Monday, January 31, 2011

Ways to Save Ten

Ten Things to Help Writers Save $$$

Attend Local/Regional Events Versus National Conferences: Here are two examples of actual lodging and registration costs for attending national conferences: RWA National: $1175.00; Romantic Times: cost $965.00 (and these figures do not include airfare or other transportation costs, meals, parking etc., which can run an additional $500.00 - $1000.00.) Skipping national conferences and attending a regional or local event will cost considerably less, such as Lori Foster's Annual Reader & Author Get Together for $332.00 lodging & registration. Author Shiloh Walker (who kindly provided the figures for me) also mentioned that at Lori Foster's event writers are given plenty of time to interact with readers, attend workshops, and have appointments with agents and editors (and my thanks to Shiloh for sharing the financial info and advice.)

Barter for What You Can't Afford Now: Offer to barter for something you need with another writer friend. It can be an even trade, i.e. "You proof my manuscript, and I'll proof yours" or an exchange of specialties, such as a techno-savvy writer making a flash web site for an artistic writer who trades an e-book cover art design. The idea is for you both to end up with something of equal value that you need but can't do yourself and/or afford to buy. Your specialty doesn't have to be writing-related, either -- I once restored an heirloom family quilt for a friend who paid me in some hard-to-find research books I needed.

Brew Your Own Coffee: I know how much writers love coffee and convenience; the first place they go to when they want to write in public is a bookstore coffee shop. But buying that $2-$3 cup of coffee can over time add up to a major expense, as per Barbara Thau's article Savings Experiment: The Perks of Brewing versus Buying Coffee over at Wallet Pop: "A 6-ounce cup of coffee made at home, at about 17 cents a cup per day, adds up to $1.19 a week and $62.05 a year. A 16-ounce grande coffee from Starbucks, at $2.29 per day, adds up to $16.03 per week, and a hefty $835.85 per year -- the price of a mini vacation." Or a new laptop, for that matter.

Buy Used Instead of New Books: Most authors frown on this because we make our living off new book sales, but for half of my life I couldn't afford any new books so I'm not one of them. Buying from used book stores is simply common sense when money is tight, as is checking out library book sales, thrift stores, junk shops and garage sales. Make up a list of books you're looking for and keep it in your wallet for unexpected finds. You can also hunt for used books online; one place I still use to find out-of-print titles is, and they almost always have what I need in a range of prices. I've never had a single problem with condition of the books I've bought or their sellers, and I can't say that about any of the bigger online chain booksellers.

Cancel or Swap Trade Mag Subscriptions: There are a limited number of writing and Publishing magazines out there, and I think Publishers Weekly is the most expensive (according to their web site, they're currently charging $249.99 per year for US subscribers, $299.99 for Canada and $399.99 for international. The digital edition is only slightly better at $180.00 per year, but the site doesn't specify if this is US-only or global, so don't hold me to that price.) The quality of the content of the trades in general has gone down to the point that they are utterly useless to me, so I've cancelled all my subscriptions, and this saves me a couple hundred dollars a year. I know how hard it is to let go of them, though, and it's not necessary to give them up entirely if you form a monthly issue swap with some writer friends. This is when everyone agrees on a list of mags they want, and each of you subscribe to one of them. After you're finished reading each issue of the mag you've subscribed to, you pass it along to the next person in the group, who do the same with theirs, and repeat until everyone in the group gets a chance to read the mag, which then returns to the person who subscribed to it. If you live close to a bunch of other writers, you can also use an issue swap as a reason to get together (at which point you can discuss the articles and share info.) This works great with a crit group that meets every month, too.

Go Laser instead of Inkjet: When it's time to replace your old inkjet printer, consider buying a laser printer instead. Over the years I've used many types of inkjet and monochrome laser printers, and laser is superior to inkjet in almost every category: they print faster, are designed for high-volume printing (which writers need for manuscripts), last longer and have fewer problems. Even the toner for a laser printer is cheaper (depending on where you shop, about 50%-75% less than inkjet.) Inkjet printers themselves are much cheaper, and therefore less pricey to replace, but with the supplies you end up paying more for using them. According to this article over at "Monochrome laser costs about two-to-three cents per page (about half that is for consumables, the rest for hardware). Color laser printing runs 10 to 15 cents, and a personal inkjet is about double that price."

Recycle Old Manuscripts and Used Printer Paper: Put a box by your computer for old manuscripts and other printed papers you don't need and place them in it with the blank side in the printing position (usually up, but run a test on your printer to be sure.) When you collect a stack, put them in your printer paper tray instead of new paper (and save new paper for formal use like business correpondence, submissions, etc.) By using paper twice you can cut up to 50% of the cost.

Refill Toner Cartridges Instead of Replacing Them: Depending on the type of printer you use, you're probably paying $30.00 - $70.00 every time you need a new toner cartridge. Office Depot sells a bunch of black and color toner refill kits under $20.00, and they often last for up to three uses, which would save you anywhere from $30.00 to $150.00 dollars. If you're not in love with the idea of refilling cartridges, which can get messy, try to buy remanufactured replacements, which are usually 25%-50% cheaper than brand-new.

Replace Your Web Site with a Free Blog: WebPageFX says that the average cost of an informational or small business web site runs from $2,000.00 to $6,000.00 per year. I've paid even more than that, and cutting that expense permanently from my budget was a huge savings. Blogger/Google, which provides the space for PBW and its archives, charges me nothing. Last year they gave me an additional ten pages where I've parked a lot of my author info. I've had no major issues with Blogger since I started using it for my old blog back in 2000. As for those people who say you have to pay in order to draw traffic, PBW is also usually in the top 200 book blogs listed on Technorati, so I'm proof that you can make a free blog just as popular as a pricey web site.

Track Expenses, Evaluate and Weed Out the Unnecessary: If you don't know what you're spending your money on, how can you save any at all? It's like trying to diet without knowing how many calories you're consuming. For fixed expenses you can add up your monthly bills. To track personal expenditures like food, gas and entertainment, get a receipt for every penny you spend, put all the receipts in your wallet, and at the end of the month take them out and add them up. Seeing how much you spend on a monthly basis on non-fixed expenses is usually an eye-opener, especially when you discover you spend more on McDonald's than you do for medical insurance. It will also help you discover areas where you can eliminate wasteful spending or try a cheaper alternative (like brown-bagging your lunch.)

Sunday, January 30, 2011


I know the very first time I bought a book because of a video was after I watched Kinsey Holley's Kiss and Kin book video; that was also the only time a book video interested me enough to make a purchase -- ever. Alas, Kinsey will now have to share her Got-PBW title, because seeing Brent Hartinger's wry and funny book video for his new novel Shadow Walkers convinced me to buy a copy. The author made me laugh, and the story sounds cool, but I'm pretty sure it was the cat who clinched the sale.

Gerard over at The Presurfer shared a link to a new (or, at least, new-to-me) kind of search engine called Qwiki. I tried it out and it shows you images and tells you via a mechanical? voice some brief information about your search topic (why, I don't know. Since it's image-heavy it's obviously not designed for the visually impaired. Are we supposed to be too lazy to read stuff now?) Although the front page claims Qwiki knows millions of things, it didn't know anything about the first five common terms I searched for, so it may be a few mil short of all-knowing. Since it's based on Wikipedia info it's also likely to be quite inaccurate, so caveat emptor.

Last but not least, I've always been interested in recording my dreams, working them into my stories and otherwise exploring the last inviolate refuge of the imagination. I also see a lot of weird stuff when I'm out hunting for freeware on the internet. Did I ever think those two things would someday intersect? No. You can't hack dreams. Well, guess what.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Blast from the Past

I've been hunting down my favorite old music videos to share with my daughter (who has no idea how cool MTV used to be) and in the process I found one I haven't seen in at least twenty years or better:

I know, by today's standards it's pretty dorky, but I loved it. Back when music videos were in their infancy they often told little mini-stories like this. They fascinated me and no doubt influenced me in innumerable ways. The song is still a heartbreaker, too.

What are some of your favorite old (pre-2000) music videos that told stories?

Friday, January 28, 2011

28th of Snowfall, Year of the Vulture

The Fantasy World News Network is an automated generator that uses word replacements to transform our planet's news into headlines from a mirror-universe world, where things like the month of January are called Snowfall and personal computers become valesylvers. The host site also has another headline generator that does the same thing with a SF spin here.

Making up newspaper headlines is fun, and good practice for learning how to condense ideas and make them attractive (like a story premise you might mention in a query letter, or a tagline for your upcoming release.) The trick of writing a great headline is to offer just enough information and provocation to make the reader want to keep reading:

Improve Your Love Life and Lose Weight (Have That Secret Baby!)

The Scroll That Makes You Immortal -- Or Dead -- in 3 Days

Mayan Miscalculation Means New Date for Apocalypse: Tomorrow

If you want to use headlines as a way to create a non-traditional outline of your story, write up one for each scene or chapter that provides a quick overview or general idea of what happens in them, i.e.:

Faceless Vampire First Kidnaps Then Infects World's Fastest Surgeon

Socialite Slashed by Ghost While Sleeping, Spell Breaker to Investigate

First Day of School, Worst Day of Life

Headline-writing is also a great way to explore the unfamiliar territory of copy-writing, which sometimes authors are called upon to proof for their back covers. When you've got space for only a couple of paragraphs, being able to relate your story in a brief but alluring way is a handy skill, especially when the copy you get is less than stellar.

The other great thing about headlines is that they're kind of like writing haiku -- the more often you write them, the better you get. While I was putting together this post and making up headline examples, a tagline I've been trying to think up in more conventional ways finally popped in my head:

It's After Midnight -- Are You Ready to Ride?

Now it's your turn: what would be a fun headline for what you're working on right now? Let us know in comments.

Related links:

Copyblogger has a post here that defines the different types of headlines and why they hook a reader's attention.

Melissa Donovan's Writing Exercises for Titles and Headlines explains how to write them and gives you some exercises for practice.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Vision and Visibility

Last night I had an epiphany moment while I was re-reading Journaling Without Borders, an article Carrie Todd wrote in the Summer 2010 issue of Art Journaling. I'd gone back to the magazine to study a technique, and then read the rest just for fun. See, I don't save all these magazines for nothing, I do re-read them. It only takes a couple years to work my way through the collection.

Anyway, on one of her journal pages in the issue Carrie had glued a surrealistic circus figure, the word "bizarre" in all caps, and had written a short passage about her own reaction to another article in Rolling Stone about U2's frontman Bono, and the motto he lives by: "Vision over Visibility" (a bit more on that here.) Magazines, especially creative-theme ones, often have that quasi-droste effect: one good article always makes me want to read another.

The motto poses an interesting dilemma for a writer: Which comes first, your vision, or your visibility?

Vision has been a cornerstone of professional writing, or at least it was before visibility became so important. The first time I read an agent talking about the vital importance of a writer's "platform" over the work itself, I knew vision had taken a backseat to visibility. If things keep going in that direction, craft, quality and personal commitment will be joining it. Or at least the old lady storyteller inside me is muttering that under her breath.

Publishing wants visibility over vision. It's the foundation of the business attitude, and it makes a lot of money. We might not like it, but no one can deny that visibility is important to us as well. As professionals we want to sell what we write, and if no one notices what we've published, we don't sell. Every year the market becomes more crowded, and now that no-cost digital self-publishing has successfully eliminated the submission process, I expect the number of titles available will soar right out of the stratosphere.

I think you can have the best of both worlds -- vision and visibility -- if you don't compromise on one for the sake of the other. If you are so exhausted from spending all your time networking and socializing and getting your name out there, you're not going to write well, if at all. Same goes for walling yourself away in your ivory writing tower and spending all your time with the work -- you lose touch with the market, what the competition and the publishers are doing; you fall behind the times.

I'm not in either camp. I believe one can combine vision and visibility and make them work together. You're looking at what I do almost every day to have a professional presence online. It's simply one thing, and I know every other author does a lot more, but sometimes just one thing is enough. PBW has become an integral part of my writing life, one that allows me to be visible and yet do exactly what I want at the same time. Over the years doing just this one thing has not only brought new readers for my books, it's provided me with a global circle of friends and colleagues who share their visions, too.

Just last week I got an e-mail from a writer who is being published for the first time. The story will appear in an anthology that had an open call I listed in one of my sub ops posts last fall. That's visibility. The writer discovered the opportunity here, wrote a story for it, and now is turning pro. That's vision.

It goes both ways, too. A comment one of you left here about a year ago led me to a piece written by an editor I didn't know. It was a terrific piece, and impressed me so much that I printed it out and put it in my editor info file. I keep that file because I never know who I might be working with, and having a little info in advance helps. A few weeks ago when I lost my editor, I pulled my file, re-read that article, did a bit more research and decided to request that editor. Now we're working together. It definitely wouldn't have happened if I hadn't read that article.

Now it's your turn: which do you think is more important, vision or visibility? How are you juggling them, if at all? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Today I am also guest blogging again, this time over at Word Nerd, where I'll be talking about that little line from Frostfire that spooked me so much. My very kind hosts are also giving away this lovely Kyndred gift basket filled with a signed set of all three Kyndred novels, a mug, hot cocoa, teas, and nibblies:

Stop in if you have a chance and say hi.

Story Palettes

My guy and I are midway through renovating the college kid's old room to make it over for his sister. We've moved out most of the furniture and last weekend painted over the light blue walls with our daughter's choice of color. Or, rather, no color, as she chose pure white.

Why white? Her favorite color palette is like the old joke: what's black and white and red all over? Everything the kid owns. Her linens are scarlet and snow white, her room accents are onyx and everything else echoes that stark trio, even her vaguely Asian/Gothpunk wardrobe.

We're not sure where this comes from, as her father likes browns and neutrals, and I'm more into sea and sky colors for living spaces, but we're going along with it. We like to let the kids express themselves as much as possible in their personal spaces, even when we don't find their choices especially appealing. To me her palette resembles the inside of a diner from the fifties (or a Steak & Shake now), and all that red makes the medic in me nervous. Still, I look at it this way: I don't have to live in it. And whenever my guy starts shaking his head I remind him she could have decided on something more exciting for her walls, like traffic accident crimson, or moonless midnight sky.

I began deliberately using color palettes for stories back when I began writing the Darkyn books. Paletting was something I did all the time as a quilter, and I wanted to see how it would work with story. At first I centered on one color for thematic purposes, but as I studied nature, art and architecture for world-building purposes my story palettes began to grow and become more complex. In the visuals section of my novel notebooks I started adding pages of color swatches, first from my own fabric stash and then from raids on magazines, photos I'd taken and chips cut from paint charts.

It seemed inevitable that I would end up creating specific palettes for my characters, too. Jayr's palette (bronze, tangerine and deep amethyst) was one of my favorites, as was Byrne's (indigo, garnet and steel.) I used them in normal details, like wardrobe choices and room decor, but also in physical attributes like Byrne's facial tattoos and how Jayr's hair looks in firelight.

For one of the novels I'm working on now I wanted to use some of the colors of Provence: dusty lavenders, autumn oranges, old ambers, slate blues. My guy had already brought home a stack of paint chip charts from the home improvement store for my daughter to look through (in case she changed her mind about the white), so I went to sort through them and see if I could find some chips that matched the palette in my head. Among them I found this lovely little pamphlet from Olympic Paint's Audubon Collection titled "Brilliance" which featured eight colors that would look completely at home in Provence (and no icky yellow, which surely had to be a sign.)

Already details from the story in my head are rearranging themselves around the palette; the colors of a particular sunset, a slinky dress, the walls of an old church, a bricked path. Now I can clearly see the exact colors of my female protagonist's eyes, the carved stone cross she wears and the overalls she puts on when she works in the garden. The story palette is placing certain gems in the hilt of my male protagonist's sword, sifting light through his hair and shading the hide of a horse he rides. When in doubt, all I need do is glance at this palette and let it guide my choices.

Don't limit yourself to fabrics and paint chips for the story palettes you create. You can use photographs, scrapbooking papers, found objects -- if you can print, paint, sketch or glue it on paper, it will work. If you find an image online with colors that you'd like to use in a story palette, feed the URL to's Color Palette Generator. Along with html codes it will give you two rows of color swatches which you can print out and use for a palette page.

For those of you who enjoy crafting and/or making art, take the colors from your story palette and create a project with them: a painting of a character or setting, a themed scrapbook or even a digital mock-up of your dream cover art. I've used story palettes to make several quilts, and working with the colors even in something unrelated to my writing helps deepen and broaden my understanding of them. Every color provokes a range of feelings, and spending time with that away from the story can lead to new discoveries that will go right back into the work.

There are all kinds of rules involved in palette-making, and I think you should break each and every one of them. Color, like any other inspiration, is quite personal, and should not be dictated to you by the Thought Police. If you love dark chartreuse paired with electric hot pink and baby blue, go for it. To me the strongest -- and most memorable -- palettes are always the rule-breakers.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

24 Days

Most times we don't keep track of all the things we do and changes that happen to us from day to day, and I thought it would be interesting to see how January went for me. Tonight I started compiling a list of things I've noted in my first 2011 personal journal, both good and bad, and so far this month I have:

Missed zero days working
Accomplished zero amount of sewing
Lost an old editor
Gained a new editor
Renovated a bathroom
Packed up and emptied a bedroom
Had a new release
Sent out a new proposal
Drove to an airport I've never been to
Tried two new-to-me foods (dried apricots aren't bad, but pickled ginger will blast out your sinuses)
Handled a mom visit of two days
Received two rejections
Agreed to do three things I never do
Ate four (small) bags of chips that are not on my diet
Okay, and one Lindor white chocolate truffle, too
Painted four watercolors
Had to cope with four-five days of the blues
Lost five pounds
Composed eight poems
Signed and donated ten books to charity
Posted twenty-four entries on PBW
Walked an extra twenty-four miles
Mailed thirty-eight packages
Read forty-one books + one Pulitzer-prize winning play
Answered ninety-seven e-mails
Written three hundred and thirty-six pages of new material
Proofed three-hundred and forty-five galley pages

Now that I read it, the list is scaring me a little. If I handled all that, why do I feel like I haven't done enough to get the new year off to a good headstart? Is this a woman thing, or a menopause thing? I wonder.

I do feel a bit more positive knowing I have juggled quite a bit over the last three weeks, and I still have seven more days to get some other stuff done. So I will focus on the 10K left to write on the schedule, one more read-through of the galley, two more poems I want to write, doing the third of the three things I never do, and reading nine more books. I think I can manage most of that. I also need to move my daughter from one room to the other this week, and make some time for sewing -- I need some sewing time -- by starting on my annual guild project.

How are you guys doing with 2011 so far? Have you stopped to think about what you've dealt with this month? Does a good start at the beginning of a new year set a tone for the next twelve months? Let us know in comments.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Wish Sites Ten

Ten Sites I'd Like to See on The Internet An online writing community where you can go and hang out to talk about your struggle, pain, writer's block, frustration with the industry, envy of productive writers, mysterious maladies and all the other excellent reasons as to why you can't write. Maybe. We're not sure. Are the planets aligned correctly? We don't feel so good. Come back next Tuesday.

Faceoffbook: A site on which you are not permitted to post any images of yourself or your body parts, which includes any/all Glamor Shots, sex act partials, meaningful personal symbols, short animations from porn movies or Seinfield episodes, pictoral-enhanced famous quotations, celebrities you secretly believe you resemble, participation in drunken revelries or anything that may be introduced as evidence against you in or out of a court of law. If you've used it as an avatar, you won't use it here.

Guildless Created for writers who can't stomach writers' organizations. Site provides no professional advice, never meddles in copyright issues, awards nothing, isn't terrified of Google, doesn't meet once a month, refuses to elect any officers, will not hold workshops or seminars, and could care less about conferences. You don't want to join? Good for you. For people who don't own mobile phones, hate texting and/or prefer to hold all of their conversations in private without an audience. Welcome! Now, shut up. (no description available.)

NotYourKidTube: Do you have a home video that doesn't feature your child performing, singing or otherwise doing something cute, clever or humorous that you intend to exploit so they can appear on Ellen, go into child modeling or acting and make you millions before they mature, lose their childstar appeal and end up suicidal, in therapy, living under a bridge or making a reality show about their various addictions and the many kinds of permanent psychic damage you've inflicted on them? We'd love to see it. A site that doesn't care who an author is, what they've written or what their latest release is, and flatly refuses to SPAM them twenty times a day asking for book excerpts, bios, guest blogs etc. Why are you bothering us? We haven't heard of you. Go away.

SilentPodcasts: Click on their link to hear nothing, or nothing enhanced by a faint echo of crickets chirping in an enormous empty room.

Unromantic The premiere site for the unattached, happily single and not planning on getting involved with anyone ever ever ever. Members may freely communicate without fear of being matched on any level, having to meet, make committments or film a commercial that requires them to fake how happy they are together. Their motto: what's love got to do with it? Uh, nothing. Sorry, but we'll have to get back to you after we finish the book.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

International Assistance

Although I have a rule about keeping my charity activities mainly private, and any calls for donations off PBW, I thought this particular situation might make an interesting post for those of you who do get involved in international donations involving books or other reader or writer stuff.

On Monday I'll be shipping a donation for a silent auction at a romance convention in another country, so I have a day to put this together. My main priority is for the books to arrive in good condition, but I'd also like them be easy to store and later show at the auction, and hopefully look attractive enough tempt everyone to bid on them.

Just sending the books in a box means they may be removed and added to another, larger box of donations, which can result in things becoming misplaced or lost in the shuffle. Gift baskets generally don't travel well internationally, and with the new concerns about booby-trapped packages you want your contents to be simple to inspect should customs decide to take a peek (something shrink-wrapped baskets also inhibit.)

For all these reasons I'm going with a sturdy, attractive tote bag. Some authors have bags custom-printed with their cover art or promo, but as a reader I'm more inclined to use a bag that is more universal, like this B&N tote (click on image to see larger version):

I always like to send bookmarks along with book donations, and usually I insert these in the books themselves to prevent them from getting dented or dinged in shipment. Since my e-special Darkyn novella, Master of Shadows, isn't available internationally yet, I'll add in a CD containing a review copy (this I'll put in a jewel case which I'll then bubble-wrap to prevent breakage.)

Food, perishable and fragile items are some other things you should avoid shipping internationally; most countries have restrictions against shipping things like fresh fruit that may carry pests or diseases that could contaminate their crops. But if you're shipping from the U.S. and you're not sure, go to the U.S. postal service's Index of Countries and Localities and check out the destination country.

Here's what they have for Australia, the country my donation is destined for:

Prohibitions (130)

Coins; bank notes; currency notes (paper money); securities of any kind payable to bearer; traveler’s checks; platinum, gold, and silver (except for jewelry items meeting the requirement in “Restrictions” below); precious stones (except when contained in jewelry items meeting the requirement in “Restrictions” below); and other valuable articles are prohibited.

Fruit cartons (used or new).

Goods bearing the name “Anzac.”

Goods produced wholly or partly in prisons or by convict labor.

Perishable infectious biological substances.

Radioactive materials.

Registered philatelic articles with fictitious addresses.

Seditious literature.

Silencers for firearms.

Used bedding.


Jewelry is permitted only when sent as an insured parcel using Priority Mail International service. In addition, Australian Customs regulations prohibit importation of jewelry that is made with ivory or from endangered species, such as snake, elephant, or crocodile, that does not have an accompanying Import/Export Permit in relation to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Meat and other animal products; powdered or concentrated milk; and other dairy products requires permission to import from the Australian quarantine authorities.

Permission of the Australian Director-General of Health is required to import medicines.


Duty may be levied on catalogs, price lists, circulars, and all advertising introduced into Australia through the mail, regardless of the class of mail used.

Looks like a tote bag and books are okay, unless someone considers vampire fiction seditious literature, which actually wouldn't be a first. But if I were donating something like an antique quilt, it might fall under the "used bedding" restriction, so I'd probably have my shipper contact the appropriate authorities over in Australia to get a ruling or give them prior notice (which usually results in more paperwork to fill out, but for a good cause it's worth it.)

Before you pack your donation, one nice and helpful thing you can do is first arrange it how it should be displayed, take a photo of it and include the picture in your package. That way you can pack it sensibly (i.e. bubble-wrapping delicate things and folding up a tote bag) but the person who receives it has a visual on how you'd like it to be reassembled.

So there you have it. And for those of you who are planning to attend the 2011 Australian Romance Readers Convention in Sydney at the end of March, please do stop by the Silent Auction ARR is holding for the victims of the floods. Among the many things to bid on will be the above tote bag with a signed set of all seven of my Darkyn novels, a CD with a review copy of Master of Shadows, and maybe a few more little surprises.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Max Your Dreams

Pepcid AC is advergaming the new maximum-strength version of their product with Max My Dream*, which takes a brief description of your dream and generates a visual interpretation of it. I tried it several times, and while they were right on the money with my I-can-fly! dream, they didn't really nail me witnessing the Apocalypse via incurable plague or the one where I'm conscious during open-heart surgery. For which I'm pretty grateful, actually.

Visualization of a concept is an important part of writing for me. If I can see a scene in my head, I can write it, and my imagination is already pretty well-stocked with faces, places and things. Painting, sketching and photo-shopping also help when I have an idea I want to turn into a visual reference, particularly with settings and characters (as was the case with creating this watercolor from a StarDoc novel scene for a long letter I sent a friend.) Creating art is a great way to get to know the story element you're depicting and serves as a jog for little details that might otherwise slip your mind while you're at the keyboard.

Mood and style are integral to vivid visualization. For mood, I always go to music because it fires my imagination and sets a tone in my head. Instrumental tunes work best for me because I'm not distracted by a singer's voice or derailed by the lyrics. They also offer a wider range of interpretation; often I can use one piece for several different scenes or books. Poetry is also another mood-setter for me, and I have a collection of poems and poets I'll read specifically to tap into different parts of my emotions.

Style is all about the forest, not the trees, of imagery. One thing I really enjoyed about all the Underworld movies was the intricacy and consistency of the dark, bleak dystopian world of the vampires and the Lycan. Here's a still of Selene, the protagonist from the first two Underworld movies, and even something as simple as the marble balcony has that blackened, neglected look to it. Battlestar Galactica (the new series) was another show that offered incredible styling which suited the storyline and bucked the traditional bright-and-shiny Utopian soft-serve SF television shows generally deliver. Battlestar was gritty, realistic and very, very human, especially with the cast choices.

Mood and style are not about perfection, btw, unless you're writing a story about the perfect world of pretty people who all live in palaces. My skin is crawling just typing that line. Sure, I've written my fair share of Pretty People -- most under pressure from editors who didn't like the originals -- but the older I get, the less I want them in my books. They're like Barbie dolls, all smiling and staring at you with those creepy blank eyes. No, give me characters with scars and tattoos and bad haircuts and handicaps. Five foot tall heroes. Heroines who will never ever shop at te 5-7-9 store. And make a few of those Dudley Dastardly mustache-twirling butt-ugly antagonists pretty and perfect instead. Would mix things up a bit if the to-die-for guy is actually the homicidal one, yes?

Some other ways to boost your story visualizations:

Create a visualization journal for your project. Divide it into sections for different story elements: characters, settings, time period, theme and detailing are all good, but tailor it to what you want to explore visually. Then start filling it up with images that illustrate in any manner that particular element -- body models, architecture, paintings, sketches, found objects, fabrics or anything that relates directly to and/or enhances your vision. If there are keywords or notes you want to add, write them as captions to the images. Before you begin writing a scene, go through your journal and refresh your imagination as to the specific look you want.

Build a slideshow of images to follow your storyline. Open it with an image that captures the beginning of your story, and then progress from there (to do one for free online with different formats and theme music, check out The music doesn't seem to play anymore, but you can see the slideshow I made of Darkyn cover art over on the stories blog here.)

Take one location from your story and try to find one that is similar to it in your area. Pay a visit with a camera and notebook, and take some snapshots of details that you can use in your story. Write down notes on things you see that you didn't think of, and pay special attention to things like light, sounds, smells, textures as well as how being in that place makes you feel. This is a shot I took one night recently while getting some visuals on what a small country town feels like after the shops close and everyone has gone home for the night. Feels a little spooky, especially when dozens of bats began pouring out of one restaurant's chimney -- one place I don't think I will be in a hurry to make reservations at anytime soon.

For those of you who like book videos and have the technical means and know-how, consider making a visualization video that relates to your story. Readers are always making dream cast videos, why not do one of your own for your story? Hunt down photos of models or actors who are good matches for your characters and intersperse them with pics of your setting or places that fit into your world-building. Try finding one image for each chapter.

Do you writers out there do anything interesting or fun to help with your story visualizations? Let us know in comments.

*Link found over at The Presurfer

Friday, January 21, 2011

Failed at Installation

My guy has a little control board sitting in a box on his work bench. Not an unusual thing; on the equipment he works on these boards are pretty common now. When one burns up or fails, he has to swap them out. It must be under warranty, too, because the board's box has a big yellow Return Information label on the top.

It's the label, not the board, that keeps distracting me. It has a check-off list of seven reasons for the return:

Failed at installation
Failed after storm
Changed board during troubleshooting
No defrost
Too many defrosts
Incomplete defrosts
High utility bills

I wish we writers could return ideas to the muse that way. The checklist wouldn't even have to change that much:

Failed at installation: I never got past page one. Oh, look, cookies.

Failed after temper tantrum: Oops, I just accidentally on purpose killed off all the characters. Next story!

Changed during troubleshooting: While I was editing this I got this idea. It's way better than this one. So I'm going to write that.

No writing: Love the idea, have no clue how to write it. And I'll probably talk about it forever but not one word is actually going to hit the page.

Too much writing: The manuscript is two thousand pages long and that's just chapter one. Do you think I should get trim down the thousand-year war of the orcs and the dragons? Maybe cut it to five hundred?

Incomplete writing: I got to the third chapter and then gave up. Which publisher accepts partials again?

High utility bills: I can't write this, I have to do stuff for my day job before I get fired and they turn off my power again.

Although I hate beginnings, I have no problem starting novels, and I'm also fairly adept at getting through the middles and wrapping up the endings. My biggest problem in the past was never finishing anything. I'd start approaching the end of the story, my energy and enthusiasm would begin to lag and I'd get bored with it.

Boredom sets up a writer to be easily distracted, and more tempted to set aside the WIP to do something else. I used to start sneaking away from the manuscript to work on other stories, and then found myself growing more resentful every time I went back to the old story, until I gave up on it. It's the classic oooh bright and shiny new idea syndrome combined with poor time management. I always put keeping my energy levels high as a priority over finishing my stories -- which is why there are about ten boxes of unfinished manuscripts in my storage closet.

You can't sell 2/3rds of a novel, and that was what motivated me to deal with my problem. I knew I was fighting myself, not the work, so my habits had to change. I made a new rule: never start anything unless I was going to finish it. That spurred me to be a lot more selective about ideas. I also started quickly outlining the new ideas that came along to distract me and then set them aside versus working on them.

I still felt the same dip in energy at the 2/3rd done mark, and a deep sense of resentment over never having enough time to write everything I wanted, so to address that I focused on training myself to write faster. I also forced myself to write through the tiresome, boring draggy final third of the story. As the finished manuscripts began piling up, I saw a gradual change in my attitude. The rush from a new idea began to pale beside the weary satisfaction of having nailed a story from start to finish. I also felt more like a writer, too -- I wasn't just having fun anymore; I was making a real effort. I wasn't playing or dabbling, I was working.

I don't consider any writing to be a failure; you can learn from your mistakes as well as your successes. Occasionally taking a hard look at all your unfinished or unsuccessful ideas and stories to evaluate them for their flaws will arm you with knowledge. You'll identify your weaknesses, and may even bring to light a pattern in your writing process or story habits that is proving counterproductive.

So if you could add something to the muse return information list for a story that didn't work for you, what would be the reason?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cirque de Escargot

It is tough to tell a fantastic story about, of all things, snails. And do it in four minutes and forty-six seconds? Basically impossible.

Unless you're Philippe Desfretier, Nicolas Dufresne, Sylvain Kauffmann and Martin Laugero.

Bave Circus from DuDuF on Vimeo.

Video found over at Kuriositas.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Off to Blog Elsewhere

Today I am off to guest blog over at Book Addicts, where I'll be giving a brief history of the Darkyn. My delightful hosts are also giving away this Asian fabric tote filled with a signed set of all seven Darkyn novels:

Stop in if you have a chance and say hi.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Book Wubbie®

Have you ever wanted to read a novel while wrapped up in the warmth of a cuddly soft blanket? Frustrated with all those cheap fleece throws that only offer ugly wide sleeves and those silly, embarrassing patterns?

PBW Promo Enterprises has the solution for you: the Book Wubbie®, the very first blanket you can read! Yes, fiction lovers, our patented revolutionary micro-print process takes reading to the next level by combining the books you love with ultra-soft coziness to keep you comfortable and toasty while you read!

Listen to what our customers have to say about our exciting product:

Please don't be fooled by high-tech imitations! The Book Wubbie® is not a gadget, requires no batteries or cables, and comes complete and ready to enjoy right out of the box!. You never have to worry about connecting it to the internet to download your novel because the book is already part of the blanket!

No gift says "I love you and I want you to read more" like the Book Wubbie®, which envelopes your loved ones in downy softness as protection against chilly nights while alleviating their boredom by providing a wonderful book to read that they don't have to hunt around the house for, go to the library to check out or borrow from a friend! Yes, the Book Wubbie® is truly the most incredible gift for both the mind and the body!

The Book Wubbie® comes in all your favorite colors and two sizes: standard paperback and large print. For new mothers, we are also introducing a special limited edition crib-size Baby Book Wubbie®. Now you don't have to spend your late nights walking the floors, you and your little bundle of temperamental joy can snuggle together with a great read! And that's not all:

Thanks to the durability and practicality of our amazing micro-print process, the Book Wubbie® is machine washable, folds flat and can be conveniently stored in its box on your book shelf just like any paper book! No DRM to worry about, so you can also lend your Book Wubbie® to friends without a hassle. Take it along on vacations, road trips and sleepovers -- it's ideal to snuggle up with it while you're out camping and can't get to a book store! The Book Wubbie® is the perfect carry-on for long airline trips, too! Don't miss this wonderful opportunity to experience the ultimate in comfort and entertainment; buy your very own Book Wubbie® today for just three easy payments of $19.95. Hurry and call our operators now before your favorite novel blanket goes out of print!

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[Not available in all states, countries, authors or genres. Void where prohibited. And where not prohibited. Okay, I made up the whole thing.]

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sub Ops Ten

Ten Things About Submission Opportunities

Sidhe na Daire has an open call for their Bad-Ass Faeries 4 - It's Elemental antho, and are looking for "A collection of unconventional stories about bad-ass elemental faeries with a focus on urban fantasy. Faeries should interact with the human world in some capacity visualized as tough, and for this collection, in a logical profession that is linked to their element: truckers, deep-sea fishermen, cowboys, police, firemen, freedom fighters, crocodile wrestlers, paratrooper, sled-dog driver, etc. We are not really looking for specific known figures from faerie mythology so much as types of faeries from myth and legend with a very clearly defined affinity for one specific element." Length: 4-7K, Payment: "shared royalty (Pay or better)", no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines page for more details. Deadline: July 1, 2011 or when filled.

Gus Ginsburg over at Mimetic Declination has an open call for Bride of the Golem: An Anthology of Humorous Jewish Horror: ". . . stories can employ a new Jewish twist on a mainstream horror theme (e.g. a tale about a Hassidic vampire mohel or about the Lubbavitchers reanimating Rebbe Schneerson). Or they can reinterpret horrific elements in classical Jewish folklore like the Golem or dybbuk. Or they can venture into entirely new territory." Length: 10K or less, Payment: $500. Query on reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: May 1, 2011 or when filled.

Australian print magazine COSMOS is accepting SF short stories [and make them good ones, as Ralan says they have very high standards] for both their print and online editions. Length 2-4K, Payment AU$300, no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines page for more details.

The Crimson Pact has an open call for an untitled antho; would like to see spec fic, urban fantasy, mystery, romance, steampunk, and alternate history short stories based on their provided world-building. Length: 1001 words or less, Payment: $10.00, no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: February 15, 2011.

Elektrik Milk Bath Press has an open call for an as yet untitled antho, and report that they are ". . . asking for stories that, in some way, revolve around the ocean. Give us Sirens and Selkies, Mermaids and Monsters, and anything and everything in between. And before you even ask: Yes, we LOVE pirates, really, we do. . . however, this is an extremely picky point with us. This is NOT a pirate anthology; if you send us a pirate story, it had better be good. We really are open to any subject matter. What is important here is that you explore the ocean, its beauty and its horror. That doesn't mean that all the stories have to take place on/in/under the ocean, although we hope at least some of them do; it just means that the ocean has to be a part of the story in some way. Bonus points are awarded for creativity. Super extra bonus points if you show us something we haven't seen. We are open to any genre, including fantasy (dark or otherwise), horror, magical realism, literary, etc. Humor is good too. We are looking for stories that speak to us so give us a good story, and make it well-written. If in doubt, send it along." Length 1-4K (not firm, Payment: $25 per story minimum, query on reprints, electronic submissions preferred, see guidelines page for more details. Deadline: March 31, 2011 or when filled.

Another open call (scroll down on page) from Elektrik Milk Bath Press is for their poetry antho In the Garden of the Crow: "For this project we are looking for original poems that are inspired by fairy tales and old nursery rhymes, and we are particularly open to those poems written with a darker slant. We love all kinds of poetry; humor is great, and we don't mind experimental, but we are very picky about rhyming poetry." Length: any., although 50 lines or less is preferred, Payment: "$.25/line with a $5.00 minimum and one copy of the anthology"

Enchanted Conversation: A Fairy Tale Magazine is open to fairy short story submissions that are tailored to their issue themes. Reading periods for issue consideration are only 3 day windows so definitely look at the guidelines. Length: 1-2K (1.5K preferred), Payment: 10¢/word, no submissions accepted from the editor's current students (former students okay), no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines page for more details.

The Library of Horror has an open call for their Malicious Malpractices antho and would like to see ". . . original horror stories featuring Mad Doctors, Medical Science, Surgeries Gone Wrong. Be creative and scary! Creepy and scream worthy! Think outside the box on this one! This will cover ALL medical fields.... conventional, dentistry, elective, etc..." Length: 3-6K (strict), Payment: 1¢/word + copy, no reprints, electonic submissions in specific format only, see guidelines page for more details. Deadline: March 31, 2011.

Tanglewood Press is currently accepting unsolicited middle-grade-YA novel and picture book submissions: ". . . we love nothing more than to discover an unpublished, talented author with a wonderful manuscript begging to be published, or a published author whose latest work has brilliance not recognized by other publishers. We pride ourselves in our author relationships and our support and promotion for the select titles that we publish-in fact, we promise nothing less than total devotion." [Nice. I like their attitude.] Length: no limit mentioned, but Ralan says "none found over 400 pages." Payment: negotiated royalties, no reprints, no electronic submissions. See guidelines page for more details. has an open call for their Triangulation antho; looking for science fiction, fantasy, horror, and any other speculative fiction based on the antho's theme of "Last Contact." Length: 100 words to 5K, Payment: 2¢/word, reprints okay (very selective), electronic submissions only via online form, see guidelines page for more details. Deadline: March 31, 2011.

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

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Ten Questions I Wanted to Ask Today

According to this article, the earth's rotation has shifted all the astrological signs, and that means I'm now a Gemini. Which is cool with me; I've always like Gems -- but does it mean I have no more excuse to be crabby?

Evidently 500 million people are on Facebook (probably more now.) So why when I read that did I immediately think of bacteria and the number of burgers served at McDonald's?

How come every time I go to buy some bookmarks at BAM the only ones left on the rack are Harry Potter-, Jesus- or Zombie-inspired?

I love my guy, but he is a terrible speller and he knows it, and I know it. So every time he asks me to correctly spell a word for him, and I do, why does he say "That doesn't look right"?

If the cat catches and eviscerates something, why does he always drop the juicy remains on my chair, my pillow or inside one of my shoes? Also, why don't I ever discover this before the squish as some part of my body comes in contact with it?

What, exactly, is in these chewy granola bars that makes them chewy?

When writers paid (usually a substantial sum) to self-publish their books in the old days, we called it vanity publishing. Now that it doesn't cost anything to self-publish digitally no one calls it that anymore. So is it only vain if it costs you money?

Why do puppies walk right past the new, lovely chewy bone you just put down for them to gnaw on something plugged into an electrical outlet?

Why is the most expensive package to send overseas always the only one that gets sent back due to some customs snafu?

Zodiac thing again (can't resist the Z) -- our planet has been rotating the same way for a very loooooooong time. Astrologers likewise have been star-charting all of us since the Babylonians were the hip kids on Earth. So why didn't anyone notice the signs were messed up before now?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Know Thy Hub

While I've been reading Mr. Ray's book on writing, I realized why he is so object-obsessed. He encourages writers to make noun lists and use them to spark ideas because he uses objects as story hubs, or that thing around which everything else in the story revolves. Once you know what a writer's favorite or most frequently used hub is, you can begin picking them out (for Ray Bradbury, the playroom, the carnival, the tattoo, the planet Mars and the book have all served as hubs.)

The object as hub is an effective device: Guy de Maupassant likely used a beautiful diamond necklace to write one of the most miserably ironic short stories of all time; Stephen King used a '58 Plymouth Fury named Christine for a novel that made most of us give our cars an uneasy look or two (two more of his vehicle-as-hub works are From a Buick 8 and Trucks.)

My story hubs are almost always characters (the faceless man, the girl-knight, the golden assassin) or character-based concepts (the doctor who can never get sick or die.) This is probably because I find people more fascinating than objects, settings, events, etc. I've used one character as the hub for a ten-book series, and seven characters as the hub for a single novel. Even in my one dog story, Familiar, the shepherd who serves as the hub used to be a person and still retains most of his human qualities.

Some writers may argue that they never use a hub, and that's a possibility, although I think in those cases the hub may be tucked away in the subconscious. The process of discovering the story as they write it may be more important than knowing the hub up front. Organic writers who just sit down and let it flow might not want to name their hub is because it could kill their momentum. Hubs are not always great things, either; they can repeat on you, and if you're not careful, they can take over your work. This may be why those writers reuse the same hub for their books over and over ad nauseum end up becoming cookie-cutter novelists; they can't escape that one hub that sinks its claws into their brains.

Knowing your hub isn't a requirement of writing, but I think it helps to know what you were planning to write around whenever you get stuck. At times when I falter, stumble or otherwise get mired down in a story, I usually end up thinking about the hub character and asking myself questions as to how my problem relates to them and their situation. Everyone and everything in the story serves the hub, and if it doesn't, I've gotten off-track and wandered away from my story, usually with another character who distracts me (nine times out of ten, that's always the case.)

If you're not sure how to determine what your hub is, think about what inspired you to write the story, or make a list of those elements that are most important to you and/or that you spend the most time developing. If knowing doesn't squash your enthusiasm, having a good grasp of what your hub is gives you some advantages, especially when you write up your story premise for a query or a synopsis for a submission package.

So what are some of your favorite hubs to use for stories? Does knowing your hub help you write a better story, or do you prefer to discover it along the way? Let us know in comments.

Friday, January 14, 2011

GenJ for Characters

Writers generally have to keep track of a lot of characters, and none have more to track than series writers. I have at least seventy notebooks filled with name lists, character worksheets, backstory ephemera, seemingly endless timelines, body model images and art, related relationships, titles they've appeared in; you name it, I've written it down.

Because I'm maxed out on storage for this kind of thing, and I'm always interested in getting more efficient with organizing story elements, I've been looking around for a freeware program that would allow a writer to record all this character data in something like a genealogical format. I figured that using the genealogy approach would be logical (characters may not be real, but they're still people), easy to access and use, and simple to manipulate in order to build fictional records and trees. None of the ones I've found thus far allow much more than stat-type info (birthdates, marriages, offspring, etc.) to be entered into the database, all good info but too scanty for what I need.

GenJ, designed by Nils Meier, may be just what I was looking for. Looking at the screenshots page, I already see four different things I already want to use for my series characters. It also works for Windows, Mac and Linux, and under GNU General Public Licence you can modify the software (beyond me, but I know lots of much smarter people who could play with it.)

I photoshopped this to show an example of how I would use the record editor to set up a character data sheet in the pre-built GenJ:

Even without modification, this works pretty well for a brief character outline. The notes section on the bottom right makes a great place to jot down important biographic bits. I also like having the upper right hand space for an image; that could double as a spot for cover art, author sketches, a tattoo design or some other character-related graphic. It wouldn't take a lot of time to create a record like this for all the characters in a novel. The other cool thing about it is that you can download it in English or several other languages like German, French, and Spanish.

Bill Peschel mentioned something in comments last week about being insanely busy and never having time to test these freeware programs, and even though I'm the one who finds them I know I'm usually in the same boat. In keeping with 2011's theme I'd like to change that, and while I can't personally test every freeware I find, I could surely do one or two a month. This is why I'm considering trying out GenJ myself so I can see how it works in unmodified form as a character outliner and data compiler. Then if it does work like I think it will, I can do a mini-workshop on it or maybe put together an e-book with instructions and suggestions.

What do you all think? Worthwhile experiment, waste of time, other? Let me know in comments.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Made It

Today I heard from my agent, and the NYT mass market bestseller list for January 23, 2011 will show Frostfire coming in at #32 on the extended list. There was much tough competition from huge names, and many rollover titles, and since the list was calculated only four days after my release date probably only about half of my first week sales counted toward it. For all those reasons #32 is a genuinely awesome showing.

Plus it's the Times. Come on, who is going to cry about making the Times list, wherever one's book lands? Not me.

Since no one picked #32 (and that is partly my fault for suggesting numbers 1-30; the extended list actually runs to #35 -- I forgot this) I put the names of everyone who participated into the magic hat, and the winner of the Odd Times pool is:


Nina, when you have a chance please send your ship-to info and what you'd like for your BookWish to My thanks to everyone for joining in as well as getting out there and buying Frostfire. You guys are the best.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book Places

Another of our spring projects this year is moving our high schooler into our college kid's old bedroom, and turning her bedroom into a guestroom. We'll probably recycle most of the furnishings from the college kid's room for the guestroom, but it's time I replaced the ancient particle board bookcase he used for eighteen years with something a bit smaller and guest-friendly. Of course there has to be a bookcase in the guestroom; to me a room without books is boring and lifeless.

The problem with bookcases are that 90% of them are basically designed to resemble open-fronted rectangles, rather like refrigerator boxes with built-in shelves. Functional, yes, inspirational and/or decorative, not especially. While I appreciate the many utilitarian shelves I use for storing my collection, for a guestroom I'd like something different, maybe quirky or arty and more fun than a big box (without being so weird it gives our guests nightmares.) It would be really neat if someone designed bookcases with themes from genres, series or even individual titles, wouldn't it?'s prices for their handmade furnishings are most definitely beyond the reach of my budget, but two of the bookcases on their site caught my eye. This first one reminded me of that old nursery rhyme that started off with "There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile . . . " Visually it's wacky, fun and appealing, and it looks as if it would fit in the same space as a traditional bookcase. I think this crooked charmer would work great in a child's room, too. My only reservation (aside from the hefty price tag) is the narrowing of each shelf at one end; you'd likely only be able to fit paperbacks or some low-profile art object on that side. Also the slanting of the books might bother some people who prefer to read non-tilted spines.

Another, smaller design offered on their site is this three-shelf unit that includes two front braces either carved from or carved to resemble tree branches. I liked this shelving unit because it is more suitable for limited space (the room we'll be making over is the smallest bedroom in the house.) The open sides and curving front braces also help it avoid that refrigerator-box feel; it made me think of the great treehouse from Swiss Family Robinson. I'm not particularly in love with the appearance of the wood they used for the backing and shelves, though, because it looks a lot like the cheap plastic veneer-particle board stuff they use for bookcases you can buy for thirty bucks from Wal-Mart. I think a darker wood would have contrasted better with the prettier front branch-shaped braces. offers this unique Wintertree design bookcase that I instantly imagined right at home in any kid's library or school media center (the first book I'd put on it would be Where the Wild Things Are. It's stark enough to work just as well in some artist's loft in Soho, too. And wouldn't it be great if you could stretch a hammock between two of these bookcases? I'd probably spend every afternoon curled up there with a book. The problem here is the height; I'm guessing that short folks like me would only be able to reach the first two or three shelves. Also, stability -- unless the base is heavily weighted, it would probably be easy to to tip over and topple this tree. has one of the topsy-turvey bookcases that I've seen used by some publisher somewhere (can't remember off the top of my head now.) It sets the traditional bookcase on point, something we quilters do with patchwork to get a different perspective, so any of Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilts novels would look at home in this. In fact I can think of dozens of geometric quilt patchwork designs that would make wonderful bookcases. You'd need a lot of wall space, however, to accommodate a good-size version of this design because the base ends up being so wide. This time the incline of the book spines actually bothers my eye; I don't like the look of that.

Since my guy and I grew up by the sea, when I found this boat bookcase on Etsy I immediately felt lust in my heart. I like everything about it: the craftsmanship, the contrasts between the natural wood and the painted outer hull panels, the combination of functionality with art and the quirkiness of a boat-shaped bookcase. It's also a visual metaphor for exactly how books can whisk us off on exciting journeys. When you look at something like this as a theme it inspires you; you could literally build an entire room around this one bookcase -- and promises to be a lot more fun than just going with colors, patterns or furnishing styles. That said, as much as I like the boat bookcase, Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea is not the look that I want for this room.

So I'm still looking around, but I'm sure when I see the right bookcase I'll know it. Or maybe I'll design something myself based on themes from my books. I could do a spaceship with shelves for StarDoc, a suit of medieval armor for the Darkyn, a double helix for the Kyndred . . . makes me wish I was a carpenter.

What sort of bookcase(s) do you have in your favorite reading space? Have you come up with a unique way to make a place for your book collection? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


ISSN is the acronym for International Standard Serial Number. The Library of Congress suggests thinking of it as "the social security number of the serials world." Like the ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, it is a number assigned to a publication as identification. The ISSN is used when the publication is ongoing or serial versus a one-time-only publication like a book. Simply put, an ISSN is a bar code for your blog.

Weblogs fall under the category of serial publications (a serial does not have to be printed) and getting an ISSN for your blog is something to consider for a number of reasons. First, there are no special benefits involved in obtaining an ISSN for your blog. Having an ISSN doesn't give you any special copyright protection; registering your blog with an ISSN doesn't mean no one else can use the title of your blog (titles are not copyright-protected; occasionally they can be registered with the Patent Office, but that's another can of worms.) If you use blog content in newsletters you mail out, having an ISSN doesn't entitle you to discounted postage rates (although the post office does use it to regulate certain serials like magazines and other print periodicals that come through their system.)

What an ISSN does is distinguish your weblog from all the others out there in NetPubLand. If you have a popular or common title for your blog, your ISSN can prevent your content from being confused with content under the same name written by someone else. It also creates an official identification that will be indexed and used in serial reference databases around the world. Libraries already use ISSN to index their serial reference databases, and as the popularity of e-readers and other internet gadgets grow, it's likely other public-access reference databases will be compile online serial content for use as knowledge bases and resource materials (the UKSG & NISO's KBart committee is already setting up standards.)

I applied for my weblog ISSN about ten years ago, and it's come in handy a few times when I've referenced my online content in letters, publication credits and such. I always assumed the number went with me wherever I blogged, but recently a friend told me that I probably need a new number for PBW because the URL and title are different from the blog I was writing back in 2001 (when I first applied.) I've written to the LoC about it, and I'm waiting to hear back from them (will update this post as soon as they let me know if title and URL changes mean you have to get a new number.)

One last thought: while an ISSN does not automatically protect your content, it does create identification for it that is registered with the Library of Congress. If I were going to sue someone for appropriating and profiting from my content, which is copyrighted the second I write it, I'd like to have that content registered under my name somewhere as a point of reference. A URL can bought by or sold to anyone, but once assigned, an ISSN is permanent.

You (or, in the event you belong to a group blog, the person designated as the blog publisher) have to apply for the ISSN, but here in the U.S. there is no fee involved. To get started, go to the Library of Congress's U.S. ISSN center to read more (you can now even apply for an ISSN online.) As an eco-friendly move they're now e-mailing ISSN numbers as they are assigned to applicants. so be sure to give them a good e-mail addy for you. If you reside outside the U.S., you can apply to either the national ISSN center in your country or (if your country doesn't have a center) the ISSN International Centre in Paris.

Related links:

The Library of Congress's ISSN FAQ page.

Phase I of KBart ~ Knowledge Bases and Related Tools can be read in .pdf format here

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pub Ten

Ten Things That Indicate You're a Published Writer

All of a mega-bestselling author's technical shortcomings can be listed verbally by you on demand, as well as how they could fix them (if they weren't so busy rolling in all those heaps of cash.)

At least three of your non-writer friends ask for free books every single time you have a release; after reading them two who have no talent for writing whatsoever insist on telling you how you can improve your stories; one of them will be right.

Drama and dramatic events always interest you on your writing level first (i.e., How can I use that in a story?) If a non-writer is around you when the drama occurs, you will put on your best shock/sympathy face so they'll think your interest is purely compassionate. If another writer friend is around, together you'll dissect the drama like that flatworm in high school science class.

Every mistake you, your editor and the copy-editor didn't catch in the proofs will from the published page forever glare at you like a hot pink bloodshot eye. For a time you will be convinced that something like a missing apostrophe spells the end of your professional career, or makes you look like a complete dumbass.

Facing out your books always feels good; finding them faced out feels even better. Stacking a couple copies of your book in front of the faced-out book by your sworn writer enemy feels best, although you'll try to resist doing that because in your heart you know it's wrong and might send you straight to writer hell. Until the day you find some other writer's books stacked in front of yours; then it's simply payback.

For at least ten cities around the world you can describe in detail the local architecture, weather, living conditions, ethnic distribution of the local population and even give driving directions to numerous restaurants, hotels and local places of interest. You will not, however, have ever personally visited any of these cities, nor will you admit this.

In your opinion books by authors who sell better than you take up too much shelf space at the book store; books by great writers you admire never get enough -- and neither does your debut.

Office supplies excite you. So does opening a new ream of printer paper, successfully removing the seal strip from and installing a new toner cartridge, starting to write on the first page of a new notebook, and opening the box of new business cards that just came in the mail. The biggest thrill you will ever have is the very first time you hold a published edition of your work (which you will also read over a hundred times or more to refresh the thrill that over time settles to a satisfied glow until release day, at which point you can't look at it anymore, much less touch it.)

Sex scenes don't worry you until the moment you have to give a copy of the book to your mother, your father, and/or that frail elderly family member with the heart problem.

Writer hell for you encompasses things like having your debut novel ripped to shreds in a major trade, not winning that award you wanted, having to applaud and smile while someone else takes that award you wanted for that piece of crap they hacked out, or a close writer friend who tells you they've just donated all the copies they owned of your books to some charity or the local library, without telling you why. There are many levels to writer hell, and each is twice as torturous as the previous, like the ones you plummet through after hearing about the mysterious donation:

--Level #1: You don't ask why, but wonder if your close writer friend is a) wonderfully generous, b) totally pissed at you for something stupid you did to them and have since forgotten, or c) secretly hates you for some completely justifiable reason that is still unknown to you.

--Level #2: You say nothing to the writer friend you thought was close but debate why did s/he do that? internally for at least a month before deciding that they now secretly hate you.

--Level #3: You drive yourself crazy wondering what the unknown reason is, and what to call the friend now. Not a friend, obviously.

--Level #4: You drop hints to your former close writer friend about what the unknown reason is -- very subtly so they don't know that you know that they now secretly hate you -- to see if the ingrate will slip and actually confess to the truth.

--Level #5: You stop speaking to your hateful and merciless writer acquaintance for a couple of weeks while you take a kick-boxing class, violate the terms of your twelve-step program, and/or compulsively gorge on Skittles, M&Ms and/or Nacho Cheese Doritos.

--Levels #6,7,8 and 9 are variations of level #4, until at last the cowardly monster who used to be your close writer friend casually mentions an ordinary reason for the donation, like they moved to a smaller place and had to downsize their book collection.

--Level #10: You decide that they are lying to you, return to level #1 and tour all the levels again until you find a get-out-of-writer-hell free card, like casually mentioning to the close writer friend that you now secretly hate that you've just donated all their books to a charity or the local library -- without telling them why.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


Your comments for the Mr. Ray on Writing giveaway were all very interesting to read. You also surprised me by not citing someone from Ye Olde Boys Club (Hemingway, Steinbeck and Faulkner) as influences. Why weren't you guys my English teachers in high school? I'd have been so much happier.

Last night I was trying to decide which single writer has had the most enduring influence over my work. Because I learned to write books by reading them this is harder than you might think; I'd probably do better naming libraries. But in the end I think I have to blame A.M. Lightner. She got hold of me all the way back in 1974, and I can still see her influence in everything I write today. It's something to think about the next time you give a book to a youngster -- you never know what future novelist you may be shaping.

The magic hat froze last night along with our internet connection, but we defrosted it this morning, and the winners of the giveaway are:

Atropa Rainwater, who owes much to Lovecraft as well as Roald Dahl

strigine, who credits Audre Lorde for influencing poetry writing

DM Bonanno, who has been influenced by Mr. Ray as well as Dean Koontz and Gene Roddenberry

Winners, when you have a chance please send your full names as well as your ship-to addresses to so I can get your books out to you. My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Odd Times

In a short while I should hear how well Frostfire did with its release week sales. I have been asked if/where I think my novel might land on the lists, and that's a tough question. Shadowlight, debuted at #17 on the Times mass market, and Dreamveil made the extended list at #26, but that doesn't guarantee anything.

New release-wise, January has always been a lucky month for me, but most of the time titles that were released in December roll over onto the lists. I just took a look at the Times mass market, and nearly all of the listers are Big Names with huge bestsellers (very tough competition for yours truly.) There has been lots of positive buzz about Frostfire, and I know many of you have gotten your readers, family and friends to buy the novel, which I appreciate more than I can say. It's also the third novel in a series, and that's the point where you start losing new-to-you readers, so believe me, every sale helps.

Basically, though, I have no idea how well it will do. My non-psychic intuition tells me (in keeping with the other stuff that's already happened in 2011) that this book's performance is going to be odd. Odd-good or odd-bad, I can't say. Could go in either direction.

But we should have some fun with it, so let's have another Times Pool. In comments to this post, tell me if you think my novel Frostfire will make the NY Times mass market bestseller list. If you don't, simply put "no" (and you won't hurt my feelings if you vote no.) If you do, put "yes" and guess at what number it will appear on the list or the extended list (that would be a number between 1 and 30.)

Once the Times lists for the week of January 23rd are released (I believe that's the list I have a shot at), I will close the pool, announce how Frostfire did (or didn't) do, and award the person who guessed correctly a BookWish*. If more than one person posts the correct guess, I will put all of the names of those who are correct in the magic hat and draw one at random to be the winner.

This pool 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 available to order from an online bookseller, up to a maximum cost of $30.00 U.S. (I'll throw in whatever shipping is involved.)

Friday, January 07, 2011

Reading Spaces

I found this amusing video over at The Presurfer. It features a robotic smart chair that was evidently a graduation project at the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands (completely work safe, but it does play some music in the background.)

Now if the take-a-seat came with a little side-arm desk to use for a notepad, laptop or other writing gadget, it might just be the perfect portable writing space that never lets you wander away from it.

While the idea of a robot chair is fun, I've been looking at more no-tech devices to help me out with the work. I mentioned on the photoblog last year that a plastic clear-fronted cookbook holder doubled nicely as a holder for a pattern book. I also regularly use Gimbles. My current problem is propping up books to read from them; my hands get tired pretty fast these days, and my trifocals it hard to read from a book that's flat on the desk for any length of time.

Recently I was at BAM and decided to pick up these three gadgets and try them out:

This Wooden Reading Rest (made by that company called if) is 13-1/2" X 9-1/2", and folds completely flat to 3/4". The back of the rest adjusts to three different positions to give you a choice of viewing angles, and does hold large/heavy hardcover books. There are also two small movable pegs at the bottom to keep the pages in place. It's also a nice holder for a book you want to display opened.

The main problem I had with this one is the page space allowance in the width of the holder; the page holder pegs are screwed in place and not adjustable, so they can't be used if you're looking in the back pages of a very thick book. I'm going to write to the company and suggest they put the pegs on sliders so they can be adjusted out as well as up and down. Also, while it appears to be well made, I thought the price at $29.95 was a bit high. For what you get, I felt $10.00 - $15.00 would be more reasonable. Maybe they should make it out of something less expensive than Canadian Alder wood.

The Paperback Caddy (there are any number of book rests using the same name; this one was made by Great Point Light) is also intended for hands-free reading, although as the name says, strictly for paperback books. It does hold any size paperback from mass market to trade, as the clear outer arms slide in and out for adjustment. It's also small -- with the arms pushed in, about 7-1/2" X 4-1/2" -- and made of lightweight plastic, with a kickstand in the back to provide support and give you two different reading angles.

The company claims on the packaging that the Paperback Caddy is "Designed for one-touch page turning." If that's true whoever designed it screwed up, then, because I had to use both hands. Getting the page I was turning tucked under the arm was difficult enough to make me almost wrinkle the page in the process. Just to be sure it wasn't being caused by me and my lack of dexterity, I had a fully-abled friend try it, and she had the same difficulty. I also felt this one was overpriced at $12.95, considering how troublesome turning the pages were, as well as the quality of the plastic (the arms are pretty sturdy, but the back component is thin and cheap, and I'm not sure how long that kickstand is going to last.)

The PageKeeper (by Pagekeeper Inc.) bills itself on the front of its blister packaging as "The Amazing Automatic Bookmark!" that "follows you from page to page." I'm pretty sure it was invented by someone sitting in a cubicle and messing around with a money clip and a bent paperclip, because that basically describes the entire product. You slide the money clip part to the back cover of your book, and position the bent paperclip part over the last page you've read. When you open the book and want to turn the page, you just slide it out from under the bent paperclip and it clutches the next page until you're ready to turn it.

This one actually did exactly what the manufacturer promised, fitting snugly to the back cover and keeping my place marked with the bent paperclip thing. It was also easy to free up the page I wanted to turn, and the clip didn't fall off or move much at all when I did. For that reason I got over the rather startling price of $6.95; I don't mind paying a little more for a simple invention that actually does what the package says it will.

I think the main drawback to this gadget is its limitations. It's designed to be a bookmark, not a book holder, so it won't keep the book open for you or do anything about the pages you've already read. Also it doesn't work on marking the front pages of huge thick books; the bent paperclip part doesn't stretch that far. I also wonder how long the snugness of the back cover clip will last with constant use. But if you're one of those readers that for whatever reason endures paper bookmarks constantly falling out of your books, then this is one possible solution to your problem.

Have you guys noticed any new/exciting no-tech gadgets out there for books? Let us know in comments.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Mr. Ray on Writing

Ray Bradbury just finished running me over again this morning. So to speak. I'm reading his Zen in the Art of Writing, a collection of his essays on the craft, some dating back to the year on my birth certificate. I'm about halfway through but I'm not rushing; I like what he says too much to skim.

The book is mainly memoirish -- as with most famous writers, it's all about them -- but Mr. Ray is utterly in love with the craft, not himself, and passes along enough practical advice that I don't mind the autobiographical framework. For the record, I have read Farenheit 451, The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles and part of Something Wicked This Way Comes, and so far I've enjoyed getting some of the behind-the-scenes details from their author.

As for book's content, it is about writing, and art, and lots of other interesting things, but Zen? Not in the slightest. Ray Bradbury is about as Zen as a highspeed carnival ride -- one that is either about to go careening out of control and smash through all the safety gates, or has some alien component ready to vacuum your brains out of your skull at the moment your adrenalin spikes. Great book, very high energy stuff, completely inappropriate title.

Mr. Ray also reminds me of a story I want to write someday, one that begins with something my mother used to say to me whenever I complained about having two brothers, two sisters, and absolutely no privacy: My great-grandmother had twenty-one children, and they all lived. Mom's strict Catholic upbringing and love for big families always colored this statement with awed approval, but even when I was very little that last part always sounded ominous to me: . . . and they all lived. Like they shouldn't have but did anyway. And the pattern-lover in me would then kick in: What if all 21 of them had 21 kids, and they all lived to have 21 kids, and they all lived to have 21 kids . . .? One time I got out a calculator and discovered that in just five generations great-great-great Gran would end up with just over four million descendents.

At which point the storyteller in me kicked in with: What if the original 21 were only part human?

I've always had mixed feelings about Ray Bradbury's work, probably most about The Martian Chronicles, which I read when I was still young enough to be believe that life was fair and if you worked hard you would be appropriately rewarded (thus my younger self thought that book was just plain mean.) In his other works Mr. Ray has charmed me one minute and disturbed me the next. He's also shaken me up quite a bit; "The Veldt" still holds a top spot among the scariest stories I've ever read. Even when he's not ripping apart clueless parents, it's safe to say that Mr. Ray is definitely not a comfort read.

I also know Ray Bradbury's work has influenced my own; when I decided to write about characters with superhuman abilities symbolized by the ink on their skin I first thought of The Illustrated Man, and how he used tattoos to tell the story. We share a love/hate relationship with carnivals, something that resulted in my trunk novel Night of the Chameleon. Even back when I thought Mr. Ray was mean, he may have initiated the evolution of my dislike of the mindless HEA ending. I think the mark of a great writer is when their stories stay with you long after you read them, and I suspect his will never leave me alone.

As always, you don't have to take my word for it. In comments to this post, name a writer you think has influenced your work, and how (or if you're above the influence, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Saturday, January 8, 2011. I'll pick three names at random from everyone who participates, and send the winners an unsigned copy of Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.