Monday, October 31, 2011

Wishing You

Sunday, October 30, 2011


You all put together a nice list of title recs for the Double Vision giveaway. We just got the hat to work its magic, and the winner is:

Robin Connelly

Robin, when you have a chance please send your ship-to info to so I can get your package in the mail. My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Double Vision

Daniel Pool's What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew is one of my favorite nonfic reference books, as it's written to inform but delivers the facts in a friendly, completely readable fashion. It's not just for writers, either; I think what daily life was really like in 19th century England is universally fascinating.

Today while rearranging some shelves I also discovered that I have two copies of the book (I'm pretty sure the extra was a gift from a friend.) While I'm very tempted to keep the spare -- I know eventually I'll read mine to pieces -- it's exactly the sort of book that begs to be passed along. Which means, you guessed it, a giveaway.

If you'd like a chance to win, in comments to this post name a reference, nonfic or how-to title that you've found particularly helpful (or if you can't think of any, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST tonight, October 29, 2011. I will draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner my extra unsigned trade paperback copy of What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool, 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.

Friday, October 28, 2011

NaNoWriMo Prep IV: Glass Wisdom

Ten Gems O' Wisdom You Should Probably Ignore During NaNoWriMo

A Real Writer Earns Money: I guess that means Dickinson and Poe and Thoreau were all fake writers. When I hear this I always think of a not very famous writer named Henry Darger. A quiet, ordinary janitor in Chicago, Henry did not write for money or anyone else. He wrote for himself. Among his many works, which weren't discovered until after he passed away at age 80, was a 15,000+ page, single-spaced typed manuscript that he also illustrated with hundreds of drawings and watercolor paintings. To say someone like Henry wasn't a real writer would be like saying Van Gogh wasn't a real painter (but hey, he didn't make any money, either.)

All NaNoWriMo Novels are Nothing But Crap: Oddly enough (and I love the timing of this) my agent is currently negotiating a contract for the book I wrote the first draft of during NaNoWriMo 2009. I consider it one of the most original novels I've ever written, and the publisher and I are both open to the idea of making it a series. So what was that about crap again?

Always Write the Book of Your Heart: You'll hear this one a lot from writers who can't get past one novel, most of whom should really take that manuscript into the back yard and burn it. If all you want to do is write the Book of Your Heart, it will probably end up being a book that only you want to read. Which if you're like Henry Darger is okay, but I say write the Book An Editor Will Buy.

Feedback Helps While You're Writing: Over time I've watched writers being pressured more and more to take on critique partners, beta readers and otherwise accept assistance while actively writing a story. I've also noticed writers seeking in their own ways to add outside approval before they're finished the work. Whether you call it collaboration, critiquing or writing by committee, it is not automatically helpful. Outside sources (who have their own rules, prejudices and problems with writing, too) can distract or derail you, and obviously that's not going to improve the work. It's your call, but feedback is much more valuable to me after I have a finished product, when I'm fully into my major editing mode. Then I'm in a better place to judge whether or not the feedback is valid.

Follow These Rules: There are so many rules out there I think they've begun breeding like pond scum. I hate rules, too -- there's never been one I've run into that I didn't want to stomp to pieces. Look, as a writer, your job is to write a great story that your readers will enjoy. Do whatever it takes to accomplish that. I think that's the only rule you should worry about.

Life Experience is Important so Wait to Write Your First Novel: This comes from people who think you can't write a book until you're over forty. All of them are probably over forty, too. I wrote my first book when I was thirteen, submitted it and got feedback from an editor, so no, I don't buy into it. I also made my first short story sale a year later. Write when you're ready to write.

Write Every Day: I will say that it's an excellent ambition, and writing daily may help you reach your NaNoWriMo goal. But you probably also have a life. That means if you have four kids and three of them are sick, a day job, a spouse out of town, a sick puppy and/or your sister keeps calling with updates on her latest drama, you're excused from writing for the day. P.S., If you need a note, let me know and I'll write one for you. Unless my sister calls.

You Can'ts and You Musts: You've all heard these; they're issued by those inflexible PC-obsessed folks who believe they should decide how you write, when you write, where you write, what you write, etc. Smile at them, nod at them, but unless they're holding an advance check with your name on it, I suggest you ignore them and make those decisions yourself. Especially when it comes to what you write. Writing simply to placate someone else is utterly demoralizing and, to me, just plain wrong.

You Have to Write Slowly to Write Well: I've been bombarded with this one my entire career. I could do the reverse and say you have to write faster in order to write well -- since that works for me -- but I'm open to the idea that some people do need a decade or more to finish one book. I don't, but that doesn't make me less of a writer; it just means I write and publish more books and I don't have to work a day job. Bottom line, the pace at which you write should be what's most comfortable and productive for you. As long as you're writing, who cares how fast or slow you are?

You Should Write What You Know: I saved this one for last because I think it's the worst gem of all. A great big ugly worthless piece of fossilized dinosaur dung, that has ruined more writers -- for life -- than I really want to think about. It's an imagination killer. Think about it: if we all followed this advice, there would be no science fiction, no vampire fiction, no fantasy fiction . . . really, no fiction whatsoever. Everything published would be autobiographies. That's it, that's all. With the way this world is, I believe that we need more than nonfiction. We need inspiration, and hope, and dreams. Writing what you don't know, writing about the things that exist only in your imagination, shares it with someone else. That creation, those dreams, can help make their reality a little more bearable. And isn't that the point?

What writerly glass wisdom would you like to shatter? Smash it to pieces in comments.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

NaNoWriMo Prep III: Food and Fire

Home for Setting Starters

Benjamin Franklin once said that a house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body. I've always liked that quotation, and not just because I agree with it. Ben throws down a challenge for us to define exactly what is food and fire for the mind.

My guy and I are semi-minimalist homebodies, and over the years we've refined what I think of as the 3-C home: casual, comfortable and calm. We don't care about impressing people or following rules, which is probably why we have a country kitchen, a Mission bedroom and a beach cottage master bath. The high school kid has a red/black/white quasi-Asian/Anime cave going in her room. The guest room is serenely sea-nautical themed. My office is all about books and the job. Our living room has no particular theme other than a general air of "sit down and relax"; our dining room with its wall-size Victorian crazy quilt is half mini folk-art museum, half tea room.

The walls in almost every room are hung with quilts and art and family photos. I try to keep things tidy, but most days you'll see something one of us left out: a chunk of my latest manuscript, my daughter's sheet music, my guy's computer printouts. There isn't a harsh color or highbrow stick of furniture in the place. You will find dog toys in unexpected places because we're always playing with the dogs.

Whenever I come back here after being on the road, the minute I walk through the door I feel like I shed a thousand pounds. I know my guy feels the same, I can see it on his face when he gets in from work. Home is our favorite place to be, because home is all about us and what we love and the people we love to be with.

Back to the Mountain

While climbing to the top of your book mountain, you will be making stops in different places. Part of your job is to describe these places to your reader so that they can see them, too. While locations are not as active as characters or plot, they do provide the setting (and often the time period) of the story, so they're necessary.

I used to really dread writing setting, and most of the time I still have some bad moments. It's not as fun as writing characters, and it's very hard to find the right balance of showing the reader an interesting place without boring them to tears with endless or over-the-top description. I think the root of my problem is related to the way I've always researched setting: by using real-life models and locations. I'm always so engrossed in presenting the right/actual details that I forget to consider the characters who have to live or work or travel through there and/or what they'd want. This is why if a character of mine lives in Paris, they usually get a house very similar to one I've seen or visited in Paris.

What I've been trying to do lately is to temper the obsessing over details by making my settings more about the character than me. I came to this conclusion because I finally realized why writing settings for my StarDoc books was never a problem; I invented them from scratch based on my world-building and my characters.

At the moment I'm putting together an apartment for one of my female protagonists. She's nothing like me, so to create the right home for her I have to see it through her eyes and put it together using her heart. Although my girl is an edgy, ultra-modern young female, she has very feminine, secret longings for all things Victorian. Because she's lived alone for a significant number of years, she will have had the time and means to collect and arrange her living space with exactly what she likes.

Personally I couldn't deal with all this fussy stuff (I'd be dusting it for the rest of my life), but I know my character loves it. She adores rose-colored velvet and tatted ecru lace and milk glass and beaded lampshades and ruched satin. Her bathroom looks like a time tunnel to the thirties. She has little rose-shaped soaps in a porcelain bowl by the sink, a vanity table with a crackled mirror, crystal perfume atomizers and a bud vase with peacock feathers.

Finding the Food and the Fire

What makes this space a home for my character isn't about the stuff inside it, it's that it creates a space in which she can relax and feel happy and be herself. This safe-haven feel to her home is very important to her for reasons that relate to self-esteem, backstory and personality. Thus her home is about the person she is on the inside, this very old-fashioned girl who is romantic and loving and genuinely sweet. What's so cool about bringing this side of her out in her home is that it's the only place you would see it. The minute she leaves she puts on the edgy, ultra-modern persona, wearing it almost like armor, and to most of the outside world she is a completely different person (and her office is nothing like her home, because that's where she's on display.)

When you think about the settings you create in your stories, consider not just what suits your character's situation, but reflects on their personality as well. Think about what they do when they come home; what is their favorite room in the house, and why do they spend so much time there? (My girl doesn't cook so her kitchen is a bit like Mother's Hubbard's, but she loves spending hours soaking in her big bathtub, so the bathroom has everything she could possibly need or want in it, including a shelf of books, a mini-stereo and a cordless telephone.)

What are some of your concerns with writing setting? Do you have any tips on how to make it more effective or easier to put together? Let us know in comments.

Setting Building Tools: Nicholas Morine's Ideas in Creative Writing: Setting ~ Keith Gray's Creative Writing Masterclass 4: Setting (video) ~ F. Locke's Writing Creative Fiction: Setting

Also, PBW's Fun with Setting ~ Props ~ Virtual Design Ten

Image credit: © Virgil Graham |

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

NaNoWriMo Prep II: Stand Out Characters

Instant Recognition

Last week we went out of town to a band competition to see the high school kid perform, but didn't find the place until her band was already on the field. We got inside in time to see the performance from about half a football field away, but when I looked out I saw my kid playing a standard flute, which was the wrong instrument (for band she plays the picolo, which is a tiny version of the flute.)

"That's not her," my guy said when I pointed her out. "She's over there, in the back."

I told him that no, he was wrong, and started taking pictures. Throughout the entire performance I snapped shots of this girl while he told me I was mistaken. I insisted I was right. Finally he admitted he couldn't tell which child was ours because to him they all look alike in their uniforms.

After the show we caught up with my daughter, and I asked her why she'd been playing the flute. Turned out she'd lent her picolo to her section leader, who had accidentally left hers behind and had a more difficult musical part to play (and my daughter had studied the parts for picolo and flute, so she could switch to a spare flute on hand at the performance with no problem.)

Later my guy asked how I had been so sure that the girl with the wrong instrument had been our daughter. One is always tempted to claim maternal privilege, aka "a mother always recognizes her child", but I don't think recognition is always instinctive (even for moms.)

Instead, I relied on what I know about my kid. For example, I've seen this show lots of times so I know her exact position on the field. While her helmet covers her hair and shadows her eyes, and most of the girls in her section do look alike in uniform, I spotted the shape of her ear (which she inherited from her dad) and her mouth (which she inherited from her aunt.) She's very serious about marching, so she never slouches or fidgets, and she always holds her instrument in the correct position. Finally, I zeroed in on her movements, and while she was perfectly in step with everyone else, I knew it was her by the way she looks when she moves.

Now, Back to the Mountain

Yesterday I introduced you to the mountain of work that is writing a novel and talked about starting your climb. Today we're going to look at who you're taking up with you -- the imaginary friends of any storyteller, also known as your cast of characters.

You'll often hear writers talk about their characters as if they are real, living, breathing people. They have conversations with their characters, listen to them, believe in them, cheer them on, take their advice and even go shopping for them. This is of course a lovely fantasy, and one of the primary reasons people think writers are so strange.

Yes, I know for a fact that my characters are not real, but to me, they have to be as close as possible to real, living, breathing people in order for me to write them. So I do odd things like sketch them and play songs for them. I write poetry for them. I visit the places where I want them to live or work or find themselves handcuffed to a naked stranger (about whom I know everything, too.) I give them birth dates and bad habits and big problems. I know what they love, what they hate, what annoys them, what they want, what they don't want, what they think they want. And yes, occasionally I hear them talking to me in my head.

It comes down to this: the more I know about the admittedly imaginary people who are going up the mountain with me, the better and faster I climb. Since I don't like to dawdle, I pretty much try to know everything about them before I start up. And what little I don't know, I will find out on the journey, because I'm annoying that way.

Who Do You Take with You?

When you're building a character the natural temptation is to make one that conforms to a popular archetype within your genre: the tall/dark/handsome romance hero, the tough tattooed urban fantasy chick, the strapping fantasy warrior, the girl-next-door freckled heroine, the Captain Kirk or Luke Skywalker SF protagonist, the vampire brotherhood musclebound dude. While there's nothing wrong with using an archetype -- some novelists have built very successful careers while writing the exact same cookie-cutter characters over and over -- there's nothing particularly memorable about them. To offer a character that your reader will remember, you need to craft a character who in some way stands out in a crowd.

Every writer has their own attitude about what needs to go into creating characters. My personal philosophy is this: if I'm going to spend weeks climbing a mountain with the same bunch of people every day, they can't be ordinary, shallow, two-dimensional interchangeable, nothing-special characters. They'll bore me off the mountain. I need unique, interesting, absorbing characters, not only to provide the reader with a great book but to keep me motivated while writing it, too.

As many of you know I begin all my characters by asking my infamous three questions: Who are you? What do you want? What's the worst thing I can do to you? For me, the answers have to be fascinating, thrilling, and definitely something I want to explore at length. Since I'm doing the asking and the answering, that also means putting everything I've got, all my writing mojo into the character construct.

For NaNoWriMo, you're going to be spending a solid month with your characters. You don't have to use my three questions; make up your own -- or use another method to build your characters that works better for you (see the links below for some interesting alternative approaches.) But once you feel you've built your character, ask yourself this: If they were standing among a big group of other characters, all dressed alike, and you were half a football field away, could you spot them? How? Answer that question in enough different, interesting ways, and you will probably know your character well enough to write them for thirty days.

What problems are you having with your creating characters? What methods do you use that help you build the best? Let us know in comments.

Character Creation Tools: Evernote freeware ~ Greg Knollenberg's Web Resources for Dveloping Characters ~ Karen Lotter's Character Development in Fiction ~ The Lazy Scholar's How to Create a Character Profile

Also, from PBW: ABCharacter ~ Character Trading Cards ~ Know Thy Character Ten ~ The Complete Friday 20 Index, with lots of questions and my answers about characters.

Image Credit: © Gina Smith |

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

NaNoWriMo Prep I: The Mountain

The UpHill Battle

No matter where you are with your work, the prospect of writing a novel can be very intimidating. For one thing, it's a big project. And a mean one. A book-length story can be a demanding harpy from hell who is never, ever satisfied. Hundreds of blank pages, waiting to be filled; all those words that have to be written. And collectively the book has to be original, interesting, correct, logical, creative -- and that's simply to make it readable. If we're talking major-house publishable, then up the wattage to dazzling, inventive, jaded-editor-stunning . . .

Before you even approach the book mountain, you first have to wade through every failed story, every abandoned partial manuscript, every single page you ripped out of the printer and crumpled or tore to pieces. You have to get past the sneering effigy of every person who has ever told you that you can't do it, or that you'll do it badly, or that as a writer you suck, or otherwise kicked you in the story cods.

Okay, so somehow you find the courage to fight through all that (probably because like me, you’re just that stubborn) and you're finally standing at the mountain's base, and you're ready to climb. Only you can't stop looking at how far it is to get to the top, and you're already tired and worried and scared. You're convinced that it's never going to be the way you see it in your head. So why put yourself through this?

Stop Looking at the Damn Mountain

I think the biggest obstacle to writing a book is thinking “Hey, I’m writing a book. Oh, God, I'm writing a book.” Actually, you’re not. No one, no matter how fast they are, can write an entire book all at once. The book happens in stages. At any stage of creation you will be writing words, sentences, and paragraphs that are part of a book. During one session you may write a page, a scene or an entire chapter; if you're very lucky you'll write multiple pages, scenes, maybe two or three chapters.

That’s what I suggest you think about every time you sit down to write. Not the whole book, not the mountain, not the enormity of what you're hoping to accomplish in thirty days for NaNoWriMo. Today's session, the stage you can manage to do now, is where your head needs to be.

To figure out what that is, I suggest setting a daily writing goal or quota. You don’t have to, but it helps to keep track of what you need to do and what you've already done. If you're joining in NaNoWriMo, your preset goal is to write at least 50,000 words in 30 days. That would make your daily goal approximately 1667 words, or about seven double-spaced manuscript pages (and I know all of you are not going to be writing daily, so adjust that quota to whatever your writing schedule will be for the month.)

If NaNoWriMo were a mountain to be climbed, it would be 50,000 feet high. Fortunately if you write every day in November, you have only 1667 feet to climb per day.

Jinxing the Climb

As you're heading up the book mountain there will be things that try to kick you back down to the bottom. Everyone has their own set of writing jinxes, but there are a few that I think are pretty universal.

Uncertainty over the writing seems to make writers do two things: go silent, or talk too much about it. I'm of the go silent and not share anything with others mentality, primarily because I've tried the talk about it too much method and it's always jinxed me (which is also why I rarely if ever discuss a book I'm actively writing with anyone but the agent or the editor.) I think for me it's because I have enough of my own doubt to deal with; I don't need additional contributions from outside sources. Also, I've been derailed in the past by well-intentioned but bad advice; one time it almost cost me a three-book contract. I recommend not talking about too much. Exception: if you have a wonderful reader or writer friend, critique partner or family member who is always genuinely helpful to you as a sounding board, this may actually help your climb.

Judging the writing before the book is done is another common climbing jinx. It usually happens in the middle of chapter three, when you suddenly suspect everything you've written is complete crap. This is like being ten thousand feet up the mountain and deciding that all the climbing you've done sucks, so naturally you can't climb any higher. Sounds stupid, right? Well, it is. No one is born knowing how to climb a mountain or write a book. You have to learn how to do it, and the only way I know is to do it over and over until you get it right.

More often than not this judging jinx comes from your own doubts and fears, which will certainly knock you off the mountain if they can. You can stop, fall down, start over, give up, or you can agree with your doubt 100% but keep writing. Just stop worrying about what you've already climbed and keep going up. Why should you do that? Because you can always edit and rewrite whatever you don't like later.

The final jinx I want to mention is a malady among writers commonly referred to as writer's block. Or, you just can't write. For a long time I didn't believe in it, but I've watched too many writer friends suffer from it to doubt it's real.

I don't get what I'd call writer's block. I get tired of writing, I don't feel like writing, or something gets between me and the page that stops me from writing. Publishing is the #1 cause of this. Distractions are #2. Depression is #3. I deal with the causes as quickly and efficiently as I can. I do everything I can to keep Publishing out of my writing space, from unplugging from the internet to turning off the phone. Since Publishing in general has absolutely no respect for my writing time, I don't feel the slightest bit guilty about kicking it out of my writing space when necessary. As for distractions, I remove them, or remove myself to a distraction-free writing space. If they have one, I highly recommend the quiet room at your local public library.

Depression is what it is, and there's no easy way around it. I'm particularly fortunate in that no matter how I feel, I'm an insomniac who hates television and can't stand sitting around and doing nothing. Thus if I'm so depressed that I can't write, I go fold laundry, or vacuum the living room, or mop the kitchen until I feel better. Cleaning helps me work out a lot of frustrations and negative energy, and afterward my house looks great and I feel good about that. I also walk the dogs, play ball with them, garden, quilt, cook, or do anything that naturally helps lighten my mood. For me the key to fighting depression is to do something else besides feeling depressed. So try getting active. Do something physical. If the weather permits, go outside, commune with Nature. Or do something that you really love other than writing.

Next up: I'll discuss the gang you can take with you on your climb -- your story's characters -- and what you can do to make them outstanding. But in the meantime, anyone have any questions? Please post them in comments.

Book Mountain Climbing Tools: Another Little Progress Meter ~ NaNoWriMo Word Meter ~ Word Count Tool ~ WordFlood 1.2 freeware ~ Writertopia's Progress Meters

Image credit: © Emmanuel Lacoste |

Monday, October 24, 2011

Spooky Ten

(Sorry I'm late posting this morning; having some problems with Blogger again.)

Ten Things to Do for Halloween

Try whipping up some Healthy Halloween and Fall Favorites recipes from has some great ideas here for homemade Halloween decorations. has a ton of recipes for homemade, creepy-looking treats on their Halloween page here.

Wondering why we carve pumpkins into Jack-o-Lanterns? has a neat article here that explains how it started.

Christine Cadena has some good ideas on pet management in her article Halloween Safety for Your Dog (and I'll second her suggestion of walking your dog before the trick-o-treaters arrive.)

Speaking of Jack, Howdini has a good instructional video here on how to carve a pumpkin.

Want to make your own Halloween costume, makeup, mask or just need an easy idea? Check out this guide on has six seriously spooky stories here about real-life cemeteries (link swiped from Gerard over at the Presurfer.)

If you're interested in listening to some spooky music, has a very cool Halloween party radio station here.

Enter to win a giveaway for a zombie backscratcher or a set of monster family stickers for your car over at the Presurfer.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mini-Project #3: Book Bag

For my final Spoonflower mini-project I decided to make a book bag, and for the design a free pattern I could find available online. I chose this Hip to be Square pattern posted on because it was a good size, looked different and came with a free .pdf of the pattern pieces I could print out on standard paper.

At first I didn't bother to register with the site to get the printable version of the sewing instructions. It was a little bag; I thought I could figure it out from the pattern pieces. (we'll call this Major Mistake #1. Print out and read the instructions before you try putting it together.)

Originally I had picked out a pretty embroidered organza to use for the front panel, but on closer inspection I found that even lined it would be a bit too delicate for my application. Fortunately I am an abstract batik junkie, and among my stash I found a pretty remnant that almost exactly matched the background of my swatch. It was thin cotton, but I figured I'd just double up on the batting (yes, I also decided to bat it to give it some substance versus using a heavier textile as the pattern maker suggested. Major Mistake #2.)

I started cutting and sewing, and quickly discovered that I wasn't putting it together correctly. I'm stubborn, of course, so I ripped out the seams and tried two more times before I finally accepted that no, guessing wasn't going to get the job down, and went back to register with the site to get the printed instructions (registration is free and all they want is your e-mail.)

Here's the finished bag:

I did make some adjustments to the pattern. I intended to use the opal tower swatch from Spoonflower as a patchwork inset, but it was the right size to make another pocket, so I made it into one and added that to the outside of the bag. I used contrasting broadcloth for the handle on one side, but it was such a pain to sew in place I decided to just run a satin stitch around the edges of the handle on the other side -- and in the end I actually liked the look of that better than the handle.

Because I didn't bother to quilt any of the component pieces I also had to constantly pin and repin the batting to keep it from bunching up while I was putting the tote together. To avoid this problem if you want to bat yours, definitely quilt the pieces before you assembly them into the tote.

The things I love about this pattern are that there are no handles to attach; they're built into the bag. The size is good -- almost more like a purse than a tote -- but not so big that it feels like you're carrying luggage. It has a roomy inner pocket you attached to the lining, but you can probably add more to suit your needs. In fact if you're good with altering patterns you could probably make this work for more than just a book bag; with some resizing and different fabrics and notions you could probably use it to make a gift bag, a smaller make-up bag or even a clutch purse.

My final Spoonflower project will be the quilt I'm planning to make with the yardage I designed. I haven't started that as some other fabric I need won't be arriving until next week, but as soon as I have it done I'll post some pics and tell you how it went.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


I think the Cool Cats giveaway will end up being my favorite PBW post of the year. Not because of what I wrote, but because of what you all told us about the pets you've loved. There is so much love in these comments, it's making me tear up again just typing that.

We got the magic hat working, and the winners of the giveaway are:

Juanita Olson

M. Powell


Winners, when you have a chance please send your full name and ship-to address to so I can get these books out to you. Please also let me know if you'd like both of Sofie's books.

While reading through the comments I discovered Darlene Ryan (aka Sofie Kelly) stopped in to add her own donation pledge for this post, and I want to thank her for her generosity. You make Owen and Hercules proud, lady.

As for the rest of you, you were so honest and eloquent that I've decided in your honor to up my donation to $2.00 per comment to Bideawee, so they will be getting a check for $106.00 from me. I also think your little pals were as blessed to have you as you were to have them. My heartfelt thanks to everyone for sharing your stories with us.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cool Cats

Bideawee is an animal adoption center in New York City that has a web cam and remote-controlled toys set up in one of their kitty rooms. Visitors to the web site can have a 2-minute play date with the cats that are up for adoption by entering a special chat room and controlling the toys from there while watching via the web cam. While you only get two minutes at a time to play with the cats, you can join the queue of cyber visitors as many times as you like and have virtually as many play dates as you want. I love the internet.

I also love cats, so I have to mention how much I enjoyed reading Sleight of Paw, Sofie Kelly's second novel, which continues the story of small-town librarian Kathleen Paulson. Kathleen is trying very hard not to become Mayville Minnesota's crazy cat lady. Only Kathleen has two furry feline friends at home, Owen and Hercules, who aren't what anyone would consider normal (unless your cats can turn invisible or walk through walls and doors.)

Right now Kathleen is trying to decide if she wants to return to the life she left behind in Boston, or stick with the new one she's made for herself in Mayville. She loves her friends, her job and her cats, and there might even be something brewing between her and fellow cat lover, police Detective Marcus Gordon (Kathleen is in denial, but I'm pretty sure there is.) But Mayville doesn't seem quite as cozy or friendly when Kathleen discovers the body of an elderly woman, one who devoted her entire life to helping others in the town -- one of whom may have murdered her.

I love cat stories where felines are portrayed like their real-life counterparts but come with a little something extra. It's that lagniappe that we cat lovers suspect they possess but can never actually prove. That probably only makes sense if you're owned by a cat. The two-legged characters in this series are also becoming like old friends, and the puzzle in this one was totally absorbing -- and not that easy to solve, either; at some point I think I suspected almost everybody in the story except Kathleen. I think Sofie Kelly (aka our blogpal Darlene Ryan) really delivers with this one.

Together Bideawee and Sofie have given me an idea of something different to do with the extra Nightshine ARCs I have on hand. In comments to this post, tell us something about a pet you've loved (or, if you've never had a pet, toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Friday, October 21, 2011. I will draw three names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners a signed ARC of Nightshine by yours truly, an unsigned copy of Sleight of Paw by Sofie Kelly (and if you haven't read the first book, Curiosity Thrilled the Cat, I'll throw in an unsigned copy of that one, too.) By entering this giveaway you'll be helping animals as well, as I will donate one dollar for every comment left for this giveaway, up to a maximum of $100.00, to Bideawee. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

NaNoWriMo Necessities

In less than two weeks NaNoWriMo begins, and while I can't join in by writing this year I'm playing with some ideas of what I can do here at PBW in November for those of you who are taking on the challenge.

In previous years I've posted things like ten lists, satires, fun stuff, writing through the tough parts and reality checks. I had to chuckle when I was searching through the archives and came across this post from my 2010 Nanofailure; my agent is currently negotiating a contract for the same book that got such an unpleasant bounce last year (which is why you should never let a harsh rejection bother you. For one thing 99.9% of editors are never that snotty or unprofessional, and when you do sell the book to another publisher it feels especially wonderful.)

I'd like to do some NaNo Q&A writing-related sessions, which is where I think I can be of the most practical help. I like to do virtual workshops, but I worry they're always too long and/or may be distracting or undermining. I always like to hunt down links, and wouldn't hurt to put together a mini-master list of freeware and resources tailored to the specific needs of NaNo'ers.

Your turn: what do you guys think I can do to help inspire, motivate and otherwise cheer on the NaNoWriMo'ers through November? Let me know in comments.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Name Sketching

This is a game you can play to exercise your storytelling powers and pick up some interesting character ideas at the same time. Using the white pages from a telephone book or an online name generator, randomly select and write down a list of ten names (to avoid using real names, I pick the surnames and first names separately and randomly pair them.)

Once you have them all jotted down, look at the name, imagine a person to go with it, and write a one-sentence description of who they are and/or what their story is.

Here's my list:

1. Elisabeth Raber: ordinary business woman by day, street artist by night. Likes to sketch people who are unaware of it and sells her artwork in her little gift shop. Unknowingly draws a portrait of an international hitman.

2. Hershel Sterry: Mortician, funeral director, protector of the dead. Hershel is the human embodiment of that ferryman who transports souls across the river Styx.

3. Courtney Hiott: Gorgeous, blonde, the Paris Hilton of her high school. Has just landed a promising modeling contract but has a terrible secret.

4. Paul Queler: average-looking, mild-mannered, nice guy whom everyone likes. I think he's Elisabeth Raber's hit man.

5. Millie Signorelli: A lovely middle-aged Italian lady who travels to the States to set up the American branch of her family's fashion design firm. Designs the most expensive purses in the world, but can never find her own.

6. Doug Taylor: Ambitious executive with a taste for low-grade blackmail, which backfires on him in a big way on a golf course.

7. Josephine Chatulani: a somewhat mysterious, temperamental islander who runs a ramshackle beachside cafe. Tells fortunes spontaneously. Her food always makes you happy.

8. Robert Oehling: Salesman, quick-talking, Bob to his friends, of which he has a thousand. Has to become a hostage negotiator when he accidentally walks into a bank robbery in progress.

9. Oswald Sarno: Officer Ozzie. Career patrolman, big guy, heart of gold. Looks after the elderly folks on his beat. Runs into the Angel of Death one night and arrests him.

10. Cedric Winterfield: born silver spoon in mouth; he definitely has a III after that last name. His grandfather made his fortune in something very unsavory, like strip-mining. Falls in love with a homeless girl who wants nothing to do with him.

Related Links:

Kleimo's Random Name Generator ~ Name Nerds! ~ PBW's The Namator Game, Namely Ten, Ten Things to Help You with Naming Characters, and What's in a Name? posts ~ Seventh Sanctum's Page of Name Generators

Monday, October 17, 2011

Zero Cost Ten

Ten Things You Can Have for Free

The Flipping Book PDF Reader allows you to "Replace the standard Adobe PDF Reader with the nice flip book. The Flipping PDF Reader allows to read PDF documents in user friendly interface with flipping book effect. Good looking and convenient alternative for Adobe PDF Reader" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

If you like's flip book reader, the free/demo version of The Flipping Book PDF Publisher allows you to "easily add Flipping Book on your website or create CD/DVD/Blu-Ray disk with stunning presentation. Just select one or several PDF documents, configure the look of the book and click publish button" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

For a beautiful, simple writing environment, Fountain Pen "has just what you need to write, with none of the clutter. A menubar, a compositions panel, a toolbar with four buttons… all can be hidden. It’s just you and your writing" (OS: Mac OS X; designer notes: "FountainPen 0.7 was made for Snow Leopard, but Leopard will get the job done.")

For those of you who are making your own cover art these days, Fusion "allows merging several images of the same scene in one. You can merge photos taken with the same exposure or images taken with different exposures. When blending together images taken with different exposure, the program creates an image with high dynamic range of brightness (HDR). Subsequent tone mapping to low range (LDR) uses nonlinear algorithms and allows preserving maximum details of the original images. Key features: Automatic alignment of photos; Summation operator (averaging of pixels); HDR operator" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

The Image Collector is "an application that has been designed to allow the quick viewing, categorisation, and downloading of images from a range of web services. TIC allows you to choose the web service you would like to download from, fetches the latest available images and displays their thumbnails in a scrollable grid. You can then left-click an image to download and display its full version; if you want to keep that image, middle-click on it and it will be downloaded to the selected category. Categories point to a location on disk, so you can activate a category and download an image, and it'll be automatically placed into that category's location. This, combined with queued downloading, allows images to be downloaded and categorised very quickly. There is no need to wait for images to complete downloading before viewing and downloading more" [PBW: if you're working on a color reference notebook and want to grab some images from the web, this seems like it might help speed up things] (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

iText Express is a "cute, intuitive, and refined text editor with word processing completely rewritten in Cocoa, and is suitable for Intel Macs. iText Express provides the simplest way to make gorgeous manuscripts on your Mac! Yes, it's Yummy ! iText Express has lots of attractive features it shares with LightWayText, besides giving good vibes by fully complying with Mac OS X. iText Express blends seamlessly into the OS X environment, and will continue to grow with the power of Mac OS X. iText Express perfectly covers every feature of TextEdit basics and Microsoft Word compatibility as well. iText Express even supports still more lovely features including header/footer, footnotes/endnotes, page layout and numbers, multiple columns, hyperlinks, lists, bullets, tables, bookmarks, customizable guidelines, background color, and vertical writing, yet is so much easier to use. You can embed pictures, movies, and other files (e.g. other text files, spreadsheets, or PDF files) or entire applications within a document too. iText Express can also enhance the find features with the regular expression. You will sure find your manuscripts are led to effortless, lightning-quick navigation. iText Express also allows you to open .epub files in RTFD. With iText Express, please enjoy reading a variety of .epub public domain eBooks. iText Express features flexibility in an elegant, intuitive interface. iText Express will definitely make your writing a pleasure. Remarkable for anyone who expect a reliable simple word processor for Mac OS X" (OS: Mac OS - X 10.3.9 or later)

Jet Photo Studio 5 is "a feature-rich and easy-to-use digital photography software. Features: Organizes photos in albums; Manage photos with the calendar and map; Geotag photos with GPS; Create Flash and Web galleries; Publish web albums with JetPhoto Server. New version 5 can also manage video clips and make Flash or web galleries contains videos" (OS: Windows 2000, XP, Vista, 7; Mac OS X 10.3 / 10.4 / 10.5 / 10.6 / 10.7)

LazPaint is a free "Image editor, like PaintBrush or Paint.Net, written in Lazarus (Free Pascal). Includes BGRABitmap, a set of drawing routines. Features: antialiasing; multiple undo; alpha blending; BGRABitmap; selection of any shape; rotation; filters; update checker" (OS: Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7)

Listen N Write freeware "can be used to play and transcribe ordinary WAV or MP3 recordings. Listen N Write has special features simplifying the transcription work as you can control via keys (while using its integrated word processor) and insert time markers (bookmarks). Moreover, the audio stream is automatically rewinded a few seconds when pressing the Stop key." (OS: Windows 2000/XP/Vista/2008/7)

TextCast "turns any text — documents, web pages and entire blog feeds — into personal podcasts you can listen to right on your iPod and iPhone. Catch the bus, forget the paper. Bike, bus, foot and rail: Textcast is ideal for commuters. Just sync Textcast and then your iPod or iPhone, and you can listen to your favorite news, articles and blogs on your way to work. Because Textcast works with iPods and iPhones, it seamlessly plugs into iPod-auto integration systems offered by most manufacturers (and third-party solutions). Stay safe by listening over your car’s speakers. Textcast features Alex — Mac OS X’s ultra-high quality voice — to clearly speak any text you wish to listen to. Alex is also optimized for fast rates, allowing you quickly plow through even lengthy texts" (OS: Mac OS X 10.5, Leopard)

Finally, a heads up on a very cool giveaway: is holding an online contest to win a lovely quilt designed by author Jennifer Chiaverini, her newest book and her newest fabric for Red Rooster Fabrics. To enter, check out the contest page here. Deadline: midnight 11/30/11. (Added: Upon further investigation of the entry form I found that the contest isn't international; it reads "Open to U.S. and Canada residents only, excluding Quebec." Sorry about that, guys.)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

NaNo Badges

As I've done the last couple years of NaNoWriMo, I've uploaded their participant web badges to my Photobucket account for those who don't have any place to park images. If you'd like to use one for your blog or site, just hover your cursor over the badge below to get the URL.





Saturday, October 15, 2011


I love time-lapse landscape videos like this. Something about seeing the captured movements and interplay of the light and sky and land is thrilling and comforting at the same time. This one looks particularly cool when you full-screen it, too.

Landscapes: Volume Two from Dustin Farrell on Vimeo.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mini-Project #2: Journal Cover

I've been keeping a daily handwritten journal since 1974, and each year I fill up at least a dozen, sometimes more. I also love to give beautiful blank journals as gifts (and as a nudge to do more non-electronic writing.) I often purchase the journals I use from some very talented journal makers over on, but I also like to make or makeover my own.

My favorite journals to makeover are the ones no one wants; the premade blank books that you see in the scratch-n-dent discount bins at the bookstore. I always feel like I'm rescuing them. The biggest problem with discounted premades is that they generally have dinged, soiled or unsightly covers, but that's easy to fix with a new cover.

The journal covers I make are simply larger versions of a mug mat that are sized, wrapped around and sewn onto a premade blank book. To make one, you'll need a journal to cover, two pieces of fabric, batting if desired, binding if desired, pins, needle, measuring tape and thread.

Before you begin, you will need to do some measuring and some math. To cover a journal, you want to cut your fabric according to these calculations:

Width of fabric = width of front cover + width of back cover + width of spine + width of 2 inner flaps + 1/2" for seam allowances.

Length of fabric = length of front cover + 1/2" for seam allowances.

The inner flaps can be any width you desire up to the total width of the front or back cover. I don't like wide flaps so I size mine around two or three inches. Also, if you plan to use batting and quilt the piece, I suggest adding 1/8" to 1/4" to the width as well as the length of your fabric to allow for the pull of the loft.

If the journal you're covering is in the pocket-size range and you don't want to mess with binding, you can sew it the same way I made the mug mat, by placing your top and bottom fabrics right sides together and sewing around the edges, leaving a gap for turning.

If your journal is paperback book size or bigger and needs a larger piece to cover it, it's probably best to make your cover like a mini-quilt: with the right sides facing out, sandwich your fabrics together (batting goes in the middle), pin or baste-stitch together, quilt as desired and bind with bias binding.

Fabric and thread choices are where you can get really creative and have fun with this project. Because I was working with the vral image test swatch I ordered from Spoonflower, for the outer cover I pieced it with some fabric hand-dyed by an old friend of mine, then quilted the vral patch with matching variegated thread and my friend's fabric with metallic Sulky. For the inside/backing fabric I used a solid color piece to match the binding because it won't be seen.

Once you've completed your cover, fit it to the journal and whip or blind-stitch the top and bottom edges of both inner flaps to the edge of the front and back cover edges to hold it in place (you can also use tacky or hot glue but I find that tends to be messy and leaves glue spots showing on the fabric.) Another bonus of sewing the flaps is that it creates an inner pocket where you can stow a pen or bits and pieces or use it as a page tuck.

Journals with handmade covers are great for kids, loved ones, writer friends or any notebook junkie. Personalize the fabric you use for your cover to suit your recipient, then pair it with a pretty pen, a box of photo corners or a CD of music to write by, and you've got a terrific gift for any occasion.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Very Superstitious

Colossal Art & Design has a neat pictoral post here about money trees, and notes:

Apparently in several wooded areas around the UK, passersby have been stopping for decades (if not centuries), meticulously hammering small denomination coins intro trees . . . the practice might date back to the early 1700s in Scotland where ill people stuck florins into trees with the idea that the tree would take away their sickness.

I don't think spiking a tree with coins will ward off illness, but I am heavily invested in my own belief that drinking a glass of orange juice every day prevents colds (and since I've only had two in the last five years, there may be something to that.) I have no problem with the number thirteen; it's eight that always makes me a little nervous. Black cats can cross my path any time, but I won't voluntarily walk under a ladder -- and that's just common sense; I've treated too many people who did and got head injuries. Wearing something green seems to help me write better or otherwise brings me a little luck.

Probably my worst superstition is that I flatly refuse to look at anyone when for any reason we physically part ways; three times in the past I've watched someone leaving until they were out of sight and all three died before I could see them again. Do I think me watching them go made them die? Not at all. So why don't I put aside my silly superstition and watch and wave goodbye? I guess it's because I could be wrong.

Bestowing on your characters such habits is one more way of breathing life into them. Traditional superstitions are not your only choices; you can invent a ritual or avoidance behavior tailored to your character's personality, setting and/or backstory. The superstition doesn't have to be logical to anyone but the character, either. A protagonist who grew up desperately poor might keep money in strange places, or compulsively collect piggy banks, or can't pass a homeless shelter without going in to make a donation. A character who nearly died in a bad car crash might hang a good-luck object from their rearview mirror (maybe even something from the car that crashed.)

It's a good idea to research your character's cultural background and learn about their superstitions, as these are often passed down through the generations. Foe example, the numbers four and nine are considered bad luck by the Japanese for these reasons:

The number four is pronounced as “shi” in Japanese, and is the word for death. The number nine is pronounced “ku” and rhymes with “kutsuu” which means pain in Japanese. The number four and two together are pronounced “shi-ni” which means to die and as a result the number forty-two is considered unlucky as is number twenty-four or “ni-shi” meaning double death.*

Now I'm off to finish basting a quilt piece I was working on this morning. If you leave a seam undone for too long your thread will become mysteriously/hopelessly snarled and you'll have to pick it out and sew it over; ask any quilter. This is because you gave the devil ample time to mess with it . . .

Related links: has collected lengthy A-L and M-Z alphabetized lists of superstitions.

The Origins of 7 Common Superstitions by Jill Harness

Urban Legends Online is an excellent resource for all manner of superstitions

*from The Unusual Superstitions of the Japanese by Shane Sakata

Money Trees article link swiped from Gerard over at The Presurfer.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

This and That

I've received several invitations (or possibly some weird kind of SPAM) from Goodreads asking me to "claim" my author page. Here's the problem: a while back I discovered that Goodreads was bootlegging my blog content and posting it on their site without my permission. I contacted them and politely told them to stop it. They didn't feel copying my content was wrong, but agreed to remove it. Only what they really did was move it elsewhere on their site by posting it under another of my pseudonyms. I guess they thought I wouldn't noticed. So anyway, in the event this isn't weird SPAM, no, I won't be claiming anything that has to do with Goodreads.

I have adjusted down my total published stats over there on the sidebar; the explanation as to why can be read on the Backlist/Bibliography page.

Finally, my agent kindly sent me a few extra ARCs for Nightshine, my fourth and final Kyndred novel, which will be released next month. As I already did a general giveaway for the ARCs my publisher sent me, I thought I'd do something different with these. Any suggestions? Let me know in comments.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Color Reference Notebook

Over the years I've collected or put together so many color-related swatches, charts, pamphlets, palettes and word lists that I decided to consolidate them in one reference notebook. That way the next time I need to describe a particular shade of white I can have all the whites I've saved in one place.

Color referencing in fiction can be tricky, as I think the writer's first tendency is to grab a cliche or relate something to food. Who hasn't read at least one story in which a frightened character went white as a sheet, or possessed flawless creamy-white skin? But we know this is really lazy writing, and we owe the reader a bit more originality and effort.

I started my notebook with white, which happens to be my color reference nemesis. I discovered how difficult it is to describe white when I made the eyes of my Jorenian characters in the StarDoc series that color -- and subsequently cursed myself for doing so for the next thirteen years. All my color references to white were contemporary, and here I was writing in a far future where 99% of them didn't exist. Anyway, most of the time I fell back on a blind-person analogy or the white-within-white thing. It was lame, and it's probably the reason I started collecting color references in the first place, to broaden my understanding of color as well as beef up my descriptive powers.

We all see and respond to color differently, so this kind of notebook is a great exercise in originality. You can put anything that inspires you in a color reference notebook; what you want is something that naturally stimulates your powers of description. I find combining paint charts and photos with word lists related to the color usually primes the well for me, but I also plan to use cover art, scanned images from my favorite magazines (Artful Blogging has tons of ladies who do the all-white decorating thing) as well as poems I associate with particular colors or palettes. Here's a page with Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, definitely my #1 white poem:

A color reference notebook is also a good storage encyclopedia for references you've already used in stories past. This can help prevent you from becoming that a descriptive repeater who in every book has a character with chocolate brown eyes or flaming red hair. Doesn't seem like it would be a problem, but wait until you've written twenty or thirty novels and suddenly you notice that every other guy character you write has laser-beam blue eyes.

What would you put in a color reference notebook to help jog your descriptive powers? Let us know in comments.

Related posts: Palettes with Color Names ~ Story Palettes ~ Character Palettes

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sub Ops Ten

Ten Things About Submission Opportunities

The Jim Baen Memorial Contest is now open for entries: "Write a short story of no more than 8,000 words, that shows the near future (no more than about 50-60 years out) of manned space exploration." What they'd like to see: "Moon bases, Mars colonies, orbital habitats, space elevators, asteroid mining, artificial intelligence, nano-technology, realistic spacecraft, heroics, sacrifice, adventure." What they don't want to see: "Stories that show technology or space travel as evil or bad, Star Wars type galactic empires, paranormal elements, UFO abductions." Prizes: "The GRAND PRIZE winner will be published as the featured story on the Baen Books main website and paid at the normal paying rates for professional story submittals. The author will also receive an engraved award, free entry into the 2012 International Space Development Conference, a year's membership in the National Space Society and a prize package containing various Baen Books and National Space Society merchandise. - SECOND and THIRD place winners will receive a year's membership in the National Space Society and a prize package containing various Baen Books and National Space Society merchandise." No entry fee, no reprints, electronic submission only, see contest page for more details. Deadline: February 1, 2012.

Bull Spec is open to fiction submissions: "What I'm looking for: amazing speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, slipstream, etc.) of any subgenre. What I'd like to see more of: (1) near or further future science fiction with a more optimistic voice and picture of our shared future; (2) well-written non-contemporary fantasy. Note: I'm unlikely to like your story if it has significant amounts of graphic violence or sex, trebly so if it's gratuitous." On length, the editor notes: "I'll read from about 1000 words (soft edges) to 8000 words (soft edges) but my sweet spot is in the 2000-4000 word range." On payment, Ralan notes: "Pay: 5¢/word advance (reprints: 1¢/word), 50% donation royalty" Reprints less than 10K okay but query on 10K or over, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Cafe Doom is holding their seventh annual horror short story contest: "We're looking for the best in original horror fiction in 3000 words or less: classically-styled tales in the tradition of writers like Richard Mattheson, Stephen King and Robert Bloch, yet wholly original and modern. We're open to all themes and subgenres, as long as it's effectively written and, above all, scary." On prizes, the editor notes: "1st place - Pro rate of pay, plus publication by One Buck Horror. 2nd place - $100 Amazon voucher. 3rd place - $50 Amazon voucher. In addition to this I will give One Buck Horror anthologies to the authors of my three favourite stories." No reprints, electronic submissions only, see announcement for more details. Deadline: October 30, 2011

Carina Press has an open call for Holiday-themed SF novellas: "Carina is looking for science fiction novellas with a winter holiday theme, to be published digitally both individually and as a collection in December 2012. The novellas should be from 18,000 to 35,000 words and feature science fiction elements as integral to the novella. The stories do not need to be romance, or even have romance elements, but can be straight science fiction, or science fiction with romantic elements, and can also feature elements of mystery, thriller, horror or other sub-genres. Additionally, there is no set heat level for these stories, so they can have no sex, or be ultra-sexy, or anything in between." Payment, reprints: not specified. Electronic submission only, see blog announcement for more details. Deadline: March 15, 2012.

Daily Science Fiction is looking for submissions: "We need short short fiction, especially flash fiction. Among our featured stories, a shorter tale will get an extra nudge on the scale when weighed against a longer one. This is both for financial reasons and because it matches the preferences of a plurality of our readership. Not fair? Perhaps. Consider yourself forewarned. Of course, we want your stories to ooze originality, but a well-written story is a must. We are fond of character-driven fiction, and quite prosaic in our expectation that most stories we publish will in fact have a discernible plot. Wow us, make us care, create a conflict and resolve it. Note that this does not mean we will only publish character-driven masterworks with a plot that would make Tim Powers blush with envy. Our goal is to publish the best stories we can that will be interesting, worthwhile reads. Some stories, especially the shortest of the short short fiction, will succeed despite lack of plot, character, punctuation, what-have-you. We may purchase dark fantasy, but will not publish pure horror. We don't mind feeling the flush of arousal, but will not publish erotica. Guns a-blazing might make our day, but we don't suspect most military SF will win us over. Humor? We take it, It often works especially for short short fiction, but do keep in mind that one alien's funny bone is located near another species' sac of indifference. We're likely not your best market for longer funny tales. Don't be witless, but don't rely on a pun or a punchline to sell to DSF." Length: accepts 100 words to 10K with an emphasis on shorter stories, pays "...8 cents per word for first worldwide rights and for nonexclusive reprint rights. Additionally, we reserve the right to pay you more money for additional reprinting in themed Daily Science Fiction anthologies." No reprints, electronic submission by online form only, see guidelines for more details.

While they've been closed to submissions for a while, I thought it was worthy to note that Paula Guran will no longer be editing Pocket's Juno Books; some details here.

Megazanthus Press has an open call for their classical-music themed horror antho: "DF Lewis is intending to publish a Horror anthology book with the above title in 2012. (Horror stories, Weird Literature or Ghost Fiction.) Each story must feature in some way Classical Music, i.e. from Bach to Britten." Length: 2K-10K, Payment: "1p (£0.01) per word", no reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: May 30, 2012.

Stone Telling webzine has opened a reading period from September 23 - November 27 for science fiction poetry, and they're looking for: ". . . literary speculative poems with a strong emotional core. We focus on fantasy, science fiction, surrealism, and slipstream, but would consider outstanding science poetry and non-speculative poetry that fits the flavor of the magazine. Please note that we are not a mainstream literary poetry market, and non-speculative poetry will be an extremely hard sell. While we are open to all speculative poetry, we are especially interested in seeing work that is multi-cultural and boundary-crossing, work that deals with othering and Others, work that considers race, gender, sexuality, identity, and disability issues in nontrivial and evocative ways. We’d love to see multilingual poetry, though that can sometimes be tricky. Try us! There are no style limitations, but rhymed poetry will be a hard sell. Please try us with visual poetry, prose poetry, and other genre-bending forms. We will consider experimental poetry, but please remember that not all experimental poems are easy to represent in an e-zine format." Payment" $5, query on reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.

Strange Horizons is once again open to submissions; in fiction they're looking for: ". . . good speculative fiction. If your story doesn't have a clear fantasy or science fiction element, or at least strong speculative-fiction sensibilities, it's probably not for us. We'd like to help make the field of speculative fiction more inclusive, more welcoming to both authors and readers from traditionally underrepresented groups, so we're interested in seeing stories from diverse perspectives and backgrounds. We want stories that have some literary depth but aren't boring; styles that are unusual yet readable; structures that balance inventiveness with traditional narrative. We like characters we can care about. We like settings and cultures that we don't see all the time in speculative fiction, as long as they're well-researched and not exoticized. We like stories that address political issues in complex and nuanced ways. However, we don't like heavy-handed or preachy or simplistic approaches." Length: 5-9K; prefers 5K or less, Payment: 7¢(US)/word, with a minimum payment of $50, no reprints, electronic submission via online form only, see guidelines for more details.

Withersin Press has opened a special reading period for fiction novella submissions from December 2011-April 2012: "Please send innovative ideas. We love razor wire fiction. We enjoy experimental fiction. We get gooey eyed over a well crafted, blood curdling plot line. Science fiction that pushes our buttons and considers new paradigms (and aliens!) will be well received. Don’t send stories about unicorns and fairy princes. Or bimbos who fall for vampires. In fact, unless we specifically call for vampire stories, we don’t want ‘em. Challenge yourself. Stay away from clich├ęd plot lines. And don’t send stories belittling our military. We are proud of our servicemen and women. Write well, write often, and write for the love of it!" Length: 15K-35K, payment: 10% of retail, no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Most of the above sub ops came from the always marvelous market listings at

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Starring Words

This is a very cool, creative BYU student film using words to illustrate and demonstrate the importance of the five senses. I love how they used words as the actors.

Typophile Film Festival 5 Opening Titles from Brent Barson on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 08, 2011


I got a kick out of reading all the entries for the Prompted giveaway; you guys mentioned so many great resources, and many were completely unexpected.

We revved up the magic hat tonight, and the giveaway winner is:

traveler, who uses photo albums as creative prompts.

Traveler, when you have a chance please send your full name and ship-to address to so I can get your book out to you. Thanks to everyone for joining in and sharing.

Friday, October 07, 2011


An update on the Spoonflower fabric: I've washed it according to the site's directions, and both the yardage and the test swatches came out fine; no color transfer or fading of the images, and only minimal fraying on the edges. Once washed the fabric has a nice, dense, cottony hand to it; almost like a lightweight linen. You will probably need to steam iron it to get out wrinkles.

For the yardage I designed I'm waiting on some companion fabrics, which should arrive next week, before I begin that project. That gives me the test swatches to work with, and I decided to make them into three mini-projects: a mug mat, a journal cover and a book bag.

Since these work well as gifts for writers or readers I thought I'd show you how to do each mini-project. Anyone with basic hand sewing skills or who can run a straight stitch on a sewing machine should be able to handle them with no problem.

Mini-Project #1: Mug Mat

A quilted mug mat, or fabric coaster, is made of two small pieces of fabric sewn together. You can put low-loft (thin) batting or a piece of soft flannel between them, but I like to use recycled dryer sheets.

Cut two pieces of fabric and one piece of batting or lining material in the size you want plus 1/4" on all sides to create the seam allowance you'll need for sewing. Press and place the fabric with the right sides together (the wrong or undersides of the fabric should be facing out on both sides) and pin together around the edges. If you can't eyeball 1/4" or sew a straight line freehand, take a ruler and a pencil and lightly mark your sewing lines 1/4" from each edge.

Starting one inch from any corner, sew all the way around the fabrics but stop two inches from where you began (this creates a gap, which you'll use to turn your project inside out.) Baste or whip stitch a piece of batting, flannel or other lining to either side of fabric, sewing it in the same fashion to match the gap. Clip the corners and turn inside out, press and sew the gap closed with a blind stitch.

You can hand or machine quilt the mug mat however you like; because there's no binding I always run a stitch around the edges to secure the seams. For my mug mat I used a metallic Sulky and quilted random lines to give it a little sparkle. If you don't care for the edges you can sew a frame of lace or beads around the edges -- here's one I beaded along the edges -- but don't use anything dimensional to embellish the center of the mat as it needs to remain flat.

Writers, if you're handy with a sewing machine you should be able to make up a couple dozen of these over a weekend to give out at your next booksigning or appearance. I'd suggest either designing the mug mat on Spoonflower or using fabric that coordinates with your cover art or somehow relates to your story. You can ink jet on printable fabric panels your book and web site info for the bottom side (or you can write this on the bottom fabric with a fine-tipped Sharpie, too. Just tape down the fabric first; it tends to move when you try to write on it.)

For the winter holidays, a set of four or six mug mats stacked in a small, pretty box or rolled up and placed in a neat mug do make a nice friend or hostess gift, especially if you coordinate the fabric to match your recipient's decor.

Thursday, October 06, 2011


Lately I've been using my first edition copy of Judy Reeves' A Writer's Book of Days as jumper cables for the muse, mostly reading bits of writerly trivia but occasionally using the daily prompts to do some practice writing. In the process I've discovered I dislike the term free writing; to me it implies that writing by schedule, planning what you write or otherwise organizing your writing time is imprisoning. I for one never felt more smothered or uninspired than the time I tried to write a story organically; even then I kept trying to outline it in my head.

Anyway. I was looking over the writing prompts for this week, and these four started to tell me a story:

October 5 Write about a fragment.
October 6 Write about small mistakes.
October 7 You're in a cafe.
October 8 Losing control.

For me writers don't make especially interesting characters, but I immediately envisioned a would-be novelist parked with his laptop in a book store cafe, indulging in some free writing while he hopes to impress the counter chicks with his stoic suffering. Only he writes something 1) that triggers a repressed, horrible memory, or 2) that another patron reads over his shoulder and then uses as a reason to physically attack him, or 3) finally makes him realize that whatever he writes alters his reality because he's an alien. Or a psychic projector. Or a ghost.

Once I had jotted down these thoughts, I promptly outlined and deposited them in the future stories idea file. The prompts also made me think of an interesting setting for a troublesome scene I've got to write for my current WIP.

I've always thought that writing prompts and practice writing can be great workouts for the imagination. They exercise your vision, warm up your problem-solving skills, and get your head in the right place for the serious stuff. I think the trick is to use them to get you started, but not allow them to distract you with the new/bright/shiny allure of new story. I'd love to spend the rest of the day writing the cafe story, and if my day were completely free I might, but my writing schedule is packed. I feel like the prompts did loosen me up, so now I'll see if I can keep the energy flowing as I transition over to the contracted work.

One more thing the prompts did for me: they sparked the idea for this post and a couple of others. When you haven't been blogging regularly, getting back into a daily routine can be a bit tough. Prompts may be the nudge you need to change that.

What's your favorite online or offline resource for creative prompts? Doesn't have to be for writing, either. Tell us in comments to this post (or if you can't think of one, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Friday, October 7, 2011. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner an unsigned paperback copy of the newly revised edition of A Writer's Book of Days by Judy Reeves. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Free for All

Some offers I noticed while I was over checking out the NaNoWriMo website:

You can use Pangurad "free during NaNoWriMo 2011. PangurPad is a new kind of online writing tool and publishing system with many features and a fantastic community. As an official NaNoWriMo 2011 participant you can use PangurPad entirely free of charge to write your novel, then format and embed it directly on your website or publish it as an eBook. Any participant signing up for a full membership before December 31st will be supporting NaNoWriMo with 5% donated back to the Office of Letters and Light." Nice that they give back a bit to the NaNo folks.

Yarny promises always to have a free version online (which is why I already love them) that allows you to "Write the way you want to write, using any approach you like in a simple, distraction-free environment. It's novel writing in the cloud. In today's world, we just don't think you should have to learn to use software anymore. With automatic saving, versioning and simple ways to track the people, places and things in your novel, it's easy to get organized and stay focused. We will always have a free version. A few things won't be free, but not many. Paid plans, beginning in December, will be dirt cheap. And, all NaNoWriMo winners get 50% off of an annual subscription."

WriteWay has a demo version you can use for free until 12/15/11, and is also offering a 50% discount on their Pro version; see more details at their NaNoWriMo page here.

Finally, to do my part to contribute a freebie for NaNoWriMo, from now until December 1st you can get a copy of my out of print writing how-to, Way of the Cheetah in .pdf format. Read online, download and/or print out the e-book here.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

You Are My Fire

We celebrated the arrival of fall and cooler weather with our first fire of the season last night. Had to make s'mores for the kids, of course, but I womanfully resisted the diet-demolishing treat. Watching the flames was very relaxing, and gave me a chance to meditate and think about the week ahead and work out a couple of scenes from the WIP in my head. I also told some stories because unless you have a very big roll of duct tape, you can't park a storyteller in front of a fire and keep them quiet.

It got me thinking about what it must have been like for the very first storyteller. That very first story had to be born by a fire. Think about what life was like for our distant ancestors: taking shelter in caves, fearful of the dark, huddled together against hunger, enemies, the cold, the inexplicable -- nights must have been pretty tense times for the tribe. Under those circumstances, silence wants be filled.

So what do you talk about by the fire? Gossip tends to alienate and infuriate; truth is painful and even more worrisome. When as a group people want to be distracted and soothed, you have to give them something else that they want to think about, something funny or exciting or impossible; something better than the here and now. Something less painful than yesterday, and more hopeful than tomorrow.

I have this book I'm working on at the moment that consumes me. They all do, but each in their own way a little differently. This story is all about hidden fires, those things we most want and what we're prepared to do in order to earn them, fight for them, or even steal them. Respect, wealth, love, power, possession, revenge, dominion -- wanting them and going after them is a big chunk of the human experience.

The characters in this novel are an interesting mix. I really love the cast, although they do require constant balancing checks to keep any of them from taking over the story, kicking me out and running it on their own. You know your characterizations are strong when you start fantasizing about killing off someone who isn't supposed to die in the story. I imagine if they were real they'd think the same thing about me.

The challenges of making this story work are considerable, and there's always the doubt looming in the back of my mind that I can't do it, that I'll fail, that it will end up being a great big heap of lukewarm manure (and I've battled this doubt every single time I've written a book, and no matter how many times I win, it never goes away.) At the same time, I like the doubt. For one thing, we're old pals. Doubt also keeps me sharp and motivated because I despise it and I refuse to give it what it wants. There is no greater pleasure in writing for me than finishing the last page of a manuscript. Every time I do I stomp doubt and grind its pointed little head in the dirt. And while doubt can never be completely terminated, as long as you're willing to work hard and keep getting up after a fall it can made to suffer extensively.

With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, I hope those of you who are thinking about writing a novel in November will give it a try. Since I can't join you in the writing this year, I'm planning some posts each week this month that I think might help with the details and the process. I'll also be cheering you on in November. But unless the demands of life and work and family are overwhelming, don't talk yourself out of this. Try it. Don't worry about finishing or selling or publishing; just write. You may find that you surprise yourself.

As for the fire, for the storyteller it's always inside, contained by the tales we want to tell. Whether it warms us or burns us, it wants to be shared. That's why we're here. That's why we tell our stories. So we can be your fire.