personality (positive or negative) that best describe your character. Try to avoid words that are synonyms of each other. For the tough letters (X and Z) you can use words that contain the letters versus starting with them.

Here's one of my lists:

Arrogant, bewildering, courageous, demanding, exemplary, ferocious, gifted, hot-headed, intelligent, jealous, kind, lonely, mysterious, nitpicky, overbearing, proud, quick, rebellious, sensitive, terrifying, unyielding, volatile, wistful, eXiled, young, priZed

To get more out of the exercise, take each word from your list and describe in one sentence why that particular trait, quirk or other personality aspect applies to your character (bits of backstory are helpful here.) By the time you're finished, you should have a pretty decent character outline.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Midweek NaNo Post

If you haven't begun writing your NaNoWriMo novel yet, don't beat yourself up over it. I mean it. You've still got twenty-eight days left, and while I don't recommend waiting until the twenty-seventh to start your novel, coming out of the gate a little late may be your subconscious's way of giving you a little more time to get your head in the right place.

Most writers do something to align our creative selves and prep for the story journey. We have rituals and warm-ups and self-motivational habits that we refine and hone to get the maximum benefits. Writing a novel can be like running a mental marathon, so it makes sense to warm-up right before the race (and be sure to double-knot our lucky sneakers.)

Mental writing preparation doesn't have to be all about the work. Putting together my novel notebook and writing a synopsis are two of my pre-novel rituals, but they're no more important than my daily thirty-minute morning meditations or picking out the right socks to wear each morning (green, blue or black with no obvious patterns.) Your choice of prep do doesn't have to make sense to anyone but you; the important thing is that it works.

If you feel like you're stuck in a writing rut, you might consider mixing things up a bit. If possible, trying changing things like where you write, the time of day or night you write, or alter the length of your writing sessions. If your empty word counter is bugging the hell out of you, get rid of it. The internet can be a huge distraction as well as a source of endless temptations that can and will derail your writing, so try unplugging for a day or two. Don't worry, Twitter will still be there when you get back.

Reading while you're writing a novel can also be a tricky business. I am not an advocate of reading your favorite author(s) books when you're writing because of the tendency to compare your writing with theirs as well as the temptation to (consciously or unconsciously) lift things from their work. Aside from what research I need to reference, I tend to stick to nonfiction books that are entirely unrelated to what I'm working on (today's TBR stack is Quilts en Provence, The Pirate's Primer and Dungeon, Fire & Sword.) I also stock up on cooking, architectural and archaeological magazines for writing break times. P.S. If you don't agree with me, and find reading your favorite authors doesn't mess with your own work, go for it. In all things writing, do what works for you.

If you know the only thing keeping you from your story is self doubt and/or fear of failure, I invite you to join the No Expectations Club. We don't charge dues because as writers we've been informed -- repeatedly -- that we suck, we can't write, and we'll never produce a bestseller, interest a single reader or attain even a tiny crumb of that mythical fame and fortune that has been bestowed on far better writers. Naturally we won't; we're serious losers.

In fact, everything we write is probably going to be utter garbage that should be used only to publicly humiliate us, or line kitty litter boxes, or be burned along with our effigies at the next BEA. Sad, but true. So come on, say the club's motto with me: We're totally worthless, no one cares about us, and we know it. See, once you join the club and accept our charter, you can write whatever you want. No expectations = complete freedom.

I've made this novel journey almost a hundred times now, taken the same roads, moved at the same speed, and followed the same lines. Even when I make stops in the same places, not once has it ever been the same trip. It's always different. No matter how carefully I plan, I will never really know what's around the next page corner. That won't stop me from writing, because a big part of this is discovering what's waiting for me to find it.

So how are you guys doing with NaNo?