Thursday, September 29, 2011

Symbols & Words

One way to exercise your imagination and come up with some new story ideas is to use online generators that provide you with random prompts. The latest I've found, The Creative Idea Generator, is very simple and quite fun to use. You click on a word, image or surprise button to produce words and symbols, then move and rearrange them to create different pairings, idea clouds, plot circles, etc. It's almost like making your own story road signs, which is great for sparking ideas.

Here's a screenshot of my first test drive:

I paired the symbols with the words at random and then rearranged a few as ideas started forming. The downstairs symbol + "contract" made me at once think of someone who sells their soul to Satan (this is probably because I just reread The Grimrose Path by Rob Thurman) but I also got a very strong image of a nice cleaning lady character who doesn't just clean up corporate offices.

Other random story ideas I had: Where do you keep an important hostage? On a boat. A plague that turns 99% of the population into sleepwalkers who act out their dreams. When the ski lift fails, all that saves you is your scarf. A bug that either contaminates the world's petroleum supply, or renders it obsolete. An alien blade so beautiful that to look at it blinds you (the blade made of light has already been done.) A murder mystery where a writer kills everyone who violates his copyright -- or maybe an editor or someone tries to kill him over an inconvenient copyright. Fish and chips, I need to eat dinner (and I did have fish and chips last night, so it even inspired a meal.)

This generator is especially useful because we all interpret images and words differently, thus no two people are going to get the exact same ideas from it. I like the simplicity, too; it prods your imagination without overwhelming you with a lot of data.

Link nicked from Gerard at The Generator Blog.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Spoonflower Delivers

The fabric I custom designed and ordered from Spoonflower arrived while I was out of town, and I have photos and intel to share.

First, the yardage:

This came folded neatly with only a few/minimal wrinkles that will likely disappear after I wash it. My design was vividly printed on very crisp, lightweight white cotton foundation material (I think I read that they use Moda fabric but don't quote me on that.) There is no raised or plastic feel to the material, which makes it nicer than the fabric sold for inkjet printers. The packing slip included laundering directions for all the types of fabric the site sells, which is an excellent idea.

I also ordered some test swatches of my photo banner and two paintings to get a look at how they handle complicated colors and palettes as well as image details:

I'm quite happy with these. Swatches are a good idea if you're not sure about your design as they don't cost as much as yardage but still give you a realistic preview of what a bigger piece will look like. Here's a closeup of the banner photo:

The final test was to compare the finished fabric to the original photos I used for the designs. There were some slight color variations, and a little of the tiny details didn't translate onto the fabric, but I'm quite satisfied with how well they matched my image:

Here's another comparison:

Production and shipping were actually faster than promised, so no complaints at all there.

Bottom line: this was fun, easy to do and I really like the results. If you want your colors matched perfectly, I recommend ordering a test swatch of your design first (and I'm not sure if you can tweak the colors after you get your swatch or you have to upload a tweaked image, so you may want to check on that at their site.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Custom Ten

Ten Things You Can Design Online

Design your own bedding or pillows over at

UK clock maker allows you to customize the face of an analog clock with your own images and text.

Custom Clothing Designer has over 100 garments and accessories you can customize.'s 3D room planner helps you design a room online and view it in 3D.

Can't find a bumper sticker that fits you and your ride? Design your own here.

Make your own custom flower bouquet, centerpiece, or even a wedding cake online over at

For you hoof fashionistas out there, you can design your own shoes here (rather pricey to buy them, though.)

Make your dream garden with Better Homes and Gardens' online Plan-A-Garden designer (one hoop: to use it, you have to register for their newsletter.) has a free online designer to help you build the perfect logo.

Need to work out a custom wedding dress for your character? Design it online here.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


I am hitting the road again today, so unfortunately I must make this quick. The winners of the Linda Howard giveaway are:

Shiloh Walker, who depends on Mercedes Lackey's Winds of Fate books and others to get by during tough times..

Petite, who got help from Frenchman's Creek while coping with a loss.

DeeCee, who counted on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to help get through losing a loved one.

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

Friday, September 23, 2011


So I'm not the only one who self-medicates with books? Good to know. I also see a lot of titles and writers in your comments that I'll have to check out next time I'm at the bookstore.

We dusted off the magic hat (who has been sulking over being left in the closet so long), and the winners of the Rob Thurman giveaway are:

SandyH, who escapes with the Darkyn series and Jayne Anne Krentz.

Sari from Michigan, who depends on Mercedes Lackey and Anne McCaffrey's earlier novels.

Emily of Tom, Emily & Brenna, who mentioned Cherijo from StarDoc and Sylvia Thorpe as particularly helpful

AthenaW, who recommends anything by Lilith Saintcrow as a tough times go-to read.

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Soul Medicine Week: Linda Howard

While I was putting together my posts for this week, I realized something: I discovered many of the writers in my soul medicine chest by picking up books at random while browsing through book stores, flea markets and even some rummage sales. I think I acquired that habit from when I was a kid and had to borrow books from the public library; I didn't know what to read so I'd take five or six books from one shelf. Occasionally I'd end up with some real clunkers, but most of the time the universe stepped in and guided my hand to someone I needed to read.

Like this one time about fifteen years ago, when I was on my way home from a doctor's appointment. I stopped at a Jewish temple that was having a big garage sale in their parking lot. There were tables upon tables of books, and at that particular moment I needed something to read in the worst way. While sorting through the stacks, I found this old Silhouette romance with rather awful cover art. Never heard of the author, either, but I liked the title: Loving Evangeline. Plus it only cost a quarter.

A few authors sometimes complain about not profiting from used book sales, but I don't. I know better. Because two days after I bought that old book for a quarter, I went out to all three new book stores in town and bought every single title by Linda Howard that I could find on the shelves. And have kept buying them ever since.

Linda Howard brings so much to the reader it's hard to choose what to highlight. There's the powerful writing, the heroic protagonists, the emotional impact of her stories, the shock and awe moments -- I've never been able to put aside one of her books once I start reading it. All of these things are just a few of the reasons why she gets much better cover art these days.

But for me I think what her novels do best is remind me why we shouldn't give up. That no matter how bad things are, we can survive them and get past them and move on with our lives and find a better place. That's what her characters do; there are never any quitters in her stories. If you're open to it, that kind of courage is very contagious.

In the great Pandora's box of romantic fiction, Linda Howard's work is always about hope.

Today I have to give away three brand new copies of Linda's latest hardcover release. If you'd like a chance to win one of them, in comments to this post name a writer or a book that helped you get through a particularly tough time by midnight EST on Friday, September 23, 2011. I will draw three names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned hardcover copy of Prey by Linda Howard, along with a surprise. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Soul Medicine Week: Rob Thurman

Inscribed above the doorway to an ancient library in Thebes are words that translate to The medicine chest for the soul. I've always thought of books in a lot of ways -- as great companions, instant portals to other realms, the voices of friends who never abandon you -- but they also work wonders for a bruised and battered spirit.

This week I'd like to explore this theme and talk about the writers who so frequently rescue me from the blues. In my soul medicine chest of books are a few who by the power and originality of their work provide instant healing, and one of them is Rob Thurman.

When I first read Rob's debut novel Nightlife back in 2006, I was completely blown away (and made the very public mistake of tagging her as a guy writer. In my defense, she does not write like a chick.) Since that first amazing read, Rob's dark fantasy has saved me time and again from various doldrums; it is utterly impossible to be depressed or sulk while immersed in one of her worlds. Rob never bores me. I often purposely save her new books to read during times when I'll need a boost, although everything she writes is just as good on a reread.

Wherever she takes me on the page, Rob Thurman delivers great characters, incredibly detailed story with pacing that should be measured in machs. She still holds the #1 spot on my list for writing the best novel twist I've read, and I don't think anyone will ever take that title from her.

As it happens a few weeks ago we almost lost Rob, and while she was fighting her way back from her injuries I prayed and made a lot of promises to the Almighty in hopes that would add some weight to the survive side of the scale. So I can't have potato chips or donuts for the rest of the year, which is fine (okay, sacrificing chips will be tough, but God doesn't listen if you offer to give up something like spinach or squash. To be a legit sacrifice, it has to really hurt.)

I also promised myself that I would give away some of her books, a vow I intend to fulfill today. So in comments to this post, name an author or a book you read when you need a little medicine for your soul (or if you can't think of one, toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Thursday, September 22, 2011. I will draw four names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners unsigned copies of Chimera and Basilisk by Rob Thurman, along with a surprise. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sub Ops Ten

Ten Things About Submission Opportunities

Apex Publications has an open call for a follow-up to their Dark Faith antho: "We’re looking for the story only you could write, something deeply personal and at the same time universal. Everyone believes in something and we want you to put those beliefs to the test. We’re looking for smart, literate stories that don’t proselytize or stereotype. Stories that make you think, that comment on the human condition and the social order. Stories that are rich in their use of language. However, as much as we love social commentary, don’t forget to entertain us. The best way to get a feel for what we’re looking for is to read Dark Faith." Length: up to 4K, Payment: five cents a word. Note on Rights: "We buy First World anthology print rights and digital rights (for three years)." Submissions open 1/1/2012, and "Unsolicited stories received outside this timeframe will be deleted, unread." No reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: January 31, 2012.

Black Chicken Studios is looking for writers to provide text for an upcoming supernatural crime-romance game called Devil's Advocate: "Writers must be able to write efficient, colorful prose based in a supernatural romance scenario (think the situations of Angel, the wit and verve of Ocean's 11 and the quirky law of Ally McBeal). The game is set in modern day Las Vegas, so consider the time and place when you phrase your writing. The target audience for the game is teens and adults, so the writing must be accessible. However, writers are encouraged to write in their own voice, as long as their style remains reasonably acceptable considering the era the game-world is set in (edgy, experimental text would be out of character, for example). Writing assignments will involve Scenes to be featured in the game. Each Scene will consist of 10-20 paragraphs of text, with each paragraph being no more than three lines (NB: Lines, not sentences. We're hoping to keep things tight!) The goal is to keep the prose snappy and engaging." Payment: "The pay is $10 per assignment, with each assignment consisting of the creation of 20 events (NB: Not $10 per item written, $10 per assignment of 20 total items)." Submission info: "Submissions should include two Scenes, of 10-20 Parts each. Each Part should be 1-3 lines long at maximum. Grammatical errors and simple typos may mean instant disqualification, so be sure to double-check your work prior to submission." E-mail to receive a prompt and sample Scene or ask any questions you may have. To review Black Chicken Studio's earlier work, please visit"

Dark Eye Glances, the journal of dark poetry and lyrics, is accepting submissions for its new print antho, to be published in January 2012. "Dark Eye Glances is a literary magazine of dark poetry and lyrics. We publish poetry that incorporates overtly dark, dramatic, metaphysical and psychological themes and language. Please keep in mind that we may not accept even the finest poetry if it doesn’t suit the tone of the publication.We publish ALL FORMS of quality poetry and lyrics, although we may show some preference for poetry that is rhyming and metrical. Although we favor high quality metrical and rhyming poetry or lyrics, we will consider ALL FORMS OF QUALITY POETRY. For rhyming poetry or lyrics, the rhyme scheme need not be present in all lines or stanzas." Length: not specified, Payment: mag offers exposure; print antho not specified. Reprints okay, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. No deadline specified.

IFWG Publishing has a short story contest: "Story must be written with an emphasis on the speculative fiction genres (horror, science fiction and fantasy). Note that the judges will be looking for fresh, character-centric stories with depth of skill in theme and plot construction. Zombies, vampires, elves, hobbits, orcs, are unlikely to get past round one." Length: Strictly 1-3K, no entry fee. Prizes: "The Winner receives $100US cash prize and will be published in SQ Magazine; Second place receives $50US cash prize and will be published in SQ Magazine; Third place receives $25US cash prize and will be published in SQ Magazine." No reprints, electronic submissions only, see contest page for more details. Deadline: October 31, 2011.

Northwind Magazine is looking for submissions of fiction, nonfiction and poetry: "We publish any genre, any subject, any style. What's most important to us is the quality of the writing, the depth of the characterizations, and the originality of the voice." Length: fic/nonfic - up to 7.5K; no length specified on poetry, submit up to 5 poems at once. Payment: the author of the issue's featured story receives $150.00; everyone else gets exposure only. No reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Musa Publishings's Penumbra e-zine has two open calls for stories with specific themes: "Shakespeare: we have a particular and undying interest in the Bard--and any speculative fiction versions of his work OR spec fic stories that feature him as a character. CALL ENDS OCT 31" and "Steampunk: Create your best gizmos and gear up for the goggle-gouging fun that is steampunk. (We'll accept gaslight fantasy too) All steampunk for this winter issue, which means anything goes. CALL ENDS NOV 15." Length: 500 words to 3.5K, Payment: 5 cents a word. Query on reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Samhain Publishing is looking for horror submissions: "Samhain is now accepting submissions for our line of horror novels. We are actively seeking talented writers who can tell an exciting, dramatic and frightening story, and who are eager to promote their work and build their community of readers. We are looking for novels—either supernatural or non-supernatural, contemporary or historical—that are original and compelling. Authors can be previously unpublished or established, agented or un-agented. Content can range from subtle and unsettling to gory and shocking. The writing is what counts." Length: 12-100K; for print eligibility minimum 50K. Payment: not specified but their general terms are "40% of the cover price on single-author ebooks sold directly through Samhain, 30% of the cover price on single-author ebooks sold through third-party vendors such as Mobipocket, Fictionwise and All Romance eBooks, and 8% of the cover price on single-author print books, with a 3% reserve against returns. Multiple-author books will split the above royalty percentages equally."

Singular Source has a short story contest: "We are looking for hard science fiction short stories on the theme of future computer programming and technology, with particular attention programmers working with vast archives of source code." Length: 1-6K, no fee, Prizes: not specified on the contest page, but Ralan lists it at $800.00. Might want to get a confirmation on prize amounts before entering. No reprints, electronic submission only, see contest page for more details. Deadline: November 30, 2011.

Spore Press is looking for submissions of BioSciFi novels: "BioSciFi, or biology-based science fiction, which takes as its starting point the actual and potential transformations within the fundamental materials of life that are made possible by recent scientific advances. The resulting bio-reality is the shifting ground on which we build our future, and it is imagined in BioSciFi." Not a lot of specific info on this one (no mention of length, terms of payment, rights, etc.) so you might want to query this one before you submit anything.

The Western Online accepts submissions of the following: "The type of story most likely to be published here is the traditional post-Civil War Western. However, we will consider any story that is connected with the early settling of America that takes place during the 1700s and early 1800s, from swashbuckling pirates to mountain men and the early pioneers. All stories must be set in the 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries and deal with the opening and exploration of the American West." Length: 5K or less, prefers 3K or less. Payment: $5.00. Reprints okay, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

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

Friday, September 16, 2011

Design Your Own

As much as I love shopping for fabric, I've always wanted to design my own. In the past I've produced some original swatches by printing via laserjet onto photofabric, and by hand dyeing or painting white cotton and muslin, but I've never had a chance to design and produce actual yardage.

I have some promo projects in mind for next year that would be better if I could design the fabric involved, so I checked my quilting-related bookmarks, and found a site called Spoonflower that I had never really investigated. I think when I first visited it my old computer wouldn't let me access or use the design generator pages.

Fortunately this time around I got into them, and in about five minutes had a finished design based on this photograph I took of two of my roses back in 2009:

I liked how the design came out so much that I ordered a yard of it, which I think will also give me a decent firsthand look at the quality of fabric Spoonflower produces from uploaded designs (and once it arrives I'll report more on that.) If this works out well I will definitely be doing more of this for future personal and promo projects.

While cruising around the Spoonflower site I also noted they have regular themed contests for fabric designs (winners are awarded a nice-sized credit toward Spoonflower purchases) and they also sell your designed fabric in their marketplace (designers get 10% of the sale price, paid to them in site purchase credits or as straight payments via Paypal.) Since there is no cost involved in putting your design up for sale -- the site does everything for you but design it -- this could be a neat way for you creative souls out there to earn some extra income.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

First Look

I promised you all back in July that once we had a finalized version I'd share the amazing cover art for Nightborn, the first novel in my new Darkyn trilogy, and here it is:

That fountain and I are old friends, so naturally I'm delighted with it.

Nightborn will be landing on the shelves on March 6, 2012, and can be preordered online at, B&, and

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pic Ten

Thanks to everyone for the kind words in comments and the e-mails and cards. Right now I'm trying to cope by staying busy, focusing on family and looking for a little beauty in every day, but posting here on the blog will likely be sporadic until I've worked my way through this.

The camera has really helped me stay out of the dark and look for the light, literally and spiritually. For some reason I keep running into interesting birds, and a few were courteous enough to hold still long enough for me to take a shot. So was a huge orb-weaver I discovered one night.

I wrote a little new fiction or a personal journal entry almost every day I was on hiatus, and while I can't claim that any of it is readable or of great quantity, simply the act of writing helped. I also put together one holiday assemblage project made from recycled materials (which actually came out almost as nice as the example in the magazine.)

So that your visit here today was not wasted, I put together ten of my most interesting hiatus photographs, which can be viewed in my online Jalbum here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Friday, September 09, 2011


My dad passed away last night in his sleep. He was 77 years old.

Mom asked me to write his obituary for the newspaper, and I don't think it will be difficult to find the words to describe the man he was. He was born in New York City, and grew up in a tenement in a very poor neighborhood. He escaped poverty, first to become a Merchant Mariner, and then a chef.

He never had children of his own until he married my mom, at which point he bravely became stepfather to five sons and daughters, most of whom were teenagers. Despite the innumerable challenges of gaining an instant family, he was a devoted and loving husband to my mother, and a wonderful father to us.

He had so many friends. Too many to count, much less name. Everyone who got to know my dad loved him. Everyone. He was that kind of guy.

I don't have that many photos of me with my father, probably because I was either taking the pictures, or dodging them. But this morning I unearthed one of us together on a very fine day thirty-one years ago. It's one of those moments when he was just being my dad:

I was so blessed to have you in my life, Anthony. Thank you for choosing to be my father, and for all the love and kindness you gave me. May your journey be safe, your next place be filled with birds and dogs and a huge kitchen, and once you're there all that you know is joy and peace. I will see you again someday.