Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best of PBW 2014

It's the last day of the year, when I traditionally sort through the archives to see how things went, what I accomplished (or didn't) and get some ideas on ways in which to improve things with PBW and my writing life.

I don't think I ever officially picked a theme for 2014 (or if I did, I can't find the post), although I did work on finishing a lot of things I'd left undone. I also made my first public appearance as an author and attended my first convention since 2003, and scared the bejesus out of Shiloh Walker by crashing one of her booksignings.

While I had no fun dealing with a cyberattack on the blog this month, the scariest time this year was when my vision began rapidly deteriorating, a fact I kept from nearly everyone until after I had back-to-back eye surgeries. Despite all the stress involved (like the fact that I was completely conscious during operation #2) they not only restored my vision but made it better than it's ever been. I am so grateful to my doc and his crew, my family and friends who looked after me, and for the support from all my online pals. I can assure you I will also be be thankful every time I open my eyes for the rest of my life.

Although there has been plenty more to complain about, I find it very difficult to focus on the negative aspects of my 2014. I saw a wonderful writer and colleague find success on her own terms with a book I absolutely loved. Over the summer I took the road trip of a lifetime with my kid and finally made it all the way to Maine. With my writing I revisited an old favorite and I kept writing in a universe I love. After being unemployed for half the year I found new work opportunities that are interesting and fun.

In the wake of so many heartbreaking losses and tragedies that came along with 2014 I think the writing community needs to remember to be kind to each other, and that everything hurtful, petty and negative can be combatted with laughter and the work. Outside of family and friends those two may be the most important elements in any writer's life.

Here's a look back at what I think were the best posts of 2014:

January: Didn't Got Build, Perfection, You Like Me, You Really Like Me! For £50

February: Argh Ten, Split Seconds, Unlikely Inspiration,

March: Quilt Show Ten, Blast from the Past: Novelworld, Con Ten

April: New Cover Art, Will Write for Kittens, Spark My Story

May: Catching Threads, Floating Comma Hidden SPAM, Dreaming Up Story

June: LJ's Ten, The Art of Journals, By the Book

July: What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Sorry, No Fairy Dust, Blog No-Nos

August: Water? Glass? Both?

September: Job Gen, Crew No-Nos

October: NaNo Ten, Say It Ten, Such a Character

November: NaNoisms Ten, Bonsaing Inspiration, The 29

December: Gift No-Nos, Knock-Off No-Nos, Ten Things I Hate About Your Holiday Story

Welcome 2015. Take it easy on us, will you?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


While I'm wrapping up 2014 I thought I'd finally address the white elephant that has been sitting on the blog since May -- the fact that I have no new releases and I haven't sold anything (that you can know is my work, anyway).

I've had my ups and downs with Publishing, and sure, this year could be called something of a downer. The series it took me four years to sell and two years to promote was cancelled one month after publication of the second book -- not what anyone would call uplifting. I consider this series the best thing I've written in years, however, so I'm happy I got the shot, and grateful to everyone who supported it. I will probably write a couple more stories set in the Toriana universe for fun, and post them online as free e-books, but that's likely all that will happen with Kit and the crew.

Of course I could go indie and begin self-publishing some new books on my own, because that's what almost everyone does now when their publisher says adieu or traditional publishing isn't working for them. Some authors are doing both indie and traditional, while others are bypassing publishers entirely and just moving ahead entirely on their own. I have immense respect for all authors who go this route; I think they're the most courageous writers out there.

I have been self-publishing for fifteen years by posting free stories online (yes, everyone forgets that.) I do need to make a living, however, and while self-publishing for profit is tempting, I've found something better.

Since October I've been freelancing as a copywriter and writer-for-hire, which is the better something. I was fortunate to land a couple of terrific ghost writing gigs, and I just accepted one client's third contract offer in as many months. Every project has been fast and fun, with extremely reasonable deadlines, and the pay is comparable to what I was making publishing my own works (I'm also paid for my work on the same day I turn it in, which never happens with traditional publishers.) One of my recent ghost projects became a bestseller* two weeks after it was released, so that was a nice confidence booster, too.

I can't tell anyone what I'm writing, which I admit sucks, but such is the nature of ghosting. It's a trade-off for all the other things I don't have to do, such as selling it, negotiating a fair contract, dealing with editors (good bad or indifferent), being on-call for the publisher 24/7, proofing and usually rewriting the copy, fighting for decent cover art, correcting bookseller listings, writing bios, dodging bio photo requests, sending it out for review, promoting it on the blog, and imposing on other bloggers to help me promote it, waiting months or sometimes years for payment, etc.

If I opted to self-publish, I'd have to do all of the above and more on my own, and to turn out a professional-level book I'd also have to hire an editor, a cover artist, a technical person to help me with all the technical details, and possibly some sort of publicity service. Which as all indie authors can tell you can get very, very expensive. Once I paid for all that (assuming I could even afford to), I'd put my self-pubbed book out there and hope enough people want to read it that I can make a profit -- out there with all the other hundreds of thousands of self-pubbed books -- all while praying the self-publishing host doesn't change their terms, demand a bigger percentage, mishandle my listing, etc.

This is another reason why I admire indie authors -- just thinking about dealing with all they have to do freaks me out. So while I respect indie publishing, and I am happy for everyone for whom it works, it's simply not a good choice for me.

Ghost writing costs me nothing. I write, I get paid, and I'm done. I'm valued and treated with respect by my clients as well, which is very nice. I don't know if I'll keep ghosting forever -- I'd love to work with Adam Wilson over at Pocket again, as I think he's pretty close to the perfect editor -- but for now I'm enjoying the freedom and the complete lack of hassle involved in my writer-for-hire work. More importantly it pays the bills, the IRS, my medical insurance premiums, my kid's college tuition and so forth, all of which I know isn't your problem, but I need to deal with most of these things for the next fourteen years until I can officially retire.

I'm also considering putting up a writer-for-hire section on the blog, which if I do will just be a page on the sidebar that lists my services and rates. I don't really want to use the blog in this way, but again I have to be practical, and it wouldn't be in anyone's face like ads or buy buttons.

I became a writer first by using longhand on a legal pad and then tapping out my stories on a manual typewriter. I spent ten years getting rejections in the mail every week before I landed my first contract offer. I've never been scared of hard work, putting in the extra hours, and taking the road less traveled. I'm also not afraid of change. The changes I've made this year have contributed significantly to making my writing life less stressful and more productive.

I know the fact that I'm focusing now on writer-for-hire work will disappoint some of my readers. I'm sorry about that, too. After putting so much work into the last series only to see it cancelled, I feel just as disappointed, but I need to be realistic. I also don't want to drag out hopes for another series revival for years and years, as I did with StarDoc and Darkyn. I don't think that's fair to you or me.

I'm still making a living doing what I love, and no matter what form that takes, for me it will always be a privilege and a joy. I also love this blog, and the people who visit here, and you have to know that's not going to change. So: let's move ahead, not worry about the future, and see what happens as it happens.

*I am not the ghost writer who penned the book for that Youtube chick Zoe whatever, just in case someone is assuming that.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Final Monday Ten

After ten years of writing lists of ten things practically every week, I've decided to wrap up the Monday ten things feature and do something else in 2015. I'm sure I'll still write ten lists, but from here on out they'll pop up at random versus every Monday.

Since this will be the last of the feature lists, I've put together:

Ten Things About PBW's Ten Things Lists

How Many? According to Blogger and my tags I've written 460 ten lists in ten years. Or, counting this one, 461.

More Than Words: Not all the ten lists were made of words and links; here's one I made with an airshow photo slideshow.

Most Popular: The most-viewed ten things list is 2006's Ten Things About Web Site Design and Management.

Most Surprising: Probably my Back Again ten list when I finally told everyone about the eye issues.

Most Unpopular: Oddly enough the prize for the list that generated the largest number of angry e-mails goes to Ten Things I Hate About Your WorldBuilding; in particular the cracks I made about royal ladies and bathrooms in stories, which I have been repeatedly told were unforgiveable (and for this reason I have not apologized to all the fantasy writers and fans who consider the inbred and the restroom as sacred and untouchable topics; you guys are never going to forgive me anyway.)

Most Unusual: If I had to pick I'd say probably 2010's Ten Things I've Never Told Anyone About StarDoc, as I hardly ever divulge that sort of behind-the-scenes stuff.

My Favs: I try not to play favorites, but I've always thought Ten Things I've Resolved to Do and Ten Signs that You May Be Writing a Literary McNovel were my funniest lists.

My Other Fav: My ten things slideshow from my trip to Savannah is my favorite picture list, probably because it was the first time I was able to show my guy the one city in America I most adore.

Premiere: The first Monday Ten list appeared on PBW waaaaaaay back on November 8th, 2004.

Recorded, Not Written While recovering from my first eye surgery I was basically blind for a couple of weeks, so I dictated Ten Things About How to Pronounce Those Odd Names & Words I Write into a recorder and my friend Jilly typed it up for me.

Sunday, December 28, 2014


The older I get, the less keen I am to make New Year's resolutions. It's not due to past failures -- I succeed with resolutions about 80% of the time -- but more about making positive changes when they need to happen. That's generally not on January 1st. I'm even a little reluctant to choose a theme or a word for the new year. 2011's theme of change turned out to be more of a jinx than anything.

I've also gotten to the point in life where I've made all the major health and lifestyle improvements that I need or want. I've whittled down my diet to exactly what it should be, and I've been sticking to it for so long that temptations really aren't a problem anymore -- or maybe I've just learned how to cope better with them. I've gained a bit of weight this year, primarily due to being house-bound after my surgeries, but now that I can see and go outside again I'll restart my exercise regime and work it off. Probably the biggest positive change I've made this year (aside from having my eyes fixed) is finally getting my insomnia under control, which is a huge blessing.

Creatively speaking I've already made one major change with the writing (more on that later this week) that will likely occupy me for most if not all of 2015. I've considered trying another year-long art project like the photoblog was for 2009 or the 1000K cards project in 2012. Since I seem to be on a three-year cycle with year-long art projects I'm even due for one. I'm still thinking it over, so I'll probably start off the year by making some new little quilts and cat beds for the kitties at the no-kill shelter and then after that see what comes to mind.

I suppose what I'd like most to happen in 2015 is to be open to the possibilities, so I don't miss any when they come my way. Have you made any resolutions for 2015? Or are you as unresolved as I am? Let us know in comments.

Image credit: Konstanttin

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Opinions Wanted

At present I'm mulling over what to do next year on the blog; I think my primary goal will be housekeeping; I do need to tidy and update the different pages on the sidebar that have broken links or need some reworking.

As for regular features, I really enjoy Just Write Thursdays and video Fridays, so I think I'll keep them going. I will be ending the weekly ten things feature on Monday, however, as I've probably listed 99% of the writer-helpful freeware out there already, and decent, no-fee-involved sub ops for writers are becoming pretty scarce. Plus there are only so many Ten Things I Hate About [insert fiction topic] lists I can write.

I'd also like to update a few more things like The Novel Notebook and some of my older freebies that are in desperate need of reformatting, and maybe redo the entire free reads library with proper cover art and short descriptions of the stories. I may also turn some of my old how-to and workshop posts into e-books (Novel Outlining 101 is still getting hundreds of hits every week.)

There is one thing I need to take care of sooner versus later: I need to find an alternative to Google Docs as a storage/hosting site for my library of freebies. If anyone has any solid recs for low-cost, dependable and easily accessible storage/hosting services I'd love to know what they are (but because they've ripped off readers in the past by charging them to access my free works is not a possibility for me.) I'm even open to putting them up on a commercial site like Smashwords as long as I can keep them free and accessible by anyone on the planet.

What would you like to see here on PBW in 2015? More of the same, or something new? Any specific suggestions? Let me know in comments.

Graphic credit: © Yellowj |

Friday, December 26, 2014

Santa's Downtime

Ever wonder what Santa and his crew do once the big day is done? Here's a cute inside peek (with music and narration, for those of you who were forced by Scrooges to go to work):

Tis the Season from Jens & Anna on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Wishing You

Image credit: dedukh

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

UK Love

This video is for Fran K as well as my cousins and friends across the pond, and anyone who appreciates a lovely snowday:

Snowing in London from Don McVey on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Off to Make Merry

I'm unplugging today to visit friends and family. So your visit is not a complete waste of time, here's a slideshow of some lovely felines I met while making my Christmas donation visit to a no-kill cat shelter:

Also, one more link for you, if you're feeling brave -- Anne Frasier posted a very scary Christmas story on her blog that will make you much nicer on the phone the next time you answer a telemarketer's call.

Monday, December 22, 2014

My Holiday Ten

Ten Things I'm Doing for the Holidays

Baking Every Day: I may be only an average cook but to be conceited for a moment, man, can I bake. I kick off the holiday baking season by making my guy a real German chocolate cake for his birthday, and then I get into experimenting with breads, sweet rolls, cookies and other treats. I always discover new keeper recipes this way, like making apple strudel with puff pastry. The nice bonus of baking during the holidays is the heat from the oven keeps the kitchen warm, and your house always smells wonderful.

Giving Something Back: 'Tis the season to be generous, and to do my part I'm making an effort to volunteer, donate food and hand out books. If you receive a food gift this year that doesn't fit into your holiday menu plans check with your local food bank, homeless shelter or foster care program to see if they can use it for their clients.

Handmaking Gifts: Since my surgeries created some financial challenges for us I'm handmaking most of my gifts this year. I often make lap quilts (you can download a bunch of free quilting e-books from McCall's Quilting by signing up for their newsletter here), food gifts or crochet a warm scarf or hat.

Including Others: In keeping with my parents' tradition of always having an extra place at the table, we're inviting people to share meals and good times with us during the holidays. These are usually people who live alone, who don't have the means to do it on their own, or who would otherwise have nowhere to go.

Listening to Christmas Music: Over the years I've acquired a great collection of Christmas music, and every day in December I load up the CDs in the stereo and let them play; The Nutcracker Suite is my favorite holiday mood booster.

Making Books: I burn through a lot of journals during the year, so whenever I have some spare time I've been making new blank journals for 2015. One interesting article I saw recently shows you how to easily make a custom journal from a composition book (which you can buy at most dollar stores.) This is also a nifty idea for gift-making.

Recycling Christmas Cards: Almost any used Christmas card can be turned into a postcard by clipping it in half and writing on the back of the cover image. Small cards make great gift tags, too. Martha Stewart has nine more ways to recycle your holiday cards here.

Remembering Dad: My Dad may be gone but he will never be forgotten; there is one thing I do every holiday that is just between him and me, to let him know he's still here in my heart. This sort of habit helps with the sadness, too.

Show Your Appreciation: There are people in your life who provide you with regular if not daily service, and the holidays are a great opportunity to say thank you to them. Living out in the country makes us a bit inconvenient for deliveries, for example, so every year I show my appreciation for our wonderful rural postal carrier with a gift card to our local grocery store (a great one-size-fits-all gift, too, as no matter what holiday anyone celebrates, they always need to eat.)

Writing Real Letters: E-mail and texting may be convenient, but nothing beats receiving a handwritten letter in the mail, so I'm setting aside time every day to write a real letter to someone on my Nice list.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sub Op

As of December 1st Kaleidotrope quarterly webzine has opened up for short fiction submissions, and wants to see " . . . the speculative — towards science fiction, fantasy, and horror — but we like an eclectic mix and are therefore always eager to read interesting work that blurs these lines, falls outside of neat genre categories. Man does not live on space ships, elves, and ghostly ax murderers alone, after all. We’d suggest looking through the archives to familiarize yourself with the zine, and/or checking out other work by our past contributors, to get a sense of what we’re looking for and what we like. In the end, what we want is interesting, sometimes unconventional work, well-written stories and poems that surprise and amuse us, shock and disturb us, that tell us things we didn’t know or reveal old truths in brand new ways. We want strange visions of distant shores, of imaginary countries and ordinary people, and work that doesn’t lose sight of entertainment and the joy of good writing." Length: up tp 10K; Payment: "For fiction and nonfiction alike, we will pay $0.01/word (1 cent a word) USD"; no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Submission period closes April 1st, 2015.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sub Op

I spotted this Australian print/digital zine op over in's Paying Markets forum:

What Bide likes most about words is the moments spent with them. Brevity. A snatched story or a glimpsed character or just a minute on the back of a truck with the dry air coming down from the desert. Do you know what I mean? So, Bide is for flash. Not just fiction, and actually, not just writing. But momentary storytelling. Stuff that fits on a page, or inside a minute. Glances.

Bide will be published twice a year as a printed, stapled A5 zine, with a hand-written thanks from your friendly local editor, Anna Spargo-Ryan. It will also be available online as a PDF download, and as a .mobi and .epub, for your digital bookery. We are accepting fiction, non-fiction, poetry, spoken word, video, art and sideways glances. We are here to promote momentary storytelling.

Length: "There are no strict word limits, but think about between 10 and 400 words, or 25 lines of poetry, or 30-60 seconds of your voice/face." Payment: "All successful submissions will be paid AU$80. We might also ask if you’d be okay with us publishing your piece on our website instead. Website-only publication will be paid AU$40." To submit and get more details, go to Bide's guidelines and submission page here.

Friday, December 19, 2014


Sometimes I find the coolest videos completely by accident; this one is entirely gorgeous (and contains background music, for those of you at work):

GARDEN from Koki Hanawa on Vimeo.

Just A Quick Note

Something strange is going on with my Goggle account, which also controls all my blogs. For a while tonight everything disappeared and I was locked out. If for any reason PBW does vanish again, rest assured I have most all of the blog backed up and will do my best to get it back online. As always your patience and understanding is greatly appreciated.

Added: On further investigation it seems Google detected some sort of unusual activity on my account, assumed it was a hijack in progress, and disabled everything until I could verify my identity with them and reset the account. Fortunately I was online when it happened and was able to deal with everything immediately. I've since backed up what I didn't already have saved from the blog and added a few additional security measures to protect my content.

I don't think I can describe how upsetting it is to see the last decade of your online writing life vanish as if it never existed. I do have every year saved, but as I was thinking of how much work it would be to recreate the blog I admit, I felt quite discouraged. I might start a mirror blog in private somewhere and start copying the content there in case this happens again. In the meantime, if you have a blog but have not backed up your content, you might want to make an effort, just in case.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Just Write for the Holidays

Yes, it's another edition of Just Write Thursday, the holiday edition. Since next week is Christmas and the week after that is New Year's Day, this will also be the last Just Write for 2014.

So: Today I'm off to write something new and post it online before midnight. Everyone inclined to do the same is invited to join me.

My link: After two attempts to post the updated version Club Denizen, both of which Google (or someone using Goggle) flagged as inappropriate, which may have also contributed to my Google account being shut down, I am not going to post the story again. I will try to find out why this is happening.

For more details on Just Write Thursdays, click here to go to the original post.

Image credit: sosha333

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Easy Holiday Treats

When the holidays grow hectic I often make treats that are easy or quick so I don't end up spending my life in the kitchen. Here are some ideas to cook up for your next gathering:

Apple Pie improved: Take a store-bought dutch or streusal-topped apple pie and drizzle caramel or raspberry ice cream topping over the top.

Fruit and cheese kabobs are probably the fastest and easiest treat I make; here's a recipe for them and an accompanying dip. Be sure to remove the skewers before you serve them to little kids (you can also make kid-safe mini versions with pretzel sticks instead of skewers; also don't serve this treat to babies who might choke on the pieces.)

Speaking of infants, I always keep a small box of plain Cheerios on hand for out littlest visitors, but it's a good idea to check with parents before you offer any baby any snack (in the case of Cheerios, they're not a good idea for kids with gluten issues.)

Superquick ice cream sandwiches: Let your ice cream or frozen yogurt soften until it's spreadable, then spread between two graham crackers, two big chocolate chip cookies or two toasted mini-waffles. Roll the sides through mini chocolate chips or mini M&Ms. Put back in the freezer on a tray to harden.

Pizza on the Quick: split a baguette in half, brush with pizza sauce (or if you don't have any, tomato sauce + a sprinkle of oregano + garlic powder to taste), top with shredded mozzarella and your favorite toppings like sliced veggies, pepperoni, salami or cooked and crumbled ground beef (I love Hormel's turkey pepperoni minis; they're perfect for finger food.) Place in your oven and broil for a minute or two until the cheese bubbles. Cut into two-inch sections (if you have extra time you can also cut the baguette into slanty slices ala bruschetta before putting on the toppings.)

Popcorn + nuts + bite-size candy = a bowl of quick snacking joy. Delight the kids by calling it Reindeer Feed or Snowman Snacks.

Dip the end of a pretzel rod into a jar of creamy peanut butter, then roll the peanut buttered end over sprinkles, chocolate chips, chopped nuts or mini M&Ms to coat.

I was not surprised to see a wedding cake among the many variations of Rice Krispie Treats here, but I usually stick to the classic, three-ingredient base recipe, wrap them up with squares of tinfoil and pile them in a bowl.

One of my neighbors made us a plate of cookies and these adorable Strawberry Santas, which are so easy to make I can whip up a plate of them in minutes (and if I don't have the ingredients to make the cheese filling, I substitute bottled whipped cream.)

Tiny Tacos: Take Tostito Scoops! or any flat-bottomed crunchy corn tortilla chips and lay them out on a plate. Fill each one with a sprinkle of cooked ground beef (or for vegans, a teaspoon of vegetarian refried beans) top with lettuce shreds, a dab of sour cream, grated sharp cheddar or American cheese, and a dollop of salsa.

Also for the vegans: Cut stalks of celery into 4-inch pieces, fill with hummus dip, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. If you have a bit more time to cook, this black bean chili dip is pretty awesome; serve it with your favorite chips or crackers.

Got any quick and easy holiday treat ideas to share? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2 Sub Ops

Ghostwoods Books has two open calls here for some upcoming anthos:

Antho #1: Cthulhu Lies Dreaming

Looking for: "Lovecraft-styled cosmic horror with a modern sensibility, by which we mean without the lengthy passages of exposition and racial biases that were common in Lovecraft's day. This anthology has the working title of Cthulhu Lies Dreaming. The overarching theme will have to do with the way in which Cthulhu's dreams interact with the real world, either in the past or in the modern day. What horrors would Cthulhu dream of? If the substance of Cthulhu's dreams were made manifest in the world, what might happen? Stories do not have to mention Cthulhu or his dreams. To get an idea of what kinds of stories we might be looking for, a quick read of the back cover text of Cthulhu Lives! could be useful. Creativity will be rewarded as long as the story fits the general theme. Stories should be enjoyable for both those who have read Lovecraft's own work in depth, as well as those who haven't. As in Cthulhu Lives!, our goal is to reflect upon how deeply Lovecraft's themes remain embedded in the human psyche." Length: 3-8K; Payment: "Pays a small advance + an author share per story of 50% of the proceeds from the book." See guidelines for more details. Deadline: "When we get enough good stories. (We're shooting for May, but we'll put something firmer up when we're close to having enough.)"

Antho#2: Haunted Futures

Looking for: "The most suitable genres will be variations or combinations of sci fi, fantasy, thriller or mystery. We are not trying to scare the audience as with traditional horror. Haunted here is used more in the Romantic sense. Stories must be both excellent and suitable for an audience that enjoys the work of the notable authors who are to be included in the book. Outside of these primary concerns, we would also like to see more submissions from women and people underrepresented in traditional genre publishing." Length: 2.5-5K; Payment: "Advance plus royalties. Exact amount depends on the number of stories we accept." No reprints, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: "Early Summer 2015. When we get enough acceptable stories (we'll post a firm deadline as we get close)"

Monday, December 15, 2014

HoHoHum Ten

Ten Things I Hate About Your Holiday Story

24/7 Bliss: The arrival of the holidays has mysteriously transformed your entire crew of non-religious, deeply-flawed, potentially interesting characters into a quasi-Borg Hive of Happy People Who Must Do Charitable Things and Make Deep Personal Sacrifices to Surprise That Character They Couldn't Stand Before Thanksgiving. They also seem to infect everyone they meet with this Be of good cheer or you will be assimilated nonense, too.

Behaving Perfectly Pets: Dogs, cats and other pets in your holiday story seem to spend all their time cuddling small grabby children, fetching wrapped presents and looking adorable as they pose by the decorated Christmas tree, instead of what they'd really be doing, like biting those children, gnawing or peeing on those presents, and trying to climb up or knock down the damn tree.

Chesty Chop: I know your male protag has an awesome-looking chest, and you like to show it off every ten pages, but sending him out shirtless in subzero weather to chop firewood just so his lady love can sigh over his pecs from the window? Really?

Death Takes an Extended Holiday: Doomed characters never expire on Christmas Day -- in fact, no matter what shape they're in, no one does. Anyone destined to buy the farm does it at least a month before or the day after. In the case of the Dec. 26th RIP, they must of course have an utterly magical Christmas that they declare was the best of their life right before they drop dead.

Give Me a Break: Everyone receives marvelous/wonderful/awesome gifts in Holiday Story Land. There is never anything silly or weird or cheap or inappropriate. All the gift clothes, shoes and engagement rings fit perfectly, too.

Santa to the Rescue: No matter if they're bell-ringer Santas or mall Santas or Uncle Herb dressed up as Santa, the Mr. Claus in your story will without fail provide some invaluable assistance or a wondrous revelation for your characters that a) eradicates the black moment; b) permits star-crossed lovers to uncross their stars or c) saves someone or something from imminent bankruptcy.

Snow No-No #1: Despite the fact that it's been snowing steadily in your story for the past three weeks, no character ever has to cancel travel plans, consider the possibility of road closures or even shovel their way out to the car -- which mysteriously always starts no matter how long it's been sitting out there, and is never buried under what should logically by now be a seventeen-foot drift.

Snow No-No #2: Your characters have been snowbound alone together in an abandoned cabin long enough to have wild monkey sex on every available flat surface in place, and constantly cuddle in front of the fireplace that never stops burning, and profess their love while making snow angels out in the yard. This is wonderful, until you consider they're also exclusively living on the handful of granola bars the heroine conveniently found in her purse which, according to my calculations, even if nibbled slowly would have run out a week ago.

Snow No-No #3: Have you ever actually had sex in the snow? If not, then you should know that at zero degrees, no matter what they're doing, your half-naked characters will begin suffering from frostbite in about ten to fifteen minutes. Guess where? So some advice: speed it up.

Stocking Stupidity: Here's another thing in Christmas stories that makes me crazy: fabric stockings full of candy hung all night from a mantle over a roaring fireplace, yet somehow they never catch fire. And since all that heat generated by the roaring fire rises up over them, why aren't they filled with liquid chocolate in the morning?

What do you hate in holiday stories? Share your gripes in comments.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Coming Soon

Image credit: curaphotography

Saturday, December 13, 2014

What About . . . ?

I've had a couple of people ask me when I will be writing this story, which I promised (and then had to scrap) last year:

The truth is I still have not written it. While I know it's already been reviewed, every time I go to start working on it I get the most annoying twitch in my right eye. Plus it only stops when I stop thinking about writing the story and work on something else. Since I don't care to write with a blinky eye, Forget-Me-Knot will have to go on existing only in my mind (and, naturally, anyone who can scan my thoughts for stories I haven't yet written or travel to the future to read stories I someday publish, etc.) until such time as the twitching problem goes a way.

Okay, I'm kidding about everything except not having written it (yet). F-M-K is something I plan to get back to after the holidays. I'm just not sure if I want to keep the idea to novella length (my original plan) or let it expand into a novel (which is what it wants to do.)

To get a sneak peek at the next freebie, which I hope to have ready for you all before the end of the year, stop by tomorrow.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Other Worlds

Chicago artist Bruce Riley explains a bit about his process as he creates gorgeous, otherworldly art from recycled paintings, paint, resin and flow (with background music, and narration by the artist, for those of you at work):

Bruce from Jason Stanfield on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Just Write for the Holidays

As I mentioned last week (where were you, shopping?) I thought I'd bring back Just Write Thursdays for the holiday season, if for no other reason than to give everyone a weekly break from the relentless BUYBUYBUY amd HOHOHO that devours the blogosphere every December.

So: Today I'm off to write something new and post it online before midnight. Everyone inclined to do the same is invited to join me.

My link: Club Denizen, with new material beginning on page 8.

For more details on Just Write Thursdays, click here to go to the original post.

Image credit: sosha333

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sub Op

Darkhorse Books has an open call for their upcoming Stories from the World of Tomorrow SF anthology: "Darkhouse Books is seeking stories for an anthology of science fiction stories that take place in the future envisioned by the World’s Fair of 1939, known also as 'The World of Tomorrow'." Length: "We are seeking stories in the 2500 to 7500 word range, though if it’s knockout material, we’ll consider any length." Payment: 50% of the royalties split equally among the contributing authors. On reprints: "Previously published work will be considered, provided the author has the power to grant us the right to publish in ebook, audio, and print versions, and that it has not been published elsewhere more recently than April 1st, 2014." Electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: February 14th, 2015.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Mood Boosters

Getting into the holiday spirit can be difficult, especially after a very tough year (and I think 2014 definitely qualifies.) If you're not feeling the hohoho, one cure can be to do something charitable in your community. I'm making stops at the food bank and the no-kill cat shelter this week to drop off some donations, and taking some signed books over to a retirement community center and the veteran's hospital -- and I'm wearing my Santa hat when I go. It is utterly impossible to be grumpy in a Santa hat.

When I'm online I often visit these holidays sites I've bookmarked as mood boosters, too:

Thanks to NORAD's Santa Tracker site we can play a new game every day, watch videos, learn lots of stuff about the holidays and keep an eye on their countdown-to-Santa timer on their front page.

It's always snowing somewhere, but with Snowday's holiday classic Create Your Own Snowflake site you can create virtual versions of the real thing, add messages and enjoy the simple delight of turning snips into gorgeous designs (without the paper mess.)

Last year my niece passed along her link to, which is a free, child-safe holiday site with lots of interesting craft ideas and recipes for parents along with tons of activities for the kids.

One of my annual holiday traditions is to visit Jacquie Lawson's animated e-card The Snow Dog, which will make even the chilliest heart melt.

What do you do to get into the spirit of the season? Let us know in comments.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Knock-Off No-Nos

Ten Knockoffs I Will Never Write (and neither should you)

Divergent, but as a mashup with The Hunger Games

Let's see, we'll merge the Choosing Ceremony with The Reaping; when Tris gets a bird tattoo we'll make that a mockingjay, make the dystopian society a . . . um, dystopian society, take lots of violence and add that to, ah, lots of violence, and factions with classes and . . . I'm sorry, what exactly can I mash up again?

The Fault in Our Stars, but as an HEA contemporary romance

Then there would be no story, yes? Next.

Frozen, but as a paranormal romance with vampires and werewolves

If Elsa is a guy with amnesia, then I already wrote it. Before the movie came out, ha!

The Goldfinch, but as a Dickensian literary novel

All I'd have to do is retitle it: David Copperfield's Great Expectations. Send me my millions now, please.

Gone Girl, but as a M/M literary romance

Nick would have to fall in love with himself, at which point Amy would totally refall in love with him, and then Desi would kill them both. Actually, that kind of works for me.

Heaven is for Real, but as a Redneck humor book

If you read it in Jeff Foxworthy accent and ad lib a bit it's really hilarious. Go on, try: "Aw, it's gonna be okay. First person you're gonna see is Jesus -- and whooooo-wee, is he pissed at you!"

Mockingjay, but as a cozy cat mystery

I get as far as "It's another lovely day in Underground 13's book store, where every stray kitty is welcome. Only today the fur flies when our mystery-loving, bird-catching, still somewhat feral Catnip finds out Pita isn't bread, I mean, dead . . ." and then I can't stop laughing.

Oh, the Places You'll Go!, but as a political thriller

Well, then everyone is going to only one place. Think very, very, very south, with no chance of snowballs.

Pride & Prejudice, but as inspirational chick-lit

Because it is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen didn't care if Lizzie talked in church, had a hussy for a sister or if her shoes ever matched her gloves.

Under the Dome, but as a cookbook.

This is complicated. If you're old enough to remember that Ronco Food Dehydrator infomercial in which Ron Popeil featured his kid and filled in the bald spot on his dome before he demo'd the unit . . . okay, you're not that old, never mind.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Reader Prezzies

Since I covered gifts for writers yesterday I thought I'd put together same ideas for the readers on your holiday shopping list. Readers may seem picky, but we're actually pretty easy to please -- we want books, books and more books.

For a number of reasons readers tend to be selective about what books we like, so it's always best to check with us before you purchase a pile of books. If you don't want to be that direct, check to see if we have an online wishlist that can be your guide (and readers, creating a wishlist somewhere online and letting your people know about it does help.)

When I did a search on Etsy for gifts for readers I got back 7,216 results (and for more ideas, I've got a treasury of reader treasures here.)

Thanks to the popularity of e-readers many book lovers are now converting their libraries over to e-book form. Find out what device they're using and you can usually find some nifty accessories for it, like these for the Nook HD.

Gone Reading is an indie online retailer that offers a whole slew of delightful reader-themed gifts, and donates 100% of their after-tax profits to provide new funding for reading-related charities, so they're also pretty much saints.

While out gathering linkage I came across the Library Foundation of Los Angeles's Gifts for Readers page and found some really nifty gift ideas there.

Ideas for the budget-challenged:

If your reader doesn't mind used books (some do, so check first) you can shop for them at any used book or thrift store; most books are under a dollar. I also like looking in on library, garage and rummage sales for cheap used books. If your reader prefers unused books, try the Dollar store or the remainder tables at your local chain bookstores.

Look for free reads online, bookmark what you find and create a list for your reader. Some authors like me make their free reads available to be downloaded and shared (mine are all in .pdf format so they'll need a compatible e-reader or Adobe reader software.)

Some e-readers allow you to lend one of your purchased e-books to another reader; others regularly offer free titles.

What are your favorite gifts for readers? Let us know in comments.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Writer Prezzies

Finding a fun gift for the writers on your holiday shopping list is easy, and I'm not saying that just because I'm a writer (okay, I might be a bit biased.) I always suggest first asking your writer what they need because writers are generally poor and will usually be in need of something to help them with their work.

Some other ideas:

My #1 gift suggestion is always a bookstore gift card, as we're always in need of books and we love going to the brick and mortars. Runner up: online bookseller e-giftcards are super convenient and can be delivered via e-mail.

Go to and perform a search with the words gift for writer; you'll find everything from handmade journals to handcrafted pendants with your writer's favorite quotation (and I put together a treasury here with some of my favorite gifts for writers.)

I've never met a writer who doesn't love Magnetic Poetry, and if you're looking for a stocking stuffer or a gift under $10.00 their little boxes of words are perfect.

Fill a pretty mug with tea bags, one-serving envelopes of instant coffee or hot cocoa, add a small box of cookies or other type of nibbly and present in a gift bag. If you like to sew you can also make a mug mat to go with it.

My favorite online indie shop to visit for writer gift ideas is Writer's Bloc; they have amazing Clairefontaine notebooks, beautiful pens and great sales, too.

Finally, if money is tight this year you can opt for a DIY writer gift that you can make for little or no cost.

What are some of your favorite gifts for the writers in your life? Let us know in comments.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Christmas in Prague

Prague in the Czech Republic is one of those beautifully ancient European cities that always seems to merge the past with the present in gorgeous and unexpected ways; this video shows some from a holiday persective (contains background music, for those of you at work):

Night in Prague from Metron on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Just Write for the Holidays

I thought I'd bring back Just Write Thursdays for the holiday season, if for no other reason than to give everyone a weekly break from the relentless BUYBUYBUY amd HOHOHO that devours the blogosphere every December.

So: Today I'm off to write something new and post it online before midnight. Everyone inclined to do the same is invited to join me.

For more details on Just Write Thursdays, click here to go to the original post.

My link: Club Denizen, part 1.

Image credit: sosha333

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

What's Your Sign's Gift?

Kelli Fox has an interesting article here with holiday gift suggestions based on your recipient's zodiac sign. I never considered gift-giving from this angle, so I checked out my sign (Cancer) and saw it started with an excellent suggestion:

Something you made yourself that represents comfort and connection, such as a personal framed photograph or basket of spiced muffins, will be extra meaningful

Yes, absolutely. Handmade gifts of any kind are wonderful. This year I've been hand-making most of my own holiday gifts; I also adore gifts that are made of recycled or repurposed materials.

As for the rest of her suggestions:

Photo album filled with family pictures -- I'm the family photographer, so they'd have to raid my computer, but I'd certainly like this one.

Genealogy software or a framed family tree -- Not a happy gift for someone who is adopted, unfortunately.

Velvet throw pillows -- I do love velvet, but it's a pet hair magnet. Also doesn't really go with any room in my house.

A wine rack stocked with a few choice bottles -- Unless your recipient, like me, doesn't use alcohol; then it's going to be a very pricey rack of kitchen drain cleaner. Actually, the wine rack could be repurposed as a yarn or fabric rack (or stocked with exotic, non-alcoholic drinks, maybe?)

Gift certificate to a home d├ęcor or improvement store -- me not so much, but my guy would definitely use it.

A cookbook or gift certificate to a favorite restaurant -- Yes on the cookbook, particularly anything vegetarian, low-fat and/or sugar- or lactose-free. I'm picky about restaurants, though, so pass on the GC.

I think any zodiac-based gift suggestions should inspire rather than be used an absolute guide, too. After inspecting the best gifts for my sign I checked out the suggestions in the article for some members of my family based on their signs. Only one thing listed for my daughter's sign would work for her, and absolutely nothing listed for my guy would actually suit him.

Do you have a unique way of choosing gifts for your recipients? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Hello 2034 Me

Upload a photo of yourself to this ageing simulator generator, and you'll be able to see (and even talk to) a composite of your future self.

Here is what I'm supposed to look like at age 73:

It's not terribly accurate; my eyes are quite a bit lighter, my ears don't stick out, and my natural hair color right now is much whiter than hers (maybe future me has it dyed to the salt and pepper look?) I think I'll have a few more wrinkles and jowls, too, but that helmet hairdo? Ah, no. Never.

(Link swiped from Gerard over at The Presurfer)

Monday, December 01, 2014

Gift No-Nos

Yes, it's officially holiday shopping season, so I thought I'd kick off December with

Ten Things I Don't Want For Christmas

Body-Fat Caliper: Very funny. This will get you gifted in return that home high colonic kit.

Books: As much as I'm sure I'd appreciate My Love Will Conquer Your Sadism or Amish Girl Stripper or the latest SF ripoff of Dick, Lem, Piper or Star Trek, how about a bookstore gift card instead?

Candy, Chocolate, or Sugar of Any Variety: It's been a decade since my doctor took sugar and sweets away from me, and yet every year some editor sends me that tower of chocolate thing I have to immediately donate. Stop it.

Exotic Teas: Yes, I am a tea lover. No, I do not want to make pots of vitaminized green tea infused with the essence of butternut squash. If you're still determined to tea me, go with decaf black, a single fruit flavor, or spiced chai.

Fur Anything: Not that I want to step on anyone's fur-loving toes, but I think we've evolved past the need to kill an animal in order to keep warm, yes?

House Plants: The cat eats them, and then throws up, usually on my bed pillow.

Massage Gift Certificate: Let's see, the relaxing chance to go to a little strip mall shop, take off all my clothes and lay face-down on an unsanitized, cracked vinyl mat while a person I don't know touches and pummels me? Pass.

Sexy Satin PJs: I'm not in the especially sexy stage of life, they're slippery, and during the night I tend to gravitate toward the edge of the bed. Plus my darling pup Skye sleeps on a quilt on the floor next to my side of the bed and if I fall, it's on top of her. P.S., I don't actually wear PJs.

Tattoo Parlor Gift Certificate: Ever wonder why I still don't have a tattoo? Ask my mom what she'll do to me if I ever get one.

Writer Novelties: I probably already own it. Yeah, even those lend-a-pens with the STD treatment clinic imprints.

What gift don't you want for the holidays? Let us know in comments.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Finish Line Thoughts

Today is the final day of NaNoWriMo 2014, and if I'm not yet at the 50K finish line I hope to cross it by 11:59 pm.* Pretty sure I will; just before I wrote this post I flew past 45K after an uber creative writing session. Which is why I want to write this post now (today is the 23rd, actually) -- I had my best writing day of the month. Finished and turned in the first phase of Ghost Writer Gig II, then nailed my 2K NaNo novel daily goal *and* bailed my characters out of a sticky plot problem *and* found/created a new room in Netherfield. This is about as high as this kite gets, my friends.

I'm still tired, and somewhat annoyed with Publishing, and really, really behind on my holiday prep and household chores. NaNo combined with my day jobs should have me finishing the month with 112K of new fiction written since November 1st, which now seems a bit surreal. Before Nano began I was having trouble writing a thousand words a day; this month I've averaged almost four times that -- and I don't know why, other than doubling up on my writing sessions and letting the NaNo madness and my writing buddies inspire me. Well, being able to actually see again might have helped a little.

Maybe I should give the eyes most of the credit. I almost went blind this year. I was basically blind for the month between my two eye surgeries, when I couldn't write or read or drive or do much of anything. I had a lot of time to sit around and think about what my life would be like if those operations didn't work, too. Trading in my silver cane for a white one. Going to Braille classes. Giving up my books, my sewing, my car. Having to relearn how to do everything by touch. Never again seeing the faces of the people I love.

You know I've never been afraid of the dark, but this year? I learned how.

So I don't care that I'm tired, or that I had to juggle work and NaNo, or that I'm probably going to spend December doing all my housework and shopping while in a partial coma. No matter what happens, I still get to see it happen. There is also one more daily reminder for me to be grateful for my restored sight. This month we found out that our beloved rescue kitty, Jericho, is going blind, and there's nothing the vet can do to stop it. So we're going to pamper him and love him and make sure he knows we're here for him. And I wil remember that could be me.

I would like to thank everyone here who cheered on me and my writer pals, and my NaNo writing buddies, who always came through with a note to me at the exactly the right time. You truly are the best.

Now let's finish this.

*Actually finished up on Wednesay, but wrote this post before that, which is confusing but there you go.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sub Op

New SF e-zine Terraform is looking for short fiction: "Submissions for ​Terraform are open to the public, and the ask is simple: We're looking for 2,000 words or fewer—a nice, digestible internet length—of speculative fiction honing in on the tech, science, and future culture topics driving the zeitgeist. We're looking especially for nearer-future fiction; think more sentient chat bots or climate-changed dystopias and less far-flung space operas. And we don't care what form it comes in: Classic-style SF short stories, social media posts from beyond the horizon, fictive data dumps, experimental graphic narratives, and so on. Our baseline rate is $0.20 a word. Remember, we'll publish one new story every week." No reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Friday, November 28, 2014


Here's a lovely short film about a quest to understand music (with equally lovely music in the background, for those of you at work):

Understand Music from finally. on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Wishing You

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It's Official

As of 7:30 pm tonight:


A writer is a world trapped in a person. -- Victor Hugo

We're four days out from the finish line of NaNoWriMo 2014, and hopefully everyone has made some gratifying progress toward their writing goals. I know some of you are thinking now that you won't make 50K, and that's okay. Really.

Making the big goal is nice -- very nice -- but you aren't a loser if you have to deal with life instead of writing, or the story you chose to write isn't working for you, or whatever else keeps you from stepping into the official winner's circle this year. Losing Jak, one of my beloved rescue cats, kept me from finishing NaNo back in 2010; as it happens when I reached the end of the month I hadn't even make the halfway point. Still, I was very proud of what I did manage to write that year, and it helped me through a horrible time.

Earlier I was cruising around the NaNoWriMo forums when I found in the You know you're a writer when . . . topic one of those so-true-it-hurts comments:

"Every song is about your characters." (posted by crossing)

Every song is, actually -- I can't listen to music without applying it to a character in some story I'm writing or have written or want to write. Even music I don't care for eventually becomes theme songs for my antagonists. Same goes for art; I'm always thinking which of my people would own this painting or that sculpture (I once had an epiphany about Lucan from the Darkyn novels while wandering around a glass-blower's booth at an art show; that's where his Shatter talent was actually born.)

It doesn't stop there. When I cook I think about recipes that would please my characters, and when I shop I check out the latest fashions to dress my younger, hipper crews. In reality I can't cook or shop for them (that's the line into Writer LaLaLand I won't cross) but thinking about it is natural. My characters are with me everywhere I go, as they have been since I was eight years old and wrote my first story. They may not be real, but they're mine and I'm the one who knows them best and they belong to me as nothing else in life has.

Which is why all the songs are about them, and all the art revolves around them, and everything that teases my imagination in some way goes to them. Because I belong to them, too.

Any last thoughts on NaNoWriMo 2014? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Canadian Sub Op

Here's an open call for Canadian writers only to submit steampunk short stories for the upcoming Clockwork Canada anthology: "I am interested in all permutations of Steampunk, including Boilerpunk, Clockpunk, Gaslight Romance, Raygun Gothic, Stitchpunk, and other variations. Stories must be set in Canada. There are no restrictions on the time period, though technology should be limited to pre-twentieth century. I want to see Canadian takes on classic Steampunk elements, but I would also like to see more than just steam technology. I highly recommend reading Amal El-Mohtar’s excellent article, Towards a Steampunk Without Steam, for inspiration in this respect: Many great Steampunk stories interrogate and engage with historical and cultural elements in their setting. In particular, we often see the exploration of characters and stories that were ignored by dominant historical narratives. Although alternate history is a large component of Steampunk, be aware of Canadian history and utilize it or rework it in original ways. For example, how would the proliferation of more capable steamships and airships have altered immigration in Canada? How would the western expansion, the Trans-Canada Railway, and the Underground Railroad have been affected by alternate forms of transportation? I am looking for stories that explore diverse settings with all manner of characters: Aboriginals, Francophones, senior citizens, LGBTQIAs, PoC, etc." Length: 2-8K; Payment: "5 cents/word for original fiction and a contributor’s copy." On reprints: "will be considered if the story has appeared in journals and magazines, but NOT in book form (collections, anthologies, etc.). Payment for reprints is 2 cents per word. Indicate where the story was first published and when in the cover letter. Reprint stories must also be set in Canada." Electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Reading period opens" Reading period: December 1st, 2014 (don't submit stories before this date.) Deadline: April 30th, 2015.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving Ten

Ten Things to Help with Thanksgiving

21 easy Thanksgiving crafts for kids will keep them busy while Mom cooks. has some neat, before-the-big-meal ideas here for Thanksgiving appetizers; I might try these blue cheese and pear tartlets.

The simplest no-cook appetizer I know that just about everyone loves: alternate chunks of fruit and cheese on bamboo skewers to make pretty nibbly kabobs (and older kids who can be trusted with pointy sticks can easily put these together, too.)

Better Homes & Gardens has some suggestions here for indoor Thanksgiving decorating.

Not sure how long to thaw, how much to stuff, and/or how long to roast your turkey? You can call, chat or e-mail the experts at Butterball Turkey; get more details at their website contact page here.

The Cooking Channel has a yummy photo gallery of Thanksgiving Dessert recipes here.

Cooking Light has a great celebrations section here with lots of interesting healthy-option recipes and menu ideas for your turkey day.

Three easy and elegant Thanksgiving centerpieces from Good Housekeeping.

For those who want to skip the turkey and go meatless this holiday, Martha Stewart has a nice selection of main dish options here.

And finally, for those like me who can't be trusted with a candy thermometer (I've broken about a hundred, actually) but want to make a sweet treat for Thanksgiving, my famous No-Brainer Fudge recipe is #5 on this holiday helps ten list.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sub Op

Parsec Ink has an open call for their upcoming Lost Voices antho: Theme: "We are a speculative fiction market. We accept science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories. Please do not send stories without any speculative element. We love creative interpretations of our themes, but we do require that stories fit the current theme. We will run mature content if we like the story and if the mature content is integral to the story. We will not accept fanfic, even if it’s of a fictional universe that has passed into public domain." Length: "We will consider fiction up to 6,000 words. There is no minimum word count." Payment: " We pay 2 cents per word. Authors will also receive an e-book and print version of the anthology and wholesale pricing for additional printed copies (typically 50% of cover price)." No reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Submissions Open: December 1st, 2014 (do not submit before this date.) Deadline: February 28th, 2015.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

LT Secret Santa

Library Thing is holding their eighth annual SantaThing:

"What’s SantaThing? SantaThing is Secret Santa for LibraryThing members.

Done this before? SantaThing sign up is now open!

How it works: You pay into the SantaThing system (choose from $15–$50). You play Santa to a LibraryThing member we pick for you, by selecting books for them. Another Santa does the same for you, in secret. LibraryThing does the ordering, and you get the joy of giving AND receiving books!

Sign up once or thrice, for yourself or someone else. If you sign up for someone without a LibraryThing account, make sure to mention what kinds of books they like, so their Santa can choose wisely.

Even if you don’t want to be a Santa, you can help by suggesting books for others."

I did this last year, and had such a neat time that I've signed up again for 2014 -- so if you join in, you just might end up with me as your Secret Santa (and my Santee last year really enjoyed my picks, so I'm also a pretty decent book Santa.) Sign-ups for SantaThing will close next Sunday, November 30th, 2014 at 8pm Eastern, so if you want to join in, get to it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The 29

This short video offers 29 simple ways to stay creative; my personal favorite is #14 (and this one has some snappy background music, for those of you at work):


Thursday, November 20, 2014

ETA Ten Days

This past week has been eventful and interesting, in the Chinese curse kind of way. I took the weekend off from NaNoWriMo to wrap up my ghost writing gig, which I turned in two weeks early (hooray!) at which point my client instantly offered me another job (gulp) that started immediately (of course). So I'm very glad I've been putting in a few hundred extra words over my NaNo daily goal, because they allowed me to take those two days off and say yes to the new job offer.

I admit, I'm a bit tired, too. Mentally bouncing betweem two projects isn't the problem -- it actually helps keep me fresh and engaged in both -- but trying to manage two separate writing sessions every day and also juggle my domestic responsibilities is the real challenge. I just discovered a couple of tiny mountaineers scaling the dirty laundry piled in the washroom hamper. Thanksgiving is in one week, and while I have a nice turkey in the freezer I haven't yet confirmed the guest list, planned the final menu or found my favorite holiday tablecloth. P.S., sometime between now and next Monday I'm having the carpets cleaned.* Don't ask me which day; I forgot to write it down on the calendar.

Still, whenever I remember to look up from whatever I'm working on, I can catch just a glimpse of that 50K waiting for me at that November 30th finish line. For some reason it doesn't look worried, either. I think it knows how much fun I'm having, and how good it's been for me to get back to a daily writing routine, and that no matter how tired I feel, even that's wonderful, because it's the good, satisfied, I-kicked-butt writer tired I haven't felt for most of this year.

So how are things going with you NaNo novelists out there? Let us know in comments.

*Guess what? They just called to confirm -- they're coming today!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sub Op

Garden Gnome Publications wants to see "novella-length manuscripts that cast old myths into new lenses or that create new myths out of thin air. Myth-makers, ignite!" (PBW notes: Cute. But please, don't set yourself or anything else on fire literally.) Here's what they want to see: "We want stories, not lists of gods. In other words, tell a story within a mythological system, one you created or one that already exists. All ideas and themes are worth exploring. Just make sure you tell a damn good story. Make it weird, make it absurd, but make it good. Prose, not poetry. Give us gods, demigods, demons, supermen, mortals, and everything in between. Make them dark and mark them powerful. Or make them light and elemental. As long as they’re true. Stories can be horrific, satirical, magical, romantic, scientific, or anywhere on the storytelling spectrum. Hell, you can mix extremes if you have the chutzpah. We like dark and we like dark satire. Of course, we like laugh out loud outlandishness too. But what we really like is weird and off-the-wall. Most of all, we just like a good story well told. Pick a myth. Any myth. Put your own spin on it. Can’t find one that suits your fancy? Make one up." Length: 20-40K; Payment: "All writers receive 50% royalties. Paid monthly." No reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Whose Brainchild are You?

Take this interesting online quiz that maps your mind, and find out which two famous people had brains similar to yours.

My results:

I love DaVinci, and he had the kind of creative life I could only dream of, so that's very cool. While I'm not a huge fan of St. Joan or my Catholic upbringing, my mother was named after her, so I'll take her, too.

Whose brainchild are you? Let us know in comments.

(Online quiz link swiped from Gerard over at The Presurfer)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Freely Ten

Ten Things You Can Have for Free

Freeware caution: always scan free downloads of anything for bugs and other threats before dumping the programs into your hard drive.

Anxiety is a "super-lightweight To-do list application for Mac OS X Leopard that synchronizes with iCal and Mail. Its aim is to provide a streamlined, easily accessible interface to add and check off your tasks, while remaining poised to melt into the background at a moments notice" (OS: Mac OS X)

Blue Griffin is a "new WYSIWYG content editor for the World Wide Web. Powered by Gecko, the rendering engine of Firefox, it's a modern and robust solution to edit Web pages in conformance to the latest Web Standards" (OS: Windows, Mac OS X and Linux)

IceCream Ebook Reader is "one of the best free EPUB readers that transforms your computer screen into a convenient top-notch ebook reader. The tool enables you read ebooks in EPUB, MOBI, FB2, PDF and other popular formats. Manage your digital library on your PC or Windows-based laptop. This program also features the ability to turn pages, use bookmarks, search your library, track reading progress and much more" (OS: Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista/7/8)

Keyboarder "will give you an intuitive way to type everything more easily and faster. You no longer have to fiddle with the “Insert Symbol” menu and then search for what you want, and that is assuming you can access the menu in the application you are using in the first place" (OS: Windows Vista/7/8 [32-Bit/64-Bit])

Mendeley is a "free reference manager and academic social network. Make your own fully-searchable library in seconds, cite as you write, and read and annotate your PDFs on any device" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

My Last Search "scans the cache and history files of your Web browser, and locate all search queries that you made with the most popular search engines (Google, Yahoo and MSN) and with popular social networking sites (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace). The search queries that you made are displayed in a table with the following columns: Search Text, Search Engine, Search Time, Search Type (General, Video, Images), Web Browser, and the search URL. You can select one or more search queries and then copy them to the clipboard or save them into text/html/xml file" (OS: Windows 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3/Vista/7)

Panopreter "reads any text aloud and reads files in formats of txt, rtf, doc, pdf and web pages. It also converts the text into wav and mp3 audio files, so you can listen to the audio later with a portable mp3 player device. Furthermore, Panopreter reads text copied to the Windows clipboard from any other software window. It supports various languages and voices" (OS: Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7/8/8.1)

PhotoSun 14 is "a professional software application that comes packed with editing capabilities for helping you optimize your photos, apply special effects, and edit metadata. It sports a clean and straightforward layout that gives users the possibility to upload images into the working environment using the built-in browse function or “drag and drop” support. PhotoSun 14 works with the following file formats: JPG, BMP, PNG, GIF, ICO, and TIFF. Plus, it lets you add the contents of an entire folder to the list. The program gives you the possibility to zoom in or out, rotate or flip the images, set the current photo as your wallpaper, resize and crop the items, as well as create slideshows in a full screen mode, with background music and themes, and a user-defined transition delay. Other notable characteristics of this utility are represented by the possibility to erase red eyes, adjust the levels of exposure, contrast, saturation, and brightness, as well as apply denoising and sharpening effects. What’s more, PhotoSun comes packed with several special effects (e.g. sepia, boost color, antique), and lets you personalize your images by embedding different types of frames, undo or redo your actions, and view a history with the recently performed actions" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7/8 [32-Bit/64-Bit])

Simple Sticky Notes is a "simple, easy-to-use, absolutely free, fast and efficient taking notes software. Simple Sticky Notes is 100% safe and ads free" (OS: Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista/7/8)

WriteMonkey is "Zenware for full screen distraction free creative writing. No whistles and bells, just empty screen, you and your words. WriteMonkey is light, fast, and perfectly handy for those who enjoy the simplicity of a typewriter but live in modern times" (OS: Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista/7/8)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Online Art Therapy

Thanks to the internet and art generators everyone can create digital masterpieces, and one of my favorite places to play with color and shape is Bomomo. To use this generator you simply click on a tool button, and then click your mouse and hold down the button, and move your mouse to guide the bouncing color-generating tool circles around the design area.

Here's a look at the dashboard, and a pic I made by sampling every one of the tool buttons:

Using just one tool can result in very cool art:

Using Bomomo can also help when you're feeling blocked or frustrated; watching those little bouncing circles do their thing is surprisingly relaxing, and whatever you create with them may shift your mood to something more positive.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Character Web

The orb weaver living between my oak and Japanese maple trees has graciously agreed to help me out with today's topic by serving as an example of a story character. So if spiders creep you out, you might want to skip this post.

When most people first encounter someone in a story they tend to see the character like this:

This is as it should be (at least, how the reader's first impression of the character should be.) Because we're a very visual species, and books generally don't have any pictures in them, characters are usually introduced in such a way that readers can easily envision them.

For the writer, however, there should be more to the character than simply their appearance. For us, the character should look like this:

Yes, this is the exact same spider; I simply took the shot from a different angle.

Great characters don't pop out of thin air to hang around the story and do nothing more than show off how terrific (or terrifying) they look. A character is a fictional construct of a person, which means there should be a lot more to them than simply physical appearance or story placement. Like a spider, a fully-realized character is surrounded by a web of interconnecting threads; instead of being made of silk these threads are created from personal history, education, health, life experience, hates, disappointments, loves, ambitions and everything else that goes into making people who they were, who they are and who they want to be -- as well as what they do.

So how does a writer build a character web that provides the proper amount of support and dimension? Lots of ways; just do a search on characterization and you'll probably find a zillion different answers. What I notice most about how other writers characterize their crews is by relying on elements in the character's occupation and/or backstory. This is not wrong, either; what we do for a living and our personal history does contribute to who we are -- but there is a lot more to us than our jobs and our past. If there wasn't I'd simply be characterized as a crippled writer, and not a partner, mother, daughter, sister, friend, USAF veteran, artist, quilter, volunteer, cancer survivor, jewelry-maker, blogger, teacher, student, animal lover, mentor, photographer . . . get the picture?

Here are fourteen different elements I often use to better weave my character webs:

To escape heavy dependence on backstory, consider how the present and the future is shaping your characters. If you're wondering how the future factors in when it hasn't even happened yet, ask anyone who has ambition, hopes or dreams to tell you how they affect them now. Are they going to school, saving money, following a five-year plan? Have they committed recently to a monogamous relationship that they feel may become permanent? Are they considering relocating, starting a business, inventing something, breaking off with someone, acquiring something they've always wanted? Now think about your character -- what are they doing about those things now? How is it changing them as people?

Opinions vary on how much we need to put into characterization, and again there's no right or wrong. Whatever elements I draw on, I always try to know enough about my characters to make them come alive on the page, so my characterizations tend to be as involved and detailed as my world-building. Everything I know about them doesn't make it into the story, either. All the knowledge that the reader never has access to is really more to guide me while I'm writing and get me into the character's head.

Okay, writers, your turn: What are some of the elements you use for your characterizations? Let us know in comments.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Wild Skies

Photographer Nicolaus Wegner spent four months filming severe weather in the skies over Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Colorado -- and put the results together in this awesome, mesmerizing (and sometimes even frightening) video (with background music, for those of you at work):

Stormscapes 2 from Nicolaus Wegner on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

(Almost) Halfway There

We're two days from the middle of November, aka the halfway point for National Novel Writing Month. which means I'd better be at 25K on my NaNo novel done by now (yes, I'm writing this post in advance.) I've been gently nagging some of you who were foolish enough to let me be your writing buddy (and I'm actively blackmailing Keita), and I've even replied to a couple of posts in the NaNo forums. It's the perfect time for a pep talk -- because everything is going great, yes?

For me, 100% great, eh. I'm at about 64%, maybe. Naturally I'm trying to stay positive, but I had hoped to get more words done every day and finish about a week early (now I don't think I can because I'm divided this year between my writer-for-hire day job and NaNo. I am getting a lot of words done; they're simply not all for me.)

Then there is Publishing -- Lord, yes, I know about the award nomination; I've gotten about a thousand e-mails from my romance writer pals. For those who don't know, I'm up for an award I won't win for a novel that is now out of print in a series that the publisher cancelled. I know, I can hardly contain myself either. But seriously, I think I know the reviewer responsible, and if it was you, T., I am genuinely touched. Thanks for thinking of me.

Then there are the novel-related problems. The more I write my NaNo novel, the more I think about the first chapter, which I don't like anymore. Okay, I hate it. If this were a regular writing project, I'd probably rewrite it or delete it or just take it out in the backyard and roast marshmallows over it. But I don't have time to rewrite that chapter and keep on schedule, so I have to hold onto my lousy first chapter. Until December 1st, when I believe I will quite ready to rip it out of my manuscript and drop-kick it into the backyard firepit.

I'm stil not shaking the pom poms very well, but stick with me, there's a point to all this whining. After writing and publishing 51 novels you'd think I could do this in my sleep, right?


Every book is different, but writing them is always and forever work, work, and more work -- and not always successful work. I plan ahead but then for some reason I fall behind. I fail to meet my expectations, often daily. I write scenes and pages and sometimes entire chapters that I think are utter crap. What was bright and shiny and exciting thirteen days ago now often seems more like an annoying, tiresome, plodding, dragging, why-did-I-go-with-dumb-idea millstone tied around my neck. I've already thought about dumping this story entirely and starting over with another idea -- twice since November 1st, in fact.

Here's why I don't: I know to keep going, to keep writing. Yes, I have doubts, the bright and shiny is wearing off, I'm tired, I'm writing two stories simultaneously and I'm disappointing myself. It doesn't matter. This was a great idea, and every problem I have with it can be solved once I finish the book. I'll edit what I doubted and fix it or rewrite it. The bright and shiny never stays but always will come back with the next idea. Then I will rest my brain and recharge my batteries. Maybe I'll even take a little me-vacation and only write one story next month.

I know what you're thinking. What if after all that I discover that it is hopeless, and I can't fix it, and I really should have dumped this story and started over? If that happens, I'll accept what I can't change, stick it in the file cabinet and move on to the next story. Problem solved.

No matter what I do with a story, I know I will always disappoint myself because I'm never satisfied with the work. I think if I ever was, I'd be done and I wouldn't write anymore.

I'm not done. How about you?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Bonsaing Inspiration

The Bonsai Story Generator takes any text fed to it (up to 6K) and randomly rearranges the text to produce new sentences. As you might expect this creates a small mountain of nonsense, but it also produces some interesting word pairings and clusters, a few of which can work as titles, prompts, scene ideas and more.

I took about 4K of my NaNo novel and Bonsai'd it, and then weeded through the results, deleting out the gibberish and whatever else was useless. Here's what I kept, along with some of my thoughts in italics:

Driving through the lionsgate to be ruined

But he should hurt a little as my son-in-law.
(Beautiful line for a mean mama-in-law.)

She caught her ladyship's feathered bonnet.

She would have had a traveled veteran.

Tell the wound.

The man looked down into our society, Lady Hardiwick said.

Greville would send Prudence into tarts
(I love this as a description of a compulsive eater)

Well, he beheld the mare.

Agitation kindled a gentleman.

The fact that she would do no longer.

She heard a kindly older brother.

As a girl she'd been silly enough to cross their path.
(This sparked a new scene for me)

No man had fainted from her.

I haven't a groan.

You are a morning salon, abundantly furnished.
(What a nervous man might say while trying to compliment a beautiful, well-endowed woman, maybe)

He is not indulging in the company as yet

the great house at Netherfield Park stood like a spinster
(You can't imagine how helpful this was to me. Honestly. Hugely.)

Stand back, she can make himself sick again. (Instant, hilarious imagery)

Julian with no other sound.

He will look at the most generous good enough to be ruined
(is there any better description for a penniless rake?)

Lady Maycott released a ridiculous fiction (A lot of us are prone to doing that.)

Miss Maycott, please allow any callers.

I don't care how often he will have us.

It will likely turn the decanter.

It is not the makings of our invitations

Built in pieces, Miss Maycott.

your kindness has no other sound.
(I just loved this.)

You have a bloody clue. (as opposed to the cliched haven't)

I feel so dreadful for her, much of her too.

She sat back on her own feelings

The roads are recovered

I will cut open your hopes
(this one gave me shivers, and is definitely going in the story as part of a rant.)

You can also feed poems, song lyrics or any other type of text to the generator to be bonsai'd; I do this sometimes with long, imagery-rich poems to get title ideas.