Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Taking Shelter

Seriously bad weather rolled into town here just after my family visitors left. Why this always seems to happen whenever I put people I love on planes I can't say, but fortunately they got home safely. Several power outtages later the heavens opened up and the Memorial Weekend deluge commenced.

While we didn't spot any arks floating by, there is a certain Biblical quality about finding yourself at the mercy of the weather. Here in our little town the phone lines and the cable always take a dive right after the power does, and it can take hours (sometimes days) to get everything back on. If we can get a signal on our mobile phones -- something that is forever dicey here -- we call our bosses and our kids and let them know we're out of commission for the duration. Then we light candles and try not to open the fridge too much.

In between lightning barrages, I sat on the back porch with the dogs to read and watched the rain come down. That was how I got this pic of our resident, camera-shy cardinal; during one of the worst downpours he took shelter in one of our bird feeders. I guess he figured if he was going to be stuck somewhere, might as well be where the sunflower seeds are.

While I was playing candid camera with the cardinal I realized just how insanely busy my life has been over the last two months. I starting sacrificing things back in March to have more time to work and promo while still taking care of the house and do for my guy and the kids and the family.

I stopped writing in my home journals and posting pictures on my photoblog. I resigned from my guild challenge and put three other sewing projects on hiatus. I hurried the dogs through our walks, made quick and easy dinners, folded laundry and put away dishes while making calls and waiting on hold. I combined my errand runs and multi-tasked my chores list and cleaned the entire house from top to bottom. This while hosting family, taking a road trip, maintaining the blog, giving interviews, writing guest posts, launching one e-book and a print release, final editing a second, and finishing the manuscript for a third. Somewhere in there I wrote up three proposals for new projects and subbed another three for reprints, too.

I'm always busy, but even for me that was a lot. No wonder I can't remember most of April and pretty much all of May. Now here's the kicker: all that, and up until the rain came I still felt as if I hadn't accomplished anything. I can tell you why: I'm not 100% prepared for our annual termite inspection (today) and a friend's graduation ceremony (Friday) and the online workshop I had planned for last week (cancelled that one due to visitors.) I get up every morning at six a.m. and stay busy until I go to bed at one a.m., but it doesn't matter. I'm never done.

The laundry I had finished three days ago? Has again assumed Everest proportions. The dogs? Have to go to the vet for shots. The closets? Are a mess. The roses? Need pruning. I can't find my sneakers. I have to get me and my daughter over to get our teeth cleaned. I ran out of tea on Thursday. We won't talk about e-mail; I'll just start crying all over you. And somehow, while my back was turned, an entire carton of perfectly good eggs expired on me. On May 9th, for God's sake. I'm surprised they didn't hatch.

There were a hundred other things I hadn't done, and thanks to the weather I still couldn't do, but at some point I stopped internally auditing the kick-myself list and did nothing but watch a cardinal take shelter from a storm. The dogs at my feet, the camera in my hands, and the rain keeping everything else on hold for a few hours.

Today I'm going to write, because I have a book due to my editor in eleven days. I'm also going to scale Mt. Laundry, and deal with the termite inspection, and make dental appointments, and dinner, and do my best to keep up. But I can tell you this: when it all starts to blur again, I'm going to take shelter out on my porch, and sit with my dogs, and watch the birds.

And if it's not raining, I might just pretend that it is.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Technical Difficulties

Just an FYI for everyone who has been stopping in and/or trying to reach me, some wicked storms knocked out our power, phones and internet service, and we're just now getting everything back up and put to rights.

Unless more of the same happens again today -- that was not a hint, God -- I'll be back to posting tomorrow. Until then, enjoy the rest of Memorial Day weekend.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Close Encounters

I was getting ready to walk the pups the other day when I spotted what at first glance I guessed to be a long twig in the grass under our big oak tree. Black oak tree twigs are gray, not black, though, and none of them grow perfectly straight. As I walked toward the black straight twig it slithered toward me, which confirmed my second guess: it was a snake.

Despite their bad reputation (or maybe because of it) I love snakes. They're elegant, aloof and mysterious, and when treated with caution and respect can be a delight to observe. They're also quite useful and helpful critters, especially when it comes to keeping the local rodent population under control and cleaning up the remains of other critters who have gone on to their reward.

This little guy was about three feet long; probably one of the many offspring of the six-foot Mama who lives on our property and regularly nests under my pine trees. He wasn't afraid of me, so I retreated to get my camera and document him. He lay waiting in the exact same spot when I returned, and aside from tasting my air didn't object to having his picture taken.

I'm always grateful to have a chance to get a good close-up shot of a snake because they are such strange, beautiful creatures. It's easy to see why they've inspired so many myths over time. Their scales always look perfect, and the patterns and variations of color are gorgeous. Snakes always appear fastidiously clean -- when have you ever seen a dirty snake? -- and the look in those unblinking eyes seems both haughty and amazed, as if they can't quite believe what they see when they look at us. It always makes me wonder if snakes have their own myths about humans: I was out hunting rats the other day, and right out of the blue this white-haired giant thing walked up to me, and then . . .

Antagonists are quite often compared to snakes, and while this isn't strictly appropriate (despite Eve throwing them under the bus, snakes are really not bad guys) I understand why writers think of them that way. Snakes are scary, they've had a bad rep since Biblical times, and we want our antagonists to be just as disturbing and unsettling. You can show the reader an antagonist from a distance, just like a snake in the grass, and 99% are trained to immediately hate him; no need to get up close and personal at all.

Over the years I've gone the other way; I probably spend as much time now building my antagonists as I do my protagonists. I also like to explore the antagonist's character as thoroughly as possible; if not in the story then in my creation process. The more I know about any character, the more believable they come out on the page. Another writer philosophy I've always agreed with is that the antagonist is not always a villain or a bad guy in their own eyes, and often is not one to other characters in the story, particular those who have a reason to be sympathetic (like anyone who for whatever hates the protagonist; aka the enemy of my enemy is my pal and all that.) When viewed from these other angles and POVs, the antagonist can be as much a hero as the protagonist.

I don't think all antagonists should be tarred and feathered as irredeemable, either. The ones you don't kill off or otherwise kick into the abyss may inspire new stories where they get a chance to at least partially redeem themselves. Some of my finest protags were once antagonists in other stories before I turned them around. The romance genre, which never met a bad boy it did not want to reform into a good guy, in particular loves a turnaround protagonist.

What can you do to have more of a close encounter with the snake in your story's grass? I'd start right at the beginning with characterization, and build the antagonist exactly as you would any other important story character. Set aside any snakelike prejudice you might have and really take a good look at this character as a person. Ask my three questions: Who are you? What do you want? What's the worst thing I can do to you? Instead of writing scenes portaying only the antagonist's actions, consider handing that portion of your story over to the antagonist and let them tell it (I did this as an experiment with one character I absolutely despised because I couldn't write her any other way; I personally wanted her dead from the moment I created her. Worked great, plus it kept me from killing her off for two books.)

What are some of your favorite things to do with an antagonist? What challenges do you struggle with in building them and making them believable? Let us know in comments.

Related Links:

PBW's Ten Things I Hate About Your Antagonist

CapturingFantasy.com's Creating the Best Antagonists

Miriam Darnell's Creating an Interesting Bad Guy

HowToWriteANovel.net's Don't be an Antagonist to Your Readers

And last but not least, Peter Anspach's wonderful classic, The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Googling the Street View

Google may make armchair tourists out of all of us now that they are offering their Maps with Street View. This search engine allows you to enter an address, move a little figure onto the map and (if available) see a street-level view of that location.

Here's what a street in Paris looks like (click any image to see larger version):

You can also move around your location, street by street, block by block, and zoom in and around in all sorts of interesting ways. If you've never had the chance to explore a particular city or other location and/or can't travel there, this allows you to take a virtual walking tour of most places (there were a few places I tried to pull up that only offered a still shot, so it seems Google hasn't mapped every square inch of the Earth (yet).

I can't tell exactly how old these street views are, but I'd say probably at least six months but no more than two years old (if there is a note of exactly when the images were taken I didn't bother to look for it.) While faces and license plates are mainly blurred out, businesses, signs and other details are not. Here's a street where I used to go shopping in San Francisco's Chinatown:

I think this service is especially helpful for writers if you want to include a setting in your story that is a real place you've actually visited but haven't been back to visit in a long time. There was this spot out on the west coast where I used to sit and watch the sunset that I wanted to use in a story. Unfortunately I lived there many years ago, and as much as I'd love to go back there, I don't have the time or justification for the expense.

Relying on my memory, I wrote the location into the story with a lone bench, some rocks and the water. When I pulled up that spot on the street view, however, I saw that someone had put up a big ugly fence near my bench:

It takes some practice to learn how to use the different symbols and zooms to move around your street view, but I think it's worth taking the time to play with and learn. Plus if you can't afford to take a research trip, it may be the next best thing to being there.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Off to Chauffeur

I am in charge of providing airport limo service for the family, so I will be off today hunting for overpriced parking, standing in line for hours and then watching security search my loved ones (try explaining to an eighty-year-old with Alzheimer's why he has to submit to a pat-down by a complete stranger when he can't remember who the hell you are. As futility goes, there is no better exercise.)

So that your stop here was not entirely wasted, you might want to check out This Into That, the web site of artist Jim Rosenau, who makes vintage books into shelves, chairs, tables and other interesting works of art.

Part of me cringes when I see books treated as construction materials, but he's got a great sense of humor, as demonstrated by his bookmark:

See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Apocalypse Not Now

A few things I learned this weekend, before, during and after the End of the World Fail:

You can actually be too busy cleaning the house and getting ready for family to visit to remember that the end is nigh.

Returning a rental car at a busy metropolitan airport sometimes means you have to drive over two rows of nasty-looking spikes (while a younger, impatient driver yells They only pop the tires if you go the other way, lady!) As you are exiting the drop-off area, someone will hand you a really nasty pamphlet explaining Revelations and why you're going to be burning in hell in tomorrow. P.S., You will be so rattled by the spike thing that you will thank them for it.

When you contemplate what will happen to you if the Apocalypse ever does occur during your lifetime, you become absolutely convinced that you will be the one who has to do all the dirty laundry left behind by the Rapture.

$822.00 is what one pays for one month's supply of six of the nineteen medications keeping an elderly person alive when the computer refuses to accept their out-of-state insurance card. The computer also refuses to accept "Armageddon is right around the corner, you know" as a reason to give you the cheaper prices.

You decide the Apocalypse needs a funny T-shirt, and think up the one you want to wear, and then post it in a comment on someone's weblog (don't hit me, Raine.)

When you sign a book for someone who lives in a beautiful, exotic part of the world that you have missed for years, you will write "I wish I could pack myself in this box" which is weird but not as creepy as your first idea, which was "When the end is nigh, can I come and hang out with you?"

You can drive hundred miles on a busy interstate and miss all the billboards about the end of the world because you're too preoccupied dodging guys in expensive sedans who are texting while they're doing 80 mph while you simultaneously argue with a loved one about the care and feeding of elderly dogs.

You realize that the prospect of the complete, total destruction of all that you know and love does not frighten you as much as what will happen if you don't get the teenager's favorite outfit washed before school tomorrow.

So what, if anything, did the Apocalypse Not Now teach you? Let us know in comments.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sub Ops Ten

Black Moon Books has an open call for their annual Mirror Shards antho: "Augmented reality holds the promise of great social change in both the near and far-flung futures. It’s also a wonderful medium for storytelling as information and graphics overlain eye-screens challenges the doors of perception and creates mixed-reality worlds to work and play. Black Moon Books is seeking stories between 3000 and 6000 words (soft edges) that utilize augmented reality as a way to explore the human condition. The stories can be set in any place, time, or genre, as long as the story cannot exist bereft of augmented reality. Feel free to explore the edges of the technology." Payment: "from $0.02/word to $0.05/word. A few slots will be offered to established professionals, but at least one pro paying slot will be given through the slush pile (Gold Prize). Minimum payment per word will be $0.02 for all accepted slush stories." Also: "One copy will be provided for each author in the anthology." No reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: July 8, 2011.

Blue Mountain Arts/SPS Studios is "Actively seeking freelancers; Pay: card=$300; poem in anthology=$50; GLs send on request via e-mail. Range of cards: Family, friends, occasions, inspiration, encouragement. Style of cards: Sentimental and conversational; a few lines to two and a half pages. No humor or one-liners, please. Postal and e-mail submissions welcome. Format for submission: Postal: typewritten, one poem per page, name on each page; e-mail: type work in the body of the e-mail, we won't accept attachments or website links. In either case, please include mailing address and phone number. Submit any number of poems at a time. E-mail address for questions, queries and submissions: editorial@sps.com. Snail mail address: Editorial Department, P.O. Box 1007, Boulder CO 80306 U.S.A. Ralan notes: "Now also reviewing poetry/prose for Christmas cards to friends/family & general seasonal greetings; deadline July 15, 2011."

Evolutions Publishing has an update regarding subs for their Darwin's Evolutions webzine: "Our original webzine free-content model has been abandoned. Instead, we are now focusing on the production of e-book single stories and anthologies and novels in e-book plus print or print-on-demand formats." They are offering minimal advances and shared royalties for SF and Fantasy adventure stories, length varies; see guidelines update for more details.

Garden State Horror Writers are holding their 17th Annual GSHW Short Story Contest. The $7.50 entry fee they require annoys me, but it's not as criminally outrageous as what RWA or some of the other writer orgs charge for their nonsense, so I reluctantly added it to this ten list. Length: up to 4K; contest theme is [*sigh*] "The End of the World as We Know it." Prizes: "First prize is $75, the Graversen Award, and publication in Space and Time Magazine. The second prize is $40, and third prize $20. Each eligible entry will be scored and critiqued by published authors and/or editors and the top five entries will be judged by award winning editor, Ellen Datlow, and Hildy Silverman, editor of Space and Time Magazine and Vice President of the GSHW." No reprints, electronic submissions only, see contest page for more details. Deadline: July 31, 2011.

A heads-up for the freelance copywriters out there: Harlequin Romance is currently looking to hire experienced copywriters; go here to read more.

Although technically not a sub op, I know a lot of unemployed editors are out there, so here's another interesting current job listing from Harlequin Romance, this time for an editor for their Superromance line.

Beginning with their August issue, Linger Fiction will be publishing flash fiction only: "We want stuff that’s unforgettable; stories that grab us from the first paragraph and won’t release us until the last word. Even then, the stories should stay with us. We want to think about it on the bus the next morning, and tell our friends about it. If your story requires graphic violence, sex or profanity, include it. If it is not necessary for your story, leave it out." Length: 150 to 1K words; Payment: $20.00 (via Paypal only.) No reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Lyrical Press is seeking "gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender stories that are lightyears outside the proverbial box. Dark and stormy nights full of deep and steamy romance. Sleek and edgy sci-fi with savvy, sexy characters. Suave swashbucklers who capture more than ships—they capture hearts. Lyrical Press is accepting all forms of LGBT, with a focus on romance and erotica. If you’ve got a story that’ll steam up the windows and steal the reader’s heart, we’d love to hear from you. Sensuality level: All – with a focus on romance/erotica. Length: 30,000 – 80,000 words. Key Characteristic: Central romance must be LGBT. Please follow Lyrical Press’ guidelines found here: http://www.lyricalpress.com/submissions when submitting. Send submissions to carinbrumal@lyricalpress.com." (via AbsoluteWrite.com)

Machine of Death has an open call for their themed MOD 2 Anthology, and this is what they have to say about the them: "All stories in the book start with the idea of a machine that can use a blood test to tell you how you’re going to die — sometimes vaguely, but always accurately." Length: "Stories can be any length, but we recommend a length of 1,500 – 7,500 words"; Payment: $200.00 US upon acceptance. No reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. [Note from PBW: Do be sure to read these guidelines thoroughly before you submit; among other things they are asking for film rights.] Deadline: July 15, 2011.

UK webzine SpineTinglers is looking for stories: "For us there are no specific formulae that a spine tingling story must conform to. It doesn't have to be macabre and morose; it can be light-hearted or even uplifting. Whether it is filled with ghosts or ghouls, possessions or poltergeists, or merely the suggestion of something supernatural, anything is acceptable. We want you to let your imagination run wild and come up with the story or stories that make our spine tingle." Preferred length: up to 5K; Payment: "Each month we publish on the website the best five stories submitted. The overall monthly winner, as well as receiving publication will also receive a £100 (stg) prize! Second place receives £50, with 3rd, 4th and 5th all receiving £25 each. The prizes quoted are in Sterling (British Pounds) but if you live outside of the UK you will be paid the equivalent amount in your local currency." Reprints okay, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Most of the above submission opportunities were found among the many terrific market listings over at Ralan.com.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


I am seriously impressed with the range of YA recs you guys made for the latest giveaway. I think I'm going to carry this over into another post; one I'll write after I take your comments with me to the book store and see what I can find on the shelves.

The magic hat got busy tonight, and the winner of the YA to Read giveaway is:

S.J. Noir

S.J., when you have a chance please send your ship-to info to LynnViehl@aol.com so I can get your package out to you. My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Interesting Sub Op/Contest

Specialty press publisher Cemetery Dance is holding a short story contest to promote their forums:

"The three winning stories will be featured in a Cemetery Dance chapbook alongside 3 well-known authors. Each winner will receive a $75 dollar prize, payable upon signing the contract. (Contract will be for a one-time printing of the chapbook, all other rights remain with the author.) Each winner will also receive 5 free copies of the finished chapbook and a 50% discount on additional copies."

The stories must be submitted via their forum, where the submissions will then be judged by members of the forum. Genre is not specified, but since CD is a horror/dark suspense press my guess is that's probably what they'd like to see (I'd query for details.) The length limit is "10,000 characters" (that would fall roughly into the 5 to 10 manuscript page range, I think.) The contest is open to "amateur" writers (their term, not mine) but they provide a confusing description of who they consider amateurs; I interpret it to mean writers who are as yet unpublished or with very limited publication credits. If you're not sure you qualify, you might query them first.

I think Cemetery Dance is fairly well-known around the horror community; they've published some nice reprints and limited editions for Doug Clegg, Stephen King and Peter Straub. If you're a horror or dark suspense writer, this one seems like a good opportunity for exposure as well as publication.

Also, they mention another that they'll be holding another contest to find a title for the story contest chapbook: "The winner of this contest will receive a $50 Store Gift Certificate and a free copy of the chapbook."

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Art of Pop-Up Books

I don't know how many of you can get to Maine before June 5th, but Bowdoin College in Brunswick has an amazing exhibition of pop-up books. Here's a video about the exhibition and a little of the history of this wonderful fusion of art and book (warning, plays a little background music and is narrated):

Bowdoin is also offering an online tour of the exhibition here.

Video credit: Pop-ups! They're Not JUST for Kids from Bowdoin College on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

While Waiting for Blogger

During the days when Blogger was tossing my previous posts into their scheduled maintenance black hole, some bad weather also rolled in, making it necessary to unplug everything and instead work on projects that wouldn't be demolished by a lightning strike.

Our current big project has been our second bathroom renovation of the year; my guy and I decided to update the long, narrow bath that our daughter uses. Originally it had a colorful fish theme, which Kat picked out herself. It was cute when she was nine, but now that she's a teenager she wanted something a little more mature.

My daughter and I collaborated on this one, and at first I didn't think it was going to work. The kid wanted less obvious colors -- white and silver -- and picked out bathroom accessories and towels in a stark geometric style that probably would have been more at home on a Greek space station. I could see this bathroom turning into one big futuristic igloo, so I convinced her to go with a frosty blue instead of white paint for the walls, and guided her toward some subtle, nature-themed art. That softened the edginess into more of a winter look, which we both liked:

My favorite fountain pen quit working a year ago, and I miss it terribly, so I tackled fixing it. I'd read an article that suggested taking it apart and soaking it overnight in lukewarm water to loosen and dissolve any dried ink that might be blocking the nib. That was a bit messy, but it worked:

Btw, if you try this method, be sure the materials used to make your pen can withstand being immersed (if your pen barrel is made of wood, for example, it might swell from absorbing water.)

During one of the calmer afternoons we went to one of our favorite lakes to have lunch and stroll along the boardwalk, where I photographed this handsome guy to add to my bird pic collection:

That day we also saw a strange little blackbird with bright red shoulders, but she was too quick for my camera.

Finally I worked up my nerve to walk over and meet one of the new neighbors:

They're not especially friendly, and at night they tend to bellow at each other, but I like them better than the chickens who used to fly over the fence and tempt my dogs into opening their own private KFC franchise.

So what did you guys get up to during the Great Blogger Fail? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

YA to Read

(This was one of the posts that may or may not have appeared last week. If you commented on the original, your entry was permanently erased by the Great Blogger Fail, so please try again.)

I tend to avoid reading for pleasure in a genre that I'm actively writing in, but now that I'm finished book two of the Youngbloods trilogy (title to be announced once I get the green light from my publisher) and I've outlined book three I feel like I'm in the right place to start reading more YA. I've already invested in Rachel Caine's Morganville Vampire series, which looks quite promising, and I'm going to make myself read the final Twilight book so I know how that series ends.

I'd also like to get some author and title suggestions from you guys, so as a bribe I've stocked lovely tote from Coldwater Creek with a signed copy of After Midnight, along with unsigned hardcover copies of White Cat by Holly Black and Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, and unsigned trade paperback copies of Vamped by Lucienne Diver, The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King, The Shape of Water by Anne Spollen, and Blue is for Nightmares by Laurie faria Stolarz.

If you'd like a chance to win this whole shebang, in comments to this post tell me which YA author, title and/or series you think I should read (or if you don't have a suggestion, toss your name into the magic hat) by midnight EST on FridaySaturday*, May 21, 2011. I'll pick one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner the tote with all the books. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something at PBW in the past.

*Added: corrected the day of the week.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Story Lite

Geoff Davis's Story Lite is a "free flexible text and image editor with multiple editing boxes, unique layout, 3D zoom and color effects." The web site has two excellent demo videos showing the program in action as well as more info about how to use the freeware and even a competition with two prizes for best use of the program. (OS: Windows, Mac. Designer notes that Linux version is coming soon.)

I've been looking for a program that can help me do more on-screen editing, and I was impressed by the designer's web site, so I decided to give this one a personal test drive. Downloading the Windows .exe file, which was 18.9 MB, took about ninety seconds over broadband. Installing was also a no-brainer and didn't take long, maybe a minute (I didn't write down the figure for memory requirement, but I think it requires around 81 MB disk space to install and run the program.) I went right into the program and started to play (click on any image that follows to see larger version):

This is pretty much what the start up screen looks like (I tinkered a bit with the defaults for the box borders and background color.) One thing I decided that immediately had to go was the little info map square at the top left of the work area; you can hide it by clicking on the slanty arrow right next to it.

I set up the boxes for some text I wanted to edit and what I thought I'd need to jot down as notes while editing:

For this book I'm creating a glossary and a style sheet, so I used two boxes for additions to those. I made an editing task list on the opposite side with notes for what I needed to check, rework or rewrite. I then went ahead and edited the text, but I had to scroll up and down a lot (the boxes have scroll bars, but to move around the work area you use the little black triangle arrows on the borders, which took some getting used to.) About halfway through the text the scrolling started to get annoying, so I resized the boxes to give me a full page of text and smaller, sticky-note size notes to myself on either side:

This was a more workable format for me, and being able to see the entire page of text definitely helped me edit more efficiently. I only had to check the online help page once to find out how to hide the info map. The only drawback to using it was discovering that I couldn't print out my notes, but I then found I could export them to Word (which was not really a big deal.)

I like this program a lot as an on-screen editing environment. I also think it would perform well as a mind-mapper, a virtual storyboard for plotting, and a simple, first draft-type writing area. I would love to see it direct-to-print enabled -- why, yes, I am that lazy -- and I think it would also be cool if you could import actual images as well as text into the note boxes (if there is an option to do this, I didn't find it tonight. All I see is an export option that allows you to send a screenshot to the clipboard or as a .png) Looking at an image of someone or something while I'm simultaneously writing about them would help me with little details that I might not remember. So would having the ability to put floor plans, scene choreography maps or story palettes up on the screen next to a chapter I'm editing.

What I really liked was how easy and logical Story Lite is to use from the first time you give it a go. The limited amount of tools and commands on the task bar were a big plus for me; I find I'm more apt to experiment and try using a new program if there aren't a bazillion menus, icons and options I have to first figure out. I also think it can be used for many other writing tasks, as you can pretty much tailor it to your individual needs.

If any of the above sounds useful to you working writers, I highly recommend giving this freeware a try. I also think it's worth watching, as the designer is planning to develop it, and has created a community for registered users to provide feedback and exchange ideas.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Promo No-No Ten

Ten Things You Shouldn't Do to Promote Your Self-Published e-Book
(The PBW Edition)

Ask me to review it: The answer is no. This does not mean I hate you, or that I'm a print-published snot, or I'm part of a legacy publishing conspiracy to squelch your genius and/or kill the sales you were stealing from us before you cause our antiquated system to collapse into some tar pit where we'll bellow pathetically as we slowly drown. The answer is no because I'm a writer, not a reviewer.

Bribe me: Unless it's five million tax-free dollars, don't even bother.

Convince my mother to get me to read/endorse/promote/blurb it: It never works. My mother is a nice lady who will say yes, take your CD, and put it in a safe place at home. After that it will stay there for all eternity, because in a day or two she will forget you, what she agreed to do, your e-book and where the safe place is.

Describe your personal problems and explain how my purchase is going to solve them: Call me a pessimist, but I honestly don't think my three bucks will get you through that nasty divorce, stop the foreclosure on your house, pay for that gastric bypass surgery or get you back into rehab.

Disguise your promo with unsolicited advice on how much money I could be making by self-publishing: Yeah, that's totally going to dupe me.

E-mail me an unsolicited free copy: Oddly enough, this is not going to tempt me into reading or reviewing it. This is going to make me delete your e-mail and divert any future e-mail that comes from you right to the SPAM folder.

Offer reciprocal pimping: I don't sell my self-pubbed stuff, sorry. It's insane, I know.

Patronize me: While I acknowledge the weighty depth of publishing experience bestowed on you during that unbelievably stressful fifteen minutes you spent uploading your first novel to Amazon.com, you just might want to rethink this strategy, grasshopper.

Send me a discount coupon code: Use some logic here. If I wouldn't take a free copy, why would you think offering me a dollar off the cover price would be the temptation I could not resist?

Warn me that I'm missing out on the best book of the year: Sorry, I've already read that one. Alas, you didn't write it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Self-Pub Ten

Writer Excuses for the Digital Self-Publishing Age
(Or, I can't write because . . .)

Amazon.com paired my book with the diary of a dominatrix who uses the exact same pen name, and now all I get are IMs from guys in diapers who want me to cyberspank them.

I'm too busy promoting my novel on Twitter and Facebook to finish writing it.

Mommy says I can't publish my book until I eat all my vegetables and put away my toys.

My artist says the cover I want is anatomically possible only if she depicts all my characters as squid.

My formatting software got corrupted and now whenever I try to upload a manuscript to Smashwords my disk drive rewrites itself.

My freelance editor refuses to believe that English is my native language.

Pubit! claims the book I wrote about my ex is illegal, libelous, infringing, offensive, harmful, threatening, harassing, legally obscene, defamatory, and intentionally hateful.

Someone posted a 3-star review that utterly ruined my perfect 5-star rating. Was probably my ex, the bastard.

The rights for my next novel haven't reverted back to me yet.

Whenever I enter the ISBN I made up for my last self-pubbed book to check my sales ranking, NORAD automatically goes to Defcon 2.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger Up & Down

Blogger is having some problems and has lost or erased some of my posts (since it's Friday the 13th, I guess that's to be expected.) While I'm waiting to recover what's missing, here's a look at some new German edition cover art (click on image to see larger version):

Be back once my host works out the bugs.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

My Political Moment

Dear Representative Matt Dean,

From what I've read you sound like a very confused gentleman; so much so that even someone who despises politics as much as I do feels compelled to offer you some assistance. While your intended victim has already politely addressed all of your erroneous accusations against him (a year before you made them, in fact) I feel you still need some help with certain definitions.

To provide that, I've created the following visual aid for you:

Please feel free to print this out and hang it in your office to prevent any future confusion.


Critter Photo credit: © Andrea Poole | Dreamstime.com

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Reinventing the Bookmark

One unusual step I took with promotion for After Midnight was to hire a student artist in high school to create the artwork for my bookmarks (click on the image to see a larger version.) It was a great time-saver for me and I'm quite pleased with the results, and I think going through the commission process gives young artists a chance to experience what it's like to work as a pro and create on demand.

As a reader and a writer I've been casually collecting bookmarks for years. I have every kind of paper bookmark there is, along with cloth, metal, ceramic and glass specimens. Some of my bookmarks double as magnifiers, calculators, book lights, to-do lists and even mini-calendars. I've also designed, printed and even sewn my own, but I've never really found the ultimate/ideal/perfect bookmark.

My latest acquisition is the Booksling, an elastic bungie-type bookmark that also has end slots that hold two pens (handy when you're reading Larissa Ione's newest bestseller, need to make notes for a blog post about it, and your kids keep swiping your pen.) I like the Booksling, although it's a bit awkward to use with paperbacks. While the $4.99 price tag is a bit high, it's made of well constructed, sturdy materials and will probably outlast me.

I don't really know what I'd consider the perfect bookmark. I like the artiness of those bead-and-string book thongs, but they tend to slither out of the pages too easily. Bungie or clip-on type bookmarks stay in place better, but sometimes leave tears in the pages. Bookmarks that perform extra/electronic functions have the gadgetry appeal, but usually require those tiny little watch batteries that I can never seem to replace without consulting NASA. Laminated bookmarks inevitably part at the edges, paper bookmarks get scratched, torn, wrinkled, etc. (I did find some metal bookmarks from WellspringGift.com that I thought would be indestructible, but discovered they're also prone to scratch and bend.)

For right now I'm sticking to traditional card stock bookmarks, although I'm experimenting with printing them on different types of photopaper. As for the perfect bookmark, I might as well try designing one myself. Cloth is my thing, and in the past I've dabbled in making beaded/quilted bookmarks, so I think I'll start there. I have a vague notion of somehow combining a paperback book cover with a bookmark that might be interesting. If nothing else I'll have fun with it.

What's your favorite type of bookmark? What would you consider the perfect design to mark your reading places? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Elsewhere X 2

Our blogpals Cid, Suzan, Alice and Linda over at Book Addicts kindly invited me to participate in their Redeeming Romance series. Thanks to Shakespeare and one of his beautiful sonnets, I've never been ashamed of reading or writing romance, and I explain why in my guest post. If you have a chance head over, check it out and leave a comment by Friday, May 13th, and you'll have a chance at winning a romance BookWish from me (or any romance novel that’s available from B&N online, paperback or hardcover up to $30.00 U.S.; I'll cover whatever shipping is involved.)

Adventures in Children's Publishing also asked me to do a mini-interview with them, which can be found here (scroll down and look for the writer who gave the shortest answers; that's me.) Unfortunately the novel synopsis they posted for After Midnight contains just about every spoiler possible in it, so if you haven't read the book and don't want the surprises ruined you might want to skip that. I've donated a signed copy of AM for their giveaway, too.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Cat Arrives Ten

Ten Reasons to Invest in My New Release, After Midnight

A New Venture: This is the first chance I've had to build a brand-new universe in quite some time. I really had fun with it, and I think you'll be pleased with the results.

Ad-Free PBW: I don't accept donations, advertising or any outside funding at all for PBW; everything I do here is paid for with income from my share of book sales. Thus when you buy one of my books, you provide direct support for the blog.

Cover Art: Will not lacerate your corneas, fry your retinas or otherwise cause temporary blindness (disclaimer: no guarantees if you choose to poke yourself in the eye with the book.)

Freebie Funding: If you enjoyed Dark of Heart or any of the other stories, novellas and novels that I give away for free online, buying my print novels is a great way to say thanks as well as to vote for more free stuff.

Getting Back to My Roots: Most of my early work was YA (mainly because I was a teen when I started writing novels.) Rediscovering that young voice inside me was terrific, and I'd like to do more of that.

None of the Usual Suspects: The story does not contain any alternate realities, castles, crystals, dragons, elves, magic spells, necromancers, new age ephemera, orcs, ogres, reincarnation, schools that would not qualify for state funding, secret societies, trolls, underworlds, warriors, werewolves, witches or wizards.

Print: The trade paperback edition does not require batteries, cables or downloading.

Storytelling: Writing this book was a serious challenge on multiple levels, and taught me a lot. That's the kind of thing that keeps me from becoming complacent or growing stagnant as a writer, and helps me write better books for you.

Teen-Friendly: If you've ever wanted your teenager to read something I've written, this is the book to give them.

Writing for the Future: Sales are the only job security a writer ever has. By investing in After Midnight, you insure I keep writing; it's as simple as that.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Wishing You

Saturday, May 07, 2011

This is Where We Live

Sometimes publishers get it right (even in the literary 'hoods.)

This Is Where We Live from 4th Estate on Vimeo.

Friday, May 06, 2011

After Midnight Elsewhere

One of the benefits of writing in a new genre is getting to meet people out there in NetPubLand whose paths might otherwise never cross mine.

Like Ashley, the proprietor of Books Obsession, a popular YA book blog. She kindly invited me to write a guest post for her May author spotlight series, which you can read here.

There is also a giveaway contest you can enter here for this Aeropostale tote filled with favorite YA titles* from me and my kid, plus a signed copy of After Midnight.

Okay, I added a copy of Pride and Prejudice too. The first time I read it was when I was actually a YA, so that counts.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Music Cubes

Click a square and you'll make light and music (if you are in any way sensitive to flashing lights don't play with this, though)

Stumbled across this over at Aimee Stewart's Foxfires blog.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Co-op Shop

Setting up a shop to sell only copies of your own books sounds like the ultimate expression of authorial ego, but in reality authors have been doing it online for ages. To open a brick-and-mortar version, as NASA dude Andrew Kessler has for his book, is an interesting marketing gimmick, but from what the article says the shop is only temporary.

I've often considered opening a small independent book store. I've worked as a bookseller, a book store manager and I've run several other businesses, so I've got the experience. I know exactly how I'd set it up and what elements and services could give me a decent shot at making it a success. Book stores are my #1 favorite place to shop, and I loved my time working as a bookseller, so being an owner wouldn't be a hardship. I'd probably get speeding tickets going to work every morning.

I've always stopped at thinking about it, though; I know I'd be extremely selective about the titles I stocked and what I chose to handsell. I'd also be a snob about features; big names and their cookie cutter bestsellers would go to the back of the store while great reads by little-knowns would get all the terrific real estate in the front. No coffee shop, no cold cases of two-day-old danish, and no laptops allowed. Instead I'd have nightly social readings (something like bring your own snacks, I'll brew the tea.) Free bedtime stories for kids. Book picnics in the park. Weekend retreats at the lake for readers and writers.

I would have such a great time with my own book store. Why aren't I doing this again?

Ah, I remember now. Opening and sustaining a new business also requires a pile of money, unwavering committment and devotion of 100% of one's time, and even then there are no guarantees it will survive more than a year after the doors open. That has to be the worst kind of heart break, too; watching a business you love and worked so hard to build go under. Then there is my work, which is not going to simply go poof while I run a business. While I love books, I know my real passion is to write them.

There is an interesting alternative to setting up your own brick-and-mortar book shop, however, as our blogpals Charlene Teglia, Alison Kent, Sasha White and some of their friends have done by joining forces to create Walk on the Wild Side Books. To quote Charlene: "It's not a publisher, it's a publishing hub for our independently published titles." I think this is a great way for writers who work in a specific genre or have crossover readerships to showcase their self-published titles, and by forming a co-op they can also help each other (and to read more about the evolution of the site, go here.)

If you were going to set up a book store (virtual or brick-and-mortar), what would you stock on your shelves?

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Off to be Mom

My college kid is arriving home for a visit, which is why I'm going to bail on you guys today. So that your stop here was not entirely wasted:

Kuriositas (one of my favorite blogs to visit for visual inspiration) has an excellent post here about selective color photography.

I gave it a try, and my first attempt came out rather romantic:

To get the effect, I selected every part of the photograph around the rosebud (you can see the original here), and then selected the black and white effect to alter the color (I use Microsoft Photo-It, which is no longer sold, but I think most basic photo programs have this sort of option.) For those of you who are making your own covers, this could be an interesting way to bring out one element of a photo or image you're using as your art.

Monday, May 02, 2011

AM Ten

Although technically my new novel After Midnight is being released nationwide on May 8th, it's already shipping from online retailers and making it into the bookstores, so I'm going to do a little promo this week to get the ball rolling.

After Midnight is also special for a lot of reasons, some of which I'd like to share. So here are:

Ten Things About After Midnight by Lynn Viehl

Blame the Kid: This novel was in response to something my daughter said a few years ago; she complained that I never wrote anything that was age-appropriate for her and her friends to read. She was right, so I set out to try.

E-book Compulsion: I never planned to write Dark of Heart, the free companion/parallel novella e-book that I just released, and that is set in the same universe. When I finished the manuscript for After Midnight a secondary character named Kari Carson became stuck in my head and wouldn't leave me alone until I wrote her story.

Experts: I worked with a terrific group of teenagers who helped me shape the story by providing me with first-hand knowledge, brain-storming, story discussion, critiquing and editing. They corrected my mistakes and never once complained once about the ten thousand questions I asked them.

Firsts: After Midnight is my first official YA novel, the first book in a new trilogy, and also the first time I've ever published in trade paperback with an independent publisher.

Lost Lake: The town of Lost Lake from the novel does not exist, but is a conglomeration based on a number of small Central Florida communities that I know and love. I also used a few elements from my childhood hometown in South Florida.

Not the First: You never know how obscure you are until you start writing in a new genre. Almost all of the interviewers and bloggers who have contacted me about the book assumed that After Midnight was my first novel. I realized this when I started answering e-mail questions like "How does it feel to become a published author?" and "Are you planning to making writing a career?"

Revisiting High School: I loathed being in high school, high school kids, high school teachers, etc. -- isn't that a prerequisite for being a writer? -- so the prospect of writing about that part of life in that kind of setting worried me. Once I got into the story, though, I actually enjoyed revisiting (and at some points reinventing) the experience. You still couldn't pay me to be a teenager again, but in the end I think it was good for me.

Title: The original/working title was Midnight Meeting, which I first spotted in an Emily Dickinson poem and encountered again as a Gaias Pendulum song title. That all felt a bit too heavy for the story, so I went through the manuscript gathering keywords, bumped into the phrase after midnight and went with that.

True to Life: All of the horses in the book are based on real-life counterparts I have met and/or that my daughter has ridden. Their names have been changed, however, so that no over-zealous fans try to find their barns and sneak into their stalls for an autograph.

Worldbuilding: I haven't built a brand-new universe or moved into a new genre since 2004, so I really had fun with this one. I also found it to be a serious challenge, and in the process gained a lot of respect for YA as a genre.