Monthly Archives: October 2011

Site of the Week: With Painted Words

If you know of any useful websites or perhaps run one yourself, feel free to recommend it. If I find your site suitable for my weekly feature then I will do my utmost to accommodate it. In return I might merely ask that you link to my blog. But please (and I mean this in the politest possible terms) do not ask me to advertise your commercial service.

For those who like a challenge and regular deadline to motivate their writing, this site “With Painted Words” might be just your thing.

Each month a new picture is posted as a prompt. It can be as vague or as faithful as you like but the piece you write must be relevant in some way to the image. The maximum word count is 1000 words so effectively this is a site with monthly flash-fiction prompts.

And the best thing about it is that you get to earn money if your work is published. $3US (approximately £2 or €2.20). Not a huge amount but a small financial reward is always appreciated by the keen writer.

Elfwood in limbo and news about the L. Ron Hubbard competition

A couple of days ago I received this letter from the founder of Elfwood.


When I started Elfwood fifteen years ago, I could never dream of what
a success it would be and how I would affect the lives of thousands of
young artists and writers. I have received many emails over the years,
thanking me for everything from career paths chosen in the art world
thanks to Elfwood, to married couples who found each other in the

What started out as a tiny, script based web site running at a
computer club server at the university is now a full professional
site, with over a hundred thousand registered members and half a
million pieces of SciFi and Fantasy art and writings.

Lets say you spend all your time awake (Like 16 hour a day) constantly
browsing Elfwood – stopping by just quickly to look at each picture
for 15 seconds and each story for two minutes, then you would spend
over 200 days at the site!

However, after fifteen years as head of Elfwood I slowly become to
realize that Elfwood might need a new warden to further tend to it and
make it grow in a good way. Although we started a new company around
Elfwood some years ago, the income from the adveristments and the
patron donations isn’t enough to make me work with Elfwood as a
paid job. Sure, It does cover the running costs, the administration,
…and some more, but this isn’t a long term roadmap.

In order to stay up to date with the development on the Internet,
adding new functions and make Elfwood into something unique; more time
(and money) would be needed. The competition for the attention on
Internet is fierce today, with Facebook, Twitter and other sites
continuously expanding and growing. (Just to be clear, I don’t want
Elfwood to go there, we should stick to our roots and remain a niche
community for lovers of SciFi and Fantasy – not become a new
Facebook). In addition to this, being responsible for this and running
the site for fifteen years in my spare time at evenings and weekends
sure takes its toll – and I believe now is a good time to starting
thinking of how Elfwood could be managed differently…

One solution for Elfwood would be to find new investors, another to
sell the website to some company that could appreciate and leverage
the unique value of Elfwoods long term existence and extremely good
reputation and brand. Thanks to input from you, our users, we have
tons of great ideas on how to improve the site, and also new
commercial concepts that could be realized to add new revenue streams
(for example by creating an Elfwood yearbook or adding
merchandise). However – to realize these plans also need time and

Anyways, the reason I write to you is NOT to announce that I’ve sold
Elfwood (far from), but I wanted to share my ideas and plans with you.

I’d like to ask you for a favour – do you know some wealthy person
interested in SciFi / Fantasy who’d like to invest in Elfwood, or of
some nice company/orgnisation that could be a good candidate for
simply purchasing the entire site? – Just let me know… All ideas are
appreciated! I can be emailed at: thomas AT elfwood DOT com

Best regards,
Thomas Abrahamsson, Elfwood founder

I appreciate the hard work he has put in, I have had a page there for about ten years. The site is well presented and despite persistent technical issues, I appreciate that he and his team have put in a lot of hard work. It would be a shame if Thomas decided to shut the place down through exasperation and financial difficulties.

It still has the best format for writers and artists but the method of getting around is better suited to the artists than the writers. I rarely get comments now despite making a renewed effort to read and comment on the work of others. There is some superb work on there and when I signed up for at the beginning of the year it made me realise just how well Elfwood’s insistence on quality has worked.

In some ways Elfwood has moved with the times; in some way it has not. Though Thomas says that he had no desire to turn it into a social media site, I personally think he is missing a trick. There exists the potential for Elfwood to become a great network for budding sci fi and fantasy writers. I feel that Wyvern (the library) has been left to its own devices and has stagnated because of it. I revamp is certainly in order here.

I hope this gets resolved soon. Though I will probably not submit any more work to Elfwood, I will keep my library there for now.

L. Ron Hubbard “Writer’s of the Future” Competition

As much as I would like to say that I won, I didn’t. I’m not disheartened as I found the target of writing such a long short story for the purpose of a competition a reward in itself considering it had been so long since I’d written anything. I’m pleased with the finished result. I might put it up on the web somewhere, perhaps even Elfwood but I want to explore other avenues for sale / competitions yet.

There’s still the James White Award though due to studying GIS at the moment (I may take a second module) I’m worried I may not make the 2012 deadline. Updates – as ever – will be here in due course.

All Hallow’s Read

All Hallow’s Read is a simple idea started by Neil Gaiman for people to give a gift of a scary book at Halloween. That’s it. Doesn’t matter how you do it or whom you give it to (or even how many people) but one neat suggestion is to attach a sticker advertising All Hallow’s Read to a scary book and leave it somewhere it might get picked up.

I can’t bear to be parted from my dear Zombie Apocalypse! and I’m still reading The Passage so I’m holding onto those for now. But I will get into the spirit of the occasion by pushing my horror stories at Elfwood to my readers (this time last year the blog was two weeks old and I had no subscribers, now I have nine!). So anyway. my horror dabblings are:

In Evil Begets Evil, Sister Marcella is a young nun with a dark secret.

In Tartarus, a group of hikers on another planet stumble across a strange device.

Or if they have too many words, you may want to try my untitled flash fiction short story as part of the Post A Day series.

Official Government Advice: “Run away screaming” – Zombies as Social Commentary


The headline comes from one of the most amusing sections from the book Zombie Apocalypse! that I read while on holiday recently. It was an interview where government contingencies for national disasters are discussed. Each (including assassination of the monarch, death of the PM in office, invasion of “Evilerons from the planet X”) are many hundreds of pages long. All except the contingency for a zombie apocalypse. It consisted of two pages. The first had a stick figure with a speech bubble exclaiming “aaarrrghhh brains!”; and the second page had the quote above. Continue reading

Book Review: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

In a century plagued with violence, intolerance, political and religious conflict, destruction of the environment and exploitation of the poor by the rich, humanity suddenly finds the planet Earth subject to a peaceful invasion. Every major city finds itself under the watchful eye of a ship from the stars.

There is no violence from the alien invaders but their power is obvious. “Live in peace with you neighbours, be good to one another and work for the greater good of your species and your planet… or face dire consequences.”

Many years pass under this benign dictatorship with random acts of organised violence of a largely ineffective ‘resistance’ movement until the day the planet’s spokesman is abducted. But eventually even they succumb to whatever plan the Overlords have for humanity. As they begin to explain their motives, it seems the truth has many more layers than is obvious at first.

Amongst the best-known of Arthur C. Clarke’s work, though short it is an intriguing tale. Why are they here? Why is world peace so important to the new arrivals? Why do they not use violence to achieve their goals? What do they look like and most importantly, what do they want?

Despite being such a short book, it asks some intriguing questions about how we perceive the world, how fragile our social constructs sometimes can be (especially nationalism and religion), the extent to which we are manipulated by the powers that be and the fine line between leadership and rule.

It would be difficult to describe it as an enjoyable book; it lacks the sense of wonder of Rama and the galaxy-spanning scope of 2001 but like Rama it is philosophy heavy and like 2001 it hints at great powers in the universe beyond our comprehension. It is not page turner but it does make you think and that’s what Clarke was best at.

Site of the Week: FreeMind

If you know of any useful websites or perhaps run one yourself, feel free to recommend it. If I find your site suitable for my weekly feature then I will do my utmost to accommodate it. In return I might merely ask that you link to my blog. But please (and I mean this in the politest possible terms) do not ask me to advertise your commercial service.

An excellent yet simple idea. If you’re a writer you undoubtedly need to brainstorm. The problem is that you usually end up with a mass of paper that gets less coherent the more you add. Lots of scribbling, crossing out, rewriting and before you know it you’re sat in a heap on the floor surround by confetti that was once your writing notes and sobbing uncontrollably.

Okay that was an exaggeration but brainstorming has never been easy. Some bright spark though has come up with FreeMind, a computerised version with a comprehensive list of features that aims to make the process of brainstorming easier and broader than piles of paper and incoherent scribblings that were once spider diagrams.

It is an effective academic tool; use it to sort your research, group and link data together. Colour code bits of information or move them around in order to make sense of otherwise random bits of data.

On the importance of plotting

Fantasy writer Kate Mosse has written a defence on the importance of plotting for The Guardian here (or the mobile version if you prefer). It is a good, solid piece.

Personally I don’t see what all the fuss is about and why writers and those who instruct creative writing are so anti-plot. Plot drives story. Plot is story otherwise you just have “a day in the life” without direction. As a rule I find character-driven-with-no-plot works of literature pretentious and most importantly – dispassionate – with the writer looking to win awards and seem intelligent rather than wishing to give people pleasure through their art. On the flip side, a story that is only about the plot comes across as cheap and nasty and gives the impression of being knocked up in six weeks without edit, full of clichés and characters that are merely vessels for transporting dialogue.

Most of all I don’t like the implication that emphasis on plot means that character and dialogue are sacrificed. Some of the best books I’ve read accomplish all three and those are the works that stay with me the longest. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for example has so many layers, such a wonderful plot and depth to the characters. It is one of those novels that requires a re-read every couple of years so that it is never out of your mind.

Most bizarrely is that Stephen King has such a harsh criticism of plot. Aren’t his works almost completely about story? There is rarely a great amount of character development or profound dialogue in his work. He himself has written an example of good plotting and strong characters working together: The Stand. Mother Abigail aside (whom Spike Lee might refer to as a “Magic Negro)”, Randall Flagg is one of the most menacing villains in modern fiction. It is easy to see why some people might side with him. Many of the heroes are well-developed, flawed yet good people; in some cases the villains are sympathetic and sometimes they are good people.

Thoughts anyone?

China Mieville on Lit/Sci Fi divide

Another interesting article in The Guardian’s Books section or if you prefer to view the mobile site click here.

Mieville seems like an intelligent guy and I’ve heard a lot of good about his work. I’ve not read any of yet but I do have one on my “to read” list.

Is he right? Is the true reason that liter-ar-y awards ignore sci fi is because it is actually a genre award that looks for quality prose on the familiar? If so, as the article comments, you just wish they were honest about it.

Its an intriguing idea and one I might like to explore in future once I’ve swotted up on Booker nominees and winners over the years.

Site of the Week: yWriter

If you know of any useful websites or perhaps run one yourself, feel free to recommend it. If I find your site suitable for my weekly feature then I will do my utmost to accommodate it. In return I might merely ask that you link to my blog. But please (and I mean this in the politest possible terms) do not ask me to advertise your commercial service.

I was unimpressed with StoryBook in an earlier site of the week but I was determined to keep looking for a package that would be more relevant and useful for my needs. I like planning and plotting and always conscious of the need to keep checking back to make sure the writing is consistent.

At first glance, yWriter seems more useful for the sort of problems I come across when writing longer projects. It has a storyboard to add quick notes so you can check back to when certain events occurred and you can break down your plan by chapter or individual scene. I find this a highly useful tool for novel writing.

Another useful feature is the ability to go back to view earlier versions, something that normal wordprocessors would require multiple copies to compare versions.

The complete list of features:
Organise your novel using a ‘project’.
Add chapters to the project.
Add scenes, characters, items and locations.
Display the word count for every file in the project, along with a total.
Saves a log file every day, showing words per file and the total. (Tracks your progress)
Saves automatic backups at user-specified intervals.
Allows multiple scenes within chapters
Viewpoint character, goal, conflict and outcome fields for each scene.
Multiple characters per scene.
Storyboard view, a visual layout of your work.
Re-order scenes within chapters.
Drag and drop of chapters, scenes, characters, items and locations.
Automatic chapter renumbering.

I think this is suitable for this post a day so I’m cheating a tying it in posthumously :D

The end of the headline experiment

You may remember at the end of August that I posted an article about misleading headlines and I said I would analyse the results at the end of the year to see if I got an increased hit rate. I have now removed the names of the actresses involved and changed the title (to Effective Use of Post Titles) so that I no longer get hits from people searching for such a non-existent video.

In the space of around six weeks, the post in question acquired four times as many hits as its nearest rival, a book review of John Wyndham’s Web I posted at the end of March. Obviously, I do not count the home page.

This is the print screen as at time of posting:

Top posts

Top posts for procrastin8or's blog as at 15/10/11

Next, the most common search terms to reach my blog:

Search terms used to reach this blog

Not quite as overwhelming as I thought it would be but my point is proven quite clearly. Titles are designed to draw in attention from as wide and as far as possible. Minimum effort for maximum results. Yet, and this is a point that must be noted, quantity does not equal quality. Bloggers who use this to lure people in may get a lot of hits but won’t get much in the way of quality feedback. Mislead your potential market at your peril!