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Future Bookcovers

So, it’s a little early to think that anyone writing a NaNoWriMo novel is done, but I think maybe people could use a break.

Hopefully, you all haven’t given up yet and are still writing.  But, I know it’s a hard slog, so I thought maybe taking a break to think about a cover for your future novel might help keep you inspired enough to make it the rest of the way.  So, I’ll start by sharing a tutorial from Thomas Sinfield at Standout Blogger called How To Create An Ebook Cover with Photoshop, which I shared last year about this time.
Now, if you’re into the classics, or really into design, you’ll recognize the Penguin Books distinctive looking cover.  And, thanks to that last tutorial and Paul Murray Design, you can download a fine Penguin Book Cover Template which you can use to make your very own stylish, possibly retro, book cover.
And, if you want something even easier, certainly more campy, you can try the Pulp-o-mizer, the custom pulp magazine cover maker.  Granted, it is slanted toward a very particular flavor of science-fantasy, but it is easy and fun, which is the point here.

Hopefully, one of those will give you enough distraction to refresh you and enough inspiration to get you going again.  Keep writing!

Genre Writing Rules

First of all, there are no rules.

No, seriously, this is fiction we’re talking about here, so the rules are what you make them.  At this point, pretty much every “rule” you can think of when it comes to writing fiction has been broken.  For instance, when I was more dedicated to the craft (ie. fresh out of high school), I read a book titled Mister Johnson, which was written in the present tense.  Generally, that’s a “no no” in fiction, but, Joyce Cary pulled it off.  But, since I know that working within a certain set of rules can sometimes unleash creativity in surprising ways, and you all are probably here reading my blog instead of working on your NaNoWriMo novel because you’re stuck, I’ll offer you several links on rules that might inspire you to get unstuck.  And, since I mostly enjoy science-fiction and fantasy, those are the rules I’ve collected.

Let’s start with the science-fiction links first.
First, let’s consider how to write Killer SciFi without breaking the Speed of Light.  There are some doozies in this one, basic rule.  It makes a lot of space opera stories really difficult, in an interesting way.  Of course, I think there’s a lot to be said for this.  So much so, in fact, that I hired an astrophysicist to develop that idea for me, resulting in Hoffman’s Quartet, a rather unique setting for science-fiction stories.
And, while we’re at it, have a little fun with Ten less-than-serious rules of space opera.  Honestly, I only included that link because of the homage to the old Buck Rodgers TV show of the 80’s.  You’ll have to go read the list to see what I mean.
Personally, I love it when science-fiction tries to explain the impossible, even if I have a hard time writing it myself.  So, I encourage you to look at the  Ten Science Fiction Myths about Space Travel that Make Better Stories and see if you can work out a way for them to happen that readers will buy.  That really ought to inspire some creativity!

Then, of course, there’s the sub-genre of so near and dear to my heart; the hacker/panopticon dystopia.  And, frankly, I see these two things as inextricably linked now, thanks to my work and Anonymous.  Of course, because my “day job” is basically being a system administrator, it may be especially easy for me to identify with the hacker as hero.  So, keep in mind that these Eleven “L33t” Rules of Hacker stories are pretty tongue-in-cheek, or, at best, cliches to be avoided, unless you’re writing satire.  And, naturally, if you’re writing the hero as hacker, especially these days, there’s a better than even chance that you’re writing a story about a surveillance dystopia.  Which is perfectly cool, because I think these Ten Rules of Surveillance Dystopia stories, fit right in with the rest of the hacker genre.

But, don’t think I don’t have love for fantasy writing, too!
In fact, because the writer can use the full range of their imagination in a fantasy setting, I think rules are even more important for that genre.  Don’t agree with me?  That’s okay, I’ll just refer you to IO9’s article Why Does Magic Need So Many Rules?  Of course, I think the most important thing is to stay consistent with those rules, and that holds true for the “magical” parts of science fiction, too!  That internal consistency makes the fantastic parts of the story seem more real.
And, while we’re on the subject of additional reality, have you ever wondered why fantasy heroes never have to stop and empty their bladder before they slay the dragon?  I always enjoy when characters break out of stereotypes and do things that, well, real people do.  It adds so much more interest and realism to the work.  Need more examples?  Then check out Twenty Things Characters Should Do More Often, according to award-winning fantasy author Lev Grossman.

So, there you have it!  Hopefully, if  you’re stuck in your NaNoWriMo work, following, or rebelling against, one or more of these rules will help you get unstuck.
Good luck!

Random Fiction Helpers

Last year, I shared these tools to help people participating in NaNoWriMo and, since it’s that time of year again, I’m going to share them again.

Maybe one year, I’ll be able to get myself together again and give this a try.  Maybe this coming year, I’ll have all my regular posts queued up and ready to go and have a story idea and all the research done and have been practicing my writing and…  Well, maybe.  In any case, until that happens, I’m going to share some things I hope will help you all who are participating in NaNoWriMo.  This week, all the tools come from one of my older sites, that I don’t really update that often any more,, and my World Building Page.  Here, I’ve collected a number of little generators that I created, either from scratch or to mimic other programs that have gone away.

If you’re looking to fill in some historical background for your story, try the Historical Timeline Generator, which serves up a random historical timeline.
If you want to randomly “fill” one of your character’s pockets, check out the Daily Carry Generator, which generates a modern character’s “daily carry“, and if you’re working in a fantasy setting, the Fantasy Pocket “Litter” Generator, which is the fantasy equivalent of the Daily Carry Generator, may be just the ticket.
If  you’re looking for a name for one or more of your characters, you can try finding one via the “Funny” Proper Name Generator, for giving characters odd, random names, and if you want to whip up some background props for something with a steampunk or pulp setting you might have fun with the Crazy Pulp Science-Fiction Invention Generator, which, well, sort of has to be seen to be fully understood.

And, even if you don’t need these generators, per se, you may find them a fun distraction for a couple of minutes while you figure out where your novel is going next.
Good luck and keep writing!

Tools for NaNoWriMo

I won’t be participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but if you are, here are some tools that might help those of you who are.

First of all, for those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, which is, according to their website, “… a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.”  If you’ve never heard of it, and would like to know more, then pop over to their site and read up on it quickly.  And, if you’re considering doing this, it’s not too late!  Everything kicks off tomorrow morning so there’s plenty of time, especially if you use the tools I’m about to share with you.
(Okay, these tools really don’t have a direct effect on how much time there is before starting, but they may help if you start writing.)

First of all, there are an amazing array of tools for writers, whether you’re participating in National Novel Writing Month or not.  PC Magazine has a good round-up in their article Tools to Help You Write a Novel in 30 Days.  I’ve written about several of these before, including Scrivener.  Scrivener is a pretty main-stream tool that runs on Mac and Windows.  It has a fairly long list of endorsements from authors of many stripes.  I’ve been personally reluctant to start using this tool mainly due to cost.  But, now, not only has it gotten less expensive, but you can get a free, trial copy especially for NaNoWriMo that will last until December 7th, which is a little bit longer than the regular 30 days.  And, if you complete the NaNoWriMo challenge, you can get a 50% discount via a code that will be included on your “Winner’s Goodies” page at NaNoWriMo.  But, even if you don’t “win” NaNoWriMo, you can get a 20% discount with a code found at the trial download link.  You can also find a special NaNoWriMo template there to help you with your work in November.
If you’re still not ready to commit to a paid bit of software, you can try Plume, which I’ve mentioned on this blog before, in 2012.  It’s free and has many of the same features as Scrivener.  On the other hand, if you want yet another bit of free software that has similar but different features, check out the recently updated opensource project oStorybook.  Again, it has a different look-and-feel, but it’s based on the same code as another popular, opensource software project that went dark.  It’s free and should give a novelist all the tools they need to write their book and keep track of, well, everything.

Or, you can go the simplest route of all and just use a text editor, like I often do!
Either way, let me encourage you to take a risk and give NaNoWriMo a try if you have any interest in writing fiction for a living.  It will be an eye-opening experience!


Free eMagazines

I don’t have much for you this week.

Seriously, it’s been a long, tiring week and I’m kind of burned out, but I have to work part of the weekend, too, so I’m afraid this week isn’t great.   Basically, I’ve just got one thing, but at least it’s free.
If you like to read, especially magazines, and don’t mind reading online or via an app, then check out Issuu, the free digital publishing platform.  Yes, it’s basically a news stand in digital format.   But, it’s a news stand with about 19 million magazines about everything from photography to the San Diego Zoo.  You name it, they’ve got it.  And, they have apps for your iOS devices, so you don’t have to just read on the web.

Also, if you’re so inclined, you can publish your own magazine here for free.

So, yeah, that’s all I’ve got.  It’s free, and searchable, so go, find what sets your heart on fire this week and read to your heart’s content.
See you next week!

Destroy All Robots!

Or, at least, all robocallers.

So, lately, I’ve been digging through my files, finding links I saved ages ago to share with you, my few loyal blog readers, and I’m the first to admit that it’s been a mixed bag.  Some have been fun.  Some have been lame.  But, this one actually solves a problem for you.
Do you get automated calls?  Maybe you signed up for a catalog ages ago, or maybe you thought that timeshare in Miami was going to be a real deal and not a scam.  Whatever happened to get you there, you’ve gotten on a list of a robocaller and they keep calling.  Over and over and over again.  Wouldn’t you like to make them go away?
Now you can with NoMo Robo!  This FREE service lets you sign up any phone line, home or cell, and when an annoying robocaller calls, they stop it after the first ring.  That’s right, anyone who’s on their blacklist of spam robocallers will be blocked on the first ring, for free!

Now, I admit, I haven’t used this service myself, yet, so I don’t know how effective it is, but it’s free and you can unsubscribe whenever you want, so I figure it can’t be too bad.
And, that’s all I got for you this week.  Work has been super busy and I’m just drained of all creative juice, so this will have to do for now.
Enjoy your weekend!

Freebies for Friday

Traditionally, I’ve tried to give you free stuff on Friday.
This week is no different.

But, I’ll be honest, it’s been a crazy week with budget planning and strategic planning for the next five years at work, so I haven’t really prepared anything special.  And, that means I’ll be digging into my collection of strange links for two totally random freebies for you to enjoy!

First, since I always fool around with designing websites, or at least talk about it a lot, I bring you the free, beta, Google Web Designer!  It’s a GUI, point-and-click tool to make HTML5 compliant websites with animation and complete Google integration.  It’s a complete tool to let you quickly make webpages without having to really know too much code.  But, mostly, it’s easy to use and free.

And, I’m sure it’s about time you changed the wallpaper on your desktop.  It doesn’t matter what operating system you use, sooner or later, there’s a background graphic and sooner or later, it gets stale.  So, while the Google Web Designer downloads, get over to LouieLand and download a wallpaper to spruce up your desktop.

So, there it is.  Short and sweet.  Two freebies for Friday.
Enjoy your weekend and next week there’ll be …  Well, something.

Wings of Saint Nazaire

I feel like I’ve been slacking lately, so this week, I’ve got a free game for you.

Well, at least it’s a free alpha version of the game, which is still in development.
But, they do say that they plan on making it free when it’s finally complete.  The game is called, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, Wings of Saint Nazaire.  It’s a pretty retro space shooter inspired by X-Wing and Wing Commander.  You can see some animated GIF screen-shots at Screenburn, if you need your appetite whetted before going to the main site to download the game.  For gamers who are as old as me, the interface and graphics should all look very familiar.  This is retro gaming at its best, as far as I can see.
To be honest, I’ve never been a huge gamer, but this really looks like a fun “blast from the past” as it were.

If you’re willing to install a plugin, you can even play Wings of Saint Nazaire right in your browser!
And, since it’s Friday and you all are slacking already, I bet that’s what most of you all will do!
Have fun!

The Medium Is The Message

Marshall McLuhan said that, and it may be one of the few things I remember about him from my Marketing classes.

And, I’ll be honest, outside of it being a catchy phrase, I’m not entirely sure it applies to this post.  But, I suppose, in a way, it does.
Take a look around you and think about how you receive information.  While a “picture is worth a thousand words”, the vast majority of the way we communicate information is via the written word.  Those words are transmitted to us through print of some kind, even if it’s on a computer screen.  The way those words are formed, the shape of the letters, are a typeface. Thanks to a misunderstanding and some naming conventions, we often erroneously call this a “font”, but a font is actually a particular typeface in a particular size and a particular style, like italic or bold.  Computer-based typefaces are variable and may contain many fonts, even though we generally refer to the entire thing as a font.

So what’s this all got to do with my regular Friday freebie?
Well, I love type.  Okay, you may not be able to tell from the current theme on the blog, but I virtually worship the printed word.  My poor wife had to work so hard with me to reduce my collected books to a manageable level, I don’t even know why she married me, the poor thing.  In any case, that obsession has led to me being way, way too fascinated with typefaces and then, of course, with computer fonts.  I have even spent some significant money to get fonts from on-line type foundries, though, I have to admit, I haven’t done that recently.  And, thanks to a number of open and free initiatives, I haven’t had to spend money to get some great fonts and font tools.
And,that’s what I’m bringing you this week; free fonts.

Below are six fonts that I got with two other templates for self-publishing, but they’re free as part of the SIL OpenFont License initiative, which means they’re free to use and distribute.

TheanoThumb SofiaThumb QwigleyThumb CandalThumb AmaranthThumb AlegreyaThumb

But, there are more free fonts where that came from, so be sure to check out Font Squirrel who has a lot of free, commercial fonts, as well as a web font generator.    Then, there’s the League of Moveable Type, who also has some cool free fonts and encourages designers to release at least some of their fonts for free.  And, also, exljbris Font Foundry, who has some free and some limited use fonts available, as well as some paid fonts.

But, if none of those fonts will do, you can always make your own with Font Forge, a free, OpenSource font creation and editing tool.  It’s pretty sweet, if you’re into fonts and typefaces.  Also, it’s free.

So, surely one of those things will amuse you or help you in some way, at least if you’ve read this far and didn’t get bored by now.  Personally, I think I’ll be working on my own font this weekend!

Western Martial Arts

I thought I’d get out of my rut and show you loyal readers something that has fascinated me for years.

Granted, I haven’t had the real opportunity to actually participate in historical Western martial arts, but I have read quite a lot about it. In fact, back in the day, I used to subscribe to Hammerterz Verlag, which was the only semi-regular newsletter on the subject, published by the foremost expert on the art of historical Western combat of recent years, J. Christoph Amberger.
Times have changed!
Earlier this week, I saw a video of what may be the most spectacular sport most people will never see; Longsword Fighting.  It’s about the people who actually practice the nearly lost art of single combat in the Medieval mode.  Specifically, it’s about a tournament called Longpoint, which is an annual gathering of historical Western martial arts practitioners who compete against each other for the thrill and fun of it.  I see it as something like the attraction of boxing gyms a few years back.  It’s a violent sport that gives otherwise staid and sedentary people a bit of good, vigorous exercise.  It does take a bit of gear, but it doesn’t seem like it would be all that much more than lacrosse and that seems fairly accessible, so I don’t see that cost as much of a barrier.
Now, keep in mind that this isn’t like the Society for Creative Anachronism.  The folks in that video tell you straight up that they’re not interested in the courtly manners and all, just the combat.  Sadly, I don’t see anyone active down here in Houston, or I might have to investigate it myself!

Well, in the mean time, you all can watch the video like me and just enjoy the folks enjoying themselves.
Personally, I think the best part is that one of the people held up as one of the best Longsword combatants is a rather compact, female engineering student.  She’s a pistol!
So, ignore my mixed metaphor there and watch the video!