Monday, February 23, 2009

Software For Starving Authors (and not so starving ones)

By Butch Wilson

Then what you're

looking for is at your fingertips.

Software for Starving Authors

(and not so starving ones).

Hi Gang –

I’m Butch Wilson, an Educational Technologist by trade, a writer and storyteller because I just can’t help myself. “Educational Technologist” is a fancy way of saying “that computer guy at the school”. In my case, it’s a bunch of schools. I provide technology support and software training for fifty two schools in Southern Illinois.

Part of my job is helping teachers find free, and nearly free, ways to help kids learn. Over the past year enough folks have said that I should be passing some of this stuff on to writers that the idea finally sank in. So, until that “House in the Hamptons” book deal comes through, and we can hire people for the grammar checking, typesetting, and publicity, let’s share some “cool tools” to help us in our craft.

A couple things up front:

You know that internal editor that you have? The one that hangs out and makes snarky comments while you work? Sometimes he or she does play by play of your day. (spoons go in the dishwasher, not the disposal...) Maybe it’s a side effect of my job, but mine is, well… not so internal.

You’ll find the inner dialogue in italics. Sometimes it’s just me being snarky, sometimes I might just be working on a new chili recipe. Feel more than free to skip over it. (Unless, you know, you want to compare chili recipes…)

My hope is, each time, to give you something from at least one of the following categories:

  • a tool for our everyday use of the computer
  • a tool or resource aimed at helping us develop or promote our writing goals
  • and maybe something to help keep us motivated.

I will try to include clickable links that will take you to more information on all the things presented, (because there is ALWAYS more information a mouse click away).

The bottom line, for me, is this:

Writing and creating is hard work. Getting the tools to do it shouldn’t be.

They shouldn’t cost us the light bill to get, and the best ones,

the “Cool Tools”, should work and stay out of the way of the process.

Every Day, Hands on the Keyboard stuff:

I was standing at one of the big box electronics stores awhile back, and met a very nice lady buying the MS Office Suite for her high school aged daughter. Current list price (at this writing) for Office Professional is about $400 bucks. The store wasn't bothering (because they probably didn't know) to tell Mom that she could get the Home and Student version for $90. The major difference? Home and Student doesn’t come with Publisher. Since her daughter needed it for homework, not desktop publishing, it worked out good for them.

You can find it at a number of reputable online and brick and mortar (read regular) stores. All you need is a mouse… and a credit/debit card.

Now, if you aren’t a slave to the brand name? Allow me to point you to the same writing and budget management functionality, for $0 dollars.

OpenOffice, courtesy of the nice folks at, does pretty much everything a writer needs, and more. And, it is Open Source. In layman’s terms, that means it is free for you to use.

(No, Auntie June, I promise this is not a trick. Not at all like that pretty movie I emailed you,

the one with the peaceful spring meadow where the zombie jumped out, screaming, at the end.)

Umm… where was I?

You can download the program, all of it, at the link above. Once you have it installed, you will see that it works, pretty much, just like the commercial word processing software (Word, Wordperfect) you are used to. Some of the buttons may be in a different place, but the learning curve is a bunny slope and you can be back to writing in no time.

One BIG difference? Stories written in Open Office can be saved in Word or Wordperfect, and, stories created in those programs can be opened and edited in Open Office.

How cool is that?

Need some help? Check this out-- Tutorials for Open Office. Just like the link says,-- free, step by step and guided tours, for you to print out, or open on your computer and follow along, no experience necessary. Really. They even have one called “No Computer Experience”.

Which begs the question: “If you have no experience, at all, how’d you get to that page on the internet?”

Not ready to give up your brand name word processing? Ok, here’s the same thing for you, courtesy of the amazing educational folks at Florida Gulf Coast University. They have online tutorials for all of Office 2000 AND Office 2007, and all you need is a mouse. Here’s the link: Office Tutorials

One other “hands on” writing related tip:

While we’re still in word processing, MS Office 2003 and 2007 both have a standard template for “Book Manuscript”. In 2007 you can find it by clicking “New” & “Installed Templates”. In both, you can also find it by opening Word Help, then searching for “Book Template”. Or, you can download it, free, here, from Office’s online help site.

Cool, huh? (But wait, there’s more) Whether from a generic Word document, or the template, you can change the margins, line spacing, the distance to indent first lines…. All that, and then create your own template, simply by clicking the “File – Save As”, and selecting “Word Template”. Call it something you’ll remember, save it somewhere you’ll remember, so you can open it when you start the next book or draft. Viola! The grunt work of starting your next piece is done, “auto-magically”. It works the same way in Open Office, by the way.

Just remember to hit the “Save as” and save it as some other name – “My New Book” document, the first time you save. That way the template you created will still be there, clean and formatted and ready to use.

Ever gotten lost in your own novel?

I have. I sometimes lose track of how tall Billy is, or where he lives (and just why did his accent go from Scottish to Italian?), or when Mary had to die (shh, she doesn’t know). That is where Plotcraft comes in. Plotcraft was created by programmer, fellow writer, and all around interesting guy, Fahim Farook. It’s designed to help folks like us keep our tales on track. It’s an easy download, easy install. It runs, I know, on Windows XP and Vista. AND? Plotcraft is available free for your use.

Unlike the Open Source license, Fahim calls his licensing model “Care Ware”. To quote the license itself: “Simply pay for it by caring enough about the people around you and helping them out whenever they need help.” I told you, he’s a neat guy. He does mention that, if you want to do something nice for him, you might, maybe, buy his book. His website includes a link to that.

Ok, so is that enough to play with today? Yeah, I know, if you do ALL of this, one at a time, we’ve sucked up your free time until a week from next Tuesday.

The thing to remember is this:

Just like with cooking, writing, and plotting the perfect murder, being willing to try new things teaches us how to get away with a lot more, a lot faster.

If you have questions, or you want to whack me over the head for getting something wrong, click here and drop me a line.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Latest News: Guest of Honor, Claymore Dagger

By Beth Terrell

Greetings, friends (and future friends) of Killer Nashville.

I know you've been on pins and needles wondering who the Killer Nashville 2009 Guest of Honor will be. All right, maybe the question has floated across your mind. Well, wonder no more.

New York Times bestselling author J.A. Jance will join the ranks of past Killer Nashville Guests of Honor: Carol Higgins Clark, Michael Connelly, and "Body Farm" creator Dr. Bill Bass. Jance is the author of four popular crime fiction series, one of which earned her the American Mystery Award. All attendees will have a chance to meet Jance and hear her conference interview and one-hour presentation on Saturday, August 15. That night, attendees may join Jance at a special guest of honor dinner, where she will be awarded the traditional Killer Nashville guitar. (For those of you who have attended past guest of honor dinners, we hope 2008 Silver Falchion Award winner Don Bruns will be there to continue yet another tradition, playing one of his original songs on it. Don?)

We have a great lineup planned for 2009 (August 14-16). We'll have manuscript critiques and breakout sessions, as well as four tracks of panels and presentations. Once again, there will be one track on the craft of writing, one on the business of writing, one on forensics and investigative techniques, and one just for fans. So whether you're a reader or a reader/writer, we hope to see you at this year's conference. I've heard that some fans of the genre have lamented that Killer Nashville is just for writers. Actually, it's for anyone who has ever stayed up past midnight with a good mystery or thriller, anyone with an interest in forensice or investigative techniques, or anyone who has written--or dreamed of writing--a piece of crime-related fiction.

Some of you have asked about the agent and editor pitches. Our visiting agent for 2009 is Lucienne Diver of The Knight Agency. Lucienne has sold over 600 titles and is one of the most respected agents in the industry. Maryglenn McCombs, a 15-year veteran of the publishing industry, will also be returning this year. Maryglenn represents Oceanview Publishing, which has accepted manuscripts from two of our attendees, Scott Pearson and Margaret Fenton. Scott's book just came out in early February, and Margaret's will be released in June. (Congratulations, both of you!)

Now, let's talk about awards. In addition to the Silver Falchion, which is awarded to the best novel published in the current or previous year (2008 or 2009) by a registered attendee, we're unveiling the first annual Claymore Dagger Award. The Claymore Dagger is for the best beginning (defined as up to the first 50 pages) of an unpublished manuscript that is not currently under contract. The winner will receive an engraved repkica of a Claymore Dagger, and the winning manuscript will be read and considered for publication by this year's partnering publisher, Avalon Books. You can find the rules and FAQs on the website: A lot of you have asked if you have to follow Avalon's guidelines in order to win. The answer is no, you don't have to follow their guidelines in order to win the award, but if you want to increase your manuscript's chances of being accepted for publication by Avalon, you do.

We have a number of special rates and discounts, including discounts for seniors, teachers, and full-time students, and an early bird special that runs through February 28. A second, lesser, discount runs from March 1 through May 31.

As always, the conference will be at the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs Hotel and Convention Center.

Got questions? Comments? Concerns? Feel free to contact me: