Tech Wars: Survival

In the beginning, I didn't know computers were out to dominate my world. They appeared innocuous, a play thing, possibly a boon to productivity. After the first gray hairs, I realized the truth. The electronic marvels with their chips and their boards were out to get me.

I've been fighting the electronic menace ever since. This week, a mortal blow has been struck against me. Witness it in the wrinkles on my brow, bags under my eyes, sleepless nights, curses ringing in the air wherever I sit or walk. (I'm one of those triple-cussers. If you're from the South, you know what I mean.) All because of this blankety-blank (trying to be genteel in case my mom reads this) new computer with its seductive wide-screen, gigantic hard drive, big ram, and soft purr.

Yes, a new computer is more a pain than a pleasure. Try loading a program that should run perfectly on it except for maybe one file that wasn't upgraded. XP to XP should present no problems. Right? Wrong!

I finally slapped the electronic bitch into submission after I've had to "ghost" it to get it back to factory default a couple of times. I may triumph in the end. Lost the battle but won the war. I hope.

Let me say two words in the event you're thinking about doing the same thing with a year-end clearance bargain of a deal. Restore point. Trust me. You'll save yourself a lot of time, trouble, and gray hair. Create a restore point when you get it working perfectly. Then before uploading each new application, create a restore point.

So say we all.

National Treasure Book of Secrets

In case you didn't know, my family and I fancy ourselves as movie critics. We discuss our movie list for major holidays. It's usually a family expedition to the local cineplex as long as I promise to keep my mouth shut during the screening. You see, I have an unfortunate habit of pointing out plot loopholes and inconsistent characterization.

What you also may not know is that I get paid to review films for an Internet client so I'm not your typical amateur critic. I've done a few hundred reviews. I'm sometimes amazed at the obscure facts I know about equally obscure films as well as the blockbuster flicks everyone sees.

Today we saw National Treasure. I won't spoil it for others. In a dumbed down world, it was as close to intellectual as you'll probably get this holiday season. It was okay. Nice pacing. Good action sequences. Good emotional tugs at the right spots. I guess I wasn't enthralled because it didn't have as much puzzle as the first movie.

That lovely historical element of following the clues, all supposedly based in history, was a huge part of the first film's appeal, even for non-history lovers.

Book of Secrets did a good job of picking up the previous movie's characters with Helen Mirren added as Mom to Ben Gates and ex-wife of Ben's dad. The characters were believable with good relationships between them. Riley is so adorable, and the part where his closest friends didn't buy his book was, unfortunately, too believable.

I've seen that happen, and not just to me. You write a book and get it published. You think all your family and friends will run out and buy the book. Not! Too many times, they ask you to give you a copy for free. Guess none of them know that your royalties are based on sales. Not giveaways. But, *sigh*, I digress.

I like the Ben Gates character as someone who cares deeply about his country, his history, his family, and all those other old-fashioned qualities I hold so dear. Cage does a nice job in the way he plays Ben Gates.

Don't be surprised at the blatant setup for National Treasure 3. I think they might need a little help in coming up with another mysterious treasure though because they don't seem to have thought of some more doable scenarios than the one with which they ran.

Hey, Hollywood! Have your people call my people. We'll do lunch. I'll give you a list of treasure scenarios for #3.

Uh oh! I forgot. I don't have any people. Okay. Email me. I'll start that list tomorrow.

I Am Legend

I'm trying to decide whether to see this flick. Anyone know if it is true to Richard Matheson's 1954 novel on which it's based? Or is it a departure like the second film adaptation of it, The Omega Man?

I won't spoil it for you in case you haven't seen the latest adaptation starring Will Smith or read Matheson's seminal book, but this just doesn't strike me as a Christmas feel-good movie. Why didn't they make this for a summer blockbuster premiere?

Click to give aid and comfort

By a simple click, you can help feed shelter animals, fund literacy, feed the hungry, save the rain forests, and find a cure for breast cancer.

This is legit. My friend Perry in Oklahoma sent this to me. He verified it through Snopes. Just click to verify for yourself if you wish.

Please help! It's simple and takes just a couple of seconds.

The Animal Rescue Site is in dire need. They're having trouble getting enough people to click on it daily to meet their quota of getting free food donated every day to abused and neglected animals. I did it. It just takes a few seconds. I also clicked the other tabs and their CLICK button too.

Doing this doesn't cost a single penny. The sites have corporate sponsors and/or advertisers who donate according to the number of daily clicks. They donate food for abandoned or neglected animals in exchange for advertising.

Please forward this to other people by email or blog. The need is real. You can do something worthwhile that will make you feel good and won't cost a thing. Unless you order some of the really great products they offer at each site. Yeah, I did a little January birthday shopping.

The campaign to get people to go to the site and click the appropriate button needs your help. Visit the different tabs and CLICK to donate today.


Did you ever have one of those weeks?

Well, lately, every week has been one of those weeks. Makes me think about something Aldous Huxley said: "Maybe this world is another planet's Hell."

What do you think?

10 Authors To Discover

Like most things in life, writing has a pecking order. It's easy to see who's at the top. They're the authors who hit the best seller lists. Their books are the wallpaper at big chain bookstores. Publishers call them the A-list.

The next level is generally called mid-list. I did a long presentation on mid-list at a writers' conference a few years ago. One of these days, I'll pull that speech out and sling it across this blog. For now though, let me define mid-list.

Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away

Okay, maybe not in a different galaxy, but it sure seems like it.

A couple of decades ago, mid-list was the B-list for publishers. These were solid books written by good writers that sometimes made it onto the A-list by word of mouth and big sales numbers. For the most part though, a mid-list writer lived and died on the mid-list.

Still in that far away galaxy, the bottom of the pecking order was genre writers. They were the C-list for publishers and turned out quantity rather than quality, or so conventional publishing wisdom went. These were the romance, mystery, horror, science fiction, and fantasy books that have devoted readers with voracious appetites for new stories. Genre writers, though accorded less contract money, no publicity money, and little respect, were the bread and butter for many a publishing house.

Fast forward

We still have the A-list, but the rest have kind of merged into a mid-list that's got a pecking order. It's composed of writers who write stand alone books or series books that aren't part of a "line."

Line? What line you ask? Well, a line is a book publishing program that produces a specific number of books each having a specific word count on a regular basis. You may be most familiar with the Harlequin and Silhouette publishing program wherein they publish romantic suspense in Harlequin Intrigue or emotional angst in Silhouette Special Edition or hot, sexy romances in Harlequin Blaze. Those are line books.

Romance genre books have healthy sales, and some of these authors actually break into the best seller lists with them. The authors get publisher support for the line, and their advances and royalties can grow from minimal to real income.

This contemporary mid-list has writers with publisher support at one end and genre writers, also with publisher support for the line, at the other. Right in the middle, kind of a no man's land, are good writers producing critically acclaimed books with little of no publisher support.

In case you think the books found on those tables at big book stores are these unknown middle of the mid-list authors, let me set you straight. Those books have received big monetary support from publishers. It costs about 10 grand for a publisher to have a book set on that table. They've probably got decent advances too. Those writers are the top echelon of mid-list writers.

No, the mid-list middle are the authors struggling for name recognition and struggling to grow an audience through their own devices. And there are a lot of them out there.

I want to introduce you to 10 mid-list authors in hopes you'd like to take a chance and get one of their books for a gift or for yourself. Order from your favorite online bookstore or by at least requesting the book be ordered by your local library system. They will do this. All you have to do is make the request and fill out a form with the information below. Then pass on this info to a friend who reads.

The great thing about all these books is that they're different. So if you've been bored with the fare on the shelves, check these out.

On with the show

Mike Befeler has Retirement Homes Are Murder (ISBN 9781594145155). His next book in the Paul Jacobson geezer-lit mystery series is Living With Your Kids Is Murder. These humorous mysteries from Five Star Mystery take place in Boulder, Colorado, where 85-year old Paul Jacobson, who suffers from short-term memory loss, is the sleuth.

Maria Hudgins book Death of an Obnoxious Tourist (ISBN 1-59414-467-2) features Dotsy, an empty-nester and ancient history professor who travels with her scatter-brained friend, Lettie. Obnoxious Tourist is set in Italy. Her next Dotsy Lamb Travel Mystery is Death of a Lovable Geek, out in May 2008, and set in Scotland.

April Star is a first-time novelist with Tropical Warnings: A Wanderlust Mystery (ISBN-10: 1594144796) that has early retirees who travel across the United States in their Bluebird Wanderlodge motor home as sleuths who find murder, mystery and mayhem in the camping resorts they roll into.

Jon F. Baxley has a medieval fantasy epic, The Blackgloom Bounty (ISBN: 1594144516 445).

Michael Bergey has New Coyote (ISBN 978-1594143229) and Coyote Season (ISBN 978-1594146107), both genre-defying. They're fantasy/adventure involving Native American spirit legends.

Patricia Hubbard writing as C. C. Harrison has The Charmstone (ISBN 978-1-59414-579-7), a mystery set in Monument Valley on the Navajo Reservation where she lived for a time as a VISTA Volunteer. Her next book is Running From Strangers, about a child advocate, running for her life with a child in her care, also from Five Star Mystery in September 2008.

Michael Allan Mallory with Marilyn Victor have Death Roll, starring a zoologist as sleuth, set at a zoo with lots of animal lore and a behind the exhibit look at what goes on.

L. C. Hayden has Why Casey Had To Die (ISBN 1594144931) which deals with geocaching. This book is an Agatha Finalist for Best Novel. Her next release will be an inspirational mystery novella, Bell Shaped Flowers, from a different publisher.

Lorraine Bartlett writing as L. L. Bartlett has Murder On The Mind (ISBN 0373266154), a paranormal thriller with an emphasis on the three main characters, who've all been victims of downsizing. The sleuth is Jeff, a former insurance investigator whose mugging left him with the "gift" of sensing others' emotions. This one's available only in Paperback from Harlequin's website.

Beth Groundwater has A Real Basket Case (ISBN 10: 1594145474), a mystery with a strong romantic subplot crucial to solving the murder. Kirkus Reviews said: "Drugs and jealousy add up to a Rocky Mountain murder. A tense, exciting debut." Her next book is a Large Print Edition of this one, out in January 2008.

Read. Discover new writers. Adopt a writer. Often.

Filling the creative well

I've been slinging words fast and furiously so it's time for a quick R&R break with a cup of tea. Also time to fill the creative well. You know what that is, don't you?

I like to think of it as the part of your brain where ideas bubble and simmer. I visualize it as a kind of mental soup pot full of words, phrases, images, bits of music, odds and ends of trivia, and other flotsam and jetsam of my life. It all simmers together until it's ready to be served up to my conscious brain.

It's important to fill the creative well because it works like a real water well with a pump attached. I remember when I was a little kid, my grandparents had a water pump. It was a heavy iron contraption that required muscle power to pump up water from the well.

Now, most of the time, water pumps work great. You can pump bucket after bucket of water. But sometimes, you can pump until your arm feels as if it will fall off, but you get nary a drop of water. What happened to it? Where's the water? It's still down there, but you might have to prime the pump by pouring fresh water down the well in order to get the flow going again.

Same thing with your creative well. You have to prime it with fresh ideas, experiences, and thoughts to keep it from running dry.

Never underestimate the importance of your creative well. Fill it often to keep the flow of creativity going.

More gift ideas

As promised, here are some more gift ideas for writers.

1. I write therefore I am paranoid design can be put on lots of things. Pick a product and choose the design.

2. Script Design Notebook is a really cute journal for writers.

3. Anything from Levenger is guaranteed to please. Ooh! Just give me a gift card and clear a path!

4. Cure for Writer's Block can be found here.

5. Much Ado About Nothing Sticky Notes is what everyone needs.

Okay, that's it's for holiday gift ideas unless I find something I just have to pass on like jewelry made from old typewriter keys. I really, really want one of those bracelets.

Back to slinging words.

Christmas Gifts For Writers

In no particular order of price or anything else, here's 10 great gift ideas for writers. In the interest of full disclosure, today's list comes from my Cafe Press ShopsThe Write Way and Smart Chick.

My cyber gift shops are my outlet for the frustrated artist hiding within. Deep within. I paint - badly. I craft - sloppily. I design jewelry - only for me. I practice photography - expertly.

And I dabble in graphic design - mostly designs focused on writers for their promotional use or gift-giving. Who better to design for writers than a writer?

I also create designs for women with ATTITUDE using some iconic quotations from famous women with loads of attitude. Lord knows I've got enough attitude to go around. Just ask my husband. He'll be glad to give you details.

Anyway, if you're looking for something for yourself, your writing friends, or your brood of chick friends, or if you just want to drop a hint to someone else, check these out.

Price range is thirty bucks and below. Way below. You can still get delivery by Christmas. (Tomorrow, I'll give you some leads for other online sources for writers' gifts.)

1. The perfect stocking stuffer for the writer in your life? Ask Me About My Lobotomy button tells it like it is. We writers are seriously cracked so let's just admit it. Why else would we do this?

2. Writer's Messenger Bag in bright yellow with quotation: "The spoken word takes wing and cannot be recalled. The written word remains."

3. Writer's Baseball Jersey in 3 colors with typewriter graphic: "Write hard. Live free."

4. Writer's Journal: "The spoken word takes wing and cannot be recalled. The written word remains."

5. Writer's Sweatshirt keeps you focused: "Writers write. Everyone else makes excuses."

6. Smart Attitude Journal with Bette Davis quote: "I always make it a point to speak grammatically. Who knows? It might become popular again."

7. T-shirt with Bette Davis quote: "I always make it a point to speak grammatically. Who knows? It might become popular again."

8. Smart Attitude Mug with my definition of Smart Chick: "A woman who knows who she is, what she wants, and where she's going. And she isn't afraid to ask for directions. I am a Smart Chick."

9. Writers' Java Mug "Writers write. Everyone else makes excuses."

10. Writers' Christmas Ornament. Celebrate who you are with this porcelain tree ornament that tells of writers' gift to the world.

I have such fun creating these designs. Maybe you'll see something that tickles your funny bone or something that will help you promote yourself, stay focused on your goals, or just make you feel good about how you choose to spend your time.

Jennifer Love Hewitt ROCKS!

Women of the world, don't you just love what Jennifer Love Hewitt said about the ridiculous standard of beauty as espoused by Hollywood?

Get real. A size zero? How did the bony, gaunt image of female beauty ever get accepted as the norm? And, no, before you think I'm a bonbon eating woman of enormous size (not that there's anything wrong with that as the Seinfeld episode went), I'm not. Well, I do eat bonbons but not every day.

I look at some of the women celebrities with the sharp angles of their clavicle, shoulders, and joints that seem to have skin stretched tightly over them, and I shudder. If they look that thin on television, which adds 10+ pounds so they say, what do they look like in person?

A size zero on a 5'10" frame is not a pretty sight in person.

So, I'm with you Jennifer. Here's to boobs, butts, hips, and curves. I'm going to buy one of everything you advertise on TV, and I'll start watching Ghost Whisperer too.

Sling Words standing strong, but it's a little too cold for a bikini at the moment!

Writers and rules

Mention rules, especially to a bunch of writers, and you get one of two reactions.

Some will wag their heads sagely, and say, "Yes. That's right. There are rules about writing, and you must follow them."

Others will brandish their fists and shout: "Rules? We don't need no stinking rules."

Now, here comes the shocker. Both groups are right.

Writers should follow rules.

Writers should ignore rules.

The trick is to know when to do each.

There are rules about grammar, rules about fiction and dramatic techniques like viewpoint, and even rules about nonfiction.

Why should you know these rules? One good thing about knowing the rules is that they can help you if you're just jumping into this crazy writing thing, and you're a bit unsure of your ability to tell a story.

You might want to write a novel, but you don't know who should be the viewpoint character of your story. The rules say tell the story, the scene or whatever, from the viewpoint of the person who has the most at stake in the scene.

Don't know how to handle a flashback? The rules say tell that backstory incident in past perfect.

By the way, there's probably a rule for just about everything.

So if knowing the rules is "a good thing" as Martha Stewart says, then why would you ignore them?

Ahh, because breaking the rules, once you know them enough to realize you're breaking them, can add a different dimension to your writing. Sometimes, breaking a rule can ignite a scene or get you through a part of the story where you're just plain stuck. No writer wants to be stuck.

Let's write something and follow one of the viewpoint rules. (There are many in case you didn't know, or at least some people try to convince you that there are a plethora of them.)

A caveat: these samples are straight off the top of my head so the writing isn't to be judged for quality, just for illustrative purposes.

Viewpoint using the person who has the most at stake.

Mary watched John. She gnawed nervously on her lower lip. She just knew that he was angry at her because she'd burned dinner. Again. He had every right to be angry. She'd let him down again. She just wished that he'd yell at her, but she knew he wouldn't. Sometimes she thought he was just too understanding and tolerant.

Same scene, told from the boss's viewpoint, a secondary character.

The executive vice president of sales regarded the blackened pot roast and suppressed a weary sigh. His own wife had always been dependable when it came to entertaining the junior execs.

"Mary, what is this?" John asked.

The VP looked at Mary whose face was as crimson as the red-checked tablecloth. He felt sorry for her obvious embarrassment.

"John, I'm sorry. I just got interested on Oprah. Before I knew it, smoke was pouring from the kitchen."

John put his arm around his wife's shoulders and hugged her. "That's all right, hon. The salad and bread look delicious.

Surprised, the VP stared at John. For the first time since he'd hired the young man, he saw some evidence that the kid actually had a streak of humanity in him. It certainly hadn't been evident in his Pit Bull attack on the sales competition. Who knew?

Not great writing, but I think you can see that using someone other than the person who has the most at stake can impart information the reader couldn't otherwise know or reveal personalities and attitudes of characters. It can also make a static scene more interesting because it's unexpected. Always surprise the reader if possible.

Flashback scene? Rules say to use Past Perfect and relate the scene.

The storm had hit on a Sunday. I had been crying because Jack and I had been fighting. The wind had shattered the windows, spraying glass everywhere, but Jack had flung himself over me. That's when I had known that he loved me.

Let's break that rule. Rather than depart from the story, create a transition into the world of the flashback scene by starting out in past perfect then going to the present time of your story, tell what happened as if it were present time, then end the reminiscence in past perfect and go back to the normal tense you'd been using. Same example.

The storm had hit on a Sunday. I had been crying because Jack and I had been fighting. (3 past perfect verbs)

The wind shattered the front windows, spraying glass everywhere. Jack flung himself over me. (Simple past tense, which is how most stories are told, for however long the scene lasts. In flashbacks when you switch to simple past, passages are usually much longer to make them justify this flip-flop of verb tenses, but that's just another rule.)

That's when I had known that he loved me. (Back to the past perfect to end the flashback though generally speaking 3 sentences is better.)

I encourage you to learn the rules. I prefer to call them tools in your writer's tool kit. Then learn how to break those same rules, when to break them, and why you're breaking them. Rule breaking just adds more tools to your writer's tool kit.

Overflowing with words

As if I don't have enough to do, I started a new blog with the very catchy title Joan Reeves's Blog.

Actually, I'm doing so much blogging work on the freelance side of business that writing about blogging and freelance writing just seemed natural. True, I could do it here, and I will, but I'm just overflowing with words if not with time.

So check me out over at Performancing. By the way, they've got some great advice and how-to's in their archives.

I think I'll be teaching a class in the spring on "Writing the Web: Making Money Freelance." If you live in the Houston, Texas, area and are interested, let me know and I'll send you the 5W details.

Court reverses freelance class action suit

I'm a member of Authors Guild, a great organization that works for writers. They notified me of the recent court decision regarding a class action lawsuit brought by freelance writers. Their permission to spread this news is: "Feel free to forward and post this message. The Authors Guild is the nation's oldest and largest organization of published authors."

If you're eligible to join this organization, please do so. They do good work on our behalf.

We received surprising and disappointing news in our freelance class action suit this morning. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, in a 2-1 decision, the district court's approval of the settlement.

That settlement, valued at up to $18 million, was to resolve the copyright infringement claims of freelance writers against database companies, such as Dow Jones and the owners of Lexis-Nexis, that had made digital use of the writers' articles without permission. Plaintiffs and defendants had arrived at settlement in 2005.

The appellate court ruled that the district court lacked jurisdiction over claims relating to unregistered freelance articles. Copyright registration is required to bring a suit for infringement, but since registration is viewed as a formality (comparable, many of us believe, to the requirement that one file a complaint in order to get into court), lawyers on both sides thought the settlement could resolve infringement claims for both registered and unregistered works.

The settlement had been objected to and appealed by a group of freelance writers who thought it failed to allot sufficient funds to the claims of authors of unregistered works. If this decision stands, of course, such claims would be shut out entirely.

The shard of good news is that there is a substantial dissenting opinion by Judge Walker. We are considering our options at the moment. One possibility is to seek an en banc review (a review by all of the judges of the 2nd Circuit) to see whether we can persuade a majority of the court to see things our way.

To see the court's decision, go to our website.

We'll keep you posted.

Well, that's disappointing, isn't it?

Sling Words out.