My Influential Authors

Over in the Book of Faces, I was tagged by my delightful friend, author B.G. Thomas to play the Influential Authors Game. Basically, I am to list 15 authors who have influenced me. This doesn’t necessarily mean I enjoy these authors works – I’ll be listing at least one that I find highly disagreeable (I will leave it to you to figure out who that is!)  Being influenced by an author and liking their work does not always go hand in hand.

Rather than simply quick-listing 15 authors in Facebook in response to this meme, I decided to expand the concept here.  I hope you find my list interesting, and perhaps you’ll pause to think about the authors that have influenced your life, too. Continue reading “My Influential Authors”

Æther Salon: Transcript of Publishing Salon

Last month I gave a talk at the Aether Salon in New Babbage, a virtual steampunk city in Second Life. There was a record crowd of avatars representing published writers, hopeful writers, and other interested folk. The transcript, along with the graphics from my slide show presentation (yes you can run a slide show in a virtual setting) has been posted. If you’d like to learn more about publishing, perhaps this will be of help. I had a lot of fun. Continue reading “Æther Salon: Transcript of Publishing Salon”

Mary, Maria, Murray, no, MARK! Wait. Jim.

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” That’s cute, Shakespeare… now, can anyone tell what those other names actually are?

Did you just blink and draw a blank? You’re in good company. Let’s say you’re a writer. You’ve just conjured up a skinny teenaged boy with an incredible backstory, anger issues, perfect hair and an allergy to squirrels. That’s all well and good, but what’s his name? There’s nothing like being at a loss for the right name when writing an otherwise meaningful character, and I know for me, the quest for a name has often stopped my writing dead in its tracks.

I’ve browsed nearly every name site on the web at one time or another, and eventually I manage to scrape a name or two out and run back to my manuscripts, but it’s rarely been a fun experience.  And never a social one. Now, that’s all changed . Meet Nameberry! This cheery, interesting, sociable site focuses on choosing baby names, but isn’t your story your baby, too? Next time you get stuck trying to name a talkative grandmother who can’t bake but still lifts weights, give Nameberry a go.Nameberry Logo

(From Nameberry’s ‘About’ page) the What’s a Nameberry? Think of it as a baby name….only juicier, smarter, cooler, better. Nameberry is the site created by experts Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz, coauthors of ten groundbreaking books on baby names widely quoted on the subject around the world. Nameberry includes an authoritative 50,000 name database developed over two decades, a daily blog on baby names, unique lists and features , and a vibrant community of expectant parents and name lovers. With two million monthly visitors and ten million page views from every country around the world, the Nameberry family includes a daily email newsletter, a popular shop selling personalized products, an active Facebook group, and a wide Twitter following.

NaNoWriMo 2014

Next Saturday, NaNoWriMo begins. That funny word stands for National Novel Writing Month, during which thousands of writers will each, hopefully, produce a 50,000 word novel.  I’ve done this before, and I can tell you it’s exhilarating, frustrating, panic-inducing, maddening and wonderful.  For me, it’s a collective impetus that really helps, and feels *great*.  Are you interested in giving it a try? Do it! If you don’t reach 50,000 words, no one will judge you. This is a personal-goal sorta thing. And whether you manage to produce a dozen words, or fifty thousand, or somewhere in between, you’ve written words that might otherwise never have existed. That is a wonderful thing.


 NaNoWriMo 2013 at a Glance

310,095 participants started the month of November as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

651 volunteer Municipal Liaisons guided 595 regions on six continents.

89,500 students and educators told their stories with the Young Writers Program.

650 libraries opened their doors to novelists through the Come Write In program.

And in 2014, 55,774 Campers tackled a writing project during Camp NaNoWriMo.

Learn more at National Novel Writing Month

Start the Presses!

I am so excited!  I’ve turned over my novel manuscript to an independent publishing house for printing and distribution! I’m a firm believer in supporting indie publishing, so this felt like a really smart move.

They tell me they use what’s called a ‘Gutenberg’ press, and that it will deliver brilliant color and amazing details. Sounds wonderful.  I didn’t know Steve Gutenberg was part of the publication industry, but you know actors, they’re in everything from politics to popcorn.

They also tell me the press can print 25 pages an hour. Seems a little slow, but you can’t rush quality, now can you?  So, every eight hours, one of you can buy a copy of my book!  Who wants to be the first?




Dawn’s Early Light: The Blog Tour! Q&A Time with Tee and Pip

Pip_Tee_byJRBPhoto by J.R. Blackwell

Pip Ballantine: Prolific award-winning author, podcaster, cat-herder, New Zealander on special assignment in the States, wife and mother, blogger.  Tee Morris: Writer of Fantasy, Non-Fiction, Podcast Pioneer, partaker of good cigars and scotch, assistant cat-herder, father, husband, thespian.  Together, they fight crime! (Okay, I just really wanted to say that.)  Actually, they write crime. And the most dastardly of enemies. And astounding gadegtry and corsetry.  On March 25th, Dawn’s Early Light, the third exciting book in The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, will take us on another amazing adventure with  both familiar and new agents. I caught Pip and Tee in a rare moment between their own adventures and, while running alongside , coaxed out answers to a few questions. And, at the end of the Q&A, look for details on a giveaway contest that you can enter!

Do you plot out a book in advance, or just dive in with a general idea of where you’re going? Or something in-between?
PIP: I’m a discovery writer, which is in between. When I start I know where the story is going to end, but I never know the bits in between. It’s like setting off from New York, knowing you are going to St. Louis, but not knowing the roads you’ll take. For me, it is the best of both worlds, I have the security of that end, but I have the spontaneity of the journey.

Do you have any bizarre writing habits?
TEE: I lack the talent my wife has where she can put on a movie or television and write. I can’t do that. If it’s email or administrative something-or-other, I can do that but when it comes to writing a manuscript, I can’t do that when somethings on the television. Impossible. I’ve seen Pip crank out a few chapters that way, but not me. Not even podcasts.

Dawn's Early Light

How do you go about choosing the names of your characters? (Although I think most of us can figure out the inspiration for Agent Bruce Campbell.)

TEE: Actually the story of Bruce came when we were making up agents from all parts of the Empire. I asked Pip “So what’s the Australian’s name?” Pip immediately came back with “Well, it has to be Bruce.” When she asked me for a last name, I shrugged and said “Well, of course, it’s got to be Campbell.” Now all we see is that incredible chin and that smug grin. We’re still hoping that someone gets a copy of either Phoenix Rising or Ministry Protocol to the actor. We think he’d get a kick out of it.

PIP: I usually dig deep into my own past and mix and match people I know. There’s only been one time I’ve vetoed a name. In Dawn’s Early Light, we have a character inspired by one of our favorite actors. I wanted to drop a subtle hint as to who the actor was, and Tee suggested “Luther Pentacost.” I said “No.” Quickly. A little too meta for my liking.

TEE: Still think that would have been a great name for a character.

Where do you see yourself as a writer in ten years?
TEE: If we are still writing in ten years, I’ll be thrilled. Ten years ago, self-published authors and eBooks were considered bottom feeders and what you did when your career was on the way out. Now, ten years later, it’s considered a viable option to getting published by the Big Six. It’s hard to say where we will be in that time. I am trying to make smart choices in this incredibly wild ride, so I’ll be very happy if people are still as anxious for my books as they are now.

PIP: Perhaps adapting The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences for Sir Peter Jackson. Or for HBO.

Are there topics you would never write about?
TEE: So far, I’ve not come across any topics I’ve not written about. I doubt if I could write about child abuse, even though I’ve never faced a setting where it would have been appropriate or would have worked. I tend to face whatever works for the story, and I’ve gone dark on several occasions. So far, so good; but if I write something dark, I do it for the merit of the story, not solely for shock value.

Is there a certain type of scene that’s difficult for you to write? How do you conquer it?
PIP: I had a terrible time with writing sex scenes. I preferred to close the door or fade to black if ever facing the moment when two characters wanted to enjoy one another’s company. To get over it and to improve my short story skills, I launched a podcast called Erotica ala Carte. I offered to my audience a setting, a sexual preference, and a unique element (a character, an emotion, or something) and based on the popular vote, I would write and podcast a short story. What was an exercise for me lasted for three years, and I even hosted “guest chefs” in my kitchen and was nominated for a few awards. Podcasting is a great platform for Tee and myself.

What is something you are determined to accomplish before you die?
TEE: I wouldn’t mind returning to the stage. Lately, I find myself missing those days when I was a professional actor. I don’t have a lot of free time for acting on account of the demands writing asks for, but I’d like to get in some Shakespeare again. I saw a video of Tom Hiddleston gearing up for a production of Coriolanus and I felt a twinge. I love performing Shakespeare.

What authors inspire you?
PIP: I love CJ Cherryh. She’s been my heroine for longer than I can remember. She has had a varied career, writing many successful series. I guess what first drew me to her was her powerful, but relatable female characters. As a young reader I found that very compelling.

My thanks to Pip and Tee for sharing their thoughts.  Dawn’s Early Light can be found at  Goodreads and Amazon.

New Zealand born fantasy writer and podcaster Philippa (Pip) Ballantine is the author of the Books of the Order and the Shifted World series. She is also the co-author, with her husband Tee Morris, of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels. Her awards include an Airship, a Parsec, and a Sir Julius Vogel. Morris is the author of Morevi: The Chronicles of Rafe and Askana and the co-author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels. In addition to his work as a fantasist, he is also a social media pioneer and the author of Podcasting for Dummies and All a Twitter.

Pip’s website — Pip’s Twitter 

Tee’s website — Tee’s Twitter

The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Facebook page

It’s a  giveaway! Enter now! At the end of the blog tour, three winners will be chosen to receive the following gifties.

Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences
Signed Abney Park Poster
Signed Abney Park CD Ancient World
Signed coverflats of Phoenix Rising and the Janus Affair

Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences
The Extraordinary Contraptions CD
Signed cover flat of Phoenix Rising

Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences

A Portable Writer’s Retreat

Marilyn Monroe Writing at Home
Marilyn Monroe Writing at Home – Buy at

Recently two writers I admire were lucky enough to be able to get away to a writer’s retreat, complete with cabins, mountains, a hot tub and even a chef! They enjoyed a very productive, inspiring retreat with other writers. Someday, I’m going to do that.

In the meantime though, most of us can’t manage such wonderfulness. It occurred to me that there’s something we can do on a much smaller scale – assemble our own individual “Portable Writer’s Retreat” bag to set up a writer’s retreat whenever the opportunity arises. I’m using a quilted coffee-themed bag that was made for me one fine Christmas. It’s roomy, cushioned and fun. Need a bag to get started? Tote Bags by Makoshark offers some fun choices!

Here’s some ideas to help you get started on your own Writer’s Retreat bag.  Grab a satchel, tote bag, backpack, or what-have-you, stock it up, throw it in the car  or sling it over your shoulder and go for a nice wander until you find the perfect spot for your retreat. A park? A library? A coffee shop? Whatever suits you and your muse!

I posed the question ‘what would you put in your Writer’s Retreat bag?’ to my writer friends.  Together, we all came up with the following list. You won’t need everything, and I’m sure you’ll come up with items we didn’t think of. I’d love to hear your additions in the comments!

  Writer’s Retreat Bag Ingredients


Writing Materials (of course)

Low Tech

  • Writing journals
  • Pens and Pencils – more than one! Stock many.
  • Color Pens
  • Sharpies
  • Idea cards. Those are pictures cards: subject, action, object. When you are out of ideas, you pick one of each, and try to make them fit together.
  • Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. Sure, you could download it on to your tablet’s book-reading app, but having an actual dead-tree copy gives you tactile joy. Plus it’s a small book.
  • Pocket Dictionary/Thesaurus
  • Index Cards
  • A collapsible flat writing surface (if you are in a park rather than a coffee shop).

High Tech

  • iPad (my choice. And I use the Werdsmith app. It’s clean, stable and suits me)
  • A spare charging cable for your cell phone (just in case you need to access the Internet for research)
  • One writer commented, “if you have a wifi only tablet, I like the 4g base station that AT&T sells with 5GB of data for $50 a month.”
  • A real keyboard, with Bluetooth
  • 11 inch MacBook Air

Thinking Helpers

  • Rubik’s Cube
  • Silly Putty
  • Headphones for iPad or your musical device
  • Essential Oils.  For mental clarity, try Rosemary, Basil, Juniper Berry, Peppermint, Sage


  • Water, Coffee, or Tea bottles: I received a glowing recommendation for Contigo Autoseal Travel Tumblers, and another recommendation for the Contigo Astor. These have lockdown tabs and I am told they are completely spillproof, even when stuffed in a purse or laid on their side.
  • Another writer recommends a Water Filter Bottle.
  • Trail Mix. Perhaps dried cranberries, unsalted cashews and almonds, with dark chocolate bits. Or my favorite, granola, cashews, almonds, and M&M’s.
  • Chocolate. 85% dark should be good for a thousand words!
  • Mints
  • Hard Candy
  • Gum


  • Hand Lotion
  • Lip Balm
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun Hat
  • Fingerless knit gloves


  • Business or calling cards with your name and a email address only (you can write your mobile number on the back if you think it’s safe to share)
  • A little totem to cheer you up if/when you get stuck

One friend, who shall remain unnamed, said that his bag would contain, “Mechanical pencil, whiskey flask, brass knuckles, post-it’s, gin flask, passport, fake mustaches, tequila flask, lawyer’s phone number.”

Another friend with less of a shady past and a tendency to ramble said, “Something chewy to give people when they need to shut up. Like REALLY big chewing gum. Bandaids with Winnie the Pooh on them to be every kids favorite random aunt! But then a clown nose would fix both those things. And it might take less space in your bag. It can also be used when there is awkward silence (I hate that). I am getting a red nose!!”

I hope you’re inspired to stock up your own bag.  Perhaps you’ll even want to include a red clown nose.  The brass knuckles might weigh you down, though.


Full Steam Ahead to Happiness

Say you’re a writer. (Yes, I’m hearing “You’re A Writer!” from those of you permanently mindwarped by Zucker Brothers movies).  Anyway – you’re a writer, and are adept in the genre of Steampunk.  You come across the submission details for an upcoming anthology, and pause to read it through.  To your surprise, there is a stipulation that your submission has “No depressive ending, no preaching, no agendas, no angst-ridden misery.”

This stipulation comes from the Happy Smiley Writers Group, who produce anthologies.

That’s right.  Your cast of characters isn’t eaten by Cthulhu. Your beloved hasn’t removed your head and wired it to run his pneumatic devices with the power of your pain while he canoodles with a clockwork doll.  Your city doesn’t burst into flames due to an errant Tesla coil.

Steampunk has often been so closely associated with dark sci-fi and horror fiction, frosted with Victorian medical and scientific terrors and just enough goth to seal the deal.

I’ve been wishing for more positively empowered writing – Engineers that actually succeed in creating that perfect future, dreamers who find their fantasies can come true.

Maybe I can find a dose of my Steampunk Happiness between the covers of “The Steampowered Globe”.  I’m looking forward to finding out!

Please read Jess Nevin’s review!  (Jess IS one damn fine reason Steampunk is a happy, wonderful place.)