Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dad & Rob Thurman

First I'd like to thank everyone for the comments you've left here and e-mails you've sent. I've not yet had the chance to respond but I want you to know how grateful my family and I are for your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.

Also, I just learned that author Rob Thurman has been seriously injured in a car accident. From the reports being posted to her blog that I've read she is still in ICU but is making some steps toward recovery, which is encouraging (and Buddha, I am lighting a candle for you every night while I talk to the Almighty. You have to come back from this and get better. Please.)

If you would, do keep Rob and her loved ones in your thoughts and prayers

Saturday, August 13, 2011


My dad has been very ill for some time, and today he had a stroke that he can't survive. He's not in any pain; the doctors have made him comfortable and he'll be moving to hospice on Monday.

Somehow I have to say goodbye to this amazing man who has been such a wonderful father to me, so I'm going to unplug for a while. Any good thoughts and prayers you can send our way will be much appreciated, especially for my mom.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Character Keywords

While I was out last week taking care of school shopping, my kid diverted me into Claire's so she could get a new keychain. I wandered around marveling at all the stuff I am now too old to wear when I found a selection of antique-look necklaces sporting decorative skeleton keys. I saw one I really liked, grabbed it on impulse and went to hurry the kid along so we could move on to the shoe store.

It wasn't until I got home and took out the necklace again that I saw there were words welded to some of the keys on the necklace; mine had keys that read Peace, Hope and Dream. As those are definitely three of my favorite words, it was a neat surprise (and after checking Claire's web site, I found this listing for it. They call it the Inspiration Keys necklace; excellent name.)

Discovering these -- pardon the pun -- keywords on my necklace also made me think of another way to work on one character I've been tinkering on for my next novel. I know almost too much about him, and I've been getting mired down in all the details and backstory, so I've been wanting to distill all this info and somehow summarize it to get a better handle on who he is. Taking a cue from my new necklace, I thought about how I would describe him using just three words; words that are keys to who he is.

The first would be chimerical because of the complicated aspects of his character, the manner in which he's evolved as a person, and (depending on how you look at him) his life has been a chimera of dreams and nightmares. Resolute is also a central aspect to his character, as his determination is both unwavering and defining, and drives him so much in the story. The final keyword for him would be valorous. He is the embodiment of this word, not just in how he conducts himself, but in that he constantly inspires the same in others.

All right, now it's your turn. What three keywords would you use to describe a character from one of your stories (or, if you're a reader, from a book you love?) Let us know in comments.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I Robot

Sometimes you just need a robot, right? Thanks to Robohash, now you can generate "provide unique, robot/alien/monster/whatever images" by just visiting the site (your IP address generates one) or by typing in some text.

Here's what I got:

Don't be fooled by the single red eye or the television antenna on his head; he's 100% ready and able to wipe out the laundry for me.

Link swiped from Gerard over at the Generator Blog.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


While hunting for freeware I decided to download and test drive RedNotebook, which the designer describes as "a modern journal. It includes a calendar navigation, customizable templates, export functionality and word clouds. You can also format, tag and search your entries."

The Features:

Format your text bold, italic or underlined
Insert Images, files and links to websites
Links and mail addresses are recognized automatically
Spell Check on Linux
Automatic saving
Backup to zip archive
Word Clouds with most often used words and tags
Export the journal to PDF, HTML, Latex or plain text
The data is stored in plain text files, no database is needed
Translated into more than 20 languages

As impressive as the features sounded, I just liked the look of it; it's very uncluttered and seemed like it would be easy to use. Which it definitely is. The download went so fast I didn't realize it was done, and the installation was a breeze (completely virus-free, too, when I scanned it.) When I started it up it came with instructions preloaded in the first work area, but you can delete these easily.

The program is calendar-based, which means you work under the date of your choosing (handy if you're looking for a virtual diary or task manager.) You can input text and images in the work area, which I really like a lot, and do things like bullets and titles and so forth. Here's a screenshot of my first entry (click on any image to see larger version):

There aren't a huge amount of options; just enough for a working writer or someone who wants to organize their info. On the downside you can't print direct from RedNotebook, but you can easily export to .pdf, text file, html, etc., which is the next best thing. I really like that you can export a range of as much data as you want, anywhere from one day to all the days stored in the program.

Another feature I thought was truly neat was a statistics option, which pops up in a little window to analyze your data. Here's what it looks like:

It not only tells you how many words, lines and letters you've typed on a selected day, it keeps running totals for your entire wordcount, distinct words, the days you've edited, the days between your first and last entry, the average number of words you're writing and what percentage has been edited. If you use RedNotebook for writing or as a mirror depository for your daily work, the statistics make it almost the perfect virtual notebook for monitoring your progress on a project (extremely handy for something like NaNoWriMo.)

This would also be an excellent program to keep as a drafting area and/or a mirror archive for blog content, daily/weekly/monthly to-do lists, reminders and schedules. Another option would be to use it as a daily ledger to track your expenses, especially as at the end of each month you could export your data to a .pdf, print it out and have a printed version to serve as your ledger.

RedNotebook is 100% free and available to download for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux, plus a bunch of other distributions (which you can read about here.) For those of you who are on the go, there's a portable version, too.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Books You Read When

Sorry I'm late posting today. Last night I was baking cookies for band camp and a new recipe for shortbread decided to give me some grief. Fortunately it all worked out, and now the kids will have some homemade snacks to balance out all the store-bought stuff they usually munch on.

I don't often read when I cook (I like not burning dinner) but baking usually requires some significant wait time in between tasks, so I started Barbara O'Neal's How to Bake a Perfect Life. It's a strong, very emotional story interspersed with lots of interesting recipes, and reading it while I was baking created the perfect atmosphere. With the cookies in the oven my kitchen became a warm, cozy perfumery of vanilla and brown sugar and chocolate, and made me feel as if I were in the book, working alongside Ramona, the baker protagonist.

It also made me realize how often I choose a book to suit what I'm doing. Barbara O'Neal is great to read while working on an extended cooking project, as is Peter Mayle, Poppy Brite or Anthony Bourdain. When I'm sewing I take a break with a quilt book or an art magazine, but I also read historical romance by Mary Balogh or Liz Carlyle, I suppose because sewing and needlework are my strongest personal connection with the past. When I'm cleaning house, for example, I always take a break with an urban fantasy, a strong contemporary or paranormal romance, most often by Patricia Briggs, Larissa Ione or Marjorie Liu. I think while I'm vanquishing dirt, dust and dog hair I feel more in tune with someone doing the same with evil demons (not to be read while cooking however; as I learned the last time Stephanie Tyler made me burn dinner.)

My moods sometimes dictate what I take off the TBR pile to read, too. If I'm happy and things are going well I like to read nonfiction or a how-to because I'm open and more inclined to learn something new. Whenever I get the blues, however, only poetry appeals to me; probably because it's always been my reading security blanket (for comfort, e.e. cummings, Keats or Rilke are most frequently my go-to guys.) I read most any type of fiction to relax at night after a long day at the keyboard, but when I'm particularly frustrated or I've had a bad day I always gravitate toward dark fiction with attitude, like one of Rob Thurman's Cal Leandros novels.

Do you choose what you read based on what you're doing? Do you have any perfect reads for certain situations or moods? Let us know in comments.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Found Ten

Ten Things I've Found in Old Books

1. Love Letter: back in 1978 a new wife gave a handyman book to her husband after they bought their first home, and wrote a funny, beautiful note to him on the inside of the front cover. Thirty years later I bought the same book from a UBS for my guy, and didn't discover the letter until I got home.

2. Seed Packet: This fell out of a newer landscaping book I bought at a flea market. It was never opened so the seeds are still inside. I should plant them somewhere.

3. Old Photo: in 1917 a lady named Eloise Barto visited the Lackawanna Botanical Gardens in New York and had her picture taken by some flowers. How do I know this? Someone took a photo of her and wrote her name, the date and the location on the back of it, and ninety years later I found the photo tucked into a collection of Spenser's poetry. Btw, Eloise's eyes and expression were what first inspired my character Jessa in Shadowlight.

4. Book Spine: The actual spine cover of a nineteenth century edition of Byron's complete works, found inside the same book (I think the bookseller probably tucked it inside so it wouldn't be lost.)

5. Bookplates: Many of the older books I buy come with bookplates, as that was the custom in the old days, but this one was particularly charming, as it features a Pegasus flying through a starry night sky and the names Henry & Roberta inscribed on it. Found in a 1956 edition of Helen Ashton's The Half-Crown House. One of these days I have to use those names in a story.

6. Hair Pick Directions: Someone used as a bookmark the cardboard insert for a hairpick, which has illustrations on how to use it. I found it in a used copy of Kahlil Gibran's collected works.

7. Silk Ribbon: This cream-colored, completely unmarked ribbon had darkened at the bottom from where it protruded from the old King James Bible where it was left and that I bought about fifty years later from a church rummage sale.

8. A-B Honor Roll Award: A red ribbon from a nearby elementary school left in a romance novel. I always feel bad about having this one, as the mom probably meant to keep it, but there were no clues as to who the book belonged to before I bought it from a UBS.

9. Multi-colored paper ribbon: This looks like a remnant from some gift-wrapping ribbon. I found it literally wound around a section of a pocket thesaurus.

10. Button Bag: a small plastic zip-lock bag with two buttons in it; the kind that is sold attached to a nice blouse as spares. Found tucked in the center of a newer hardcover I bought from a library sale.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Green Journal

While I admit that I am addicted to art magazines, I never feel guilty buying an issue of Greencraft magazine. All the art projects in it are made from recycled materials -- things like old sweaters, cardboard, junk mail, even dryer sheets -- and the content is never boring or predictable.

In the Autumn 2011 issue there are a bunch of great ideas (including a way for me to finally recycle all these old beautiful calendars I can't bear to throw away) but the one idea I found most interesting was a notepad made from a hardcover book board, old end papers from other books, and a ribbon. It was so beautifully simple I immediately saw how I could adapt it into a green journal, using book boards for covers and filling it with pages made from the ton of stuff I have in my scrap paper bin.

I assembled the tools I needed, and started with some book boards that were left over from another project, and picked two that were the same size. Once I trimmed the ragged edges on the binding side, I punched two holes at the top of each board (I don't have a 2-hole punch, so I tucked the boards in the end of my 3-hole punch, punched one hole in them, and then flipped them over and punched another hole on the opposite side. Worked great.

For the pages I raided my scrap paper bin, and used a chapter from an old manuscript, watercolor paintings that didn't work out, some odds and ends I'd trimmed from other projects, etc. I mixed them up and trimmed them slightly smaller than the book board covers, but I didn't worry about making them all equal in size because I think that makes the journal pages more interesting. I then stacked them so that all the white or unused sides were facing up, and them punched holes in them the same way I did the covers.

Putting the journal together was simple; I put the pages inside the covers, threaded some narrow organdy ribbon through the holes and tied them all together with a bow. I left it loose so I could turn the pages, but the next time I made one I'll probably use binder rings or some elastic ribbon or cord to have more give in the binding.

By stacking all the white/unused sides in the same direction I gave myself space to write or paint something on the right side of the journal. I plan to put photos or pictures on the left/used sides. I'm not going to alter the book board covers, though, because I think they're charming just the way they are.

If you don't have any book boards to recycle you can harvest them from any old used books available at flea markets, thrift stores or rummage sales. Some mixed media art suppliers sell them, too. If you're not into making journals, you can adapt this idea to make a green photo album or scrapbook. You don't have to use the same materials for the pages as I did, either; old maps, leftovers from scrapbooking projects, pages from magazines, pamphlets, greeting cards, photographs, envelopes, souvenirs, fabric or anything that appeals to you. This might also be a great project for kids to teach them how to recycle some of their old artwork, school papers, doodles and so on.

Thursday, August 04, 2011


I have to unplug for a couple of days to get some revisions finished and prepare for some bad weather on the way. So that your trip here was not entirely wasted, here are some links to some cool stuff elsewhere:

Old agent/New author Nathan Bransford has come up with a brilliant solution to every writing problem that has ever existed. Well, except that one when something keeps you from writing.

Author Karen Mahoney is very kindly hosting a giveaway on her blog for two copies of my novel After Midnight. Stop in, leave a comment to let her know what you're reading at the moment, and you'll have a chance to win one. She's also opened the giveaway to everyone on the planet, so anyone can join in.

Author Bill Peschel speculates on why we writers play so nice these days in his article Where Have All the Good Literary Feuds Gone? I know, but I'm not telling.

Author Kris Reisz runs a regular feature on his LJ called Cabinet of Curiosities, and the latest entry about the Codex Gigas, a 165lb. illuminated manuscript from the thirteenth century, is beyond neat.

Weather permitting, I will be back this weekend. See you then.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011


What do our writing instruments think of us? Watch and see the point (warning for those of you at work, this video is narrated.)

Point from Victoria Harding on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Might Haves

I saw this graffiti today while walking the streets of an old city:

Since it's a quotation from a writer this made me very happy. I also let it percolate in my head all afternoon, and eventually distilled it to this: It's never too late to write what you might have been writing.

It's easy to get discouraged and give up on a story that you think you can't write, or you're convinced you can't sell, or for whatever reason just scares the bejesus out of you. The vision is there, the story is waiting, and suddenly your spine turns into pudding.

I think most of the stories we don't write turn into vague regrets, but a few become ghosts that follow us and haunt us. I try to write mine into short stories whenever I can, just to exorcise the little demons, but there are a couple that won't work as anything but novel-length works. With my schedule I already have to be very selective about what I write; I can't afford to waste my energy on a project that worries me more than it excites me (and even as I write that, I feel like I'm making excuses. If I really wanted to, I could make the time.)

I'd say of all the might-have-written novels in my head, there are four that someday I would like to get over my fear and get them down on the page. Even if the only person who ever reads them is me. I don't know if I'm ready to say I'm planning to write them; maybe they need to haunt me a bit more.

How do you handle your might-have-written stories? Let us know in comments.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Virtual Design Ten

Ten Things to Help Design Settings

3Dream is a room-space design generator that allows you to custom design and arrange a given space. Requires download of plug-in.

Although I was a big fan of Degraeve's Color Palette Generator, it doesn't seem to be functional anymore (at least for my browser/computer.) Hunting around for an alternative, I found another generator here at CSS Drive that offers light, medium and dark as well as full palettes for URL images or those you upload.

The Color Scheme Designer helps you figure out a variety of color schemes, from monochromatic to analogic and more. is very basic, but of all the generators I found it was the easiest to use and didn't require me to jump through any hoops at all. Good for laying out a rough floor plan. has an impressive online design-a-room generator that shows you how different types of floors look like in a variety of room styles and colors. (registration for free account required to use) gives you the ability to draw up your own floor plans online.

Mydeco's design generators give you a lot of predesigned options to create rooms and mood boards (idea collages.)

Sherwin Williams has a pretty amazing online color visualizer that allows you to upload your photo of a room and virtually repaint it with their products.

Small Blue Printer allows you to build your own floor plans online, view them in 3D, walk through the structure and print out the plans. To help give you ideas, there are four pre-loaded sample plans you can work with, too.

Totally Custom Wallpaper has an online wall covering generator that allows you to create your own wallpaper, mural or canvas using templates, stock images or your own photos.