Yurt Talk Part 2: Anthology workshop

This is a workshop I was invited to give to the Carroll County chapter of the Maryland Writers Association. Several of the members participated in an anthology I produced in 2012: That One Left Shoe. They are now ready to do another anthology, so I was asked to outline the steps needed. This was given in April 2014 in the Yurt at Piney Run Park. If you find it useful, donate by clicking the button.

Decisions needed

  1. Type of Anthology (fiction, poetry, memoir, non-fiction, mixed)
  2. Theme (word or phrase, season, location, event, profession)
  3. Submission Guidelines (genre, length, format, content restrictions)
  4. Division of Labor (selection, editing, formatting, marketing)

Type of Anthology
The first decision you should make is the type of anthology you want to produce. Take into account that authors write in different styles, especially important when you are dealing with an established community, like a writers group or a civic organization. You can choose to limit an anthology to one type: fiction, poetry, memoir, or non-fiction. Or you can allow authors to write in the style they are comfortable with, as long as it fits your theme. This also applies to genres like historical, horror, adventure, mystery, romance, fantasy, science fiction, etc. You may get more sales if you stick with genres closely related to your theme, but you make it easier for your authors by leaving things more open. For example, That One Left Shoe was mixed in types and genres (erotica was not accepted, because the end product needed to be family friendly).

The theme must be decided on before you issue the call for submissions. It’s common for genre anthologies to use a holiday theme (e.g. Moonlight and Mistletoe is a werewolf/Christmas anthology). Time-based themes might be seasons, holidays, anniversaries, or even a time of day. Themes can also be based around events, either historical or upcoming events. Instead of a specific event, you might choose generic events like graduation, birth, first job, loss, revenge, etc. A location can also be used as a theme. It can be a specific location, like the Eldersburg Library, the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C, or Carroll County. It can be more generic, like a gas station, a restaurant, a backyard, a lake, a school. There have been several movies made that use an object to tie together a group of stories–often it is a gun or a car. If you pick a specific object, then the description needs to be locked down up front. A profession could also be used as a theme–I’ve read several anthologies that use teachers as central characters (one is Tales Out of School).

Submission Guidelines
Once you have your type and theme set, you can finalize the submission guidelines:

  • opening and closing dates, acceptance decision date, target publication date
  • minimum and maximum lengths (word count for prose, line count for poetry)
  • any restrictions on genre or subject matter
  • file format and means of submission
  • financial considerations (sale price, royalty distribution)
    It is common for many group anthologies to donate royalties to a specific cause. This reduces the paperwork required, and is especially appropriate when the primary purpose of the anthology is giving the contributors a publishing credit. Another financial consideration is allowing author purchase discounts that allow room for resale profit.

Division of Labor
Although you can have one person do it all, you could also spread the load across several team members. You do need one person to take the lead for keeping things on schedule. Decide what the acceptance criteria are to be–does every member get a piece in the anthology, or is there a gatekeeper assessing the professionalism of each submission? Other tasks that need to be done are editing (at a minimum to ensure consistent punctuation and spelling style), formatting for publication, the publishing itself, and promoting/marketing the finished work. The formatting has to wait until the editing is complete, but promotion can start earlier. Another consideration is cover design, and whether you want any interior images.

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Yurt Talk Part 1: Tips for Writers

This post is an overview of an invited talk I gave to the Carroll County Chapter of the Maryland Writers Association, April 2014, in the Yurt at Piney Run Park. The invitation asked me to describe how I do what I do, with the number one question being “how do you find the time?” If you find the info useful, click the Donate button.

Making time for writing

  • Always carry a notepad and pen or pencil to jot notes, send yourself email or voicemail–you never know what might trigger an idea.
  • Make use of waiting time; even if not actually writing text, you can: outline plots, note story ideas, make lists of rhyming words (part of my poetry writing process is to explore rhymes for subject-related words), select character names.
  • Use TV time to write or edit — often I use the TV as background noise, but if I’m doing detailed writing I turn it off.
  • Make use of “second sleep” phenomena — Many people have two sleep sessions a night, with a period of wakefulness in between. Recent studies have shown that this was a common pattern before the advent of electricity (and artificial light)–it’s even referenced in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. This mid-night wakefulness can be used as writing time, free from normal household distractions.

Improving your craftsmanship

  • Examine commercially published books carefully to see what is in the front matter, and how they are formatted. Look specifically at the genre you are writing to see trends in cover design, back cover blurbs, and chapter headings.
  • Attend panels and workshops at writers conferences, make use of online tutorials. Specific recommendation of Allen Wold’s plotting workshop at Capclave.
  • Get organized: for short fiction or poetry you really do need a spreadsheet to track submission status, for novels you need to track characters and settings, for business you need to track expenses and mileage.

Marketing your writing and yourself

  • Network! Use business cards, bookmarks, speaking engagements, local groups, online groups (FaceBook, LinkedIn), conventions, blogging. Be prepared with an “elevator speech” to answer two questions, “what do you write?” and “what’s your book about?”
  • Make yourself memorable at conventions: sit up front or on an aisle (where you can be seen from the podium); be prepared to ask a “smart question” (read the speaker bios, so you can reference something specific about their expertise); if you encounter speakers later, thank them for the info they shared in their panel.
  • Have a “go bag” ready for events (saves time and reduces risk of forgetting something vital). I use a rolling cart with: my books, business cards, bookmarks, tablecloth, receipt book, table decoration, clear plastic bookstands, and misc. office supplies (scissors, velcro, binder clips, notepad, pens). Several members of the Carroll County group participated in a book signing event at the Mount Airy Library last December, and stood out by their attention to detail. For table decoration, Kerry Peresta had a scented candle and a laptop presentation; she used a red tablecloth to bring out the color in her book cover. Jack Downs had a small Christmas tree (seasonal), a baby buggy (featured on his book cover), and calendars of his upcoming appearances. I displayed a blue dragon statuette and used blue table draping to tie to my imprint, Blue Dragon Press. Other writers had houseplants and/or posters of their book covers. Several had signs advertising their availability for speaking engagements.

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A-Z exercise: Eat It!

This piece was the result of a challenge to write a short story of 26 sentences, starting with the letters of the alphabet, in order. It was fun.

All the muffin needed to taste perfect was a swipe of butter.
But real butter was dairy, so she would have to settle for margarine.
Country Crock was fast becoming a staple of her diet.
Denying herself the comforting taste of dairy products was getting tiresome.
Especially difficult was not being able to eat cheese or ice cream.
Frozen yogurt was out, but she never liked it anyway and so didn’t care.
Gluten was still allowed, thank god; she hoped that wouldn’t change — cutting out bread was unthinkable.
Her food allergies were definitely taking over her life.
Insulin resistance affected her menu too, limiting the carbs (bread, potatoes, etc.) that she was allowed.
Just when she’d find a food she liked and wasn’t allergic to, she’d find that it spiked her blood sugar.
Kitchens had become depressing places, with their displays of foods she couldn’t eat.
Luckily, she could still eat dark chocolate.
Mmmm, she relished the velvety texture of the designer bars with their high cacao count.
No pale product would do for her; milk chocolate was for babies.
Only the pure stuff could satisfy all her cravings and make up for disallowed foods.
Popcorn was another solace: the fiber in it offset the carbs, and she enjoyed its crunchiness.
Quite fed up with restrictions–she wondered if one could live on chocolate-drizzled popcorn.
RDAs bedamned, she could get vitamins from pills.
Surely there must be some daily dose to make up for the now forbidden meat, fruit, and veggies.
The last crumb of the muffin tumbled to the ground.
Undaunted, she turned to her booklet to read the ingredient lists of her target foods.
Velveeta–surely that’s not REAL cheese–might it skirt her dairy allergy just as well as the veggie stuff did?
What about hotdogs and bologna made from pork and/or turkey–they must taste okay or stores wouldn’t carry them.
X-ing out all the stuff she could no longer have wiped out most of the grocery ads, but there were a few items left.
Zwieback begone, tonight she would EAT!

Posted in Flash Fiction, Philosophy of Life | 1 Comment

Artist Tools Panel: Balticon 2013

This is the first in a series of outlines/summaries of panel discussions I have participated in at various SFF (Scifi/Fantasy) conventions (cons). While not capturing the entire discussion, they are representative outlines of panel topics in my portfolio (for future events). If you find them helpful, click the donate button.

The subject of this panel was “Tools for Artists”, with participants being asked to identify low cost alternatives in both traditional and digital media.

Interests. The first consideration is to identify the interest of the audience–what do they create? Artists at SFF cons may create a variety of products: fine art, illustration, comics/graphic novels, videogames, social network games (think Farmville or Angry Birds), sculpture, soft sculpture, or costume design.

On the Balticon panel we had a sculptor, a gamer, a graphic novelist, and a fine artist who has designed sets for Star Trek movies and had his paintings used for science museum exhibits and for book covers. As an artist, I have done book covers and illustrations, designed characters for D&D games, and create custom portraits of clients as fantasy characters or zombies.

Markets. Work created for one sales venue may have other markets as well. For example, images intended as wall art may also be used for calendars or tee shirts. Panelists discussed experiences with turnkey markets such as RedBubble, CafePress, and ImageKind. ImageKind and RedBubble have more options for wall art; CafePress has more options for merchandise (tees, mugs, etc.). Those sites have the advantage of allowing direct customer purchase, so that you don’t have to stockpile an inventory. But that convenience comes with higher prices per item. If you are selling pieces in person and your sales volume justifies it, you should look for a local printer (takes costs down from $10 or more to under a dollar, depending on volume). For archival quality, look for giclee prints–these can even be printed on canvas. It’s also good to have several sizes so you can offer different price points.

Reproduction. Printing methods are independent of the original media. You might be scanning an image done with traditional media, or printing out an image created with digital only. In either case you need to be aware of differences in color gamuts. Images on a computer screen are displayed in RGB (Red/Green/Blue) — the additive color system. Images printed with laser printers using toner use CMYK (Cyan/Magenta/Yellow/Black) — the subtractive color system. Even if a printing company requests RGB, it is a good idea to preview your images in CMYK — to be sure you don’t lose definition. Greens are especially problematic. I’ve had an illustration given dimension by using three shades of green for highlights and shadows, go completely flat when all three shades printed as the same color. In addition to the differences in color gamut, you should know the intended final size and medium/resolution before you start. You can’t go bigger with a digital image without losing quality. Even going smaller can be a problem, depending on the amount of detail in your image.

Traditional Media. A discussion of traditional media covered: pencil, pen & ink, markers, colored pencil, pastels, charcoal/conte, paint (acrylic, oil, watercolor), sculpture, photography (film or digital), collage, printmaking/etching, and silkscreen. We also discussed some more unusual materials, like tea, coffee, dirt, clay, blood (in case of zombie apocalypse), charred sticks, chirt rocks, and drier lint. The discussion of sculpture materials included both recycling and upcycling (duct tape, plastic bags, coat hangers, pantyhose). Look for more articles in the future about recycling/upcycling as I record my adventures in costume production. The artist at the right markets prints from originals crafted in dryer lint. She also created this dress using her supply of ziplock bags filled with different colored lint.

Digital Media. Digital drawing tools can be expensive, but there are some lower cost alternatives. Photoshop versions from 7.5 to CS2 and beyond are top of the line, as is Illustrator. Photoshop is pixel-based; Illustrator is vector based. Other tools that panelists are audience members had used include: Gimp (pixel-based), Picasa, Xara3D (good for speciallized titling), Inkscape (vector-based), Photoshop Express (lower cost–has no layers but okay for photo editing) and FontForge (font creator and editor).

Input Methods. Digitizing tools can be costly, but don’t have to be. Most recommended for price/performance is the Wacom “Bamboo” tablet. For really low tech you can get by with a mouse or thumbpad. (Take a look at my digital art portfolio — all created using Photoshop 7.5 and the thumbpad on a Vaio laptop. Another type of digitizing is getting an image produced by another method into your computer. You can use a digital camera (use a camera stand for more precise results) or a scanner. For really low tech you can use an office copier to make a transparency of a line drawing, then tape the transparency to your screen screen and use the mouse to copy the drawing.

Variations. Mixed media can add originality to your work. Some people use digital tools to alter images produced by traditional methods (like adding spatial distortions or color remapping). Use of layers in Photoshop makes it easy to reuse pieces in new combinations. One artist I know does animal portraits digitally, then puts paw prints in paint across the giclee-on-canvas output.

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My First Rifle

for his fifth birthday, Davey got
a Cricket rifle, single shot

though it was loaded by mistake
a single shot is all it takes

the present was so gaily wrapped
no sign how badly judgement snapped

to make and sell the Chipmunk line
real guns, for children by design

we are so careless with our boys
providing weapons as their toys

the gun debate is loud and long
but this time they are surely wrong

can anyone defend the need
to arm kids still too young to read?

c. 5/5/13

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No Pizza for Me

I’m allergic to the sauce
and to Italian cheeses
so growing up (and later)
we made our own mock pizzas

Crescent rolls spread flat
were topped off with velveeta
I must say they went fine
with my limeade “margarita”

Work’s monthly pizza outings
were quite a trial for me–
even though I searched the menu
there was nothing I could eat

But I so loved the baking smell
of a thin and flakey crust
and the texture of the edges
coated with a flour-y dust

When hiding takeout bags got old
to Cook I made my plea
“make me a small round special
with just crust and ground beef”

A pizza with no sauce or cheese?
they thought I must be nuts
but I stayed firm in my resolve
with no ifs, ands, or buts

I got just what I ordered
a sauceless ground beef pie
and though it looked quite funny
I ate it with delight

Posted in Poetry | 2 Comments

Five Million Shades of Green

Set the clock to spring
and the earth will bring
five million shades of green

End the winter’s drought
when we’ve done without
five million shades of green

No more the gray-blue shades
of darker evergreens that fade:
juniper, holly, fir and pine,
crutches they, to hold the line
all throughout the cold and wet
so our eyes will not forget
five million shades of green

Avocado, emerald, kelly,
froggy back and snakelet belly,
limey-lemon and lemony-lime,
grapes a bursting on the vine,
beans and peas and carrot tops,
tendrils from a dozen crops,
lettuce, cabbage, new-mown hay,
streaks of dawn at break of day,
algaed rocks in rushing streams,
minnows flashing silver gleams,
moss and clover, melon rinds,
baby needles on the pines,
clinging vines and wild duck eggs,
grassy stains on children’s legs

Flee the cities, shed your shoes,
frolic as a child would choose!
Drink in all that you can get
so your eyes will not forget
five million shades of green

Posted in Poetry | 1 Comment

Easter Tradition

Come Easter in my backyard
what wonders shall I see?
Pink eggs peeking through the grass,
are waiting just for me.

My empty Easter basket,
lined with a neon nest,
will soon be decorated
with the finds I love the best.

Some are simple hen’s eggs,
dyed pink and gold and blue,
but some have shells of plastic
that I can split in two.

Inside I might find candy
or even tiny toys–
like a bunny whistle
that makes a lot of noise.

Best of all is knowing
that when I’m fully grown,
I’ll get a chance to hide the eggs
for children of my own.

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My Next Big Thing

This exercise was suggested by April Taylor—her blog is at http://treasonsstratagemsspoils.blogspot.co.uk/

She passed the baton to five of us:
Robert DeMers • http://www.robertgdemersbooks.com/blogs.html
Alan Petersen • http://fictiveuniverse.com/
Harry “Hammer” Wigder • http://www.actionagainstviolence.com
Betsy A. Riley • http://brws.com/wordpress
James M. Copeland • http://www.jamesmcopelandbooks.com

1. What is the working title of your book?My working title is Queen of the Zombies—but I also considered Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. It will be shown as written by Cassandra Hex, since that is the pen name I use for this genre.

2. Where did the idea for your book come from?
I was thinking about the possibility of bio-warfare resulting in a zombie-like creature, and how the military might deal with that. I don’t believe in “zombie apocalypse” as a TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) scenario—I think we would find ways to deal with it. I was also thinking about the original meaning of “zombie” as a living creature who has no free will. Then there’s the whole corpse reanimated by necromancy scenario. I decided to combine all three. So Dr. Liz Tyler, biochemist, is part of a team working on a cure or prophylactic for the romero virus (which the CDC names after George Romero). An inconvenient discovery forces her to flee the lab. She takes refuge with Mama Clotille, an ancient voodoo master. Using the alias Lisabetta Timo, the young doctor learns about voodoo and necromancy, becoming a master herself.

3. What genre does your book fall under?
Since it is set in modern times and has zombies, I’m told it should be classed as “urban fantasy”, but I’d characterize it as “Gulliver’s Travels with Shaun of the Evil Dead” – there is a heavy undercurrent of social satire mixed with the horror and comic relief.

4. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The first draft of 60,000 words was written during NaNoWriMo 2011. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and is a world-wide challenge to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November.

5. What other books would you compare your book to within your genre?
Other than the ones mentioned in question 2, I must include Zombies Gone Wild! (vol. 1), which contains the story “Cindy Lou, Who?” set in the same world and timeframe as Queen of the Zombies (and with some of the same characters).

6. Who or What inspired you to write this book?
It is the fusion of a number of sources. I love the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris for the dark humor and the idea of “what if these mythical creatures were real” — an idea that is also explored in Heinlein’s Waldo & Magic Incorporated. Mix in being a fan of Walking Dead and numerous discussions with my brother about his “soul-sucking” job and jokes progressing from “so easy a Caveman could do it” to “so easy a zombie could do it” — Voila—I had my own “what if…”

7. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
This book has a very different take on zombies, and also features unusual heroes and heroines. One of the side effects of Louisiana legalizing “zombies” is the practice of “zombifying” people who are in debt to casinos. Those living zombies (or “debt zombies”) are then farmed out to work at various jobs until their debt is paid off. The romero zombies (the dead, infectious ones) end up being used in the entertainment industry.

8. Which five writers will take over from you next week and tell us about their Next Big Thing?
Jim Sellers http://Jimzshortstories.wordpress.com
Dan Marvin http://danmarvin.net
Dick Harrison http://www.dickharrison.com/sample-page-2/
Nancy Lynn Jarvis http://www.goodreadmysteries.com/wordpress
Chris Hannon http://ahairdressersdiaries.wordpress.com


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A Day at the Zoo


Closeup of Tiger

Recently we went to the National Zoo, and I had a bit of a moment with the tiger. He had been almost hidden at the top of the hill, so far away from the railing that folks without a telephoto lens had no chance of a good shot. Then I spotted a plexiglass balcony that stuck out into the compound for a better view. I joked it was the feeding platform and decided to act as bait. It worked.

Tiger behind treeFirst I saw him peeking at me from behind the big tree. Then he came around in front of the tree, still staring me right in the eye.

None of the people who stood on the balcony before me had gotten any reaction from the tiger.  I joked that I must smell sweeter because of my diabetes, and tried a “here kitty, kitty.”

Tiger stalking closerHe never broke eye contact as he stalked over to the stairs closest to my perch.






For a while, he just sat there, staring at me and I started to wonder just how far a tiger could jump.

Tiger stare from top of steps







Then he decided to show his stripes, AND his length  by stretching down the steps. Seeing that, I thought he could have made the leap if he was really motivated. But, boy was he beautiful.

tiger stretching

Posted in Philosophy of Life, Strange but True | 2 Comments