Sunday, June 30, 2013

Comments Catchup Day

See you in comments.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Office Depot Finds

On a recent toner run to Office Depot I took a little time to browse (I know, such a hardship) and found some stuff I thought might be interesting to other writers:

3M keeps evolving its Post-It product line, and I found two types of multi-use decorative labels (#1 and #2 in the photo) and a pad of file folder labels (#3) which are super convenient. The decorative labels, which are 1-3/4" X 2-3/4" and come in packs of 40, are printed with phrases like "This belongs to..." and "Property of..." and are exactly the right size to serve as book plates. They were also on clearance and cost $2.00 per pack. The file folder labels are a patricularly nice find as I recycle my file folders and constantly have to relabel them; the pack of 100 labels was also on clearance at $.92.

Wilson Jones's Binder Apps Tool Band (#4) can be helpful to anyone who works with notebooks; it's the right size to fit over binders, tablets, sorting filers or large books. At $2.99 I considered it a real steal, too.

The "Rollin' with my Gnomies" three-ring binder (#5) is just a fun buy; great for kids, grownups or anyone who is a fan of the movie Amelie. I got mine for $4.99.

Back by the toner section I found a little display of blank ruled journals, and I was surprised at how pretty they were:

The smallest (#6 pictured in the photo) was $3.99; the middle-sized (#7, which has a fancy magnetic closure cover) was $5.99, and the largest (#8)was $7.99. That's about 50% cheaper than comparable journals you find in bookstores.

If you have time to browse at your local Office Depot be sure to check the bargain bins, which are usually located close to the registers -- that's where I found all the 3M lables on clearance.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Beholder

Truth is beauty, and this video is very, very true (includes narration by the artist and background music, for those of you at work):

Beauty from Jesse Brass on Vimeo.

I'm also having a summer reading fun giveaway over at the series blog today; head over to Disenchanted & Co. for more details and a chance to win books and a neat reusable tote.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Elsewhere Being A (Winning) Loser

Last year I entered a story contest, and my entry didn't win. Losing the contest, on the other hand, helped me sell a novel series. Want to know how I pulled that off? Read my guest post about it on Killer Nashville's blog here.

Graphic credit: © Yellowj |

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Something Old, Something New

Even back in 1870 they were giving out freebies:

Stop by Disenchanted & Co. today and find out how to use historic printed materials as world-building resources.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Coining or inventing words is a regular task for storytellers, and in certain genres plays an important part of world-building. Not every writer forges new words -- some are fine with using only words that already exist -- but word smithing can be fun and a great way to stretch both your vocabulary and your imagination.

When coining words for your fiction one of the easiest methods is to create compound words by joining together two small words to forge a new construct. Some examples of these that already exist in our language are copperhead, eyebrow, flowerpot, handbag, ladybug, sandstorm and windmill. When you create a compound word you should consider what the two words you're combining mean, how they relate to each other, and when combined what sort of imagery they invoke for your reader. Let's shuffle the example compound words I just gave you and see what new words we can invent:

copperbrow ~ eyebag ~ flowermill ~ handstorm ~ ladyhead ~ sandpot ~ windbug

Copperbrow made me think of a warrior wearing some sort of metal band or helm to protect his forehead or eyes. I imagine if a character doesn't get any sleep they'll acquire a huge matched set of eyebags. Flowermill invokes two ideas -- a village perfumery or a brothel that specializes either in catering to virgins or procuring them. An agitated translator for the deaf might indulge in a handstorm, while a garden of ladyhead plants might bloom with genteel elegance. An ancient fire extinguisher could be called a sandpot, and an exotic alien insect that lives its life entirely within the air currents above a planet (or another species of blustering, ineffective politician) should be named windbugs.

If compound words seem too obvious, you can meld them together more completely by joining them at shared prefixes or suffixes. For this you can play with's Invent-a-Word generator, which recombines words that share common prefixes or suffixes. It also allows you to choose the specific number of letters to be shared by the recombined words. Here's part of a list I got when I fed "word" as a 3-letter shared prefix to the generator:

word + ordain = wordain
word + ordeal = wordeal
word + order = worder
word + orderly = worderly
word + ordinal = wordinal
word + ordinance = wordinance
word + ordinaries = wordinaries
word + ordinarily = wordinarily
word + ordinate = wordinate
word + ordination = wordination

The generator can also be useful in reverse melding two words with a common suffix; here's a partial list of "word" as a 1-letter shared suffix:

aglow + word = agloword
borrow + word = borroword
claw + word = claword
draw + word = draword
few + word = feword
flaw + word = flaword
flow + word = floword
gnaw + word = gnaword
hallow + word = halloword
harrow + word = harroword
law + word = laword
low + word = loword
pew + word = peword
pillow + word = pilloword
shadow + word = shadoword
shallow + word = shalloword
show + word = showord
tallow + word = talloword
thaw + word = thaword
threw + word = threword
wallow + word = walloword
whew + word = wheword
widow + word = widoword

Do you have any particular tricks or tools you use when coining words for your stories that you'd like to share? Let us know in comments.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Sub Ops Ten

Ten Things About Submission Opportunities

Apex magazine is now open for submissions: "We do not want hackneyed, cliched plots or neat, tidy stories that take no risks. We do not want Idea Stories without character development or prose style, nor do we want derivative fantasy with Tolkien’s serial numbers filed off. What we want is sheer, unvarnished awesomeness. We want the stories it scared you to write. We want stories full of marrow and passion, stories that are twisted, strange, and beautiful. We want science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mash-ups of all three—the dark, weird stuff down at the bottom of your little literary heart. This magazine is not a publication credit, it is a place to put your secret places and dreams on display. Just so long as they have a dark speculative fiction element—we aren’t here for the quotidian. Keep in mind that the search for awesome stories is as difficult as writing them. If you are rejected, don’t get angry—instead, become more awesome. Write something better, and better, until we have to accept you, because we have been laid low by your tale. It really is that simple." Length: "a firm 5,000 words. Anything more will be auto-rejected." Payment: "for original fiction is $.05 per word up to 5,000 words; if we podcast your story, payment is $.01 per word up to 5,000 words." No unsolicited reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.

ArcheBooks Publishing is open to submissions of novels in most genres. Length: 60-120K (prefers 90K) Payment: $2/copy per hardcover sold; $1/copy per paperback or e-book sold. Query on reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.

Author Alex Shvartsman is looking for reprints only for his upcoming Coffee anthology: "Each story must somehow involve coffee as a major plot element. It’s not enough if an unrelated story is set in a coffee shop. I will also consider a few TEA stories as well. These stories must feature an element of the fantastic (fantasy, SF, light horror). No literary fiction please. For the moment, I will only consider reprints. If you published a story that you feel might fit the theme, please e-mail it to me at ufopublishing at gmail dot com. Please include information as to where and when it was first published, and confirm that the rights have reverted to you." Length: "Up to 4000 words. Flash (500-1000 words) especially welcome." Payment: "$0.01 per word plus one contributor copy of trade paperback and ebook." See gudelines here for more details.

Dark Opus Press has an open call for their Tell Me a Fable anthology: "We will be looking for stroies base on one of Grimm's Fariy Tales. We're sorry, but for the concept we're going for here we are not accepting poetry, reprints or artwork for this anthology. Our guidelines are simple. All stories MUST be based on a Grimm's Fariy Tale and NOT the Disney version. All stories must have a dark bent to them and be between 2,000 and 6,000 words. This word count is firm and stories outside this word range will not be considered. Please read our magazine guidelines to see what we do not want. If you don't review our magazine guidelines, we will know. We know that quite a few of Grimm's tales deal with children so we will be a little more lenient when it comes to violence toward children. However, it must be integral to your story and it should occur off-stage, if possible. If you are unsure, please query first." Payment: "Payment for accepted works will be a 1 cent a word US, plus one copy." Reading period: "The reading period for this anthology will start July 1st and end July 31st or until filled. Stories sent before July 1st will be deleted unread." No reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.

Light Speed webzine is open for submissions: Lightspeed is seeking original science fiction and fantasy stories of 1500-7500 words. Stories of 5000 words or less are preferred. We pay 8¢/word for original fiction, on acceptance. To see which rights we’re seeking, please view our contract template for original fiction. All types of science fiction and fantasy are welcome. No subject should be considered off-limits, and we encourage writers to take chances with their fiction and push the envelope. We believe that the science fiction/fantasy genre’s diversity is its greatest strength, and we wish that viewpoint to be reflected in our story content and our submission queues; we welcome submissions from writers of every race, religion, nationality, gender, and sexual orientation." Reprints okay (pays 1¢/word), electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.

Planetary Stories has a contest going: "Each issue of Planetary Stories, Pulp Spirit and Wonderlust will be carrying the winner of that contest. While making the above statement, I realize there is a chance it won't work out. We might not have enough winners, as there is only a few months before our first deadline, which will be September 15th. However, we will do our best to publicize this contest and make that statement come true. There are three categories, one for stories 250 words or less, one for stories up to 500 words, and flash fiction up to 1,000 words. ONE WINNER PER CATEGORY. The winner in each category will receive five cents per word, as well as a book from the Featured Author. No duplicate entries are allowed." See contest page here for more details.

Tephra magazine is looking for submissions: " open for international submissions to be included in the publication of its debut issue, due for release in both print and digital editions during the first quarter of 2014. We are seeking original, previously unpublished fiction, non-fiction, articles, essays, poetry, flash-fiction, art, comics, photography, interviews and reviews of books, films and theatre. TEPHRA will be covering a rather broad range of subject-matter, visions and voices - however, our tastes tend toward the unusual, the avant-garde, the curious and obscure. We have a penchant for absurdism, surrealism, dadaism, expressionism, transgressionalism, psychological horror, experimentation, science fiction, bizarro fiction and weird fiction." Length: "Fiction - 7,500 words or less; Non-Fiction / Articles / Essays - 3,500 words or less; Poetry: Please send no more that 10 poems per submission; Art & Photography: Please send a link to your portfolio and a brief biography. Image attachments will not be accepted; Interviews: Please send a propsal." Payment: "Payment is discussed privately between the editor (Justin Curfman) and the contributor upon acception. However, a 50 / 50 profit split is our general offer." See submission guidelines for more details.

Twilight Times Books is currently open for novel submissions: "Wanted: Mid-list authors. We need to place our resources behind authors who know how to promote their books. You don't necessarily need a national platform, a regional one will do. If you have demonstrated annual sales of 5k to 15k books, please consider placing your next novel or non-fiction book with Twilight Times Books or Paladin Timeless Books. Rest assured we will always keep a few slots open each year for exceptional books written by first time authors. Twilight Times Books will present the works of those writers whose stories blend genres, are too literary for other publishers or seem too mainstream or "quirky" in tone. The requirement for consideration at Twilight Times Books is your novel must be entertaining; your non-fiction book must be informative. Both fiction and non-fiction book submissions must be professionally written and you must have a comprehensive marketing plan. Purchase a book or read the stories in Twilight Times ezine to determine the type of writing we're interested in seeing. First consideration will be given to authors previously published by Twilight Times Books, Paladin Timeless Books, Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine (FMAM), Twilight Times ezine and/or Web Mystery Magazine. Our current response time is four weeks to two months. Simultaneous submissions will be considered with sufficient advance notice. We offer a standard publishing contract." Submission period: "We will be open to fiction submissions from June 15 to August 5, 2013." Looking for: "we will be especially interested in the following categories: fantasy, historical, literary, military, mystery/suspense, paranormal romance, science fiction, SF romance and YA fantasy." Also: "We have expanded our guidelines to include more nonfiction titles in 2013-2015 and we are also interested in: creative nonfiction, how-to books, humor/satire, juvenile, magic realism, mainstream/contemporary, military/war-related, nostalgia-related fiction and non-fiction, paranormal, Regency romance, regional, specialty/New Age, supernatural, the Sixties-related (fiction or nonfiction), World War II-related, women's fiction, writing advice, etc." Query on reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Unlikely Story is currently open for submissions: "Unlikely Story publishes three themed issues a year: The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography, and The Journal of Whatever Tickles Our Fancy This Year. We reserve the right to put out an indeterminate number of further sub-themed mini-issues on an irregular basis, if we feel like it. nWhat we’re looking for: Beautifully-written fiction, characters that grab us by the throats and refuse to let go, worlds that demand to be explored…and bugs. Genre isn’t particularly important to us—speculative, mainstream, slipstream, and the unclassifiable tales in between—we’ll read anything; all we ask is that something pertaining to bugs is integral or significant in your story. The bug element can be literal or metaphorical, hallucinatory or behavioral or metaphysical, or any combination thereof. Not quite sure what we’re talking about? Think of The Metamorphosis, Ender’s Game, Angels and Insects, Naked Lunch, A Recipe for Bees, District 9, Eight Legged Freaks, and Sandkings. Basically, think bugs, and let your imagination run wild. There are no barriers as to levels of profanity, gore, or sexuality allowed, but be sure to use them well if you do use them. Please note: our definition of bugs is somewhat expansive. Please read our FAQ for details. Our second non-entomological issue will be The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography. JoUC will publish annually. Submissions open July 1 – November 1, 2013." Length: "We’ll consider stories up to 8000 words, but strongly prefer stories of 5000 words or less. We’re open to flash fiction and fiction in non-traditional formats, but we do not publish poetry or non-fiction." Payment: We pay 5¢ per word for original fiction, and 1¢ per word for reprints." Electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.

World Weaver Press has an open callfor their upcoming Krampus anthology: "You know the Jolly Old Elf of Christmas, right? Of course you do. You can’t avoid him. Yet, Santa Claus isn’t just a kindly old expert at breaking and entering and leaving gifts he didn’t actually buy for the children of a house. At least he isn’t in Austria and many other parts of Europe. In these ancient places, where, perhaps, the old, old gods still add a touch of mischief, Krampus is the angry, punishing sidekick of St. Nicholas (Santa’s counterpart in much of Europe). Known for his willingness to punish rotten children, Krampus might even be considered Santa’s dark side or evil twin. Krampus is the sort of guy more and more North Americans want to explore. He’s definitely having a moment this side of the Atlantic. To that end, World Weaver Press and Enchanted Conversation: A Fairy Tale Magazine are pleased to announce a joint venture: An anthology of Krampus short stories. Although the book is yet to be named, we hope you’ll explore every possible Krampus angle via short stories. He’s a nasty old dude, and we hope your imaginations will get the better of you. Length: "Under 10,000 words." Payment: "$10 from Enchanted Conversation and paperback copy of the anthology from World Weaver Press." No reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details. Open submission period: June 15 – August 1, 2013.

Most of the above sub ops came from the marvelous market listings at Special thanks to Kaitlyn Koby at World Weaver Press for the heads up on their open call, too.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Comments Catchup Day

See you in comments.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

When I Can't Write

This past week bad weather has been keeping me offline, which has reduced my writing time on the computer to only an hour or two every day. When this happens (and every summer it generally does) I try to work on editing hard copies or tinker on story ideas, but I'm pretty dependent on the VRS for handling the bulk of my writing. Fortunately this year I have a lot of non-writing promo projects waiting in the wings, like the giveaway totes I'm making for Her Ladyship's Curse, my August release. Here's one I just finished:

Because I had extra time on my hands to work on the embellishment, I let myself go a little crazy with it (no pun intended):

I also experimented with a new technique to pad the inside of the tote, both to cushion and protect the beadwork and make the interior a little more unique. This also turned out nicely:

All the hours I spent sewing gave me time to think about writing, too, and that's an important part of my process. Writing a story is not just about getting it down on the page; at times I have to let things simmer and sort through what comes out of the mix. Having the down time gave me a chance to run through the story I'm working on and visualize things and do a bit of rearranging. I stopped sewing now and then to make a sketch and jot down some notes, but it was sitting and just thinking about the story that helped me the most. When I finally did get a chance to turn on the computer and write, I went to town and knocked out three times the amount of work I usually produce.

It can be frustrating, wanting to write but being unable to due to circumstances beyond your control. Next time, don't let it annoy you -- use the time to think about your story. You might find that when you do get back to the actual writing you have a lot more to put on the page.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Boxes and Big Cats

Nothing melts your heart quite like watching a bunch of big cats behave like, well, cats (background piano music in this one, for those of you at work):

Video link filched from Gerard over at the Presurfer.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Sometimes when I'm working on the porch I get the feeling I'm being watched -- and sometimes it turns out that I am:

Our dog Cole has already chased these two cranes from our yard twice this Spring, but they keep returning to stroll across the property like a couple of supermodels. They also don't mind so much being photographed, but I'm still careful to keep my distance and use the zoom. I think this one might have been snickering a little at me:

Playing polite paparazzi to the cranes has also helped me notice more things about them. At first glance they look identical, but they have very different personalities. One is cautious, easily-spooked and almost tiptoes through the grass; the other is aggressive, loud and always seems to be looking for trouble -- but he's also very protective of his partner (I'm guessing he's the male):

Seeing how they interact with each other is teaching a lot about partners -- and not just the romantic variety. They never eat or preen at the same time; one always stands guard out while the other digs for bugs or neatens the feathers. When they fly off, however, they match each other's moves and stay within two feet of each other in the air. They also squabble now and then, but never when they can see me watching them (which I suppose is like an old married couple.)

I've read up on sandhill cranes and discovered some surprising facts about them, such as they eat just about anything, from mice to snakes to bugs, but it's illegal in my state for humans to feed them (not that I ever would; I just didn't know it was against the law.) They live for as long as twenty years, and I've known this pair for ten, so they're probably middle-aged. These cranes are also so territorial they will attack their own reflections, which is why they sometimes damage cars and windows. Watching them together has taught me a lot that isn't in the books, such as I have never once seen them apart, and yet they still call to each other across the yard. I can't tell if they're having a conversation, doing the mating thing or simply feel nervous, but no matter what they do I get the sense that they're always focused on each other -- true partners in every sense, caught up in their own story.

I just wish I could do this when I get an itch on my back.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Elsewhere with Fangs & Fichus

Today I'm making a guest appearance at The Sisterhood of the Jaunty Quills, where I'll be discussing the differences between vampire and non-vampire fiction. Stop by if you get a chance, enter the giveaway and you might win some Victorian goodies, one of my handmade pocket watch pendants, and a signed print galley copy of Her Ladyship's Curse.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Technical Difficulties

Bad weather and what it's doing to our power and broadband has been keeping me offline, but once I can boot up for longer than two minutes I'll be back to catch up. Sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Her Ladyship's Ten

Ten Reasons You Should Preorder Her Ladyship's Curse by Lynn Viehl

Awesome World-Building: I constructed this universe from the ground up, and it's one of, if not the finest, that I've ever built. At least that's what all my first readers keep telling me. They could be lying, of course, but some of them really aren't that nice.

Continuing Health Insurance Coverage: Profits from this series will go toward paying my health insurance premiums, which at this point are pretty much astronomical. Buy the book and you'll enable me to get regular checkups, physical therapy, my annual mammogram, and otherwise maintain my health so I can continue writing novels for you. Uninterrupted health care coverage will also keep me out of hot water with the IRS and the President of the United States, never a bad thing.

Fanger-Free: Some of you StarDoc fans bailed on me when I began writing the vampire books, probably because you think vampire fiction is repulsive. No problem; I feel the same way about inspirational chick-lit. I guarantee you there are absolutely no vampires whatsoever in this book, and furthermore I give you my solemn pledge to keep these novels 100% vampire-free for the duration of the series. You can trust me; I was a Girl Scout.

First in the Series: While we're on the subject of series, this is the first novel in my latest. You know what this means: you don't have to first read 683 other books in order to get all the references. I bet after reading this book you'll have so much time on your hands you can probably get all your housework and laundry done and still have a couple hours to catch up on the latest episodes of Scandal.

History Rewritten: How many times have you wondered what would have happened to America if the colonists had actually lost the War of Independence, and were obliged to remain part of the British Empire? I bet you were talking about it at dinner just last night. Well, now you can find out -- but only by reading this book.

Instant Guilt Relief: Some of you have been coming to PBW for the last nine years to be entertained, discover online freebies, enter giveaways for free books, find answers to your writing-related questions, gather links, steathily borrow from my content, etc. -- and yet to date you've never purchased a single novel I've written. This haunts you terribly, I know, and I don't want you to feel tormented any longer. Instantly rid yourself of the guilt by pre-ordering Her Ladyship's Curse.

Investment in Artist: Profits from this series will also go to paying for college tuition for my kid, who at presently has ambitions to be an animator. She's very talented (this is one of her pieces) and I think she deserves a shot; buy a book and you help me make this happen.

Low Price: The book costs $2.99 (or less if you have a discount card somewhere.) That's about the same price as the average grande drink at Starbucks. I'm worth as much to you as the price of a dinky cup of designer coffee, am I right? Okay, lie to me and say I am.

Perfect Wedding Gift for My Editor: Yes, he's getting married, any minute now, and he really doesn't need another toaster.

Support for PBW: Yes, I always tell you that buying my books is the only way to really support the blog. Naturally you could just send me a check for $2.99, but that would make me a little uncomfortable and definitely piss off my publisher. This way you get a book, I get financial support, and my publisher stays happy with both of us. Win/win/win.

Ready to pre-order the e-book? Here's where you can:

B& for Nook

iTunes for your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or other iOS device

Books-a-Million for Epub

Amazon for Kindle

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Comments Catchup Day

Happy Father's day to all you dads out there, and see you in comments.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Fourth Nest (or First?)

The doves are backing having babies again:

I've gotten so used to this now I don't even blink when I see her up there. We also decided to leave the nest intact after the last batch because as precarious as it looks, it's actually very secure, and there have been no baby dove casualties. It's also in a spot that is well-protected from the local predators (probably why the doves keep coming back, too):

I don't think this is the same dove, however. Here's a closeup of this new Mama:

Now here's a closeup of the Mama dove from the three previous nests:

The new Mama has a lighter throat and different markings, and the pink on her beak is more pronounced, so either she's gotten a lot of sun lately, or she might be a female from one of the previous clutches. What do you guys think?

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Personal Cathedral

This video will give you some insight into the remarkable life of mountaineer Jim Whittaker, the first American to reach the summit of Mt. Everest (contains narration and background music, for those of you at work):

A Life Well Lived | Jim Whittaker & 50 Years of Everest from eric becker on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Can you turn driftwood, two by fours, cereal bags and coasters into journals? If you get the third issue of Pages magazine you can; those are just a few of the projects included in this Summer 2013 edition. There are also two articles on how to make journals you can wear on necklaces which look like fun; I'm definitely going to try my hand at both.

Over the last couple of years the evolution of journal-making as an art form has been fascinating to follow. Mixed media artists are bringing new materials, techniques and perspectives to the craft that are entirely unexpected, and taking the journal in all sorts of new directions. Pages does a great job in sampling some of the most interesting of these as well as presenting ideas I've seen nowhere else. As with previous issues the mag offers multiple projects with detailed instructions for bookmaking, covers and binding, inside pages and the art of journaling, and as always there are plenty of ways you can repurpose and upcycle materials to keep your projects green.

One of the articles in this issue, Boiled Books by Laura Ryan, involves combining botanical material with paper in a layered packet that you boil to transfer the natural dyes in the botanicals to the paper. You may remember I did something like this (admittedly on a much smaller scale) with my tea-dyed index card journal, and the results were very pleasing.

Laura's results are stunning:

Personally I can't wait to try her technique. One note of caution on this project: many plant materials like oleander can be highly toxic, so be sure whatever botanicals you use are safe before you handle them or toss them in the boiling water (and Laura makes quite a few suggestions of non-toxic organic materials you can safely use in the article.)

In the editors' picks section I noted one more thing I immediately wanted, this watercolor pocket field sketch box by Sakura. It's hard for me to travel with my watercolors, and this kit sounds ideal as a take-along. The brush in the kit contains a reservoir that you fill with water; if that really works and eliminates the need for a water dish that will make the kit super convenient for watercolorists who want to paint on the go.

You can usually find Pages on the magazine racks at most big chain booksellers, or order it online here in print or as a digital download here.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Elsewhere with Q&A

Today I'm kicking off a new World-building Wednesday feature over at the series blog, and I'm looking for input from people interested in the topic. Stop in if you get a chance and let me know what sort of world-building-related subjects you'd like to see me cover in future posts. To qualify for the surprise giveaway you must leave your suggestion in comments to the June 12th post over at the Disenchanted & Co. blog.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Story Improvement

I get some of my best story ideas at the local home improvement store, where I always make a point to stop by the paint department. Paint manufacturers have some of the most creative marketing people of any industry, and they're always finding new ways to not only name colors but also combine them into palettes that reflect a certain trend or mood.

On this trip I was simply looking for color inspiration for a character who so far has been resisting my efforts to properly visualize her. Sometimes putting together a personality-type palette helps me make that jump from knowing the character to actually seeing the character in my head. We didn't have a lot of time for me to stand and stare paint chips, though, so I collect some of the idea folders and brought them home to brood over.

Olympic paint has recently done some marvelous things with their color line: they've created little color palettes with removable, stick-on chips you can transfer from the idea folder to something else. I've always cut out the chips and clipped, stapled or glue-sticked them into my novel notebooks, so this was super convenient for me. It also allowed me to mix colors from several different collections into my own custom palette. Valspar's latest idea cards show a four-color palette next to a room where they've been used, which can be very helpful when you're trying to create a setting. If you're not crazy about recombining colors, these cards can give you some ready-made palettes to use for characters, too.

Olympic also has folders with design and decorating ideas to reflect a certain lifestyle (creative, easy, global, serene and techno are some examples.) These folders contain eight-color palettes (with more of the removable, sticky-backed paint chips), rooms in which the palettes were used, as well as textures and ideas that make them work. These are worth picking up just to see some of the amazing rooms they put together.

I also found a new resource on this trip that is going to be extremely helpful to me personally; a folder of paint chips showing Olympic's line of semi-transparent wood stains. For some reason describing variations on the color brown are especially challenging for me, and after writing fifty books I feel sometimes that I've used up every creative word that means brown. In this one folder there are 48 chips for different shades of brown, and while some of the shade names are not new to me (russet, mushroom, black oak), others (weathered barnboard, clove, driftwood) are. Seeing all of them together gave me the push I needed to think about the color brown differently.

Anyway, back to my image-resistant character. Once I was home and could play with the paint chips, I built a palette for the character that simply felt right -- two shades of blue, two shades of warm whites, a vibrant rose, a dark violet and a cool brown. I then kept that palette in my head and went through my character idea folder with all the body- and face-model images I've been collecting as possibilities for this character, and there she was -- an image I almost didn't put in the folder because it's almost the exact opposite of what I assumed the character would look like.

This character is dark, troubled and very conflicted inside, but building the palette helped me see her from the outside, where it doesn't show. I already knew everything about her is kept hidden and silent, but I didn't think about how that could be expressed (and camouflaged) by her appearance. She looks like a creature of light and mystery; delicate, vulnerable and even a little helpless -- which she certainly is not on the inside. This character's palette doesn't reflect who she is, but rather who she wants to be. That was something I needed to learn before I could see her properly.

Using color palettes to build characters forces you to rely on your writer instincts, and allows things that may be lingering in your subconscious emerge. That's the most valuable aspect of playing with colors; they connect to us on different levels and inspire us to take new directions. They can also help us discover things we know but we haven't yet put together into a cohesive construct. So the next time you have to pick up something for home improvement, stop by the paint department and see what stirs your imagination for story improvement.

Monday, June 10, 2013

No Cost 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.

ArtSage is a "small graphics viewer. It displays the image files in a folder tree. ArtSage is freeware for personal non-commercial use" (OS: Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7 [32-Bit/64-Bit])

E-Z Contact Book is a "free, powerful yet easy-to-use Windows application for managing contact information. You can use it as a personal contact address/phone book, business directory, or a customer database. Personal and business phone numbers, emails, web pages, faxes, addresses, customer notes - you can maintain all this data in one simple application. Fast and powerful "wildcard" search allows you to find contact in just a few key strokes among hundreds or thousands of entries using a fraction of a phone number or a name" (OS: Windows XP/2003/Vista/2008/7)

Feel Good is a "free program that is an attempt to persuade people to feel good about their own bodies by keeping a score of the good things and not so good things that they do to themselves. Honesty is obviously the best policy when using this program. There would be no point otherwise. Feel Good runs from Monday to Sunday each week and it is suggested that the user begins on a Monday. There are three scoring Grids named Healthy Food, Indulgences and Exercises. You make choices in each grid in the same way. Click on the Maroon button at the bottom of the Grid and then click into the appropriate Cell for the Day and the Item chosen" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

Fountain Pen is a "word processor keeps it simple so you can concentrate on writing. A menubar, compositions panel and toolbar can all can be hidden. Best of all, you can bring in an attractive backdrop to cover your desktop and dock. Your work is saved in the app and can be output to HTML, rich text or InDesign tagged text" (OS: Mac OS X 10.6 and newer systems)

Globonote is a "free and easy to use desktop note taking application. It lets you create sticky notes, to-do lists, journals, reminders and other notes in one place. There are no limits to the number of sticky notes you can create. Notes can be organize by groups and search using the search tool" (OS: Designer notes "GloboNote can be run in any OS that has Java 6 installed.")

In My Diary is a "smart, free personal organizer. The main display is based on a traditional diary format but, although all entries appear as one line of text, each actual entry can contain as many lines as required. Diary entries can be set to auto-repeat at the required interval. In addition to the daily diary, there is also a daily journal facility, a calendar, Password Manager (and generator), Address book with flexible labelling system, Anniversary entries and a notes section with links to diary entries" (OS: Designer notes: "It runs on Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7, and on Apple Mac (10.4 and above). There is also now a native version for Linux OS or the Windows version can be used and works well running in the Wine emulator. Downloads for MacOS X and Linux are available at the developer´s website")

Mext is a "text editor that is designed for writing programs helps, drawing up technical documentation, creating webpages. The editor is focused on drawing up documents, where strict conformity of data blocks (text, images, tables) with certain styles is important" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7/8)

Piggydb is a "Web notebook application that provides you with a platform to build your knowledge personally or collaboratively. With Piggydb, you can create highly structural knowledge by connecting knowledge fragments to each other to build a network structure, which is more flexible and expressive than a tree structure. Fragments can also be classified with hierarchical tags. Piggydb does not aim to be an input-and-search database application. It aims to be a platform that encourages you to organize your knowledge continuously to discover new ideas or concepts, and moreover enrich your creativity" (OS: Multi-Platform [Java]; Requires Java Runtime Environment)

The designer of Tea Timer notes: "Thanks to this simple program you will never forget about your tea. The program requires no installation, you just download (e.g. on the work desktop) and run the file. Then just set up required time period and press Start button. After the time period has elapsed you will be notified by the Tea Timer that your tea has brewed long enough" (OS: Windows XP/2003/Vista/7)

USBWriter is a "free portable program that allows you to easily write an image file directly to a USB flash drive. USBWriter is very easy to use. Simply select the image file, the target drive, and click "Write". This free tool is ideal for bootable distros of operating systems such as Linux" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7/8 [32-Bit/64-Bit])

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Comments Catchup Day

See you in comments.

Saturday, June 08, 2013


Photography has taught me a lot about writing. Through the camera's lens I see the world and use its functions try to capture my vision of it as a permanent record. But not everything I see properly translates that perspective. For example, this picture:

This is a leaf on one of my rose bushes, covered with early morning dew. At first glance it's okay but really nothing special. Yet when I focused the camera a bit closer, more details came out, such as the structure of the leaf, at points magnified by the dew drops. The colors also seemed more intense, and new things became apparent that I didn't notice when I snapped the first pic. I couldn't see the very tiny drops of dew surrounding the larger ones until I zoomed in and snapped this:

Getting closer gave me a better perspective and allowed me to bring out more of what was special about this otherwise ordinary sight. The delight of that made me decide to go in even closer (via Photoshop) and isolate the universe contained in just one dew drop:

Not much of a universe, is it? That's because I went in too close and blocked out everything else and ended up with a kind of fuzzy circle that is even less interesting than the first photo. Worse, if that's all I showed you, you probably wouldn't know what it was.

Everthing you write should present mental snapshots to your reader. If you keep your distance and don't focus, all they get is a very general (and typically blasé) idea of your vision (which is the first photo). On the flip side, if you focus too much and zoom in too close, the reader has no context and probably won't recognize anything (as in the third photo). So story that emulates the middle photo, where you see the obvious and some of that which is not so obvious, is the ideal balance.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Unwoven Light

I've seen a lot of art installations over the years, but this one will stay with me for a while (includes narration and background music, for those of you at work):

Soo Sunny Park: Unwoven Light from Walley Films on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Andrea & Interesting Sub Op

We're currently under a tropical storm watch here, and while we're always prepared for bad weather, the conditions may knock out our power and internet and keep me unplugged for a bit. For any of you who might also be in the path, you can find out more about Tropical Storm Andrea at the National Hurricane Center website here.

Also, a heads-up on an interesting sub op -- while I was checking something at this new antho listing caught my eye:

Ticonderoga Publications has an open call for their new romance steampunk-themed anthology: "This anthology, with the working title Kisses by Clockwork, will combine the fun and irreverence of steampunk fiction with an element of romance. There might be stories of airships, gaslight romance, retro-futurism, post-apocalyptic steam-powered cities, analytical engines or neo-Victorian ladies and gentlemen. The relationship/s in the stories should have an emphasis on romance rather than erotica, but well-placed steamy scenes necessary for the plot are of course, acceptable." Length: 2-7K; publisher notes "Longer stories may be accepted, although payment is capped at 7,500." Payment: "2 copies of anthology and Aus 2.5 cents/word (GST inc., maximum payment $187.50) on publication." No reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: October 15th, 2013.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Backyard Surprises

Our neighborhood sandhill cranes paid me a visit yesterday morning:

My dogs would like nothing better than to chase them around the yard, so I'll have to remember to check for them before we step outside.

Over the years the cranes have grown slightly less skittish of humans, so I was able to get a bit closer without alarming them. I'd love to get some more close-up shots like this one:

This morning we had another surprise show up in the pasture bordering the back of our property:

At first I thought a stray dog had gotten into the field, but on closer inspection it turned out to be a new addition to the herd:

You know the really old saying about making calf's eyes at someone? This is what it actually looks like:

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Over at Disenchanted & Co.

I'm making some changes to the Disenchanted & Co. series blog; stop by today if you get a chance to see what's new and what to expect in the months ahead.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Book Giving Ten

Ten Things You Can Do with Unwanted Print Books

Donate Them: Every public library I've ever visited accepts donations of any type of book; most sell donated books to library patrons and/or to the public during regularly scheduled book sales. The funds raised by these sales go to benefit the library, so it's a good cause. Many libraries also accept donations of used magazines, for those of you who don't like to throw them away.

Give Them to Patients: Contact your local hospital to see if they have a patient library and/or accept donations of books for patient use. Many veteran hospitals also maintain a library of donated books for our wounded and recovering soldiers.

Make Them into Art: Librarian Lindsay White has a very cool page on Pinterest here with plenty of ideas on how you can turn old books into new artworks.

Pass Them Along to Students: Budget cuts are depriving our public schools of many things, including much-needed reference books and fiction appropriate for kids, so check with your local public schools to see if they accept donations. Also, if your kids have outgrown their preschool books, call a daycare center and see if they can use them.

Release Them into the Wild: defines itself as "the World's Library. It's a smart social networking site. It's a celebration of literature and a place where books get new life. BookCrossing is the act of giving a book a unique identity so, as the book is passed from reader to reader, it can be tracked and thus connecting its readers. There are currently 1,882,717 BookCrossers and 9,734,339 books travelling throughout 132 countries. Our community is changing the world and touching lives one book at a time." To use this site, you register, print out and attach a tracking label for your title, and then leave the book in a public place. You can then track your title as others pick it up and pass it along (assuming everyone who does registers with the site and updates the book's travels, naturally.)

Sell Them: Sites like Cash4Books will buy some of your unwanted books and even provide you with a free shipping label to send them along. Note that they will not buy everything (you usually need to punch in the ISBN and see if they're buying the title), and for most books they offer only small/token amounts -- but something is better than nothing.

Swap Them for Something You Want: Book trading sites like allow you to swap your unwanted books with other readers. I think this is an especially neat service because your book goes to someone who really wants it and you get something you want to read in return, which is the best kind of book win/win.

Turn Them into Bookends: Transform your unwanted titles into a pair of interesting bookends -- Design Sponge has all the DIY instructions for this project here.

Use Them for Interesting Craft Projects: Here's a slideshow of 21 craft projects made from old books; I really liked the birdhouse and table runner (I bet you could make a neat party table covering from book pages, too.)

Work Them into Clocks: With an hour, a drill and less than $10.00 in supplies you can turn an old book into a wall clock; Design Dazzle shows you how here.

Do you have any ideas on or links to interesting ways to recycle old print books? Let us know in comments.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Comments Catchup Day

See you in comments.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Secret Rooms

Imagine discovering your home contained a secret room that you never knew existed -- that just happened to Reddit user mYNDIG, who posted photos of it here. Other Reddit users speculate the space was used as a radio room or even to hide people during WWII (and to me the one little doll shoe strongly suggests the latter.)

I love reading about stories like this, probably because the secret room is one of my favorite elements in fiction. It first scared the daylights out of me when I read Poe's The Cask of Amontillado, and again when I discovered what Miss Emily was hiding in one of her rooms in Faulkner's A Rose for Emily. Rob Thurman's latest Cal Leandros novel, Slashback, has a scary secret room in the backstory, and Robin Cook used an ancient secret room (as well as a unique way of hiding it) as the hub of the entire plot of Sphinx. There can be more than one secret room in a story, too; I have three of them in my novel Night Lost, and Stephen King famously packed an entire hotel to the rafters with them in The Shining.

The secret room to me has always worked best as a subtle metaphor as well as a physical setting. The triumvirate of secret rooms in Night Lost are not simply places; they embody the changes that occur during the dual journey of the protagonists as they progress from being lost and alone to finding each other in three acts (thus three rooms.) The secret room can also work as a metaphor for the true self, a double life, the chains of the past or the doorway to a new future -- it's all in how you use it.

If you'd like to play with the secret room as a story element, here are some writing exercises to try:

Create a secret room in one of your character's homes that hides something important (good or bad) to your character. First describe the room as a setting, and then write a short scene in which your character discovers it.

Write a flash fiction story in which a secret room is a main character -- either as a protagonist or an antagonist.

Describe a secret room that embodies this saying: One man's trash is another man's treasure.

Tell the story of the discovery of a secret room from the room's POV.

Now it's your turn: What's your favorite secret room story? Let us know in comments.