Monday, March 31, 2014

Con Ten

Ten Things That Always Seem to Happen at Conferences and Conventions

And You Live . . . ?: At some point the largest/freakiest/scariest dude that you see at the con will ask for your home address, personal phone number or other information you would never give out to a stranger. S/he will not tell you why s/he wants this information. This person will also do this five minutes after everyone who came with you leaves for lunch.

Bathroom Breaker: The queue to use the facilities is never short, but will be at its lengthiest when you really, really, really have to go.

Closest Encounter: You will be caught in a crowd and find yourself wedged in a corner with possibly the cutest guy/gal you've ever met, who astonishingly wants to chat with you. This will happen at the precise moment you have an attack of gas, the burps, or your breath turns lethal dragonish.

Critical Asker: While browsing through your stock, a pleasant someone will regale you with a painfully detailed list of all the things they dislike about your last book, your cover art, your web site and/or your writing. When you're ready to melt into the floor in complete and utter misery, your critic will mention how cash-strapped they are and ask for a free signed copy of your latest release.

Gift Giver: Someone you don't know will hand you something unexpected that astounds you and then will disappear into the crowd before you can thank them (Cupcake Girl, I thank you for the lollipop.)

Hunger Games: You will stand (starving) in line (behind 20+ people) at the only food concession that sells tea as well as coffee and bagels along with all the sugary buns. While waiting you will debate the merits of bagels versus buns and tea versus coffee with the person behind you. When you finally reach the counter the person in front of you will grab the very last bag of the tea you prefer, and buy the only bagel left in the bread case.

Let's Get Physical: People you don't know will touch you. This usually comes in the form of a handshake or an arm press but occasionally you'll get a grabber/hugger/kisser. If you get the latter, they will be wearing bright red lipstick that transfers during the grabbing/hugging/kissing to your cheek, your neck or your lapel. You will not be aware of the lipstick print they left until three hours later when you see it in the restroom mirror.

Loyalty Payback: You will meet someone who has loved something you've done for years, and confides in you that love, and never expects anything in return, which gives you the perfect chance to do something for them (Heather!)

Objects Desired: When selling at a con, the item you invested the most time/money/hassle in creating/obtaining/transporting will move slowly or not at all. The cheapy item you almost left home because you didn't think it was worthy, on the other hand, will be snapped up by every other customer and sell out the first day. P.S., you will always bring extra of the former and zero of the latter.

Uh-Oh: After a long final day at the con you will return to your hotel to strip and take a nice, hot shower, which is when you will discover the front zipper on your trousers has been open and displaying a swatch of your pink floral underwear for an unknown amount of time.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Canadian Sub Op

Here's an open call for Canadian writers who might be interested in submitting stories for The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir anthology, and the editors are looking for "previously unpublished dark fiction that spans across genres to capture the whole spectrum of the noir esthetic: its traditional form within crime fiction; its imaginative forays into horror, fantasy, and surrealism; its dystopian consequences within speculative fiction; its disquieting mood in erotica; its grim journeys into frontier fiction; its stark expression in literary realism. We will look at noir fiction of any stripe, within any genre or any combination of genres. Although writers need to be Canadian, there is no restriction on setting. Stories can be set anywhere." Length: 1-8K; Payment: 5 cents/word. No reprints, electonic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: July 2nd, 2014.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Instant Crush

Anyone who reads PBW regularly probably realizes how much I love The Presurfer, as I'm always swiping links from Gerard to repost here. I found Gerard originally via The Generator blog -- also his brainchild -- which I raided habitually for fun writing gennies. I don't often develop instant online crushes, but if I have one that's never waivered it's Gerard.

Lately I've been noticing a trend of incoming links from one Tumblr blog, which I went over to investigate (I try not to do that, but the name was irresistable to me.) After reading many pages of hilarious but true Q&A's, I've gone and done the Daft Punk thing again. So if you want some fascinating discussions on characters and how to avoid making them into dreaded Mary Sues, check out Mary Sue Problems on Tumblr. Also, for those who love sparkling twit wit, tune into Mary Sue Problems on Twitter.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Elsewhere & Le Chocolat

Today over at the series blog we're having a massive MegaCon giveaway, which includes signed print copies of Disenchanted & Co. and The Clockwork Wolf, a signed Mandi print by artist Shawn Surface, some fun Pumpkin Spiced comics and necklace by artist/writer/vlogger Paige Lavoie, steampunk accessories extraordinaire from Mrs. Pettigrew's and Yours Truly, a very cool Muma tote from CosplayMooMoo, plus a collection of my daughter's anime art. Stop in if you get a chance, enter to win and it might all end up yours.

For the Friday video, Simon PĂ©nochet has filmed the delicious work being done in Alain Ducasse's new chocolate factory, which was built from an old Renault Garage in the center of Paris, near Place de la Bastille (with background music and narration, for those of you at work):

La manufacture du chocolat Alain Ducasse from BLAST PRODUCTION on Vimeo.

(Video link swiped from Gerard at The Presurfer)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Quilting Picasso Update

While we were away at MegaCon I did work on my Picasso project, too, and made some progress primarily with stitching:

I decided against embellishing the lady's tresses with thread or fiber to make it look more like hair -- the thought was tempting, but I wanted to follow Picasso's lead and go bolder there. I thought of all the Latinas I grew up with, and how flowers tucked in their dark hair always looked so lovely, which I thought would also compliment Picasso's lady:

I'm not sure if I'm done with the flower, but I'm leaving it alone to brood over whether or not to add some crystal beads for some faux dewy sparkle (I really like it plain, but that may be a bit too bold. It's also glaringly white, which I could tone down with a bit of strategically- and sparingly-applied watercolor.) To pay homage to the artist's love of southern light I showered the background with vertically stitched holographic golden thread, which came out exactly as I wanted so I'll continue it on the left side.

I'm working at a snail's pace on this project, which normally would aggravate me, but I think going slow and carefully is helping me avoid the stress of pushing myself too fast toward the finish line. Sometimes in order to make better creative decisions it is worth applying the brakes, to give yourself time to think and process and consider. What you lose by sacrificing speed you can make up in replenishing the well as you work.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Off (But Call Me Tellervo)

I'll be mostly offline today so I can run errands, catch up on housework and take care of all the things that seem to multiply whenever you go out of town. Like laundry. Who knew my empty hampers would fill up by themselves while we were away? So that your stop here was not entirely wasted, check out this neat name generator I spotted over at The Presurfer:

According to, "Finland is a country where things are based on nature and old mythology. Even people’s names are inspired by the woods, animals and mythological characters." They've also set up the Finngenerator, a name-changing generator to help you try and find your inner Finn -- which I did:

So now you must address me as the daughter of a forest god, who is or is on a slope (is that a fancy way of saying I'm diagonally parked in a parallel universe?) If you give the generator a whirl post your results in comments.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

MegaCon Report

Now that I'm back home, and I think the dogs have forgiven me for being away for three straight days, here's my report on MegaCon 2014 and how things went for us.

We arrived a day early to take advantage of the pre-event load-in and set up our booth, and I am very glad we did that. While the booth area was exactly as promised, the arrangement of the draping and the tables was not what I'd envisioned (and for that I blame me; I was going by memories of the one I attended some years back.) Luckily I brought extra of everything and was able to adjust our set-up to fit the space. I also -- by complete chance -- chose the perfect fabric to compliment the gold and red theme colors of the exhibitors hall, so our booth looked custom-designed to fit our surroundings.

Before we travelled to the convention we actually set up the booth first in a matching space we taped off in our garage at home, and that was probably the most valuable prep we did, because once we were there we knew exactly where to put everything. We did a bit of rearranging to maximize the space and allow browsers room to roam, and that resulted in us getting rid of one of the eight-foot tables the convention people provided.

Friday, the first day of the convention, was quite busy, and when we weren't selling we spent some time working out how to run things as efficiently as possible at the booth. This was also wise, as Saturday, the second day, was absolutely insane. For most of the day we were packed to the rafters with attendees; the aisles were constantly jammed. If I have to criticize the convention folks for anything, it's the utter failure to provide adequate space for the attendees to move through the rows of booths easily.

Our booth attracted a lot of notice for several reasons (my daughter being very attractive was probably #1.) I didn't see any other booths selling books, so I think we cornered the market there, and having traditional books out drew in a lot of the older attendees, like the Moms and Dads who had brough their kids to the con. We sold 80% of the books I brought, and my daughter's art and my steamunk jewelry also sold briskly. Altogether our sales covered our expenses plus provided a nice profit.

We were so busy I was able to leave the booth only to run to the restroom for most of the convention. I did get a chance to make one trip to the LEGO pit, which was my favorite part of the last MegaCon I attended. It was totally worth wading through the packed aisles, too -- the LEGO guys and kids are so inventive with their exhibit. They had television shows like Fringe and Lost depicted in blocks, as well as an entire city with streets and skyscrapers. The designs and attention to details were absolutely marvelous.

I also loved seeing all the handmade cosplay costumes worn by the attendees. You may not think you can make magic with some cardboard and poster paint and colored tights, but oh, my, they truly did. I was very happy to see how many guys dressed out as my favorite cosplay character -- Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly -- and spent more than one moment surreptitiously sighing over a handsome version who wandered into our booth.

My daughter gets credit for being the most patient kid in the universe; she spent much of the convention explaining to me things I saw that I didn't recognize or understand (like this guy in the pink bunny suit.) It's always tough having parents who are really old enough to be your grandparents, but she never complains. My guy gets extra kudos for coming along to provide all the heavy lifting, furniture rearranging and errand-running; no matter what we asked he did it (and this is really not his thing at all, so it was especially nice of him to sacrifice three days he could have spent more happily at home.)

If I could go back and redo some things, I think I would have brought an extra bookshelf to put out more books; they were our bestsellers. I would probably have more of a selection, too -- I brought books written by authors who are also friends of mine, but I probably should have stocked a bigger variety of titles and genres. Also, while all my jewelry sold well, what went the fastest were the dozen sets of little key earrings I made -- and those I made really as an afterthought so there would be something inexpensive for buyers who didn't have a lot of $$$. If I had made and brought fifty more pairs of those I could have sold them all the first day.

All in all the entire convention experience was very positive, so I'm calling it a complete success. My thanks to Karen W., Heather, Jenny and Harold, Monique, Sue, Annie, Brandon, Deborah, Michael, the nice young guy who asked me all those questions, and all the other lovely people who stopped to visit the booth and chat with me -- you made my MegaCon especially wonderful.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Blast from the Past: Be Happy We Work at Home

We've made it home from MegaCon 2014, which was absolutely amazing. I'll be spending today unpacking, cuddling with the pups and trying to remember what I did with my mobile, but over at the series blog I've posted a slideshow of some pics I took this weekend.

To wrap up blast from the past week, here's one of my favorite ten lists:

Ten Things That Would Happen if Writing Became a Day Job

Accounting: could slow down in a big way and no one would notice. Meanwhile, the payroll clerk would become everyone's BFF.

Bosses: would have to do a lot more reading, stock up on Pepto, hire an extra secretary just to answer their intercom or phone extension and learn how to speak editor ("Get it done" = "If you can send this to me by close of business today I'll authorize your D&A payment").

Business Conferences: would have to include new events like Project Pitchorama, Character Dress-up for Literacy and The Vampire Ball.

Casual Friday: would be pretty much every day, and would have to be expanded to authorize the wearing of pjs, yoga pants, fuzzy socks and T-shirts with slogans like "OCCUPY PUBLISHING".

Company Coffee Pot: would burn out from overuse every other month or be filled with extra-large tea bags immersed in something vaguely purple that smells a bit like like the Queen's perfume.

Desks: would be buried beneath stacks of corrected chapters, two years of The Writer back issues, three dozen pens that ran out of ink and assorted widgets/gadgets/gizmos, index cards, newspaper clippings, and at least one hundred sticky notes inscribed with enigmatic phrases like "Sx scene Chap 9!!!!" or "Dismember by ch. saw?"

Offices: would need three walls of book shelves, stereo systems, scented candles, locking doors, pillows to scream into and at least one large window overlooking something pretty.

Personal Calls: would have to be authorized for mid-afternoon moments of panic when the employees need to call their best writer pals to say, "I suck. Go ahead, just tell me the truth. I suck."

Supply Closets: would have to be kept stocked with six months' supply of toner, bond paper, highlighters, red pens and lots and lots of notebooks with cute kitten covers.

Water Cooler: would be much more popular, at least until the boss discovers someone refilled it with wine.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

MegaCon Final Day

I met an adorable prince today at MegaCon (and his Dad was pretty cute, too):

We'll be finishing up today, so if you're attending please do stop by our booth to say hi and enter your name in the Final Day Booth giveaway. Meanwhile, here is today's blast from the past post:

The Last Samurai Agent

"Ms. Hartlace," Janey said over the intercom. "There's an agent who would like to speak to you."

Senior Editor Agatha Hartlace chewed the last piece of her doughnut and swallowed before she punched the reply button. "Tell whoever it is that I'm not in today."

After a pause, Janey said, "Uh, Ms. Hartlace, he's standing right here with his assistant. In my cubicle." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "He's carrying, like, swords."

Takamori, of course. Only he would have the nerve to show up without an appointment. "That's why I said to tell him come in." Agatha switched off the intercom, turned off The Young and the Restless feed on her computer, and brushed away the powdered sugar that had fallen on the front of her blouse. "Idiot temp."

Takamori entered the office and came to stand before Agatha's desk. His gleaming black hair was pulled back in a perfect chomage. He wore navy blue kamishimo and hakama over his black kimono, and two swords and a dagger thrust through the left side of his black silk obi. Agatha smelled cherry blossom and oiled steel as he offered her a shallow bow.

"Takamori, what a nice surprise." Agatha shuffled a stack of rejection form letters that needed rubber-stamping. "How are you?"

He folded his hands inside the wide ends of his sleeves and regarded her without expression. A petite woman in a pink kimono embroidered with white cranes stepped out from behind him and bowed.

"I am Natsu," the woman said. "I will translate what my master says into English for you."

"Okay." Agatha found it highly annoying that Takamori understood English perfectly but refused to speak it. "What can I do for you and your boss today?"

Several minutes of silence passed.

He was just trying to psyche her out; Agatha knew that. But he never blinked, and she wasn't sure he was even breathing. "Or should I say, what can I do for your client?"

Takamori uttered a long string of sharp syllables.

"My master says that the perfect manuscript is a rare thing," Natsu translated. "He says that you could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life."

Agatha forced a smile. "He should talk to my mother sometime."

Takamori spoke again, with Natsu translating almost simultaneously. "My master says that his writer is an honorable author, with talent as endless as the stars. His writer wishes to write more novels for the House of Penguins, and offered you three most perfect proposals."

Takamori took a folded a contract from his sleeve, dropped it like a used tissue on the edge of her desk, and grunted.

Natsu gestured to the contract. "And you sent him this?"

"I did?" Agatha picked up the contract and skimmed the top page. "Oh, right, the one for the next three books. We're very pleased with how the last one sold." She checked through it. "Seems in order." She glanced up. "What's the problem?"

Natsu looked at Takamori, who drew his katana.

Agatha put down the contract. "Whatever it is, I'm sure we can work it out."

Takamori drove the tip of the katana into the worn carpet and drew his wakizashi sword.

"I don't understand," Agatha babbled, staring at the razor-sharp edge. "I thought our contract offer was very generous--"

Takamori placed the shorter sword across his palms and offered it to Agatha.

"As my master has no Kaishaku-nin," Natsu said, "he would be honored and grateful if you would behead him after he disembowels himself."

"Mr. Takamori!" Agatha jumped to her feet and backed away. "Natsu, tell him that there is no reason to commit hari-kari over an unsigned contract."

"Seppuku," Natsu corrected gently as Takamori placed the shorter sword on the desk. "For ninety years, the samurai of my master's agency have protected and fought for their writers. My master is the last, and now . . . he cannot stand the shame of defeat."

"This is a very nice offer," Agatha said firmly, and faced the samurai. "Takamori, I know you understand me. You also know how hard things are for the publishing industry now. Your author should feel grateful to have the work."

Takamori opened his upper garments and slipped out of them until he was naked to the waist. He dropped down and tucked his sleeves under his knees.

"Why is he doing that?" Agatha demanded.

"To prevent himself from falling backwards," Natsu said as Takamori removed a long dagger and contemplated it. "A samurai agent should die falling forward."

"Tell Mr. Takamori--"

Natsu gestured as Takamori took the hilt of the dagger in both hands. "If you would please stand behind my master, Miss Hartlace? You must cut off his head as soon as he slices open his stomach."

"Wait," Agatha begged as she saw him invert the dagger. "I know we can work this out. It's the advance, isn't it? I could do a little better for him. Maybe . . . two thousand more on signing?"

The tip of the dagger stopped an inch from Takamori's navel. The agent did not look at her.

"Three thousand," Agatha said, and gasped as he drew back the dagger for the final thrust. "Five thousand!"

"Ten thousand would restore my master's honor," Natsu said as Takamori closed his eyes.

"Seven. It's the best I can do. I swear."

Time crystallized as Takamori breathed in deeply. Agatha didn't exhale until she saw him lower the dagger and mutter something.

"My master says his writer will be displeased with him," Natsu said, her black eyes filled with delicate sorrow. "But he believes he can persuade him to accept such terms. You will issue a revised contract by Friday?" When she nodded, Takamori rose to his feet, sheathed his dagger and swords in his obi, and bowed.

Natsu did the same. "We are most humbly grateful for your understanding and generosity, Miss Hartlace."

"You're welcome. Have a nice day." She watched the pair leave her office as silently as they had entered before she collapsed in her chair. She groped, found the intercom button, and pressed it. "Janey?"

"Yes, Ms. Hartlace?"

"Get legal to issue a new contract for Takamori's author. Increase the advance on signing by seven thousand." Agatha opened a desk drawer and took out a roll of TUMs. "Then call that ninja agent I was not supposed to see at two and reschedule. I'm taking the rest of the day off."

Saturday, March 22, 2014

MegaCon Booth

I'll have lots of MegaCon pics to share after this weekend, but here's a peek at how our booth looks (see yesterday's post for where we're located on the con floor map):

We're having a great time hanging out with all the cosplay fans, and I've never seen so many exceptionally amazing handmade costumes. While I'm away at day two, here's today's blast from the past post featuring a trio of characters I frequently have to handle:

Bad News, Worry and Death

Bad News sits on the counter in the kitchen watching me make coffee for my guy. "I'm going to be dumped on you again today."

"You're dumped on me practically every day." I hand her the package of coffee filters, which I can never separate on my own. "Just don't make me cry. We're out of Kleenex and I don't have time to go shopping."

Bad News frowns. "There's a box that fell behind the work table upstairs when you were doing the taxes last week."

I yawn. "Thanks."

Death looks up from the obituaries he's reading. "Hey, want to play Who's Next?"

Worry, who is poking around in the fridge checking expiration dates, looks around the door. "It's not me."

"It's never you," I assure her.

Death stretches and scratches between his second and third ribs. "I'm hungry. Are there any Toaster Tarts left?"

"Those things are very bad for you," Bad News says, and searches through her innumerable pockets. "I've got the scientific study to prove it." She takes out a wad of papers and shuffles through them. "Here we go. Four out of five rats who were fed Toaster Tarts every day over a two year period developed cancer."

"Excellent." Death heads for the pantry.

"I bet for two years they were really happy rats, though." Worry makes a face. "Sorry, forgot myself." In a solemn voice she intones, "Everyone in this family who has ever eaten a Toaster Tart is probably going to develop cancer and die."

"We're not rats." I go over to the table and move Death's scythe to a safer spot next to the wall. "Come on, you guys, it's getting late. Let's do this."

Worry and Bad News come over to sit at Death's right and left side. Worry pokes a new little mystery lump on my left wrist but pulls her hand away before I smack her. Bad News hides a smile. Death opens a pack of Toaster Tarts and offers them around before he starts munching.

No one ever wants to start, so I do. "I have one orthodontist and two dentist appointments," I tell them as I check the planner. "PT on Friday, and nine and ten days respectively to finish two colliding deadlines for different publishers. Housework, laundry, dishes, decluttering the hall closet if possible, and the girls want to go to the art show this weekend so I need to get things done early. As always I'll try to accommodate you but you know how it goes. Family first, work second, whatever else third."

"You ever wonder why they call them deadlines?" Death asks no one in particular. "They're not deceased. They don't kill anyone. Usually. I really have nothing at all to do with them. Why didn't they call them last-day-to-turn-in-your-work-before-we-fire-your-asslines?"

We all look at Death.

"Right." He hunches his shoulders a little. "This week looks good for you, me-wise. You know, barring acts of God, runaway tractor-trailers and the undetected cerebral aneurysm going pop. And as usual I can't guarantee I won't drop in on your Dad or Mom, that sick friend in the hospital, anyone you know over forty . . . "

"Got it." I glance at Bad News. "You?"

"Counting the weekend, that conversation you have to have with your mother, and the stack of mail you haven't read yet, that makes . . . " She thinks for a minute. "Four incoming deliveries. No, five."


She sulks a little. "Okay, four." Before I can say anything, she adds, "And one more but that turns out to be a blessing in disguise."

"Yipee." My head is starting to hurt. "Next?"

"My turn." Worry starts rubbing her hands together. "That pain in your right foot could be a fracture. Or a tumor. You're a month late getting your mammogram. You're going to get breast cancer and die. The milk your guy used last night expired two days ago. Botulism. The date on the egg carton is too blurry to read. Salmonella. That possum in the neighbor's shed is probably rabid--"

I hold up a hand to stem the flood. "Do you have any new business?"

She ducks her head and mutters something under her breath.

"Excuse me?"

"The dogs could kill you." As Death chuckles, she glares at him. "Well, they could!"

"They're Shelties," Death chides. "What are they going to do, lick her to death?"

"There was that article online about people who've gotten sick from touching their pets and kissing them and sleeping with them and stuff," Worry says, indignant now. "Some of them even died."

"Pitiful. Truly pitiful." Death slowly shakes his head. "If the dogs were a valid concern, I could have iced her decades ago."

"I don't sleep with the pets, I don't kiss them on the mouth, and I wash my hands after I handle them," I tell Worry. "You know that."

"One time you might forget." She looks exasperated. "Oh, all right. I guess I don't have new business. Unless you eat those Toaster Tarts, in which case--" she sees the look on my face and sighs. "Okay, okay. That's all I've got."

"Thank you." I sit back and start sorting out priorities. "Bad News, I need to focus on work in the mornings, so I'd appreciate it if you'd hold off deliveries until the afternoons. Worry, you and I will do our usual one hour in the morning meditation sessions." I face Death. "I think you and I spent enough time together last week."

He shrugs.

"That should wrap it up." I stand, hesitate, and then pick up a Toaster Tart and take a bite.

Worry gives me a warm smile and takes one for herself. "You're such a good sport."

"Sure, I am." I hate Toaster Tarts. "Anyone want to help me wake up the teenager?"

Bad News coughs, Worry chokes and Death pales right before they all vanish.

I take another bite of the Toaster Tart. "Wimps."

Friday, March 21, 2014

Blast from the Past: My All-Time Favorite Video

If you happen to be attending MegaCon 2014, stop by the Disenchanted & Co. booth to say hi. Our booth number is 81, and it's the first booth you'll see as you enter through what I believe is the south Main Entrance, but here's the booth marked on the floorplan map so you can find it:

The booth will feature my signed books, writing books, journaling books, handmade jewelry, artworks and my 1K cards project, all for sale, and other fun items related to my work for purchase. To help sell them I'll be there, too. :)

Now Blast from the Past week continues with one of my all-time favorite videos:

The Third & The Seventh from Alex Roman on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Blast from the Past: Mary Sue Anonymous

A tall brunette walked to the front of the meeting room and stepped up to the podium. "Hi, everyone. My name's Jane, and I write Mary Sue novels."

"Hi, Jane."

"I've been coming to meetings three times a week for nine months now." Jane toyed with a thread hanging from the end of her sleeve. "I was feeling pretty good, and confident about earning my one-year chip, but this past weekend, I . . . I fell off the wagon."

Most of the audience shifted in their seats.

Jane pushed her shoulders back. "I knew what I was doing. I mean, I knew when I made my protagonist a virgin at twenty-six that I was heading down the wrong road. She's not a Christian fundamentalist, or unmarried and living in Iran. But I just couldn't bring myself to give her a fumbling backseat high school experience or a token bad marriage to an older man with regular erectile dysfunction. It's stupid, but . . . I really thought I could handle it."

Someone snorted loudly. A middle-aged redhead in the second row elbowed the bearded man sitting next to her.

"I kept writing, and made her beautiful and built and brilliant . . ." Jane stopped and covered her face with a trembling hand.

The redhead sighed. "The three killer B's."

Jane dropped her hand and bravely pushed on. "From there, I admit, it snowballed. I gave her a bottle-green Jag, and a job curating an art museum, and a Victorian mansion she bought for a song and renovated single-handedly. The next thing I knew she was gardening, raising hybrid roses and tossing together gourmet dinners for one."

A lanky teenager in a black leather jacket slowly clapped his hands three times. "So what did you name her? Elizabeth? Angelique?"

"Jennifer. Jennifer Jane Fairchild." Jane avoided his eyes. "I knew it was wrong. I knew it spelled the end of my sobriety, but you know . . . God, it felt so good to write it."

A thin, balding man stood up. "Tell us about the dog, Jane."

"I don't know what you mean." Jane's chin lifted. "I didn't write a dog in the story."

Everyone stared at her.

"All right. All right." Jane hung her head. "It was a golden retriever. Never sheds, never pukes or piddles on the carpet. Sleeps on the floor at the foot of Jennifer's antique brass bed. I named him . . .Goldie."

A tattered-looking man with a straggly goatee and a black cigarette planted between his chapped lips entered the meeting room and took a seat in the back row.

"Anyway." Jane paused to sniff a few times. "I did stop. I stopped as soon as Jennifer Jane stumbled across a Neo-Nazi plot to murder the democratic, extremely popular governor of her state. A murder which only she personally could prevent, of course, at great personal risk. I put away the pages in my desk."

"Oh, Jane." The redhead knuckled away a tear.

"I don't see what the big deal is," Jane snapped. "Sure, I know the rules. My protagonist should have been a recovering crack whore hiding from the cops in a flop house room with a sometimes-boyfriend named Wife Beater--"

The man with the goatee interrupted Jane by applauding loudly. One of the women sitting near him leaned over, asked him a question, shook her head and pointed to the door. The man with the goatee rose and walked out.

Jane rubbed some sweat from her face. "It's not like I'm going to publish it. Look, it was just a story. One story."

"That's how it starts, Jane," the balding man in the front row said, not without some sympathy. "One story, and then another, and soon you can justify every aspect of the Mary Sue novel. You join a writer organization, wear pink suits, have your business cards scented and go to luncheons once a month. And you know what the next step is after that."

Jane paled. "That won't happen to me."

"You never think it does," he said, "but then suddenly you're writing the last three words of your novel." He looked around the room. "And they are?"

The audience answered as a group. "Happily. Ever. After."

Jane burst into tears.

"I think we should have a reading now, to remind us all of why we're here." The balding man opened the book in his hands and began to read. "The Twelve Suggested Steps of Mary Sue Anonymous. Step One: We admitted we were powerless over Mary Sues--that our stories had become unrealistic."

As Jane groped in her purse for a tissue, the other people in the meeting echoed the balding man's words. Down the hall, the man with the goatee finally found the correct room for his meeting. He was welcomed by that group, and invited to step up to the podium and introduce himself.

"Howdy." He rubbed his mouth, dishevelling his goatee. "My name is Nick, and I write literary novels."

"Hi, Nick."

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Blast from the Past: Publishing 911

Operator: Publishing 911, what's your emergency?

Reader: Yes, this book I've been reading has, you know, something really bad in it.

Operator: What is the bad thing, ma'am?

Reader: I can't say that over the phone. But it's really, really bad.

Operator: I need to know what the bad thing is, ma'am, or I can't help you.

Reader: Can't you just take my word for it and send the police to arrest the author?

Operator: No, ma'am, I can't do that.

Reader: Well, that's not fair.

Operator: You're free to destroy the book at your convenience, ma'am.

Reader: I can't, I need to turn in the book at the used book store to get credit for it.

Operator: Then do what everyone else does and post an anonymous review on (switches lines) Publishing 911, what's your emergency?

Author: (sniffling) A reader just sent me a hateful e-mail and I read it and now I'm so upset that I can't write.

Operator: Was the e-mail accurate, sir?

Author: No, of course not. My book is wonderful. I'm a genius. This reader is a jealous idiot who's trying to make a name for himself by destroying my career.

Operator: Then why can't you write, sir?

Author: (lowers voice) What if I'm wrong? What if my book sucks? What if everyone in publishing is laughing at me right now?

Operator: I'm not laughing at you, sir.

Author: (eagerly) Did you read my book?

Operator: Sir, you need to delete the e-mail, block the reader from your mail account, and recite your writing mantra.

Author: But I don't have a writing mantra.

Operator: Repeat after me: "I am powerful. I am purposeful. I am published."

Author: I'm pathetic, aren't I?

Operator: That's not part of the writing mantra, sir. Please recite what I told you fifty times and stop reading e-mail for the rest of the day. (switches lines) Publishing 911, what's your emergency?

Reviewer: (whining) There's this writer who hates me. I read his blog every day. He says terrible things and I know he's talking about me.

Operator: Does the writer name you in his blog, ma'am?

Reviewer: Not exactly.

Operator: Has he ever mentioned your name once in his blog, ma'am?

Reviewer: You don't understand. He won't name me because then I'd have proof of what he does.

Operator: Does the writer ever link to you, or quote you?

Reviewer: No. Okay, look, he pretends like I don't exist. But I know he hates me. I can feel it.

Operator: Have you ever had any direct contact with the writer?

Reviewer: Well, I've read and reviewed every book he's ever written.

Operator: He doesn't hate you, ma'am. He doesn't know you. Stop reading his blog and read someone else. (switches lines) Publishing 911, what's your emergency?

Author: I've just seen my new cover art and it's horrible.

Operator: How horrible is it, ma'am?

Author: Do you remember that book that came out in January with bright metallic glow-in-the-dark pink albino Robin Hood on the cover?

Operator: (winces) Yes, ma'am.

Author: Worse than that.

Operator: I'm sorry, ma'am, but that's highly unlikely.

Author: (furiously) Don't you dare tell me it's not as bad as I think, because I swear to God I will come down there and kick your ass.

Operator: Calm down, ma'am. What color is the cover art?

Author: Green. Lurid Green.

Operator: Everyone is going green these days, you know. (flips through calendar) And St. Patrick's Day is coming up. You could do some clever tie-in promo and turn this tragedy to your advantage.

Author: Can't you just send the police to arrest my editor?

Operator: No, ma'am, I can't do that.

Author: Damn.

Operator: (tentatively) I can transfer your call over to the That Can't Be My Cover support and recovery group for cover-traumatized authors. The writer with the albino Robin Hood cover runs it, and she has complimentary chocolate-covered Valium at every meeting.

Author: Really? I thought she killed herself. Okay, transfer me over.

Operator: Thank you, please hold. (transfers call, switches lines.) Publishing 911, what's your emergency?

Reader: Hi, it's me again. I'm ready to tell you what the bad thing in the book was.

Operator: Go ahead, ma'am.

Reader: (whispers) Gee. Ay. Why. Es. Eee. Ex.

Operator: I don't understand you, ma'am.

Reader: (dismayed) I can't actually say it. I'm spelling it for you. Can't you spell?

Operator: No, ma'am, that's not part of my job requirement. (switches lines) Publishing 911, what's your emergency?

Reader: (angrily) I wrote a letter of complaint to this terrible author about his lousy book and he didn't answer and then he blocked me from his mail account.

Operator: (sighs) Have you recited your reader mantra today, sir?

Reader: Authors write for me. Authors must please me. Authors tremble in fear before me.

Operator: I think you'll be fine, sir.

Reader: But I have to tell this author much, much more about how much his book sucks.

Operator: Then do what everyone else does and post an anonymous review on, and get all your friends to vote that it was helpful and it will end up as the first review on the page.

Reader: That's not good enough. Can't you send the police to arrest the author?

Operator: No, sir, I can't do that. Have a nice day.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Blast from the Past: NovelWorld

At the Fiction Freedom Force's modest beachfront cottage headquarters, Captain Conflict and his workout partner, Major Action, started the day by sparring together on the beach.

The major, tanned and toned to a tee, avoided his mighty leader's headlock by feinting left before throwing a classic right hook. "Eat fist!"

"Is that the best you can do?" the silver-haired captain snarled as he easily avoided the punch and kicked sand into the major's face. "Where's the build-up? Where's the finesse? If you knock me out, what are you going to do for the rest of the morning?"

"I dunno." The major knuckled his eyes. "Your wife busy?"

"You're going to lose a tooth for that," the captain promised just before he lunged.

In a parallel scene, Captain Conflict's wife, Dame Dialogue, stood in the cottage's kitchen having a talk with Setting Son about his compulsive redecorating. From just outside the door, the ever-meddling Plot Twister eavesdropped.

"Sweetheart, please understand, it's not that I don't like your little pink restrooms," Dame told her son. "I think they're adorable. It's just that your father . . . ."

"I know, I know." Set scowled down at his plate of heart-shaped waffles. "He thinks they're sissyboy stuff."

This talk was not going as Dame had planned. Her rough-and-tumble husband and sensitive, artistic son rarely agreed on anything these days. "I'm sure that your father realizes that you're doing your best, dear--"

"Oh, H-E-double toothpicks, Mom," Set said, pushing his plate away. "All Dad wants me to do are stupid war-torn battlezones and ridiculous chrome-and-glass situation rooms. He said if I use pink in one more scene he's going to send me to work for Tom Clancy."

"Oh, no, not Tom. All he uses is camouflage and interior Russian sub scenarios." Dame sighed. "Look, honey, I'll talk to your father, but in the meantime just stick to outside nature scenes." She smiled. "Your father can't complain if the sky happens to be robin's eggshell blue, or the grass a minty green, can he?"

Set grinned. "Thanks, Mom. You're the best." He jumped up and kissed her cheek before hurrying out the back door.

"You can talk anyone into anything." Plot Twister came up behind Dame and rested his thin, cold hands on her shoulders as he added in a whisper, "Even me."

"Stop it." Dame glanced through the window at the beach where her husband and the major were still wrestling on the dunes. "I told you before, it's over between us. Didn't I speak plainly enough? Or are you deaf as well as manipulative, transparent and pointless?"

"How quickly she forgets." Twist ran his palms down the sides of her arms. "You needed someone to really talk to, remember? So who was it that put in enough twists in the last story to keep both of those grunts chasing red herrings for six months?"

Dame turned in Twister's arms. "We have no future together, Twist. You're too unpredictable, you never say what you mean and I don't like the way you look at Set when you think I'm not watching."

"Just doing my job." He tried to kiss her. "If you don't play along, baby, I might have to throw a wrench in your happy, boring little marriage."

"You wouldn't," she flared. "You couldn't."

Twist patted her stomach. "Set could use a little brother who doesn't resemble the captain in the least." He looked up as the door slammed and narrowed his eyes. "Who the hell are you?"

"Not saying." The large, bland-face man glanced at the watch strapped to his thick wrist. "Yep, it's time." He pointed at Twist. "You. Outside."

Twist released Dame. "I think I'll call for the Captain. Hey." As the big intruder grabbed him, he paled. "You can't do this to me. You want her husband. Hey!"

The large man tucked Twist under his meaty right arm and nodded to Dame. "Ma'am, I'm sure we'll meet again in the next book." He strode out of the cottage carrying the writhing Twist and abruptly vanished out of sight.

"Wow." Set, who had come in to quietly redo the kitchen curtains, put his arm around Dame. "Gee, Mom. How come you never told me that you knew Cliff Hanger?"

Monday, March 17, 2014

Off to MegaCon & Elsewhere

For the next week I'll be off preparing for and then heading out to MegaCon. Rather than shut down the blog I thought it would be fun to post some blasts from the pasts, so those will start tomorrow and run through until next Monday. Please also note that I will approve comments whenever I have a chance, which will likely only be once a day, so your comments will definitely not post in a timely manner this week.

Meanwhile, over at the series blog I'm having a pre-MegaCon giveaway; stop by if you get a chance and enter for a chance to win this handmade tote filled with signed books and goodies from our booth.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book Vibes

NPR has a neat article here about the Vieuxtemps Guarneri, a 273-year-old violin that recently sold for $16 million dollars, and whose new owner has loaned it out for life to violinist Anne Akiko Meyers. During the interview Ms. Meyers said something very interesting about the instrument, too:

I think every violin has its own soul, and the soul has been imprinted by a previous performer. So I definitely feel the soul of Vieuxtemps on this violin.

I think in some ways used books are like this, and before anyone starts thinking I'm a touch-psychic let me explain. People leave more than ephemera in the books they read, and it's because paper tends to act like a sponge for odors, stains and traces of life. Anyone who has ever acquired a book previously owned by a smoker, for example, can tell you that it either reeks of tobacco odor or sheds bits of ash that were caught in the page folds (or both.) People who douse themselves with cologne or perfume also leave scent traces behind in books. Used cookbooks almost always carry cooking odors and food stains left behind while the previous owner was working in the kitchen. Pet lovers generally can't avoid depositing at least one hair from their furry friends in a book, and it's also not uncommon to find spots and dribbles caused by drinks or food the last owner consumed while reading.

Pay attention to your senses and you may find a used book will tell you exactly who read it last. My Mom has all of my grandmother's favorite books, and whenever I open any one of them I smell the transfer of the Camay soap she always used on her hands. Mom is currently imprinting all of her books with the Chantilly hand cream she uses, too. I imagine someday one of my descendants will open one of my old books and discover the scent of French lavender (I use it as an air freshener in my book room), a strand of hair from one of my pet pals, or perhaps even a bit of sparkling metallic quilting thread.

Not all odors are pleasant, of course. Personally I hate acquiring books that have water damage as they are usually mildew-stained, and the smell of any mold makes mt stomach turn. If you have a used book that reeks, you can detox the pages by using a couple of different methods with some common household items ( has an article here with some good ideas on how to remove musty smells.) If you have a particularly rare or expensive book it could be worth it to have it professionally detoxed by a rare book expert; they usually know how to do it without harming the book.

I have a couple of books that possess mysterious and fascinating scents that I love; my favorite smells of clove and peppermint (a combination I actually used as a description in one of the Darkyn books.) An herbal encyclopedia I picked up in a garage sale still retains the scent of earth and green things, as if the previous owner read it while working in a garden. One very ordinary paperback thriller I found must have been kept on a boat, because every time I open it I can smell the salt and sea water.

Have you ever detected an interesting scent or stain in a used book you've bought? Let us know in comments.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Quilting Picasso Update

Since today is National Quilting Day I thought I'd post an update on my Picasso project. I've made a bit more progress on the piece, as you can see here:

And for a closer look:

I'm very pleased with the gold and amber crystal beading out on the midsection just above the hands; that was a bit tricky to work into the small spaces. Not entirely surely the cross-hatch stitching on the upper torso and the running stitches on the hands were good choices but I didn't want to bead everything to death. Enhancing some of the lines and colors Picasso used seems more appropriate than obliterating them, so I'm going to forge ahead with the same conservative caution.

There is still no real plan with this piece; I'm allowing the artwork steer me in whatever direction I go. For me it's difficult to surrender to serendipity; I am OCD about advance planning -- so as creative risks go this is probably very good for me.

Friday, March 14, 2014


This time-lapse film of ice crystals melting is a prescription for calm (and has background music, for those of you at work):

Ice Crystals Timelapse from Shawn Knol on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 13, 2014


The winner of the For Whom the Wand Waves giveaway is:

Digillette, who wrote I just read Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen and found it to be utterly charming.

Diane, when you have a chance please send the title and author for your BookWish and your ship-to address to so I can get the wanded one to work her magic. My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

For Whom the Wand Waves

Yet again the Publishing Fairy crashed my morning work session to complain about how long it's been since she's appeared on the blog. Since I have to get ready for MegaCon, and she's in the mood to grant a BookWish* for one of you, I'm letting her take over today.

If you'd like to be the one upon whom she sprinkles her magic reading sparkles, in comments to this post name a book you've just read that you really enjoyed (or if you haven't read anything enjoyable recently, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST tonight, March 12th, 2014. I'll choose one name at random from everyone who participates and grant the winner a BookWish. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

*A BookWish is any book of the winner's choice available for order online and that costs up to a maximum of $30.00 U.S. dollars (I'll cover any additional shipping costs involved.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Biblical Sub Op Trio

Garden Gnome Publications has an open call for their Biblical anthology series: "The Biblical Legends speculative fiction anthology series was born to give writers a chance to use their imaginations interactively with Old Testament and New Testament texts to create a new type of fiction within a growing genre. This is a marriage between the ancient and the new."

What they want to see: "Each anthology will feature flash fiction, short stories, essays, and poetry. Specific guidelines are: Flash Fiction – 300-1,500 words. We want stories that address the specific theme of the anthology and that fall within the word count. From the weird to the orthodox, stories that stretch readers’ imaginations about the possibilities are encouraged; Short Stories – 1,501-10,000 words. Stories that address the theme or explore possibilities within the broadest possible interpretation of the Biblical passage; Narrative Poems – 50-500 lines. We’re looking for narrative poems, or poems with narrative structures. Lyrical brandishings are encouraged. Feel free to mix and match formal elements with the avant-garde. As Ezra Pound said, “Make it new.” But please address the theme; Essays/Nonfiction – 1,000-2,500 words. From personal essays to journalistic pieces, from creative nonfiction to creative histories, and from scientific explorations to biographical exposes, we want spectacular essays that challenge conventional thinking about the Biblical themes we are addressing." Payment: "For flash fiction, the pay is $3 per story; for short stories, pay is $7 per story; for essays, pay is $11; for poems, pay is $13 per poem. In addition, each contributor will receive a digital copy of the anthology in which they appear. All payments will be made by PayPal."

Query on reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadlines: "Sodom and Gomorrah – Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction set in these two pre-historic legendary cities. Deadline: Midnight EST, March 23, 2014; Deluge – The flood came and only one family was saved. How does everyone else cope/react? Deadline: Midnight EST, June 23, 2014; Land of Nod – Cain killed his brother and was banished to the Land of Nod. What did he find when he got there? From its origin until the flood or any time in between, tell us what happened. Deadline: Midnight EST, September 23, 2014."

Monday, March 10, 2014

Quilt Show Ten

Ten Things That Happened at the Annual County Quilt Show

Arty: Lately I'm getting more into the art side of quilting, and while reading books about them helps I rarely see real examples in person (this would be because most of my quilter friends are sticking with traditional patchwork.) Thus I was bowled over by the number of innovative art quilt extries in the show. I learned so much by simply studing these gorgeous quilts that I think feathers, stones and decorative thread might start leaking out my ears.

Bags Galore: I love handmade quilted bags, totes and purses, and the ladies had an entire table of them in the Gild's boutique. Suffice to say I now have enough bags, totes and purses to start my own shop. Except they're mine, all mine!

Colleague Collision: I saw another author who quilts at the show, but she was busy with some clients so I didn't get a chance to chat with her. I'll just have to catch her at that other quilt show next weekend . . .

Fat Quarter Frenzy: The fabric choices offered by the show's vendors were splendid; I could have bought a thousand fat quarters. Fortunately I left the credit cards and the check book at home or I might have (for me attending a quilt show is what going to Vegas must be like for people who love to gamble. I take only cash in an amount I decide before I get to the show.)

Quilt Ethic Envy: I debated the merits of machine versus hand-quilting with an amazing gentleman quilter whose lifetime creative goal is to make a king-size log cabin for every member of his extended family. He pieces, binds and quilts them by hand. P.S. He's already made seventeen and has twenty-two more to go. P.S.S. He's sixty-nine years young, bless him.

Quilter's Karma: A lady admired a swatch of fabric I picked up from the gild's stuff-a-bag-for-five-bucks scrap fabric table. Although I liked it, too, I promptly handed it over to her. Later that day someone else did the exact same thing for me.

Possible Second Career: Lots of people admired the crazy-quilted tote I brought with me to show my pals some beading experiments I've been doing. I thought they were just being nice until one lady offered me a hundred bucks to sell it to her.

Technical Difficulties: I took five hundred photos, which was fun. Since I neglected to check the settings on the borrowed camera I was using, about two hundred and fifty of them were fuzzy (but you can see a slideshow of the unfuzzy pics over at the photoblog today.)

Unbelievable #1: I won this quilted duck (or perhaps it's a goose) in a ticket raffle. Since I hardly ever win anything I went right into shock.

Unbelievable #2: I also won this lovely pair of art dolls at the same ticket raffle. Went from shock to utter disbelief.

I believe in passing along good luck, so I'm going to give someone some signed books, the art dolls and a bag of goodies from the quilt show. If you'd like a chance to win, stop by the series blog and enter the Quilt Show giveaway.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Off to the Show

I'm taking off on my annual pilgrimage to attend one of my favorite quilt shows and hang with my other people. Have a great weekend, and see you on Monday.

Friday, March 07, 2014


This short but informative video may teach you some new things about a very old and beloved snack (and is narrated with background music, for those of you at work):

Click To Enlarge: Popcorn from NPR on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Quilting Picasso

This is an update on the creative challenge I decided to embark on last month featuring a textile printed with one of Picasso's works. I did some hunting first to find some additional materials I needed, which turned up in a remnant bin in Wal-Mart:

The off-white roll is a length of scrap canvas that was exactly the right dimensions for my project area. The little plastic bag is filled with small scrap trims, as you see here:

I'm using some beads, thread and scrap batting I had leftover from my last quilted project, and I also have a wonderful collection of trims to work with from the original kit I purchased from Kathy:

Once I basted the Picasso to the batting and canvas I quilted it first as the textile is very thin and fragile, and the quilting will keep it from pickering and shifting as I embellish. I had a very specific idea I wanted to try first, so I went to work with the seed beads. This is how far I've gotten with it:

I know, it's very subtle (and I'll be sure to take close-up shots when it's finished) but the art is so strong in color and line that I don't want to diminish or obscure it by over-embellishing. I probably should have trimmed squared the piece first but cutting it even with the rotary blade worried me; a soft breath makes the material move and I was worried a stutter while cutting might result in a tear. Once I'm finished the stitchwork on the Picasso I plan to sew some ribbon or fabric over the raw edges.

I'm still not entirely comfortable with the art, but I'm losing some of my hesitancy toward it. Someone I read once described Picasso's work as "full of Southern light", and working so closely with the image I can understand why -- so much boldness, no shadows; completely revealed and entirely unapologetic. I admire that kind of strength in any art.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014


In the past I've mentioned that I want to get away from writing long series. My readers are wonderfully loyal and patient, but I don't care to leave them hanging for years as I did while struggling to bring back StarDoc. Most series authors also don't attract the followings we did ten years ago, which given all the books being published is entirely understandable.

Many of you who have invested in my new Disenchanted & Co. series (for which I thank you) have been asking when the next book will be released. There is no next book (yet) and before I accept any offers or even write any more books I really have to decide how long I want to make the series. Five books would work best with my original series plan, and I think that's a decent length for a series these days, so that's what I'm inclined to make my goal. Or I could condense my plan, wrap things up with one more book and end the series as a trilogy, which would definitely guarantee closure for the readers and less headaches for me.

I thought I'd get some opinions from you all -- what do you consider an ideal length for a novel series? Let me know what you think in comments.

Image Credit: Smosh

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Spirit City

Answer nine questions and the City-o-Meter will decide where your spiritual home is. My (laughable) results:

I suppose it's not entirely ludicrous; I grew up in a Cuban-American community, and I still do love all things Cuban. Well, except the current regime running that nation, they can go burn in Hell. So until they do, I think my spirit will be much more content to dwell in Little Havana.

Where is your spiritual home? Take the test and let us know in comments.

(Test link filched from Gerard at The Presurfer.)

Monday, March 03, 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.

Creative Side is "a group of projects designed to unleash creativity through multimedia, allowing you to easily create digital content and share it with friends. creative side is home to the following open-source freeware projects: creative - create amazing graphics from images; enhance quality, colorize, convert bitmap images to scalable raster drawings; ultimate dictionary - 33+ Dictionaries in One (English, Spanish, French, Polish); examples finder - find example usages of words (dictionary examples, literature); flash video album creator - create online albums with downloaded youtube videos; crosswords - create crosswords, wordsearches, half a crossword ESL activities; movie player plus - fast playback, volume boost, subtitles, all codecs included; games - what's creativity without a little fun?; easy backup - one click backup of personal documents and settings" (OS: Windows)

Folders Popup allows you to "move between their frequently used folders like a breeze using both keyboard and mouse shortcuts. Main Features: Adding, removing, renaming and re-ordering folders; Adding any type of standard dialog box to support different programs; Setting desired keyboard and mouse button shortcuts for opening Folders Popup menu; Supports special folders, which can be either hidden or visible; Launching folders using numeric menu shortcuts; Displaying the popup menu at a fixed position" (OS: "Compatible with all modern Windows operating systems")

FreeText is "a simple and easy-to-use notebook for making notes, keeping to-do lists, storing information on accounts and contacts, etc. It can be helpful when you need to save a link, interesting citation, phone number or to simply insert text from a clipboard for a short time" (OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8)

Grisbi is "open source personal accounting software for practically any platform/operating system. The project strives to provide simple and easy to use software for managing your accounts. Grisbi lets you keep track of all transactions on your accounts. Grouping of expenses makes it easy to see of you are using too much money according to your budget for a certain category" (OS: Windows, Mac)

iDaily Diary "provides a simple interface that immediately gets you started taking daily notes, creating a journal, putting your thoughts into writing and much more. The iDailyDiary editor is "richtext" with the ability to insert graphics, URL's, Hypertext links and links to other diary pages. iDailyDiary is fully searchable so you can always track down those important dates and reminders. Key Features: Data files encrypted and password protected; Richtext Editor; Fully Searchable; Insert Pictures, URL's and Hypertext; Multiple "pages" for each day; Export to HTML format to create web pages; Supports Unicode (non-western character sets); Mutli-Language GUI, including Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Turkish and Japanese" (OS: "Works with MS Windows 2000, XP, 2003, 2008, Vista, 7, 8 32bit & 64bit")

Monex is a "personal finance manager based on double entry bookkeeping principles. You can organize your accounts into a tree structure. Branch expense and income accounts or join accounts by currency or type. Create, remove or change your account tree structure depending on your needs. View current, cleared and total balances of a single account or a whole branch of accounts" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7/8.0)

Novello is a "book writing tool for computer savvy writers." Designer notes: "I wrote Novello when I was trying to complete my book "Oom". MS Word was ok while I was spewing out the first draft but was no good for the later stages of book development. The quality of my first draft was a long way from what I wanted. I needed to plough through my manuscript to do rewrites, jiggle things about and throw away the crap. Novello made these tasks easier because it helped me split the book up into small (smaller than whole chapters) managable chunks. I was able to keep several major rewrites of each chunk together in one document" (OS: Not specified but looks like Windows)

PDF to Word Doc Converter is a "desktop document conversion tool to convert Adobe PDF file to Microsoft Word Doc file. The program can extract text, images, shapes from PDF file to Word Doc file and preserve the layout. It can convert all the pages, or any pages range of the PDF file. And it is a standalone program - you can convert PDF to Word Doc without Adobe Acrobat Reader or Microsoft Word installed" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7/8/2000)

tinySpell is a "useful utility that lets you to easily and quickly verify the spelling of words in any Windows application. tinySpell monitors your typing on the fly and alerts you whenever it detects a misspelled word. It also checks the spelling of every word you copy to the clipboard. tinySpell installs itself in the system tray for easy access. It comes with an American-English dictionary containing more than 110,000 words" (OS: Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7/8)

Zim is "a graphical text editor used to maintain a collection of wiki pages. Each page can contain links to other pages, simple formatting and images. Pages are stored in a folder structure, like in an outliner, and can have attachments. Creating a new page is as easy as linking to a nonexistent page. All data is stored in plain text files with wiki formatting. Various plugins provide additional functionality, like a task list manager, an equation editor, a tray icon, and support for version control" (OS: Windows, Linux)

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Discover Your Story

As a storyteller and a fan of all things archaeology I'm fascinated when treasures from the past are unearthed. Lately there have been some stunning discoveries in the news, too:

Hidden fortress found beneath Alcatraz

Nine Manuscripts Discovered in Qumran Artifacts

Northern California couple discover cans filled with 19th century gold coins

These news items are particular stupendous: A Civil War fortress we didn't know still existed, nine more manuscript scrolls from the Dead Sea caves that have never been seen, and ten million dollars' worth of 19th-century gold coins hidden in a bunch of buried tin cans. In addition to the wealth of knowledge these discoveries will provide, they also offer some exceptional possibilities as story inspiration.

Take the Alcatraz find, for example. If they excavate, what else might they uncover down there? Could someone have been using it in the more recent past, perhaps? And why would you build a prison on top of a Civil War fortress, for that matter (were they trying to keep something else from escaping?)

Those nine newly-discovered scrolls likewise have great story potential. What if instead of scripture they contain some wonderful -- or terrible -- secrets? What if we were never meant to find them? I've used an ancient scroll as a story-telling device, and I can tell you from experience that playing with ancient media is as fun as it is inspiring.

Obviously ten million in gold coins is a truly life-transformative find for that happy couple. But what if your protagonist was the one to find them, or (if you're writing a historical) bury them? Even back in the 19th century, that was a heck of a lot of money to hide. What if those coins were connected to a particular historic event, the details of which will now be altered by their reappearance?

Every storyteller will answer those questions differently, which is the other cool thing about using discovery news for inspiration -- your imagination will provide the unique spin you need to change it from fact to fiction. So make it a habit to check out your favorite news feed or paper, and search for discoveries -- you might just uncover something pretty wonderful for your next story.

Saturday, March 01, 2014


Over at the Toriana blog I'm celebrating finding a new hat box prop for this year's online promotions (so much work, having to browse through all those amazing antique shops.) Stop in when you have a chance, enter the giveaway and you could win a signed print copy of Disenchanted & Co. as well as Cynthia Hart's 2014 Victoriana calendar.