Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Grist vs. Gift

One metaphor that has never fit well for me is "grist for the mill." For everyone else in the world it means something that is useful for a particular purpose; for writers it's meant to describe what gives us inspiration, ideas or anything that ends up sparking or going into a story. I don't have a problem with the concept, just the word: grist. For me it immediately invokes gristle, which paired with the mill is simply disgusting, imagery-wise. I think grist is a bit heartless, too. It implies inspiration is nothing more than fodder to be ground up and used.

Since I always want to change things to suit myself, I thought about my attitude toward what inspires me. I consider things that fall into the grist/mill category as gifts from the universe. It may be magical thinking, but the universe always seems to be tossing things at me that make their way into my stories: art, Chinese cookie fortunes, colors, critters, music, odd names, phrases, scents, and textures, to mention a few.

Some of the strongest elements in the stories I write are inspired by very mundane things, too. Broken glass and an old pocket watch evolved into a dreadful superpower (Lucan's from Dark Need) and a time travel device (Disenchanted & Co.) respectively. Gifts for the mill can be very small, too, like a character name (the name Mordred from the Arthurian legend, turned inside out + e = Dredmore in my Toriana books) or something huge (apparently the Oregon Dunes helped Frank Herbert create the SF world of Dune).

Such inspirations often have intense, personal meanings for the writer as well. The photo of the pocket watch you see with this post is one I altered and made into a necklace, and is based on the time-travel device in my story, which was in turn inspired by a lovely old pocket watch I saw in an antique store on one of the best days in my life. For readers, it's a time-travel device. For me it's that and a reminder of something wonderful. Gifts remind us to be grateful and appreciative for whatever makes it into our stories, which is a bit healthier than seeing inspiration as something we can use.

So what was the last gift for the mill you received? Let us know in comments.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Prepping for NaNoWriMo

It's never too early to prepare for National Novel Writing Month. I'm taking the first step today by committing to what I'll write as my November novel, which will be the sequel to Ghost Writer. Since I'll also be working in November I need to get as much done in advance on plotting, research, setting up my novel notebook, etc., so that all I need to do on November 1st is start writing.

Other things I have to decide on:

A title: It can be a working title, but I need something to call it. I really dislike writing a story without a title. I don't know why. Just one of my things, I guess.

A cast: I like to know who will be in the story before I write it, so I'll make up character lists. For this book Emma, Julian, Carol, Nerina, Marti, Jeff and Olivia are my main cast; I just need to figure out who else will be on the page with them.

A focal image: This is a picture relating to the story that I put in the front view panel of my notebook. It makes the notebook easy to spot (I am the Queen of Novel Notebook Planet) and it often helps me in odd ways.

An outline: I'll write a one-page synopsis first to get down the broad strokes, and then break it up into more detailed chapter summaries (I also do this when I'm pitching an idea to a client.)

A theme: All my novels have a conceptual theme of one or two words. For example, Ghost Writer's theme was survivors.

This is my process, and since it always works I stick to it; you may want to do more or less to prepare. Once I have everything put together I'll also post it online so you can see the actual prep work. Are any of you ready to commit to NaNoWriMo? Let us know in comments.

Image credit: Miiisha

Friday, August 25, 2017

Pardon My Bubbles

Pay no attention to the repetitive images; I'm messing with Blogger's code to see how I can make it work for me. I think I've actually got a handle on it now; I'm just uploading through their widget and then stealing the URL to work it back into my old familiar code, which allows me to resize it and put it where/how I like.

I'm going to have to redo fourteen years of posts with images in order to end my dependency on PhotoBucket, but at least now I know how to do it.

Image credit: Flynt

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Ghost Writing BOLOs

After freelancing for three years I've developed a sense for what sort of client to be on the lookout for when I read job listings. Basically I watch for professional clients who offer details and who are prepared to pay a reasonable amount for quality work. I've also picked up on things that tell me the client and I are likely not a good match: hints of micro-managing, rambling listings with no solid info on the work, or rife with claims of how busy or important they are, and of course my personal favorite, threats to prosecute me before I even start working for them.

There's no one yardstick to measure potential clients for anyone, but you can usually pick up on these red flags:

Crowd-funding payment: If you see crowd-funding mentioned anywhere in the listing for the project, make sure your part is fully funded first before you take the job. You want to get paid, not hope to get paid if everyone likes the idea over on Kickstarter.

Multi-staged auditions: Often clients will ask a potential hire to write a trial scene of a couple thousand words, for which they will pay only pennies. This is slightly annoying, but okay. Asking you to do that, plus a chapter if the trial scene is accepted, and then three chapters if the chapter is accepted -- you get the picture. This client can't commit (and I had a publisher do this to me for almost a year, once, so it's not bad behavior exclusive to WFH clients.)

Settling someone's score: An obviously angry client wants someone to write a story about something like, say, their horrible divorce. Before you get sucked into it, let me tell you what they probably really want: a very cheap therapist, or a co-conspirator in a revenge plot. Be neither.

Too much work, too little pay: No client wants to pay millions, but there are plenty who want to pay peanuts (aka a penny a word.) If you're a newbie ghost writer trying to get your foot in the door, you can go for these jobs, but stick to small projects until you've built up your resume enough to attract better clients. Two cents a word is standard, but three cents a word (while rare) is better.

Unreasonable expectations: Some clients seem to think writing takes no time at all, or that writers are like sweat shop workers. I saw a listing the other day for a client who wants five thousand words minimum turned in every day. For a penny a word? That's fifty bucks. You can make more than that slinging burgers.

Finally, trust your instincts. If something in the listing makes you uneasy, that's a red flag (even if you can't define why it unsettles you.)

Monday, August 21, 2017

Sub Op

Otter Libris has this open call for their upcoming MCSI: Magical Crime Scene Investigation antho: "Sometimes the tools that mundane detectives use to solve the crimes of the world just aren’t enough – sometimes you have to call on a little magic. We’re looking for urban fantasy stories that involve a crime scene and require the investigator to use magic or engage the aid of a magical being to solve the crime. Did the house’s hob see what really happened in the domestic violence incident? Does a detective come into possession of a genie’s lamp that will grant him one wish, and he uses it to solve the case that got away? Does your gumshoe use a tracking spell to find the perpetrator using a few strands of hair she found at the scene? The people in your world can use magic openly or on the sly, it’s all up to you. But your story must be urban fantasy, and involve a crime scene and magic in some way."

Also, on what they really want to see: "Comedy, comedy, comedy! We truly don’t see enough of this in the slush pile and giving us something that makes us laugh will give you a leg up on the competition. Diverse protagonists – we’ve got nothing against the classic gumshoes of the noir era (usually white males), but we want to see something new. This doesn’t mean we won’t accept a story with a white male lead, but you’re going to have to knock our socks off. Magic systems and magical creatures outside of the typical European-based fare that’s dominated Western publishing for so long. Again, we want something new and fresh; and if you do use the more well known European-based magic and creatures, you’re going to have to wow us."

Length: "We’re looking for stories that fall in the 3,000 to 10,000 word range. We will consider looking at stories outside this range, but they need to be just too good for us to pass up. You have a much better chance if you keep the word count within our range. Please query us before sending a story outside of the word count guidelines." On reprints: "We prefer unpublished, original fiction. However, we will consider including one or two reprints in this anthology, but only if they are overwhelmingly fantastic. Make sure you let us know if your story has been published elsewhere before." Payment: "Unpublished stories earn a onetime fee of $25 plus one contributor’s copy for the original terms of the contract. Reprints earn a onetime fee of $10 plus one contributor’s copy for the original terms of the contract. Payment is within 90 days of publication." On submissions: "We will be accepting electronic submissions only. Make sure you put “MCSI” in your email subject line. No simultaneous or multiple submissions please. Send your story as a .doc or .rtf file to submissions at otterlibris dot com." Submission Window: "We will be open for submissions for the anthology beginning on October 1, 2017 and close to submissions on January 31, 2018.

For more information, go to their guidelines page here.

Friday, August 18, 2017

For Art's Sake

This is another pic test, but also displays what was a big step for me as a quilter. Over the summer I made my first official art quilt (which I define as a quilted piece created organically and strictly to function as art.) I've done some crazy quilted and fiber art pieces, but both times I used stitch guides or patterns. This time I planned nothing, collected the materials I wanted to use as I spotted them, and then put it together and embroidered and quilted it. No patterns. No stitch guide. I designed it based on things in my life, and went with improvisational stitching.

How was it, working on the art quilt? I can tell you that it felt intimidating and frustrating, and at times scared the crap out of me. The whole time I worked on it I wanted to run for my how-to books and use something from them rather than invent my own designs. Even as I put the last stitches in I considered hiding it under the bed.

It's definitely not perfect, and I've seen art quilts that are a hundred times better. I also love every single awkward unplanned imperfect stitch of it, because it's mine. My world. My art. My hands. My vision. I know because I did the same thing thirty-three years ago when I wrote my first novel.

I had no practical reason to make this art quilt. The time I used to work on it could have been spent working on a handmade gift for someone else -- I live in what has become the house of quilts, so I give away almost everything I make now to family or friends. I didn't need another wall hanging; I'm actually running out of wall space in the office. When I thought about it before I made it, I felt like I was being selfish to put so much of my spare time into what seemed basically useless.

Any of that sound familiar? Most of us are so busy with making a living or caring/providing for family that we feel guilty when we give a little of ourselves to our art. To do something just to create beauty, that doesn't generate income, almost seems wasteful. To vent or rejoice or mourn or celebrate through art is probably the best therapy on the planet, and yet we beat ourselves for doing it, or behave as if it's something we have to do in secret, like using drugs or booze.

This art quilt, awkward and amateurish as it is, represents one of the changes I'm making in my creative life. I'm taking a little time for me now, and I don't feel guilty about that. I've spent my life to caring for and giving to others. There are still things I need to discover. I'm going looking for them.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Jump Start Ten

Ten Things You Can Do to Jump Start Your Writing Life

Color Spark: Put together a palette of colors (DeGraeve's Palette Generator will make one for you based on any online pic you feed to it) and create a character or setting based on the color combination.

Copy That: Write cover copy for a short story or novel you want to write. If you like how it comes out, use the copy as your story outline.

Cover It: Create a book cover for a story you want to write, and hang it up in your writing space as inspiration/motivation. Or use a cover generator like this French one (input your byline in the box and pick an edition) to generate something random, and write a story based on your results.

Descriptive: Go to a beautiful spot with a notebook, pen and (optional) camera. Describe where you are and what you see in as much detail as you can in your notebook. If you bring a camera, take photos of the most interesting aspects of your spot. You now have the setting for a scene; when you get home write one.

Eavesdrop: The next time you go out (and make sure you do this discreetly/safely) take a notepad and jot down the most interesting things you hear the people around you say. When you get home, choose one or more of the things you wrote down as dialogue, and write them into a scene.

Hour Aside: Devote one hour at the same time every day to work on a writing project (or, if you don't have one, start a new project.) People with day jobs, try getting up an hour earlier -- that always works for me.

Idea Book/Journal: Start a journal of writing ideas. You can just list whatever comes to mind when you think about writing. If you already have enough story ideas, write a journal from the POV of a character.

Super Short: Write a flash fiction of 100 words or less. If you want a real challenge, write a one-sentence story.

Trunk Treasures: Unearth any old story you never finished. Take from it one element (character, dialogue, plot, setting) and use that as inspiration for a new short story.

Uncontest: Find a fee-free writing contest that intrigues you, and write a submission for that contest just for fun (note: if you finish the story in time for the contest's deadline, submitting it would be awesome.)

Monday, August 14, 2017

More Pics

Pic #1 : Cheetah pic taken by my guy for me.

Pic #2: Dome chandelier at the place the kids took me for my birthday lunch.

Pic #3: 81 spools of vintage thread I bought at GoodWill for $7.99 (storage box included.)

I'm trying out Blogger's photo upload extra-large size, and experimenting with how the text works with it. Also, I found this about storage limits on Blogger in their help forum:

"As of now there are no such storage limitations specifically for images you upload on Blogger. As Blogger is a part of your Google account, Google provides 15 GB of free memory for each account. This 15 GB will be shared across all Google products linked to your account such as Gmail, Google Drive and Google Photos.

Blogger usually doesn't have any limit for the storage as the images the you upload will be stored in Google Photos of your Google account."

Just FYI: I pay $10.00 per year to Google for 36G of storage space for my free e-books, all of which take up only about 3G.

Friday, August 11, 2017


Today's post is being written on my new desktop computer, Calliope. She's got awesome memory, and the latest version of Word and Excel. She also supports my ancient Microsoft Digital Imaging Suite (circa 2006) and the equally decrepit version of Adobe Acrobat I own (no date on the box, but probably about 2008). Despite the fact that I can now hook up with X-Box and Netflix and all the other bells/whistles Calliope is fully prepared to host and ring and blow for me, Word + Excel + MDIS + Acrobat is all I really need for my ghost writing gigs.

My old desktop became corrupted and unreliable a few months ago, forcing me to depend solely on my old laptop, which is actually my emergency backup computer. I was tempted to go out immediately and buy a replacement, but at the time what I could afford to spend wouldn't get me what I really needed (with a kid in college I prefer to pay cash for everything, too.)

I thought about what would be my dream computer. I wanted a lot of memory, better processing speed, and a more reliable brand, so I asked around for recommendations -- and my daughter's friends turned out to be the most helpful in that department. I researched, looked at prices, and waited some more.

It made me a little nervous to be dependent on just one old laptop, but I got into the habit of backing up everything multiple times per day, and in the meantime saved my pennies and watched for good sales. I thought I might have to wait until the holidays to find what I needed marked down. Then I spotted Calliope, marked down $180.00, at a back to school sale. She was exactly what I wanted, so I bought her. She was such a good deal that my guy also bought one for our kid to take with her to university. The icing on the cake was getting software, a printer for my kid, and protection plans at a fraction of what they usually cost, as they were also on sale (if you bought a new computer.)

While I don't like waiting for what I want, I really like getting what I want on my terms. That makes it worth the wait.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Pics Problems

I am ready to give up on Photobucket as a photo archive, as their service has become so problematic I can hardly upload anything anymore. Since Blogger offers a pic upload, I'm going to experiment with it today to see how it works (and show you some of the work I've been doing while I was on hiatus):

Pics #1-2 (Small Size on the Blogger Upload): Two throw quilts I made over the spring; I designed the bargello pattern for the second one myself.

Pics #3-4 (Medium Size): A tote I made from fabric scraps for a friend of my guy's who was in a car wreck; a quilt I designed and made with some gorgeous blocks and fabric that our pal Theo sent me.

Pics #5-6 (Large Size): A beach tote I made for my daughter after accidentally destroying hers in the washer; and my very first official art quilt, which I made for fun last month.

I have to figure out the text wrapping on Blogger's photo upload, but otherwise it seems pretty easy.

Can anyone recommend a photo archive/hosting service (other than Photobucket) that is simple to use and doesn't cost an arm + leg? Let me know in comments.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Free NaNoWriMo Resources

I got an SPAMish e-mail from the National Novel Writing Month folks offering me a discount on an online writing class with some university where Joss Whedon evidently went to school. All due respect to higher education and all, but I am perplexed by this (Mr. Whedon writes novels?) That's what I get for subscribing to their newsletter, I suppose.

I don't think you should have to pay anyone to learn how to write novels (disclaimer: I never did.) The reason I started PBW was to share what I know and learn about writing with others who are self-taught like me, and/or who can't afford to pay for education. So here are free writing resources from the PBW archives for anyone who wants to prep for NaNoWriMo:

Characters: You can get a mini crash-course in how to craft characters in my post about stand-out characters here, and a fun way to create character references by using my Character Trading Cards idea.

Outlining: Check out this post for everything you ever wanted to know about novel outlining, including a link to my Novel Outlining 101, the most popular post of all time at PBW.

Plot: Plotting with Purpose is an online workshop I did ten years ago that still holds true to everything I do today.

Setting: My workshop post Food and Fire gives some insight as to how I work (and often struggle with) writing settings.

Style: I even did a virtual workshop on writing style here.

If you do a keyword search here at PBW you'll likely find a post about almost anything to do with novel writing, too, and with workshops I usually include links to other authors' opinions on the topics. You can also use keywords and research 40K articles on writing over at Hiveword's Writer's Knowledge Base.

I'm also in for writing a novel in November, and once the NaNoWriMo site opens for the 2017 challenge I'll see what group options there are so those who want to join me can congregate together all during those crazy thirty days. Stay tuned for more details as we get closer to the kick-off on November 1st.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Back to Writing

Although fall doesn't officially start until September 22nd this year, the month of August always feels like summer's end to me. I think it's partly all the back to school sales; seeing those inevitable yellow cartoon bus signs plastered on a bin of file folders or hanging over an endcap of highlighters signals the finality of fun for the year (for me, anyway -- summer is my favorite season.)

This week I've been plotting a new work project that will keep me writing until the holidays arrive, and like any fresh story I'm completely in love with it. I want to start it so much I've been scribbling bits of dialogue and sketching characters and printing out research notes all week. Tomorrow I'm heading to the office supply place to acquire a new binder -- and I'm thinking of colors and how I want to make this huge, rich palette for the whole cast of characters, because they're all so different, and yet -- look, I can do this all day. My point is that I'm excited and thrilled and so enthusiastic about this story that I feel as if I could write the first book start to finish this weekend.

But: I'm not ready to write it.

Why? Not like I haven't written a book before, right? Plus I know what I want to do. I can even see some of it in my head. When I'm this worked up about all the sparkling beautiful parts of a story, it can be almost painful not to write it. But: I'm not a pantser, or a particularly organic writer. I'm a plotter who wants everything nailed down before I write a single word. I need the whole story, figured out, run through, mapped out and precisely detailed, and that I don't have down or done yet.

It doesn't sound like fun, and I know a lot of writers can't do the kind of prep work I do because it kills their mojo. I'd love to be a more organic, artistic writer, but I know me. When I do this I have to be very methodical, very focused, or I won't finish the project. I don't want to waffle or wonder when I'm writing because that derails me. I don't want the story to be a surprise. Fun for me is getting it done minus train wrecks or surprise parties on the page.

Knowing the kind of writer you are is half the battle, I think. Our blog pal LJ Cohen, who is probably my polar opposite as a writer, talked about how she works in this post. One thing she wrote should be tattooed on all our bods somewhere: "Don't let anyone get away with saying there's only one way to write a novel."

I know tons of ways to write a novel; I've probably tried at least half of them. I also know what works best for me -- the way that hurts a little in this glitzy in-love stage I'm in, but that will enable me to deliver. So I'll spend the next day or two finishing up my very detailed outlines of the plots and characters, and discuss them with my client while I do a bit more research and let everything percolate. Once I have all that done, I'll set up my novel notebook, sit down at the computer and write those two words that still send a little shiver through me, even after typing them sixty-seven times: Chapter One.

What have you got planned for your fall writing? Anyone thinking about doing NaNoWriMo? Tell me in comments.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Now and Then

This is going to be an artsy, I-just-want-to-show-you-cool-stuff post that I want to write more of on the blog. Apply it to writing if you want, because the shoe certainly fits.

I bought this antique crazy quilt fragment from Kelley Street Studio on Etsy because a) it's beautiful, b) it depicts a spider in a web watching an owl reading a book, which is way cool, and c) it was my reward for working through my birthday. It's also over a hundred years old, which makes it even cooler and more precious to me (plus it was very affordable for a little piece of history.)

I'm working on an art quilt right now, and having another quilter's work helps me improve my craft. I can look at a lovely piece like this and let it teach me something by taking in the stitches, colors and composition. The palette of the patchwork, the texture of the silk, the design of the embroidery -- all of it speaks to me as a quilter on multiple levels.

That said, I have my own mojo, too. Before the antique patch arrived, I stitched a spider and web in one of my art quilt blocks:

It was fun to compare the two. I made my web with holographic Sulky, and my spider is based on an orb weaver I often see in my backyard. Mine is also much more primitive, as that's the look I wanted for this piece. What I brought to the creative table is how I see spiders, what I know of them, and how I envision and translate them in my art. The quilter back in 1890 who made the spider watching the owl likely did the same.

In a hundred years or so maybe a quilter will acquire a piece of my work they think is cool and historic, and compare it to their work, and this connection will continue -- or not. The delight is that it's possible, as I just proved by acquiring hers.