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Friday, December 13, 2013

This Week's Roundup of Great Blogs

It's difficult to keep up with all the great thoughts being expressed on the many blogs out there, so here are a few highlights to choose from:

Kristen Lamb: We Are Not Alone
Expectations & Reality--Making a Better, Happier, Stronger YOU

As always, Kristen's advice is good for writing and life.

Crafting Fabulous Fiction 
Victoria Grossack

The information is pretty basic, but it's good to be reminded.

The Difference Between Showing and Telling 
Beth Revis

This is the briefest, clearest explanation on this topic I've ever seen.

Show Not Tell: What the Heck is That Anyway?
Shirley Jump

This is a more detailed look at the topic, and since it seems to be an issue for many writers, myself included, I thought I would include one more.

Okay. Maybe not. Here is the link to an article by Bonnie Grove, but I found myself too annoyed by the many ads that jumped up as I was trying to read the article.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Week's Roundup of Great Blogs

There are so many great blogs out there, too many to keep up with.  My gift to you are the links to some of my favorites for the week, all in one place!  Let's get onto the roundup. Yee-ha!

Since authors are people, and people sometimes get their priorities skewed, here is "The Overachiever's Dilemma" from Steve Tobek.

Writer's need to budget too!  Daily Worth brings you "How to Create a Bust-Proof Budget".

If you want more money to budget with, read Carol Roth's "5 Tips for Boosting Your Bottom Line". (Contributed by Donna Saul)

Here's some great advice on getting things done, in "Get What You Want Part 2 - The Power of TNT" by Kristen Lamb.

And because we all need a laugh, here's Nothing Says "I'll Love You Forever" Like a Dead-Mother-in-Law Diamond." by Kristen Lamb.  (Yes, she is a favorite of mine.)


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why I'm Breaking Up With Gmail

If you're like me, you dread opening your email. Yes, there's a warm, fuzzy feeling when I get a message from a loved one, and the excitement of receiving my discounts and cash back from various shopper programs gives me a high--for about one minute. The rest of the time I'm wondering how I wound up on so many notification lists, and the unsolicited special offers creep me out. I feel violated, as if a traveling salesman kicked in my front door and settled down on my couch.

Over the years, I've opened different accounts, all of them still open. They were impulse purchases of a sort, and I'd hoped each account would be for something specific to help keep me organized. It hasn't worked.

It's time for a game of Terminator, and Gmail just made the choice easier.

Recently, I opened my email to find folders, determined by Gmail, to "help" me sort my mail into Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums.  Their criteria is sadly lacking in logic. My bills are going to Updates, my favorite blog subscriptions are in Promotions, and we differ on what I consider Primary. And I believe I'm not getting all the important emails I was getting before the change.

One of the silliest things about Gmail is that there isn't any way to sort by sender. That option could save me a lot of headaches. In Hotmail, you can "sweep" through your account and eliminate all emails coming from, say, YOUWIN.com.

SBCGLOBAL lets you sort by sender AND, when you search, they group together the senders involved in the search results, which is huge. I've searched for all emails from DSW.com before and had message from my editor included in the results. Listing the senders on the side lets me avoid deleting the good with the bad.

I have one client who has my Outlook account address, so that has remained clean.

It's going to take a lot of work to figure out how to save old emails I want and transfer them to the new account. Then I'll have to figure out who has my gmail account and notify them, change my email on various bill pay sites, and keep an eye on it for a month or two, but I think I'll finally reach email nirvana.

What works for you? I'd love any input you have to offer.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Well of Forgotten Books...My Kindle

I downloaded  The Examin Prayer by Father Timothy Gallagher to Kindle last night. I prefer to hold a paper book in my hands, but with the limited selection at bookstores, and even the library, I'm being swept along into the world of electronic downloads and "highlight by finger".  And, yes, sometimes I'm that impatient.

Back in the old days, I would drop everything half hour before the book store closed and run out to buy a desperately needed (wanted) item. With Kindle, I now spare the public the vision of me running through the aisles in a shirt that I threw on backwards and uncombed hair. There are advantages.

It's so easy to download and then set my iPad aside for other distractions that I sometimes forget what I've purchased.

Last night I found, untouched:

The Cozy Chicks Kitchen (and I found a recipe for Easy Crispy potatoes that's going on the menu tonight!)
The Social Media Gospel
Kristen Lamb's:
Are You There Blog?
We Are Not Alone
Rise of the Machines
Pamela Samuels Young's Attorney-Client Privilege 
Behind the Screen
M.M. Gornell's Counsel of Ravens (thought I just bought that and hadn't really forgotten about it...yet)

About thirty books that I've gotten 18% of the way through. (That seems to be my attention span in one sitting.)

A dozen SAMPLE books that I downloaded to peek at and order later.

With a paperback, I've got it in front of my face and can't forget about it, but with Kindle....

Has Kindle turned into a black hole of good intentions for you? Or am I just approaching it wrong?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Will I Be Allowed to Cling to My Simple Life???

We live in the land of too-many-choices, and it's giving me a headache. I like things simple--hand written letters, bills paid by check, handmade gifts, and food made from scratch.

Sometimes, it feels as if there's a hand on my back trying to hurry me out the door...or push me under the bus. Where I'm hurrying to isn't quite clear. 

Every time I boot up my computer, I'm accosted by something called Genius. Or maybe it's called Sync Up. They seem to be in with the same gang.

My Outlook appearance changed last week; this week it's Gmail. Always something to catch up on.

I'm not sure how to log into my LinkedIn account, what to do with Twitter, and my Face Book friends have long ago accepted that I'm a techno-dweeb. I'm lucky if my links come out right.

And then, there's my web page. Gads!  I'm inundated by offers to experience deep humiliation add videos as a personal touch. The wonderful people at iPage keep telling me how simple they'll make my life, but I can't even make it through the various offers without screaming.

I understand writing is a profession. I remember how my dad would sit out on the porch at night and read through insurance journals, keeping up on industry trends. But really! This morning, I received no less than fifteen articles--all of them reputable--that ranged from writing nuts and bolts to marketing know-how. And it's only noon.

I go through my house on a regular basis, pulling items I haven't used to give them to charity. I simplify. Is there a way to simplify my writing life?  To keep me from following the man with the lollipops down the dark alley?  He keeps promising that this one trick will make my writing life easier.

From Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Warfield Productions

How about you? Anyone else running into writer info overload? Have any tips to keep the rest of us sane?

Friday, July 19, 2013

13 Writing Goals for 2013 - Better Late Than Never

I was fascinated by a young woman who made a 30 before 30 bucket list. She came up with thirty projects, tasks and dreams she wanted to accomplish before she turned thirty. How motivational! How cool! How unattainable!

I mean, really. At my age, the closest round number is 50, and I don't think I have enough time to complete fifty accomplishments unless they include Eat dessert for breakfast and sleep in.

My husband and I came up with 13 for 2013 instead, and though we each have our own list, we cheated a little. There are a few joint projects that went on both our lists.

Naturally, I thought I should have a  13 for 2013 for my writing. Is it too late to get them done? It's already July.

1. Blog more often than I dust the tops of the bookshelves. At least some semblance of regularity. Enough that those who follow me don't start scanning the obituaries.

2. Finish three novels.  It's not as intimidating as it sounds. They're all in different stages, so it's not as if I'm starting them all from scratch. And I put the pressure on this goal. I contacted my editor and scheduled the first edits of two of the books for the first quarter of 2013. Then I hung up and passed out.

3. Get my e-books on CreateSpace. I have several novels and even more short stories, but I figure that once I get the process down, it will be a cinch. Right?  Right???

4. Quarantine my FB. Right now, it's writing notes, friend notes, and spiritual sharing. That's right. It's a mess. I like to keep up with certain folks, and I'm shy about unfriending all but the few I actually read. Maybe variety is good, but I'm not so sure.

5. Unsubscribe to every newsletter and update except for the few I read. Right now, my inbox has over 1500 3,000 items in it...and I had it under 1,000 the other day.  This means putting on my angry face and following up on the unsubscribes that continue to show up weeks later.

6. Figure out my iPage website. It has a lot of cool features, I'm certain, if I could only figure them out. I don't want to become a web designer.  I just want my page at a level where teenagers who stumble across it refrain from sneering.

7. Take a few business classes, because writing is a business. And it will give me confidence if I ever get audited.

9. Get all the straggler short stories, compilations etc. finished and off my plate. That way I'll have room for new, fun projects.

10.  Do a better job each and every time, whether copywriting or outlining the latest novel.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Case of the Never Ending Typos

Image from John Carpenter's "The Fog"
After a professional edit and several proofreads by people I'm not related to--plus my own read- through--any fear of typos in my book should recede into the mist like the evil pirates in The Fog, right?

Cue scary music.  They never leave. They're just waiting under your bed until you fall asleep.

I was looking at my e-book manuscript, Barking Mad At Murder, with the intention of turning it into a Nook edition, when I found a hideous typo.  Something so sloppy that it makes me cringe just the think about it.  Something so embarrassing that it makes that dream where your standing in front of the class in your underwear sound like a good time.  (Isn't it odd that, even in our dreams, we subconsciously retain enough modesty and good taste to keep on our underwear?)

A complete scan brought up a few additional mistakes that never should have made it past my grammar-paranoid eyes.  Had I not let the manuscript set long enough between readings and "filled in" what I thought it should say instead of reading what was on the page?  Were my eyes simply tired from reading the manuscript so many times?  Was I suffering from a rare form of mental stuttering that would allow me to think that "She took a a thingamabob--"  sounded perfectly natural?

Hundreds of people had already bought this book. Did they think I was an idiot? If so, they were kind enough not to say so on Amazon.  My mother suggested that, since so many people hadn't caught the mistakes in the first place, maybe the readers didn't notice them either. Thanks Mom, but that's not the point.

After I let loose a cry of anguish and shook my fist at the sky, I did another grammar check, fixed the errors, and uploaded the new manuscript.  Then I changed my address and telephone number and started thinking of a good pen name for future books.

Is there ever a point where a writer can feel safe about typos?  Do YOU ever feel safe about typos?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Premature E-- (You Know) in Mystery Writing

I'm working on the second Frankie Chandler, Pet Psychic, mystery, and I have a pretty good outline. I always outline first. Mysteries need clues, suspects, revelations, and resolutions, and I don't believe those can be properly placed by jumping in and letting the story take over. (More on the organic, ever-changing outline in a future post.)

I made it halfway through the manuscript, cruising along at a pretty good speed, when it all came to a screeching, horn-blasting halt. I realized that my type-A obsession with conquering yet another checklist had taken over and turned revelations into blathering bits of fact telling. Instead of a build-up of tension and clues,  I practically told the reader what to think

This is easier to do than you might think. Let's say you want Laurel to discover that Hardy lost his job.

The type-A approach is to have your sleuth walk into the place where Hardy works and ask for him. "He doesn't work here anymore. I heard he got a job at XYZ Bowling," the lovely receptionist helpfully offers.  Now what? "Um, thanks. That was easy."

Instead, Laurel walks into Hardy's workplace. He isn't there. The receptionist (who is secretly in love with Hardy) lies about his whereabouts so that he doesn't lose face. It's only when Laurel pops into the local bowling alley to play an exciting 10 frames does he discover his old friend deodorizing shoes behind the counter.

In the latter example, there's a setup and payoff, with several scenes in between them.

When you give away answers too quickly or easily, there's no satisfaction for the reader. It's like handing my dog, Buster, a big plate of meat instead of making him earn each bite. The latter helps his self confidence, gives him a little workout, and makes him much more appreciative of the tasty treats. So will your reader thank you when they work at the clues along with your sleuth to solve the mystery.

You have to play fair. Laurel needs a pretty good reason to drop by the bowling alley. No sudden childhood urges, unless that's been a problem for the character all along.

So now it's back to reread my story and pinpoint the places where I spoon fed the reader.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Link to An Amazing Blog

I'm a huge fan of Kristen Lamb's blog and books. Today, she reacted to a snotty message from a store I've never walked into, one that tried (quite ignorantly) to define beauty by size, hair color etc.  Her response gets right to the heart of the problem, and I couldn't do better if I tried, so here is the link.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Art of Defensive Dog Walking

 Ready to walk???

I'm hyper sensitive to other people's animals, mostly because I've notice many pet parents aren't too aware of their own dog's behavior. They walk around in a fog where life is like the Garden of Eden--all the animals joyfully romp around, carnivores don't have prey instincts, and cars aren't a danger for wandering pets.

I took Buster for his morning walk, and I thought I'd change things up and take a new route. About forty feet ahead, a woman with dogs turned the corner to walk in the same direction we were going, and I sized up the situation to see if it would be safe to follow.

She had two large dogs and one small dog. If you've ever walked untrained dogs (dogs that don't heel and constantly pull), you know that each furry body has it's own center of gravity, which can make walking upright a challenge. She had three.

Her leashes of choice were nylon, which are good for hand burns and cuts but not much else. She left the leashes dangle (when she wasn't dropping them) which gave the pups plenty of room to get tangled up or get a running start if they saw something fun.

As her smallest dog ran circles around her, she pirouetted like a ballerina, her hand twisting over her head to follow the leash, while the other two dogs pulled in different directions.

We turned around.

Walking away is a very good move if you have the option. Why take the chance? I, personally, have nothing to prove. 

There was another woman with what looked to be a very nice female mutt that weighted in at around 75 pounds. She was walking toward us on the other side of the street. She used a rope leash with a triangle-shaped metal end, which she held onto with her curled fingers. Her dog was very excited, and kept jumping off the curb in an attempt to say hi to Buster. The woman struggled to control the animal.

Here's an experiment. Hang on to something solid using just your curled fingers. Now have someone tug. See how easily you lose your grip? Not a good dog walking technique.

Since she was headed in the opposite direction, Buster and I kept up our pace.  Dawdling is not a good idea. It lets the already overexcited dog work up into a frenzy. Which leads me to the guy with the Shepard pup.

This was a big puppy, and it was out-of-it's-mind happy. Happy about the grass. Happy about Buster. Happy to be alive.  The guy's response to his puppy's joy was to force it into a sit, so as the dog watched Buster pass by, his excitement grew to near delirium. The guy should have kept moving to remove the object of his pup's attention. Puppy would have been distracted sooner than later...probably by a grasshopper. I felt sorry for the dog.

If it's safe, keep your dog moving forward, past the object of his focus. This particular pup was across the street, so there was no chance of the two dogs meeting.

Finally, we came upon a woman with two small children and a large dog that looked like a terrier mix. The dog was on a halter. I'm always wary of people who use halters, because they usually put them on strong, active dogs and hope they'll be miraculously transformed into docile sweeties.

This third woman had her hands full. (With the children, not the dog. The dog remained calm.) What made my heart sing was the way she kept the dog close to her side, and as I got closer, I saw the leash was attached to the dog's harness AND collar.  This woman was prepared.

Be prepared. Buster likes to shake his leash off, so I have a second attachment to his collar.

I've noticed a tendency in Santa Clarita for owners to walk their dogs off-leash. Yes, the dog will be a full block ahead of them, so if anything happens, it will be over before they can get their butts there. I'm grateful these three ladies at least bothered to tether their dogs.

Never walk your dog without a leash unless you are on your own farm or the entire population, animals included, have mysteriously evaporated.

It's always best to be aware of other dog walkers, and if a situation looks potentially troublesome, turn around and walk the other way. It's not worth the stress or the potential vet bills.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Ms. America is "Happy" About Murder!

Ms. America and the Mayhem in Miami
by Diana Dempsey
$3.99 electronic edition
available on Amazon

(I received a free advanced copy of this book to review.  Author Diana Dempsey neither bribed me with chocolate nor spiked my driveway with nails to influence this review.)

In her latest Beauty Queen mystery, author Diana Dempsey sends her sleuthing queen to a new exotic locale--Miami, Florida.  Happy Pennington, the reigning Ms. America, is a judge for the Teen Princess of the Everglades pageant, and if the disorganized show doesn't have enough problems,  fellow judge, Perpetua "Peppi" Lopez Famosa, makes an unexpected appearance onstage during a practice session, her corpse draped over a gaudy pirate ship prop.

The sweet, professional Peppi appears to have a darker side, one that might have included drugs, but that's not something one can bring up in conversation with her grieving mother, Paloma.  Besides, Poloma is fixated on Peppi's half-brother, Hector, as the murderer. There are a surprising number of people with motives for wanting Peppi dead, and with the lead detective more concerned about publicity and possible dates than chasing clues, Happy digs in to discover who killed Peppi.

Best friends, Shanelle and Trixie, respectively former Ms. Mississippi and reigning Ms. Congeniality, are on board again, but so is Happy's teenage daughter Rachel. Pageant host and secret agent Mario Suave is ever present and causing Happy's heart to flutter, but so is his cranky teenage daughter, Mariela, and her gorgeous mother, Consuela Machado. Even Happy's father and hunky husband, Jason, make appearances.

The characters rule in the Beauty Queen books, and they're a fun bunch to spend time with. There is something about having the action stop while Happy describes in detail what she and others are wearing that cracks me up (and has me checking my own closet), and it's a brilliant reminder that, clever as she is at solving crimes, Happy is a dedicated beauty queen.

Dempsey cleverly paints her suspects with shades of grey. Any one of them could have done the evil deed, but you kind of hope they didn't. Through Mariela, the author touches on the terrible examples teens are exposed to and the possible consequences when they buy into the instant-fame-and-fortune scenarios presented  in the media.

"Ms. America and the Mayhem in Miami" is the third book in the Beauty Queen Mystery series, and while it works perfectly well as a standalone, I highly recommend readers purchase the first two novels for proper immersion into the characters and culture!