Saturday, January 31, 2015

PBW's Book of the Month

Reading is a pleasure I had to give up for most of the second half of last year, and since my eye surgeries completely reversed my vision I've also had some trouble adjusting to the changes. The good news is that I can finally focus well enough to read regularly again, and managed to knock out seven books in January:

As promised I picked one of my reads to be my book of the month for January, and (probably to no one's surprise) it is First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen, the long-awaited sequel to her enchanting novel Garden Spells.

First Frost takes the reader back to the magical little town of Bascom, North Carolina, home of the Waverley sisters. The story takes place some ten years after the events that unfolded in Garden Spells, so a great deal has changed -- both Claire and Sydney Waverley are married and settled down, and the next generation of Waverley women are growing up fast. Trouble in several forms has been brewing or blown into town, and the challenges all the Waverleys face are not of the common, contrived purely for conflict variety. Commercial success has distracted Claire so much that it's shoved her into the realm of self-doubt, while Sydney has been valiantly trying (and failing) to give her husband a son. Sydney's daughter Bay has come into her unique gift but it's causing her nothing but heartache and trouble. And then there's the old carny drifter, and the secrets he's brought with him to Bascom as he watches Claire from a discreet distance.

I chose this book as my January pick as it is a wonderful, beautifully written story that did not disappointment me in the slightest, and it's been a awhile since I can say that about any book. It's definitely one of the wisest sequels to a beloved novel I've ever read, and demonstrates in innummerable ways just how talented the author is, and how great her affection for her characters has grown over time. I also adore the subtle, magical cover art; whoever at St. Martin's Press is responsible for it deserves a huge hug and a hefty raise. Those of you who are devoted Allen readers will enjoy this one a lot. Those of you who haven't tried this author should first read Garden Spells because it makes reading First Frost that much more enjoyable.

So what book did you read in January would you pick as your book of the month, and why? Let us know in comments.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Alphabet Art

This short film demonstrates how artful (and strangely sexy) the alphabet can be (with background music, for those of you at work):

Textures from We are Maniacs on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Just Write

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: More on Club Denizen, with new material beginning on page 19.

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

Image credit: windujedi

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

No to the Shingle

Last month I mentioned that I'm currently working as a writer-for-hire and copywriter, and that's been going quite well. So well, in fact, that I'm able to get by on what I'm making out of the limelight, so I will likely be doing it for as long as it continues to be as congenial, easy and pleasant as it is.

I also talked about setting up a page for my WFH services, and I even wrote one up, but every time I consider posting it on the blog something in me digs heel-in and refuses to do it. While I know everyone would understand (and it would definitely help me out financially) I didn't create this blog to turn it into a personal money maker. I appreciate all the readers who come here and support me by purchasing my novels, but PBW isn't about me making a living. It's the one place where I can talk shop and share resources and feel that I'm part of a community that geuninely cares about books and writing.

Btw, this is not me snotting on everyone who does generate income from their blogs, so please don't take offense if you do. This is just how I feel about what has been my labor of love for a decade. It's selfish and probably stupid, but I want PBW to stay a labor of love. That means more to me than making a buck.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Free Pics

If you're looking for free stock photos to use for your blog or non-profit-making projects, you may find what you need over at To download any of their images all you have to do is create an account (which is also free).

Here's a slideshow of some of the neat pics I found on my first visit:

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sub Op

SF Romance Quarterly has an open call for their upcoming issue #6: "All sub-genres of science fiction will be considered. Any heat level, from sweet to erotic, will be considered. Original, previously unpublished fiction only. No fan fiction, please. All stories must contain elements of science-fiction, include romance, and have an upbeat ending." Length: 2-7.5K; Payment: "2.5 cents/word (US) paid upon publication, promotional biography with two links, and a complimentary quarter-page advertisement." See editor's post for more details. Deadline for Issue #6: February 28th, 2015.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Off to Write

I'm bailing on you guys for the weekend to catch up on some work. So that your stop here was not a complete waste, here's a very interesting video from PBS that takes a look at three forms of steampunk as art:

Off Book: Steampunk from PBS Digital Studios on Vimeo.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Start with Fun

If your creativity needs a kick in the pants, the next nine minutes may be the David Beckham of boots (narrated, with background music, for those of you at work):

The Creative Life from Shawn Blanc on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Just Write

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: More on Club Denizen, with new material beginning on page 16.

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

Image credit: windujedi

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Write Noise

Some people have a tough time doing certain things (working out, writing, sleeping,) in complete silence. While I prefer to write in silence, I find rain sounds (especially with thunder) knock me out better than any sleep aid, and I tend to sew better if I'm listening to the some ambient bird or garden sounds.

If you're looking for the same, here are some links for you: not only has a ton of ambient soundtracks for you to listen to, it also allows you to mix your own.

Calm Sound offers a nice variety of nature sounds along with accompanying videos; the relaxing mix is my favorite.

For when you can't get outdoors, here are 11 hours of sounds from an English garden.

Fresh daily rain sounds site Rainy Mood claims rain makes everything better. I think they're absolutely right.

Simply Noise offers three types of ambient sound -- white, pink and brown (I love the brown, actually.) They also explain why they labeled the sounds with colors. offers ten ambient sounds for you to listen to (and you can combine them by enabling more than one.)

This Youtube fireplace video allows you to watch as well as listen to the flames.

Waterfalls are natural white-noise generators; here's a Youttube video with fourteen minutes of waterfall sounds.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Story Carding

Long before manga or anime there was Kamishibai, a form of Japanese storytelling with picture cards based on the same practice used by 12th century Buddhist monks who used picture scrolls to teach morality lessons. This is now a popular form of storytelling in schools on this side of the planet, and board versions of kamishibai are even employed by some corporations as a visual management tool.

Back in 2008 I came up with the idea to make character trading cards using Big Huge Labs photo trading card generator, and I've always been interested in cards like as a storytelling tool. If you take the kamishibai approach to creating cards for your story, and use a strong symbolic image, some titles and descriptive sentences, you could card every chapter like this:

Now to show you how that template works with a real story, here are two cards I've made for my NaNoWriMo 2014 novel:

I think this might work as well if not better than index cards, sticky notes or all the other ways we outline stories. You can also do these cards for scenes versus chapters. Also, you can use any card form you like; I just went with Big Huge Labs's card generator because it's easy and the results are attractive.

What do you think of the idea? Let me know in comments.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sub Op

I saw this listing over in the Paying Markets forum at

"JMS Books LLC is a small press specializing in LGBT romance ranging from sweet to erotic. We have over 120 authors publishing with us and our YA imprint, Queerteen Press. We release 4 e-books a week and 6 print books a month. We are currently open to submissions. ALL submissions must follow our guidelines. Length: 7-130K; Payment: "We pay 50% net royalties on sales through all distribution channels. Our contracts are for an initial period of 2 years. A sample contract is available upon request." On reprints: "We accept reprints and previously published content (including self-published stories) on a case-by-case basis." Electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Going Ghost

Ghost writing (also known as writing for hire) has a long and rich history about which hardly anyone knows anything, thanks to the skills and discretion ghost writers wield (as well as the invention of the non-disclosure agreement.) If we ghost writers ever formed a club we'd have some illustrious members, too: Sinclair Lewis, Robert Graves, Kingsley Amis, Katherine Ann Porter, Robert Jordan and Larry McMurtry, to name a few. H.P. Lovecraft was a ghost writer for Harry Houdini; Shel Silverstein penned one of Johnny Cash's most memorable songs.

Ghost writers are also responsible for probably 90% of the celebrity-authored books you buy, including those supposedly written by former Presidents and Secretaries of State. Sometimes an author is really a group or succession of ghost writers, such as Nancy Drew's Carolyn Keene, or (allegedly) anything with the byline James Patterson.

The first time I went ghost was for a minister whose ideas were great but who had trouble crafting them into effective sermons. He hired me to translate his concepts onto the page (which later led to me working as a transcriptionist for the author of a Little Golden Book; satisfied clients often rec you to others who need to hire writers.)

Most ghost writing gigs for individuals work this way; someone wants or needs to write something but doesn't have the skill to do so; they hire a writer who does it for them in return for a flat fee or an negotiated arrangement that can include royalties, shared byline credit and other perks. Writers who ghost for individuals often get no credit for the work, however, and in most cases are usually required to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that prevents them from ever claiming the work is theirs. I haven't done this sort of work since I turned pro, but it's certainly a lucrative type of ghost writing.

The sort of projects I pursue are those for clients who purchase the rights to the work and publish them under a trademark or pseudonym they own, which can be completely fictitious or belongs to a deceased or non-active writer (sometimes ghost writers are also hired to finish works left incomplete by writers who unexpectedly pass away, too.) Publishers, writer estates and other corporate/group entitites that are more interested in the product than taking credit for it generally opt for this sort of arrangement; one well-known example is V.C. Andrews, whose family hired a ghost writer to continue her series after her passing. Occasionally ghost writers who step in for deceased authors are given credit for their work, as Brian Saunderson was when he was hired to write Robert Jordan's final Wheel of Time novel, but generally speaking the same type of arrangements are made for these gigs as are made with individuals.

As these clients usually look for an experienced ghost writer these jobs are more difficult for beginning writers to land; the clients generally go through agents and you're often required to send in published work samples or do some audition writing. I've done three series now as this type of ghost writer, and it's generally a great source of reliable writing income (if you can get it.)

Discretion and confidentiality are absolutely job requirements for ghost writers. You may think it does no harm to tell your BFF that you're writing Gwyneth Paltrow's next cookbook, but when she posts a thrilled gush about it on Facebook you may find yourself in very hot water with Gwynnie (and her attorney.) If you can't respect and abide by your client's NDA then you have no business being a ghost writer, and you'll almost certainly end up being sued.

As to how to find ghost writing jobs, these days they're everywhere; they even post them on Craigslist now. Any job you find listed online is probably not going to pay very well, and will likely be glutted with applicants, but it's a place to start. So is advertising your services online. Building up a resume of ghost writing credits and making contacts can lead to better clients who are willing to pay more. To look for entry-level ghost writing jobs you can check sites like Elance or Freelance Writing Jobs, but again be prepared for a lot of competition.

Clients will frequently state what they're willing to pay upfront, but occasionally a client will ask you for a rate quote or you'll be invited to bid on a project, so you need to work up a list of reasonable charges. You should also consider that every ghost writing job is different, so it's best to find out first exactly what the client expects from you, how long you estimate it will take you to do it, and then quote a price. Also have a professional resume and some writing samples and excerpts of your published works prepared to send to your prospective client. Your writing samples should be pieces or excerpts that showcase your particular talents as they apply to the job in question, such as some really great blog posts for a client looking for content.

How you calculate your rates is also important. If you go with minimum wage to write a 100K novel for a client that you estimate will take you a thousand hours, that works out to $7250.00 here in the U.S., but you'll find very few clients willing to pay that much (or wait that long for a project.) If you go with a per word rate, such as three cents, that works out to $3000.00 for the same job. Turn around time is also a factor; most clients generally want the work delivered quickly, and some have very tight deadline requirements. Always get a deadline schedule first and be sure you can stick to it before you commit to any writer-for-hire project.

As to what sort of jobs you should work as a writer-for-hire, that's up to you. My advice is to be sure you're okay with the arrangements you make with your client, and how your work will be used once you turn it over and take payment. Also, be aware of the potential fallout if anyone ever discovers you're the real writer behind any byline (and if you're not okay with being exposed as the author of any work, don't take the job in the first place.)

Writing for hire is writing without any excuses or safety nets; there is usually no room in a ghost writing gig to be a diva or have a bad writing day or give up on something in mid-project. If you're easily blocked, you don't care to be told what to do, or you think you know how to write better than anyone on the planet, then ghost writing is also probably not for you. If you're not sure if you'll like it, try a small or short-term project first (writing product descriptions, short blog posts or small amounts of copy are great tester jobs.)

Okay, any questions that won't violate my NDAs? Ask away in comments.

Saturday, January 17, 2015


I've been mulling over what to do with the photoblog, which I've left on hiatus for a couple of months now. I'm not getting out enough to take new pictures very often lately, and I hate to keep putting the blog on hold until I do find the time.

I began the photoblog back in 2009 as my first year-long online art project challenge, which was to take a pic every day of something interesting. I managed 346 pics that year while I learned how to use my first digital camera. Before PBWindow I was definitely a mediocre photographer, and the challenge of maintaining a photoblog and using the camera constantly helped me improve quite a bit. I also became aware of more of the world around me, and began seeing it a bit differently, too.

Six years later I take my camera with me everywhere, and have a built a large archive of pics I've taken for the blog. I have all kinds of new respect for you dedicated photographers out there, too -- this is a wonderful, maddening art form that I don't think anyone ever masters.

Of course the photoblog was never very popular, but that didn't matter. It was mainly for me and a couple of people who followed my progress. Since I don't have time to keep it current, however, I'm going to close PBWindow and call it done, although I will leave the blog intact and online for as long as Blogger/Google allows.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Love You

I try to keep politics off this blog, but I have a lot of friends and readers in Europe who are dealing with some major scariness right now. This video is for them (narrated with background music, for those of you at work):

An Awesome Book of Love from Furlined on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Off to Work & Sub Op

I'm finishing up a job for my editor today so I will have to skip Just Write Thursday this week. Anyone who is posting new writing online today is welcome to leave their link in comments. I've also got a sub op I wanted to share:

Timeless Tales has an open call for Perseus and Medusa themed short stories: "Timeless Tales exclusively publishes retellings of fairy tales and myths. We don't accept original fairy tales or stories outside of our current theme. Please be creative! We love to see modernizations, sci-fi retellings, continuations, mash-ups, etc. Just no eroticism, please." Length: up to 2K (under 1.5K preferred); Payment: $15.00 flat rate. Reprints okay, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details. Submission window opens February 8th, 2015; Deadline: March 23rd, 2015.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Pages Winter 2015

Due to the usual holiday madness I was a little late picking up the Winter 2015 issue of Pages magazine, but I thought the journal-maker's instant fix would make a nice creative kickstart for the new year. I'm planning on making all my journals for 2015 -- no more being lazy and buying them from the store or Etsy! -- so I was quite interested to see what sort of inspiration they were offering.

It's an okay issue for the most part. This time nearly all the projects were fairly standard book-type journals (as opposed to past issues that explored making a journal out of a paintbrush, a fake piece of fruit, etc.), which will appeal to the traditionalists. I did like the Illuminated Tangles page project by Wendy Currier and Marcia Thornton Jones, which is a kind of fusion between Zentangle-type doodling and illuminated manuscript techniques. The steps of the project are explained very well, and the results are impressive. It's also a project basically anyone can do.

The techniques in this issue ranged from interesting to useful to scary. Making a book you don't have to sew or glue and assembling a simple pop-up were likely the best of the lot. Watercolor travel journalers will really love the piece on visual fieldnotes, while those of you who are interesting in less traditional journals will enjoy the project on deconstructed journaling. There are also some stunning journal pages showcased in the back of the issue that look as if they've traveled through time.

Because I'm a nut about old sewing notions I have a substantial amount of old buttons cards that I've never done anything with, and in this issue Mandy Russell shows you how to use them as covers for wee journals. The artist does use a Coptic stitch to bind the journals, so it's a bit more advanced in the technique department, but she has excellent directions and a couple of stitching illustrations to show you how to manage the binding. The scary project was one that involved cutting up and weaving strips from aluminum cans to make journal covers; while I appreciate the recycling aspect it definitely looked like an exercise in slicing your fingers to pieces. If you can't resist that one I advise you proceed with extreme caution and make sure your tentanus shot is current.

I did feel this issue is a bit light on new ideas, and I get the feeling Pages may be heading in another direction now. I really liked this magazine because it started out genuinely invested in real, creative book-making. In this issue I do see some signs (the results of a subscriber challenge, making your own "cozy journaling corner") that it could be evolving into another Butterfly people rag (and Lord, don't read the article about the scroll journal in this issue unless you want to cry all morning.) If the next edition is more of the same I think I might have to move on, but I'm hoping it won't be.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Not So Smart

I don't own a Smart Phone*, so I tend to notice how people who do sometimes behave. I'd like to share my observations, too, so here are

Ten Dumb Things About Smart Phone Addicts

Conversation Monkeys: When I try to talk to any of you smart phone addicts lately, you listen for only about half a sentence before you start talking about your phone, then check your phone, and then begin texting someone. While you do this last part you mutter "sorry" to me four or five times until you're ready to listen to another half a sentence, and then the whole process repeats until I walk away, which you don't notice for at least ten more minutes. Then you get mad at me for being rude.

Date Voiders: This is something I see almost every time my guy and I go out for a meal: a nice young couple who should be totally involved in each other, yet who never say a word to each other because they're both on their phones the entire time they're in the restaurant -- even while they're eating. So romantic!

Find Mining: Why must we watch you unload your purse every single time you need to answer or use your smart phone? This would be the purse with the empty zippered phone pocket on the outside, btw. Ever consider actually putting your phone in the phone pocket? It's a radical idea, I know, but it might help.

Grocery Store Gamers: One of the great joys of having grown up kids is that I don't have to listen to that stupid video game music anymore. Until you get behind me in a long line at the market and start playing [insert name of smart phone game app] and then alternately yay or curse it while you play. This is especially attractive when you're doing it one-handed while dragging a wailing toddler along with you. P.S., the next time you shove your cart into my back because you're so wrapped up in your phone you don't look before you push? I'm handing your toddler a king-size energy bar.

Lookee! Or Not: Probably a dozen times last week someone tried to show me something on their smart phone which wouldn't load or they couldn't find. At which point they have to explain what I'm missing, but it's been so long since they've actually spoken to anyone they can't remember half the words they need to use. Totally unriveting.

Low Battery Bitching: Once you realize your smart phone battery needs charging, and you're somewhere where you are unable to do this, you have to whine to me every five minutes as to what percentage of power is left. While you're still using the smart phone. And when it finally dies you spend the next twenty minutes bitching about how lousy your battery is while you begin to twitch and fidget uncontrollably (which is the part I really like to watch. Can you get the Lookee! addicts to do that?)

Phony Drivers: I don't drive anymore at night because you people who have to be on your smart phone while you're behind the wheel do. I know, it's incredibly selfish of me to refuse to die just because updating your Facebook status made you run a red light, but there you go.

Plug Slugs: Once a week I find a charging cord hanging from one of my outlets where it was left after someone who is not my relative charged their smart phone. I used to try to find out who they belonged to; now I add them to what has quickly become an extensive personal collection. And do you know there's a guy at the flea market who pays five bucks a piece for them?

Selfieshing: While at any event I inevitably have to wait five or ten minutes while you people ahead of me take sixty selfies, which you immediately have to show to all the people who are already there with you and watched the whole thing in person, you idiot.

Text Gagged: This always makes me laugh, actually -- the growing number of smart phone addicts who refuse to make phone calls anymore and will only communicate by text. When you ask them why they say "It's easier" (if they still remember how to talk.)

*I do have one of those disposable drug dealer-type phones for road emergencies; it sits in my purse turned off until I get a flat or break down or someone needs to borrow it. Aka a dumb phone. It only makes phone calls. This horrifies everyone who borrows it, btw.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sub Op

World Weaver Press has an open call for their second Far Orbit SF adventure antho: "We are once again looking for modern space adventures crafted in the Grand Tradition. We are not looking for slavish imitations of past classics. Rather, we would like to receive stories that establish a new tradition in the much maligned sci-fi adventure genera — smart, modern stories built around the classic traditions. We are looking for adventure stories that are creative, readable, and memorable. We are also looking for midnight indulgences; exciting stories that transport you from the everyday grind and leave you wondrously satisfied. All adventure-based sci-fi genera are welcome but stay away from fantasy elements unless they are genetically engineered or cybernetic. Stories can begin on Earth but the major action should happen out there, beyond the edges of our blue marble. Dystopia (Mad Max) and fantasy-like adventures (John Carter of Mars) have to be very special to be included in this anthology. Please, no fan fiction." Length: "Because adventure stories often take more space to develop, World Weaver Press is accepting stories up to 10,000 words in length." On reprints: "Previously published stories are acceptable but we will not publish stories that have been previously anthologized." Payment: "$0.01/word. All contributors will receive a paperback copy of the anthology. For previously unpublished works: Seeking first world rights in English and exclusive rights to publish in print and electronic format for twelve months after publication date after which publisher retains nonexclusive right to continue to publish for a term." Electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details. Submission period opened January 1st, 2015. Deadline: March 31st, 2015.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Pic Prompts

I'd like to challenge myself for Just Write Thursdays this year, so I decided to do a search for images based on some keywords I want to explore with fiction and see what came up. Since I had some extra credits left on my account at I went there, entered each keyword, and skimmed through the image results until I saw something that made me want to write a story about it. Here are the results:

Keyword: secret

This was the most unusual image that came up for my keyword, and while it's a bit sweet for me I really loved the lights hanging from the tree and the aura of enchantment in the scene.

Keyword: gothic

I don't know if I'd exactly call this lady gothic, but the unusual diamond shapes on her brow and strange colorations lit up the story lightbulb for me.

Keyword: crystal

I know why this pic grabbed my attention; I'm a sucker for paths with sudden turns. The photographer tagged it with crystal for the quality of the river water, which I also found intriguing -- that water doesn't look entirely natural to me . . .

Because I purchased the right to use these images I can print them out, reuse them for other things and even work them into cover art for my future Just Write stories if I want. It's always a good idea to support photographers and artists by paying for their work, even if you only use the images as inspiration.

Image credits: Ellerslie (secret); prometeus (gothic); Photocreo (crystal)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Secret Santa Books

After taking a brief detour to the wrong address during the holidays my Library Thing Secret Santa books have arrived:

The Ruth Reichl book was on my LT wishlist, so I'm super happy to receive that one, but the other two are surprises (and I haven't read either, so that's an extra bonus.) I received only two other books for Christmas, and while one was such a disappointment I'm not going to mention it I was quite delighted to get Gail Carriger's third finishing school novel Waistcoats & Weaponry from my friend Jilly, who stole borrowed the other two books in the series from me. After I read it I'm figuring on a trade to get them back.

What books did you get during the holidays? Anything worth mentioning? Let us know in comments.

Friday, January 09, 2015


This video may be only forty-one seconds long, but the ending will wow you (with background music, for those of you at work):

The Tree of Knowledge from Joshua Stocker on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Just Write

Today I'm kicking off Just Write Thursdays for 2015 by writing something new and posting 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: Had to help my kid out with her first day of the new college semester, but tonight I did manage a couple more pages done on Club Denizen, with new material beginning on page 14.

Image credit: windujedi

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Edit as You Go

Now that I'm working on shorter projects for my copywriting and ghost gigs lately I've begun editing my work a bit differently. Since many of you are interested in editing discussion, and I like how it's working out so much, I thought I'd share what I've changed to see if it might help any of you.

To give you the short version of my standard editing process, I write new material, perform a quick, one-pass edit on it on the same day, and then wait until I've finished the entire project before I perform another, more intensive three-stage edit of the complete work.

The reasons for this approach are: a) it allows me to write forward at a steady pace instead of endlessly backtracking over the work, b) it evolved naturally over thirty years of writing fiction under deadlines, and helps me keep them, and C) the writer me and the editor me pretty much hate each other, so not allowing them to work together prevents chaos, doubt, fear, and sometimes all-out war (and yes, I know how crazy that sounds, but these two sides of my personality want to be in constant conflict, so keeping them separated as much as possible is imperative.) I also usually have at least three months to write a novel, so I save the final weeks for the intensive editing of the complete work.

When I began copywriting I had to say good-bye to that luxury of time; at present my longest deadline is one week after I receive an assignment. Since it can take me the entire seven days to finish the project, I had to change the way I edit to an as-you-go process, which works for me like this:

First day: Write new material and one-pass edit for spelling and grammar immediately when I finish.

Second day: Edit the previous day's material for content and style, write new material, perform another one-pass edit on the entire work.

Third through Sixth day: repeat what I did on the first and second day (I also try to finish the writing by the sixth day.)

Seventh day: Finish writing the project (if needed) and perform a final intensive edit on the complete work.

At first I didn't like starting out a writing session with editing; I really do prefer to write first and edit second. But the time limitations of my assignments have put my internal editor on a very short leash; I know I have only a week to get the work done so I don't indulge in internal creative clashes. Thus I think having a deadline is integral to making this approach work, so if you're using it on something for which you don't have a deadline, set one for yourself first and stick to it.

The other drawback to this method is the daily backtracking over previous work, which can tempt you to fall into a backtrack and rewrite loop that prevents you from producing new words. If that's an issue for you, I recommend always writing first no matter what day you're on, then hit the editing phase only after you've reached your goal for new words.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Repurposing Old Calendars

Every year when I put up my new calendars I try to find creative ways to use the old ones from last year. Here are some ideas you might want to try with yours:

Art for Framing: My 2014 Zen Calendar has so many gorgeous black and white images I'm going to frame my favorites and hang them in my book room.

ATCs: The covers of old calendars are a nice weight for artist trading cards; I'd cut out mine and add strips of handwritten or typed words to them. I also wrote haiku on sets of three ATCs made from old calendar covers.

Bookmarks: Cut your calendar pages into 2" X 7" strips (or any size you prefer) and use as bookmarks.

Clip Art: Any pictures or art from your old calendars can be cut out and used for a new art or journaling project.

Coasters: You can laminate squares of your calendar to make pretty coasters, or cut up and set out a stack of them as disposables.

Decorative Envelopes: Any paper can be turned into an envelope; take apart an old envelope by the seams and trace it on your old calendar, then cut out, fold and glue stick the seams.

Gift Wrapping: Calendar pages make great wrapping paper for small gifts, too.

Journal pages: If you make your own journals you can cut down old calendars to use as pages; sections of unused day grids from the months work great in handmade planners.

Place Mats: As with the coaster version you can laminate full pages from your calendar to make place mats, or use the pages as disposables.

Check with your local public schools to see if their art teachers will take your old calendars for their students' art projects; just make sure your calendar is age-appropriate and doesn't have any objectionable content or notations on it.

Finally if you have a calendar you forgot to use in 2014, and you don't mind hanging onto it, you can use it again in the future. Any 2014 calendar will also be correct for the years 2025, 2031, 2042, 2053, 2059, 2070, 2081, 2087, 2098, and 2110 -- all you have to do is put the new year on it. If you happen to have any unused calendars from 2009, 1998, 1987, 1981, 1970, 1959, 1953, 1942, 1931, and 1925, these would be correct to resuse for 2015. To find out when any old calendar can be used again, check out this helpful web site.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Rain on Demand

I am one of those weird people who love to fall asleep to the sound of a thunderstorm (probably because I grew up in the lightning capitol of the U.S.) With or without the thunder, nothing relaxes me faster than the sound of rain, too.

So you can imagine how happy I was to discover this neat site that allows you to listen to rain and some nature sounds in various degrees of intensity. Move your cursor up and the screen and the sounds become lighter; move it down and you get the full roar of a big thunderstorm. I've kept the window opened but minimized on my browser and listened to it through my headphones while I'm working on the blog or e-mail, and it's very soothing.

I found the link over at diddlydarnthatcrapisnifty, which has some other interesting anti-stress sound and art generator links up for grabs.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Revisited Reads

Laura W. made an interesting suggestion about revisiting books I've already read and discussing how they fare on the reread this year, so here's the first go.

I read Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen for the first time back in 2011, thanks to Charlene Teglia, when it instantly became one of my keepers and givers (a book I give to practically anyone). I've reread the novel a couple times per year since that first read, and decided to give it another go in anticipation of the publication of the sequel.

I remember during my first read of the novel how impressed I was by the effortless pace of the story, and the magical qualities of the characterizations. Then the story enchanted me and I forgot I was reading (which these days is almost impossible for any book to do to me) and I fell in love. Once I finished the novel I bought every single title Sarah had published plus five extra copies of Garden Spells to hand out to friends. I've since invested in at least a dozen more copies that I've given away, including both times I've been a Library Thing Secret Santa.

Obviously I'm very fond of this novel, and revisiting Garden Spells is like curling up with an soft quilt on a cold day. For me it's one of those old-friend books that reaffirms your faith in great storytelling. It's also a bit more than a comfort read, too. Each time I reread it my focus shifts to a certain element that I study and try to absorb, such as the unusual gifts the author bestows on the characters -- it's a stylistic choice, and very much related to how we view families in the south, but it's also an integral part of the story stucture, which makes it so interesting from a technical POV. Everything might seem to happen by chance or Fate or dumb luck in one of Sarah's books, but actually nothing does -- and you won't realize this until you have read the book five or six times.

I know why I'm personally drawn to this story; I've had several relationships that parallel those of the characters. There is nothing that gains your sympathy as a reader faster than seeing bits of your own life experience in fiction. I also know what it's like to have an ability that others resent or envy or fear, or simply don't understand, and how immensely that can screw up relationships and virtually everything else in your life.

Knowing how the story will end doesn't diminish making the journey again with the characters in Garden Spells, and that's highly unusual. This may be because it's a novel in which the journey is every bit as important as the destination. Also there's nothing like it out there; this is a naturally gifted author with a style that can't be compared to any other writer -- and that is beyond rare.

After four years and many rereads I'm glad I can still recommend Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen as a timeless, classic story that you'll not only enjoy but be happy to revisit many times.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Ban It Ten

I was reading this year's list of words banned by Lake Superior State College, evidently an annual tradition of theirs for the last 40 years. Some I agree with (the phrase polar vortex has worn out its welcome) while others I've never heard (there are people who actually say bae or cra-cra out loud in front of others? Not in my circle) but the rest seem puzzling. Foodie has been around for at least a decade, and hack probably twice that long, and yet this is the first time I've heard them demonized. Maybe we get tired of some words after years of having them hurled at us.

I do keep my own running list of letters, symbols, words and phrases that annoy the hell out of me -- doesn't every writer? -- so I decided to put together:

Ten Words I'd like to See Banned Forever

# (or hashtag): A roping buzzy symbol first used to herd the comments of Twitter users under a common header to optimize searches for people who are forever Googling themselves, their friends or their causes. Now being perpetually used as a form of promotion by everyone for everything; even used car salesmen employ it in their irritating commercials. Since I'm not on Twitter or a fan of group-think I see it and think line break, which is what it means to a pro writer. I doubt we can get rid of it now, so I'll just be glad they didn't hijack the ampersand.

Amazeballs: The newest morphword that means amazing. Aka the sort of thing you chuckle when you hear a four-year-old saying it. Coming out of the mouth of a full-grown adult? Not so much.

Booty: As a euphemism for ass, backside, bottom, buttocks etc. The trend now is the bigger the better, which makes me happy for some of my friends who are well-endowed in that department, but the word itself? Still means pirate treasure to me. I guess I'll never get the hang of thinking of a lady's sit-upon when I hear it; sorry.

Conscious Uncoupling: Popularized by Gwyneth Paltrow, who apparently can't deal with uttering the words separated or divorced; sounds like what happens when you take too many Valium. Maybe that was the problem? Anyway, I'm adding it as an example to my collection of pretentious twaddle.

Deck: Not a group of cards, but the latest incarnation of cool. Why? Search me.

Fleek: I think this weirdo word is the latest euphemism for attractive (my hipster daughter explained this to me like three times and I still don't get it.) It sounds so unattractive I automatically think the opposite (but I did with phat when that became a gnarly way to say pretty or cool. I think.)

HEA: I've never liked this romance writer shorthand for happily ever after; my mind always reads it as that sneery laugh sound word HEH. So many readers cling to it with white knuckled hands it may not be possible to do away with it altogether; maybe we could substitute SEA for it? (I'll leave you to guess what the S stands for. Hint: rhymes with happily.)

Plus One: The current popular substitute for the word date, or the person who accompanies you when you go out. As terms go this one is such an emotional voided black hole I can hear it sucking the life out of a conversation anytime it's used.

Totes: This came into use apparently when the word total proved too exhausting to utter. Whenever someone says it to me I auto-correct-think it to "tote bag" and start nattering on about my latest.

u: always in small case, used as a short form of the word you. I understand why people use it on Twitter -- that 140 character limit turns everyone into an acronymist -- but I see it employed all the time in e-mails, comments and other places around the internet where there's plenty of room to write. If you're so lazy you have to shorten a three-letter word, please don't talk to me.

What are some words you'd like to see banned? Let us know in comments.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Paris by the Book

I instantly fell in love with this animation from French beauty giant Lancôme (with background music, for thos of you who had to go back to work):

Lancôme - Chinese New Year from weareflink on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Wishing You

Image credit: viperagp