Category Archives: writing

How To Create a Quick Ebook Cover Using Pages (mac)

Many dedicated graphics programs exist, but writers without a design background find the learning curve steep. Mac users who own the word-processing program Pages already have an easy tool to make an ebook cover themselves.

First, have your art ready. Free and low cost art is available from many stock art sights. Try googling “stock photos”, “royalty free art” etc. Keep in mind that simple artwork without multiple complex elements work best for covers. Much of the art you will choose gets covered by text. Think background image.

In Pages open a document. Choose the “blank” template.

Under the File menu go to Page Setup … > Paper Size.


From the dropdown menu choose “Manage Custom Sizes.” Create a new custom size. Call it “Book Cover Ratio, set the width to 6 inches and the height to 9 inches. Leave the other fields alone and hit “Okay.” This will give you a page size the correct portions of a standard book, which will look professional when displayed on Amazon or other sites.

Drag your art or photograph onto your open document. Resize the art on the page by clicking and dragging any of the photo’s corners or edges. Use the “Lock” icon on the tool bar (or under the “Arrange” menu) to lock your art down and keep it from moving.


Under the “Insert” dropdown menu choose “Text”. This creates a box to type into. Create three text boxes: one for your title, one for your byline, and one for your cover blurb if you want one. (A cover blurb can be anything from a subtitle for the book, a teaser about the contents, or a one-phrase background on the author.) Separate boxes work best, so that you size your various text elements differently. Place the title text box near the top of your cover, and the byline text box near the bottom. Keep the blurb near your title, as seen on most professionally produced book covers. Continue reading

Free Story of the Week S01E02 The Crossing

0001U0.jpeg This week’s free story is from 2003. My first publication …

Only Vincente braved the outside. Mama stayed within, washed linen, swept floors, and clung to the life she knew before the fear. She seemed    least anxious in the kitchen. The colonel haunted the walled garden. The girl? well, strange. little Laura kept to the corners.

They could take a lesson from the rats. Nothing bothered the rats; this much, Vincente had learned.

Continue reading the whole story free until at least 04/15/11.

Available for purchase at Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Diesel, and other sites.

Free Story of the Week S01E01:


Sophie. The script called her Sophie; and Sam the optimist, Sam traveler-without-cares, loved her since creation. Azure-eyed Sophie, orphaned country maid, as new in Vienna as the century was young; Sophie in chiffon frock of cobalt blue; her brown hair unadorned with silk ribbon, tied in plain linen.

Tonight, upon hearing him speak say, Pardon me, Fraulein, do you believe in fate? brown-haired, azure-eyed Sophie would surely fall into his arms, her cheek upon his breast. His body, breath, and kisses would let her know that fears could no longer trouble love. For this alone had he been written: to rescue Sophie from Maximilian, and sweep her away forever. The invisible hand had scripted it and tonight he’d win her, though she did not even know his name.<Continue reading the whole story free until at least 03/05/11.Expired!

Available for purchase at Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Diesel, and other sites.

>Fifth story up on Smashwords now.


“Wednesday” from the Stoker-Award nominated anthology Corpse Blossoms.

It’s .99¢ unless you want to get it free on Smashwords using this coupon:

Promotional price: $0.00
Coupon Code: BN94Q
Expires: February 18, 2011 Expired!!

>A million words of crap.

>Last year I wanted to figure out how much fiction I’d written in my life, so I did, and realized that by the end of 2010 I could reach a nice round total of one million words, which is the John D. MacDonald starting line. I did reach that number, on December 30th.

I’d actually written quite a bit more than that, but decided not to count anything that was incomplete. Really it’s not that helpful to keeping starting stories and novels; it doesn’t count unless it’s finished, not even as practice, imho. Even a shitty, inept ending will teach something, even if it’s only: I should have never started this.

I say a million words of crap, but I hope it’s not all crap. I’ve managed to pursued nice editors to publish some of it, although, depending on who is commenting, a least some of that is crap too.

Anyway, I’m now a few thousand words into my second million. I’ll check in with you later.

>The most important rejection I ever received.


This wasn’t my first rejection letter; it wasn’t even my first personal rejection letter, but it’s the most significant one. It would be another six years before I sold my first story to Karen Joy Fowler for the Mota: Courage anthology, but one letter with a little praise and some very important criticism from Algis Budrys (whose few novels, which seem unjustly forgotten, I have always adored and admired) kept me going a long long time. This first paragraph was Budrys’s standard rejection template, I have a few other that say the same thing, so it rocked me to see the three paragraphs that followed. Budrys wrote rejections that were turning points in the careers of many writers. Stephen King, in On Writing, wrote about one he received when Budrys edited F&SF.BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

>My rejection slips.


I’m moving, and at the same time, I’m getting rid of a lot of stuff. I no longer feel the need to keep physical copies of old rejection slips. I have about 540 altogether (a ream plus a novelette of paper!) Here’s a pile of them. I’m keeping exactly one, which I’ll share about later in the week. You can see, in this picture, that I submit to mainstream as well as genre markets, though not necessarily the same stories. I have NO idea what I sent to Redbook though,  or when I sent it. Don’t recall that one at all.

>1 way I’m saving time on the internet.

>When Gawker Media user accounts were hacked I went through my passwords to various things, tightening up security giving some thought to all the little accounts for various bullshit I have signed up for over the past decade. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll never sign up with anything for the privilege of making blog comments again. The reason has nothing to do with security, it’s just the blog commenting is a waste of time. Huffington Post, Gawker, boingboing, The Daily Beast, etc all get thousands of comments a day, most of them in written to protest the point of view of the blogger or some of the other comment-leaver, and, I suppose, correct their thinking on the subject at hand. This sets other people off, who comment in outrage to correct the corrections and soon you’ve a threat of a couple hundred comments, that if you really want to keep up on the post you will have to scan and rescan frequently. By then, unless your comment is especially outrageous or obnoxious your contribution will be lost in the crowd. You will see that others are still making the argument the you so succinctly demolished pages earlier, and then you will consider posting again.

I say don’t do it! The only way you can have an impact is if you are one of those power comment-leavers and have the time to leave dozens, if not hundreds of comments a day. I know you; you have better things to do, many more useful and satisfying ways you can contribute. If a big registration-required blog has an article you really feel passionate about just share the link on facebook, your own blog, or tweet about it. Don’t sign in the blogs using your facebook or twitter: not that there is a security danger. Linking a blog to one of you existing accounts will save you time and convenience in set-up, but you’ll lose more time in the end if you start leaving comments. The real danger is time-suck.

>A cover for my short ebook.

>Some of my previously published stories will soon be appearing in various ebook formats. Here’s the cover of one, “Peas and Carrots” which originally appeared in Realms of Fantasy awhile back, and is now available through Smashwords. (The background photo is by weatherbox.)

What do Tarzan of the Apes, Twelfth Night, and Death of Salesman have in common?

  1. A. They are all known beloved stories stories.
  2. B. Among my personal favorites.
  3. C. Mayor Sarah Palin tried to ban them from her hometown public library.
  4. D. All of the above.

If you said “D.” you win a front row seat to the decline and fall. Here is a list: Stop Sarah Palin! The Books She Wanted BANNED! « Mike Cane 2008. These books she wanted banned from the PUBLIC library, not, say, a school library (which would have been bad enough)> Honestly, I’ve never heard of a public servant trying anything on the level in book banning. I’m sure there are others, but I just haven’t heard about them. Palin later tried to fire the librarian.

It’s not sexist to bring this stuff up, is it Mr. McCain?

Update: This list has not been validated (or vetted). The article in TIME discusses the allegation that Palin sought to bans books she found objectionable, and also that she tried to fire the city librarian as well as other city officials over “loyalty issues” but so far I can’t find any confirmed list of what books, if any, she actually identified for banning.

The 39 Clues: Harry Potter Publisher Promotes Next Big Thing

Gimmicks, a different writer each volume: no way this will be anything near the success of Harry Potter. This time next year, the press releases and blog posts about this product will be as funny as last year’s “Zunes/iPod Killer” hyperbole is today.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Nisi Shawl is blogging

The pieces she has collaborated with Brian Charles Clark on so far, are eclectic, entertaining, and a good deal more thoughtful than the average blog post. But what else would we expect? It's Nisi.

Puck » Joni Mitchell and the I Ching

Stuff I hate (part 1 of a series)

Finding I left kleenex in a pocket after doing laundry.

"Napoleon … with dragons!"

"The American Revolution … with dragons!"

"Apollo 13 … with dragons!"

"The Holocaust … with warlocks!"

"The Cold War … with aliens!"

Jane Espenson on a certain species of SF & Fantasy, and me in major bitch-mode

Jane Espenson is one of a (far too small) number of good television writers that is actually known by name to (at least a portion) of her audience. She’s written for BS:G, various Joss Whedon enterprises and my favorite fantasy series of all time: The Gilmore Girls.

She’s got a brief article on the New Republic website about “the secret of selling Sci-Fi.”

It strikes me (sorry to say) that this article is dead accurate.

Well, in truth, I found one overreaching statement …

The people who don’t like Harry Potter seem to be the ones who haven’t tried it yet.”

… which I refute by my own experience. I tried it (two whole books). I don’t begrudge anyone their Harry Potter, and if J.K. Rowling ordered me to fly to her estate on my own dime and clean her toilets for the rest of my life I would obey, so great is the debt that any writer today owes her for turning a generation on to the pleasures of reading in this (supposedly) post-literate, ADD age.

I also will add what should go without saying, but since the internet is an ugly, ugly place, can’t. As the great art-forger Elmir (sp?) says in Orson Welles’ F for Fake (I paraphrase): “There should never exist in the world this situation where one person can say what is good and what is bad. Never. Not ever. No.”

But my preference is (most of the time) for another kind of story.

That is why I say I’m sorry Espenson’s assessment of how to write wildly popular entertainment is so very correct. The modern templates are George Lucas’ Campbellian (errr, Joseph Campbellian, that is) Star Wars trilogy squared, and LOTR. If you read more than four books a year (or even four in a lifetime) you most likely can recreate the template yourself: boy (usually a boy) born in obscurity, full of questioning and mysterious longing, discovers he has a special destiny. Along the way, he doesn’t get the girl. The other guy usually does. But the Boy is too busy for love anyway. He is the one. Excuse me. The ONE. Espenson names contemporary examples, the big three: Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Buffy Summers. She overlooks (maybe another example is redundant) the other ONE, the Neo, the Keanu, from the excreable Matrix movies. Anyway, this ur-story, as J.E. reminds us, appeals to a vastly wider section of the story-hungry than do, say, the ratings challenged series Firefly, BSG, and (though she doesn’t mention it) Farscape.

Farscape, like Firefly is right up my street. People fuck. They break up. They get back together. (They are even attracted to two different people at once! Possibly for the first time in televised SF.) They get richer. They get poor. They are friends. Then they don’t speak for a year. They disappoint one another. They keep secrets. They can’t keep secrets.

Execution matters too of course. I like Buffy because Whedon’s universe is so lively. He upends the old archetypes with unexpected humor and a sense of awareness that like The Worm Ouroboros, the story goes on and on. In an second (?) season episode of Angel, the titular Vampire-with-a-Soul is given a warning that the apocalypse in near. He battles through many layers of hell. Reaching the depths at last, he steps out of an elevator to battle the ultimate evil, only to find himself back on the Santa Monica Pier, crowded with families and young couples walking in the cool evening air, enjoying ice cream while intermingling with (and hardly seeing) L.A.’s homeless. “What happened to the Apocalypse?” Angel asks. “The apocalypse?” responds a Wulfram & Hart senior associate. “Oh yes, I think we did have one scheduled for today.” And then he instructs Angel to just take a good look at the world around him if he wants to find heaven and hell.

Or the late season BtVS episode where Buffy is found locked in a mental institution, her mother apparently alive, her father not absent (for the only time in the series). Is she under a demon’s spell — or, as her doctor insists, has she retreated into a fantasy world of her own? One where she is the Chosen One. Where, in contest after contest the stakes are raised, where she battles stronger and stronger demons each week — even gods. Whedon is smart, and smart enough to believe other people might actually be smart too, so just juice the pump and get out of the way. I’m beginning to see that that is an all too rare quality in a story teller. The willingness to trust the audience, to refuse to condescend, rare in creators, is even rarer in gatekeepers: editors, agents, producers, etc.

So that’s my Buffy Hero-with-a-Thousand-Faces defense. And here’s my Battlestar:Galactica complaint. That show is simply not good. The first season was a bit stronger I felt, but then someone over there decided that they were in possession of something SPECIAL and something IMPORTANT. BS:G is all too often Star Trek with better art direction. Oh, Adama might order Starbuck to kill the captain of the Excelsior Pegasus for the good of the fleet, but never fear, he will rescind the order, he’s the good guy. You can ALWAYS trust your captain, soldier. The writers will then contrive to eliminate said captain in battle. This happens all too frequently, writes jumping in to resolve a conflict they couldn’t bear to sacrifice their characters to resolve. And reset. Roslyn will always be president again, because that is what it says in the show bible. Cancer goes away, politicians rig elections, but then think better of it and give back the stolen votes. I’m sure that happens all the time. Or never once in the history of elections. And characters aren’t really consistent, but blur to justify the plot points of the week. Remember when Roslyn needed Starbuck to return to Caprica for the magic (or not) Arrow of Apollo? She appealed to Starbuck’s deep religous faith. The deep religous faith that is never demonstrated in any episode before or since. Remember how Lee just decided he wanted to die and one point? And then he — I guess — undecided. And remember how the Six model snapped a baby’s neck on Caprica in the pilot episode. She’s a lot nicer now. Snapped a baby’s neck. Now if Dr. House snapped a baby’s neck how many episodes would it take before we could smile at his curmudgeonly antics again? Six’s spine also glowed during sex in the pilot episode which means that there was never a need for half a dozen episodes devoted to Baltar NOT inventing a Cylon detector device. One already exists. Or maybe the twelve colonies hadn’t discovered doggie-style. There’s the whole historically-impossible borrowing of the Greek pantheon (which got switched to the Roman Pantheon at least as far as Zeus becoming Jupiter mid-last season — though not on the closed-captioning, I’m told). That might be explained with the introduction a of really cheesy MOR rock cover of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” which is supposed to be something in the zeitgeist, something that Dylan picked up from the MUSE in our world, and some other songwriter tapped into on Caprica. Well it strikes me as a bunch of new age bullshit, and mostly made up as they have gone along. Also, in SF we really need the following rule: no more than one (and most of the time not even one) of the characters should live in another character’s head, seen by and spoken to by him or her. These may be all little things, but it is by the thousand little things that a story lives or dies. This one has lost me. And they killed Starbuck, changing her character and stealing her strength, and her dignity and her spirit in order to work that into the story, then they brought her back as a spirit guide. It is on to The Bionic Woman for me.

As I say, it’s mostly the non-Hero’s non-journey of no Plan with a capital Pee for me. I like to read working-stiff fantasy. You can keep your Frodos, your Bilbos: significant Hobbits of Destiny. Give me Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser any day and every day of the week: a couple of guys trying to make a dishonest buck, and hoping to avoid getting turned into turtles by the local Wizard-King. Sure, Fritz Leiber is known only to approximately one one-millionth of Tolkien or Lucas fans: but that is their loss, the loss of the millions, the multitudes loss. Not mine.

I know there is a theory the all stories are versions of the Hero’s Journey, but I don’t subscribe to it. It’s too reductive for my purposes. It’s like saying that all women are one woman, which is another thing people say. It has a symmetry easily mistaken for profundity, but it’s just noise. Like those SF con panels where the definition of science fiction is discussed endlessly. One panel eventually settles on the idea that only Hal Clement is true SF, while the panel across the hall discovers that everything ever written by anyone is SF.

I’d pray from Espenson to come back from the Darkside: to not write “The Chosen One” across the top of her notebook before a brainstorming session, but I can’t, because I know a secret. Not the Oprah Secret, there is no THE secret (which is part of the secret). A secret that Fritz Leiber taught me, and Chandler, and Graham Greene, and Shakespeare, Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell, John D. MacDonald, Malamud, and Chekov, Borges, Tolstoy, even Wodehouse, David Milch and Amy Sherman Palladino, and a hundred other names (the varying critical and commercial reputations of these individuals being entirely irrelevant, we know). Namely, that, for story-telling purposes, it’s mostly just people.

Furthermore, no helpful mountain ranges delineate The Light from The Dark, there is no Dark side of the map, in fact there is no accurate map, and no wise old guide exists to dole out cryptic prophecy at the act break. What exists is us, just us, bumping into one another in interesting ways.

Now I will finish with my own overreaching statement: even when you were six, Darth Vader was not really scary. Not the least little bit.

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Update: I’ve decided to close comments now, because of all that spam this post has attracted!

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