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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rounding Out The Year

Happy New Year to my buddies on the other side of the world!

If there is one thing that I love about the internet, it's that I've made such good friends in places I will likely never reach. They're still there nonetheless and I live through them vicariously as they relate their day to day lives through email.

For the first time in years, Greg and I are going to a New Year's Eve party. Normally we stay home, but tonight we are going to brave the police and drunks. Hopefully, we will meet neither.

My friend, Mel puts on spreads the likes of Martha Stewart so it would be folly to miss it. I am bringing my Yakitori Chicken. (recipes to follow)

Did everyone have a good Christmas? I got two exceptional gifts on Christmas, both dog-related. A friend gave me a wonderful book called Old Dogs. If you are a dog lover or know a dog lover, buy this book. It will make you cry and remind you why we love these creatures.

Another friend gave me a (life-size) statue of a pug. I collect dog figurines and it fits nicely with the pack. The first thing I thought of when I saw it was the movie, "Life With Father". Does anyone remember the scene where Irene Dunne brings home a ceramic pug dog and tells her husband (William Powell) that it didn't cost her any money? Priceless!

Even though this was a very rough year on various fronts, it seems to be ending with a soft landing. Good food, good friends and good memories.

Below my recipe for Yakitori Chicken and Muqueca, a Brazilian dish I tried recently.

Yakitori Chicken, Japanese kabobs

6 Chicken thighs, deboned, cut into bite-size chunks
Handful of Green Onions, cut into 2-3 inch pieces
Bamboo skewers

Soak the skewers in water while you're preparing the marinade so they won't burn in the oven.

Marinade:
2/3 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 TBL of white wine
1 clove minced garlic
1 TBL flour

Cook ingredients in a small pot to boiling. Thicken sauce with flour, then coat chicken. Some people cook chicken immediately, but I like to marinate it for several hours.

Marinate cut up chicken for up to 4 hours. Don't forget to turn them. Skewer chicken bites and pieces of green onion and broil for about 10 minutes in a medium heat. You can also put them on the grill which would taste even better.


Muqueca (sometimes spelled moqueca)

This is a dish that is usually made with fish, but I prefer shrimp. Its other virtue is that it is very simple to make. (another requirement for me)

1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
Handful of cilantro
4 good sized plum tomatoes (seeded)
10-12 green onions
3 cloves of garlic (minced)
Coconut milk
Important: Please be sure that it is NOT sweet coconut milk, like the kind you use for drinks. Look for this coconut milk in the Oriental foods aisle.

Shrimp/Lime: most recipes call for a pound of shrimp, but I like a lot of meat so I usually use 1.5 lbs of shrimp. Remove shell and squeeze lime juice over the shrimp while you wait for the stew to warm up.

Chop up all the vegetables in chunks and process in a blender with half the coconut milk. Pour this part into a deep, wide pan. Process the other half of veggies with milk. Heat everything on medium heat until it comes to a boil. If you use raw shrimp, you can throw them into the pan. I like to cook them separately and throw them into the mix just before they get pink.

Simmer for about 20 minutes more or until most of the liquid evaporates. You should get a nice thick stew and the color should deepen while it cooks.

Season with salt and pepper, and cumin if you have it.

Serve with white steamed rice.

This is terrific on cold nights. Very hearty.

Enjoy!

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Fallow Year

This blog is still on holiday, which means I'm talking about whatever pops into my head. Scary, I know. We'll get back to regular programming in the new year.

***

The end of the year always brings me full circle both on what I've accomplished and what has yet to be done.

Sad to say, 2008 was a bust. A rare occurence for me. A lot of it was beyond my control but it doesn't make it any easier to bear. The endless cycle of eye surgeries REALLY sucked all the wind out of my sails. My lowest point was when the second surgery took me in the opposite direction and made my vision worse.

Not only was I despondent, I was scared.

Fortunately, everything finally worked out. My reading vision is better than it's ever been. But it kept me out of commission for weeks and sometimes months at a time. What reading and writing I could do was limited. And it cost me.

A whole year underground with little to do but blog occasionally and edit a couple of newsletters. Anything more extensive sent me to bed with an ice pack over my eyes.

It's not been my best year.

But handicaps have a way of making you stronger too. I listened more and pondered what was really important for me. It's not always what you think it is.

I have a feeling 2009 is going to be a year of motivation and change for me. I've rested enough. Put me in, coach. I've polished this bench smooth.

***

I-Needa-Name-Contest is still going on. Go here for more details.

Friday, December 26, 2008

On Your Mark: Shop!

I-Needa-Name-Contest is still going on. Go here for more details.

***

December 26th is the biggest shopping day of the year for me. Forget leftover Christmas ornaments and broken tree toppers. Concentrate on things you can use year round.

Snatch up all the red, gold and silver tissue and wrapping paper you can. Perfect for Valentines and anniversary gifts. Stock up on serving dishes, table linens, and paper products. If you have employees or lots of service people to buy for, after-Christmas is the best time to buy for them. Target and Wal-Mart mark all their "ready-made" gifts to half off. Great gift items: throw blankets, tool sets, flashlight sets, massage pillows. (By the way, the most popular gift with my employees was the tool set. Everyone loved them and they still use them.)

I scour grocery store shelves for holiday fixings. Bread mixes often go on sale as do holiday foods like fancy nuts in gift sets. If you're like me and can't live without cranberries, grab all the fresh cranberries you can. They freeze beautifully.

In other words, look beyond the season and stock up on the things you'll use year round.

I always take Greg if he's available because he's the perfect quarterback and opens a path for me in the crowds. Very handy.

See you at the stores!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Peek Inside

I-Needa-Name-Contest is still going on. Go here for more details.

***
Due to popular demand...a few pictures of the rooms I've painted so far. You'll notice I am back to using my "bold" color schemes. lol.

The master bathroom is probably the most stunning in deep rust red. I painted the kitchen/living area a warm taupe which works pretty well. There are more rooms that I've painted, but I'd like to wait until I have a few more things done, like blinds and new carpet before I show you those.

We had some friends over on the weekend. Mel, my friend with those unbelievable decorator genes gave me her stamp of approval. She saw the before and I think I impressed her with the after. And I did it all with color.


This kitchen has been a dream! I never knew cooking could be fun. In this picture you get a peek at the living area beyond. I should mention that both the living area and kitchen were painted in a gawd-awful dark brown. I couldn't wait to get rid of that. --I'll post some living room pictures at a later date.


Another view of the kitchen. I'm told it's a "professional" kitchen because of the appliances that live there. Good! I need all the help I can get.

A very nice ball and claw tub. Wish I had the time to lounge in it. The glass blocks to the right frame the walk-in shower with dual shower heads. Heaven!

This is the largest bathroom we've ever had. His and hers vanities. No more fighting for mirror space. lol. The doors you see in this pic go into a massive walk-in closet. That closet cinched the deal! A marriage saver for sure.
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I love my house! It took nearly a year to find it, but it was worth the stress and suffering.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Warm Fuzzies

It is a holiday week, so we'll return to normal programming in January. For now it's just you and me, and I'd like to make a confession.

I am not the swiftest to concede when it comes to upgrades in technology. Oh, I get into it eventually, but you'll never find me the first in line for any tech.

Yesterday, in a moment of weakness, Greg talked me into getting one of those high definition tvs. Puts hand to head....and weeps.

Don't get me wrong. It is beautiful. As sleek and sexy as they come, and the picture is so sharp--it takes your breath away.

umm...I don't like it.

(I'll wait while the techies out there cry heresy and burn me in effigy.)

I hate to admit this, but the picture looks so real, it's unnatural. I miss the soft fuzziness of my old tv. Weird, I know. Maybe it will take time to get used to it. Maybe I'm a low-def consumer in a high-def world.

Le sigh...

Am I the only one to feel this way?

***
Don't forget I have a contest to name my new blog series on frugal living. Deadline is 1-9-09
Go here for details.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I-Needa-Name Contest

Today I have a contest. But you'll have to work for the prize. LOL.

I have many NEW books to give away. And I am giving them away--for a price.

Cue danger music: Ta…Ta…Tum

Some of you may remember that I've talked about starting a new series next year on saving money and overall frugal living, but I have yet to decide on a cool name for it.

Names I've considered:

Frugal Fiend
Thrifty Thursday (which will only work if I do this on Thursdays.)
Cheapskate Central

Those are okay, but I am open to suggestions. Send me YOUR idea for a great name for my new blog series on saving money and the one I like best will win one bodacious boxful of books. International readers, I will ship overseas, but it will come by a three-legged tortoise so if you win, it might take a while to reach you.

Deadline is 1-9-09

Here are the rules:

• Enter as many times as you wish.
• Post a comment with your title idea on any blog post from today until 1-9-09. Be sure to label in caps: ENTRY.
• If there are duplicate winning names, the person who entered it first gets the prize.
• I am the sole judge, so your entry must appeal to my weird sense of humor.
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The Prize: A 5-pack of assorted romance, paranormal and crime novels to one single winner.


And here's a bonus prize.

If you are a regular reader of my blog and you send a NEW PERSON over here to enter this contest, tell him to give you credit by adding: Sent by (your name)

If his entry wins, the person who sent him over here also gets a prize.

Tell your friends. Tell your neighbors. Tell anyone who likes to save money to enter this contest for a chance to win bunches of books.

I will announce the winner on 1-10-09.

Enter early and often. Operators are standing by.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pick Me

I'll post about my contest late (LATE) Friday because I have so much going on right now.

In the meantime, go over and take a survey at Samhain where readers get to name their top ten favorite Samhain books. If you've read my book, Touch Of Fire, or just like the extra cool cover, give it a mention on the survey. ~~~thanks!

Here's the link.
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And come back late Friday and help me out with a new contest.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What You Really, Really Want

I'm going to have a contest.

But...

My camera is 300 miles away right now so I can't show you a picture of the prizes.

So...

We will do the contest starting Friday.

Meanwhile...

Tell me what you want for Christmas. Forget the politically correct, and selfless acts of virtue. Tell me what you really, really want. What's your deep, dark, totally selfish desire?

If your favorite someone could give you anything in the world, what would it be?

And if you want to up your chances on getting said gift, leave the comment box to this blog open on your computer. Who knows? Maybe Santa will take a hint.




Woof!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Markets

Thirteenth Biannual Poetry Card Contest hosted by SPS Studios

Deadline: December 31, 2008
1st prize: $300 * 2nd prize: $150 * 3rd prize: $50
In addition, the winning poems will be displayed on our website.

Please read the following, then scroll down to submit your poem.

Poetry Contest Guidelines:
Poems can be rhyming or non-rhyming, although we find that non-rhyming poetry reads better.
We suggest that you write about real emotions and feelings and that you have some special person or occasion in mind as you write.

Poems are judged on the basis of originality and uniqueness.

English-language entries only, please.

Enter as often as you like!

Poetry Contest Rules
All entries must be the original creation of the submitting author. All rights to the entries must be owned by the author and shall remain the property of the author. The author gives permission to SPS Studios, Inc. to publish and display the entry on the Web (in electronic form only) if the entry is selected as a winner or finalist. Winners will be contacted within 45 days of the deadline date. Contest is open to everyone except employees of SPS Studios and their families. Void where prohibited.

***

Aurealis

Aurealis is looking for science fiction, fantasy or horror short stories between 2000 and 8000 words. All types of science fiction, fantasy and horror will be considered, but we do not want stories that are derivative in nature, particularly those based on TV series.

Stories do not have to be explicitly Australian, although we always like to see some with Australian characterisation and background, provided the local element is not merely a self-conscious insertion into a standard plot.

***

Agent News from the OWW list group

JOHN PARKER, UK literary agent formerly with MBA, has launched the new Zeno Agency in partnership with John Berlyne. Interests include 'inparticular Science Fiction and Fantasy': authors who are following Parker to Zeno include Ian Mcdonald, Roger Penrose, Justina Robson and Iain Sinclair.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

News You Can Use

Dear Author is beginning a terrific series on how to open ebooks into the various machines that are currently on the market. The biggest drawback to ebooks is that many manufacturers narrow its e-reader to select formats.

Some of you might be old enough to remember the Betamax vs VHS wars when video cassette recorders first hit the store shelves back in 1975. For a history lesson, go here.

Thank you, Dear Author, for one of the most helpful posts I've come across. The more we educate, the better our choices.

By the way, I am a faithful reader of Dear Author and I can tell you it is one blog I never miss. They always have interesting content intermixed with reviews, interviews and publishing news.

Recently, I'd been given that very nice "I love your blog" award by three different people. (Diane Craver, Sandra Ulbrich, and Marianne Arkins) I'd like to pass that on to Dear Author for all their dedicated work on behalf of our crazy business.


I love your blog, Dear Author.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Stark Beauty

No Killer Campaign post today. A good friend of mine died suddenly and we are still reeling from the shock. He was my age and in better shape than any two people I know.
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I leave you with a photo of our acreage in semi-tropical Southeast Texas. We've had the occasional freak snow, but never like this. It's beautiful, yet fleeting. It'll be 70 degrees this weekend and all this will be a memory.
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It seemed apropos for my friend who loved photography and took many such pictures of his own.
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Rest in peace, Richard.




Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fire Safety

My husband, Greg, is among other things, a Fire and Rescue Incident Commander at his chemical plant. He's always sending me photos and videos about all sorts of disasters, not only to keep me informed but so that I understand what he does.

Because of their graphic nature I can't post most of these items, but this one is a sobering reminder for all of us. With so many friends and neighbors in our kitchens during the holidays, I thought it was appropriate to share.

Herein is a Public Service Announcement on fire safety. Please be careful in that kitchen.



video

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tic, Tic, Tic

Sorry to be late with today's post. Internet problems again. Argh!

***

The Kindle is still making headlines a year later. There's talk of a version 2.0, and other manufacturers are jumping in with cheaper alternatives.

And the chatter I'm hearing is even more interesting. People want multi-purpose tools. The I-Phone is coming in as a strong contender. It's got everything! Email, internet, reader, music player, GPS, and of course, a phone.

Again, the price is prohibitive. But it is getting closer to being cost effective, especially in a mobile society.

This brings me to the other debacle facing the publishing industry—getting people to read. I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but you are not going to change the habits of an entire society just because you buy them a book for Christmas.

I don't think force feeding books to a somnambulant public will work. You have to instill desire first. Rowling swept a world. Dan Brown riled millions to read. And Meyers made teen girls swoon for vampires. The one thing that sets them apart from the rest of us is that they got people who didn't ordinarily pick up a book to read theirs.

The publishing industry is hurting on two very different fronts. They, like every other industry is reeling from a burdened economy. They are also operating on an absurd business model whereby booksellers can return what they don't sell. Add them together and, well…you can see where we landed.

But there is a third variable in this equation. People aren't reading like they used to. The reasons are complicated but I think I can break it down to simple terms. Today's society is far more mobile and faster paced than it was 30 years ago. We are not the same people we were then. Tastes have changed. Life is faster and instant gratification is expected.

So how do you solve for that equation?

Firstly, books have to be aligned to tastes. Knowing the pulse of the public is nonnegotiable.

Secondly, books need to fit the lifestyle of the public. The avid reader is always going to buy. Instead, spend your promotional dollars on the occasional reader, the one who only picks up a book because her friend told her it was worth her time. Those are the consumers who will add real revenue. (We'll discuss where to find the non-avid reader in a later post.)

Lastly, don't hang on to the old ways because that's the way it’s always been. Life doesn't work that way, and neither does growth.

Which leads me to an article that was in the news yesterday.

I was deeply saddened to hear that the Chicago Tribune Newspaper filed for bankruptcy. The Trib was my very first adult job, so it has a very special place in my heart. I learned a lot from my first real coworkers and managers and that experience made me the manager I am today.

Newspapers, much like books, are suffering a similar fate. It's easier and cheaper to read online. Where is the impetus to buy the paper?

It was painless for me to switch to ebooks, but I hated to give up my newspaper despite its flaws. That was my morning constitution and comfort. I would get up before anyone else, have my little breakfast and read contentedly. Now like most of my other reading, it is simply more convenient and practical to read online.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Markets

Win up to £150.00 in the Jacqui Bennett Writers Bureau short story competition. Make real money from your writing.

Go to their website and study the three photos, and then write a story based (as loosely as you like) around one. Let your imagination run riot - the images alone should inspire you. Remember to state which photo your story is based upon when you submit it (you can get a larger version to print out or save on your computer by clicking on the smaller ones).

First Prize: £150 - Second Prize: £50 - Third Prize: £25

You can submit a story in any genre - humorous, romantic, thriller, horror etc. - and on any theme. It can be written with either adults or children in mind. You could try a short story with a twist in the tail, a spooky ghost story, or something entirely different - it's up to you. Alternatively, you may submit the opening pages of a novel.

1) All work must be unpublished and should not have been previously submitted to JBWB for critique.

2) Length: 2,500 words maximum (submissions exceeding this length will be disqualified).

3) Closing Date: 31 December 2008.

4) Entry Fee: £4 per entry.

5) Entries should be sent as an email attachment (or in the body of the email itself) to: competitions@jbwb.co.uk. Please confirm in your email that the entry fee is on its way or that you have paid by credit card.

Alternatively, send hard copy of your story, plus entry fee, to: 87 Home Orchard, Yate, South Gloucestershire BS37 5XH England. Please note that feedback is not available on hard copy entries, only on entries emailed as a Microsoft Word attachment.

6) The winners and runners-up will be announced by the end of January 2009 and will receive the appropriate prize money. The winning entries will be published on the JBWB website.

Further runners-up prizes may be awarded at my discretion. Good luck!

***


This one is a little 'different'. --I don't make these up. I just report them.


She Nailed the Stake Through His Head: Tales of Biblical Terror

Seeking short stories for the Dybbuk Press anthology She Nailed the Stake Through His Head: Tales of Biblical Terror (working title).

What I'm looking for:
Short stories primarily, ideally between 1000 - 12000 words. All stories must be based in some way on Biblical stories. Actually have a familiarity with the Bible. I may consider poems if they are particularly good but I hate 99% of all poems I read. This is primarily a horror anthology so the creepier the better. In many of these stories, you really don't have to work too hard to make them horrific.

What I'm NOT looking for:
Normally this is the place where I say that I don't want any vampires, werewolves or ghosts but if you can stick a vampire into a King David story or put zombies in Ancient Assyria then I actually want to see it.

Format: Attach as either a .doc or an .rtf. DO NOT send .docx attachments. All .docx attachments will be deleted unread.Pay: $50 advance against equal share of royalties to be paid out no later than publication.

Reading Period: December 1 - December 31, 2008. All stories submitted before December 1 will be deleted unread! And yes, I do mean BEFORE December 1. I might extend the deadline for after December 31 if I don't find enough stories to fill an anthology (I'm shooting for between 8 and 12. I can go as low as 7.) I'm putting out the call for stories now because I want interested parties to write their stories and revise them before submitting them. I don't want trunk stories with cover letters trying to explain why your vampire is a Christ figure.

For more information and where to email submissions, go to the blog.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Doggie Doors

Marianne Arkins, my fellow dog lover and frugal friend is going to start running "Tightwad Tips" on her blog. Go over there and read today's post.

I will probably start my Cheap Tips as a regular series in January. It should be fun. Maybe we can start a trend!

Marianne also mentioned her dog, Dakota, and how they have to put him out to go potty. I thought I would make our doggie door experience the topic of today's post.

Many years ago, we had a terrible house fire. Two of our five dogs died in that fire. We were devastated, but it galvanized us so that we never faced such a tragedy again.

Our house was well sealed. Being winter, we kept most of the dogs (and kitty) in, but left two of the Samoyeds outside. Sammies are nothing but big white fur coats. The cold is their element. But we left the short coated dogs inside that night.

We only went out for a quick bite, but when we came back we were surprised to find the outside light off and when we looked inside the only window with the blinds open, it was strangely dark--too dark.

It was hard to find our keys in the dark and a horrible feeling came over me. I yelled at Greg to hurry. We bolted inside and I was just about to enter the kitchen where we kept the dogs that night. Greg grabbed me and threw me away from the door. "Wait!" he yelled. He felt the door and pushed me back. "It's hot."

At this point I was panicking. "What difference does that make? We have to get them out!" He pushed me away again and warned me that if smoke billows out to stay low. He opened the door making sure we were both out of direct exposure. As soon as we opened the door the fresh air reignited the fire.

We fell to the floor and started feeling for the dogs and cat. One by one we dragged them out. Kitty revived almost as soon as we got him out, but the three dogs were unconscious. We gave mouth to mouth resuscitation to them, while the neighbors called the fire department. Those wonderful men were there almost immediately. The paramedics took me and the one dog that was still breathing to the vet. The other two never regained consciousness.

It's been more than 20 years and this story still bothers me.

Anyway, the point of the story is that it forced us to make some changes in how we design a house. Greg gutted that kitchen and put fire resistant sheetrock. All the wiring was put inside conduit. And we also put in a doggie door.

Today, our present house is even more insulated and tighter than any other home we've had. It had a very expensive doggie door, but it was too small for the Tankster. So we had to put in a mongo-size one for the mongo-size dog.

One of Greg's friends saw pictures of the door and asked him: "Aren't you afraid of someone crawling into the house through that?" To which he replied: "Uhh…you've met Tank haven't you?" Big doggie doors mean BIG dogs. I don't know too many people that would be willing to take a chance with a Rottweiler. And God forbid should you ever meet his mama. I'm meaner than the dog.
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Our current doggie door is the best quality we could find. It's a double flap door, which gives it double insulation. The dog goes through a little tunnel to get out and never lets cold air in. We had to order it online since no one local carried it, but it's the best door I've ever seen. It's called Security Boss.





From the outside






From the inside. The doggie door is located in my studio. You can see Tank halfway through the door. A small dog would probably fit in the tunnel. Tank...just his head. LOL!


I don't know if you can see this. When Greg built the base on where the doggie door was going to sit, he signed Tank's name and paw print. Should anyone years down the road decide to remove the door, they'll know who used it. :o)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Killer Campaigns: Buttons

You might wonder why I'm listing paraphernalia like buttons, magnets and pencils separately. It's because for the most part they appeal to different audiences. In my continuing research on available promotional venues and their assets, I've found that certain objects are going to work better for one audience over another.

Back in the late 60s and early 70s, I stuck buttons on my jackets, shirts and school bags as if it were armor plating. I was a kid and not yet having an identity I was desperate to create one. LOL!

Buttons became a perfect outlet for me. I was shy back then--no REALLY. And I relied on the smart remarks and common slang of the day to say what I couldn't say out loud. I also discovered it was a great way to break the ice because people were always reading what I had on.

Buttons aren't nearly the fashion statement today that they were back then. Still, occasionally seeing a particularly clever caption is fun to see. And using them to shout out your book can be useful.

Given that mostly preteen and teenagers might take advantage of the button, I would suspect that the most productive use of the button might be for YA novels. I've collected a few buttons for romance and SFF books, but most of them will stay in my collection box because I just don't sport them anymore.

I do remember two particularly smart-looking buttons that I kept aside. There was one serious problem with both these very nice buttons. One had a clever saying, ostensibly about the novel. The other was a tagline the author probably used as her signature statement. But neither one mentioned either the author name or the title of the book.

All that clever marketing and they left out the most important things.

If you use buttons, give them a purpose. There isn't much room for a lot of copy so get to the point. And somewhere, even if it's in small print, list the author name, book title or the author's website. The button is there to perk interest, but it also has to do a job--promote you.

I still see buttons and magnets at some of stores catering to kids so I imagine it's still a good bet for attracting the younger crowd.

To make it profitable for you:

• Keep the copy short

• Somewhere, even if it’s on the back, make sure your name or your website is listed prominently. When someone asks where that saying is from, you want the wearer to be able to tell them.

• Nice bold colors in the background draw the eye.

• Fonts with clean lines and thick bodies make it easy to read at a distance.

• Always make sure the style and copy on the button resonates with the book you are promoting.

Buttons are a novelty and I think they are best paired up with funny novels or any YA tome.

There is a place for them. Just don't forget to tell them your name.



Want to get a whole book with this information for $2.99?

Find it on Amazon.
 


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Recession-Proof

I feel terrible. I know many of you may think I am totally ignoring you. I am not.

My internet provider is obviously cousins with the state lottery because I never know from day to day and sometimes from hour to hour whether I will get connected. Service has been so dicey that when I do get on, I race to answer the emails that are urgent and hope I can get to the rest later.

So my sincere apologies for being absent.

This post is being written on the fly--typing it in Word and uploading it from an undisclosed location. I will also copy and paste all the blog posts I've missed from you guys in the past few days onto a Word document so I can read them later.

Meanwhile…the other purpose to this post is to strike back at all the Grinchy economic news we've had lately.

Adversity is where I shine. Give me a challenge and I will find a way to succeed. That's not an idle boast. When things are tough, I am energized.

In the US, we are officially in a recession. Big Whoop. That is not a big deal.

If you've been poor—and I have been—you learn how to make things stretch, last, and do double duty.

So today, I'd like to give some tips on how the Zannini household functions.

• Bulk buys
Things that do not expire--like paper towels, toilet paper, plastic wrap, etc. I buy in bulk. I don't have time to clip coupons and such, but I do scan the store specials. If I see a favorite item go on sale, I buy as much as I can store.

True story: Wal-Mart beat me at my own game. For many years at the end of Christmas, Wal-Mart would discount all their holiday paper towels to half off. Well, paper towels are paper towels. I don't care if there's a snowman on it. I would buy them by the case! They lasted me all year and I didn't have to worry about buying more until next season. But Wal-Mart and their tricksy inventory ways figured it out and they've since greatly reduced or stopped carrying entirely holiday-themed paper goods. If your stores still carry them, buy them by the case. It's the best savings of the year.

Want to save more money? Use cloth napkins and kitchen towels. Not as convenient, but more money saving.

• Read online
I love my newspaper, but you can get the same news online and for free. Want coupons? You don't have to rely on a paper for that either. Just Google 'coupons'. There are a lot of places that will put you on their mailing list and send you coupons to your in-box.

• Shop garage sales and thrift stores for furniture
I actually have better luck with garage sales, but I know people who get fabulous stuff from thrift stores. All it takes is a good eye and a little elbow grease.

I've bought name brand solid wood furniture for as little as a dollar. I strip, sand and refinish them to new quality. As long as the piece is solid wood, there is no reason you can't restore it to its former glory.

• get creative with Christmas decorating
I stole this tip from a friend of mine. She bought these really tiny picture frames, then photocopied and reduced favorite family pictures and put them inside. It is so warm and personal. She decorated a small tree and put it in her elderly mother's bedroom. The poor lady has Alzheimer's. Since these are all very old pictures, it is a constant source of comfort for her because they are from a time she still remembers.

That's all for now. I'll post some more tips as the weeks go by. Who knows, maybe I'll make it another series. How does 'The Frugal Friend' sound? I'll give it some thought.

Another Killer Campaign post tomorrow. For those of you new to this blog, Killer Campaign posts are where I discuss potential promotional venues.

***

Remember, if I don't answer you right away it's because I am in limbo.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

On Series and Linked Books

Agent Scott Eagan gave some pretty good advice last week on sequels and series and I thought I would repeat it here.

He said that he sees a lot of trilogies come across his desk from new authors--a big no-no.

Speaking for myself, I understand why an author would create more than one book in a series, but I have never pitched a book as a series.

The reason should be self-evident, but if you read Eagan's post he spells it out for you. Basically, a new author is a big risk. If you don't yet know how the first book will do how can you possibly take a chance on a series?

Yet, I know dozens (yes, dozens) of author friends who insist on writing and selling their novels as a package.

When I set out to write a story, I usually have a couple of other story lines on the backburner. This is my seed material for sequels. If the first book sells, I can then concentrate on the next project in the series.

As an early writer, I did write a sequel to my first novel. The advice I got back then is that after you finish your first novel, you should immediately begin the second. Like many other people, I thought that meant writing a sequel to the story line I already knew so well.

While that's not necessarily a bad thing, it does leave you thinking that now you have to pitch both (or more) novels to the agent. And that's a misconception--at least for the new novelist.

Pitch only one book at a time. If it's marketable, you'll get your chance to pitch the succeeding ones.

Scott Eagan had an excellent suggestion on how to pitch your subsequent books. Instead of writing them as a series, write them as linked books. Using the same characters as your original novel, write each succeeding book as independent novels. This way if your first book doesn't inspire a contract, your next book might.

For the whole post on this topic go here.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Update

I am without an internet connection--AGAIN. My blog posts are already scheduled to go out Wednesday and Friday, so no worries there, but if I haven't answered your emails--that's why.

Meanwhile, don't forget to visit Angie James' blog for Holiday Hell. Today is Day One. Lots of prizes. Lots of chances to win.

Markets

Today we have one market and some agent news.

There's so few markets that will take SF poetry. Here's one you can try.

Starline
Official journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association.
Query: SFPASL at aol dot com
Marge Simon, Editor
1412 NE 35th
St.Ocala, FL
34479

*****

The Lyons Literary Agency has a new address as of today. This agency handles true crime, mysteries, thrillers, and literary fiction. Although this address has been posted on the web, be aware that they only accept queries online.

Lyons Literary LLC
27 West 20th Street,
Suite 1003
New York, NY
10011

And

Jenny Rappaport, formerly with L. Perkins has opened her own office.

From her website:

Only email queries are currently accepted. Please send your email to queries@rappaportagency.com. Be sure to include the world 'Query' in the subject line, and your contact information in the body of the e-mail.

Jenny primarily represents science fiction and fantasy, horror, young adult fiction, and romance, along with a few select nonfiction titles. In science fiction and fantasy, her tastes are very broad, but be careful for cliches. There's so much wonderful material out there to explore that every fantasy novel doesn't need the stereotypical elf, dwarf, and farmboy-turned-world savior, all of whom start their adventure in a bar with tavern wenches. Regarding horror, she prefers the darker, psychological side of things, and she very firmly does not like splatterpunk.

She represents all types of young adult fiction, but her favorites are the ones that fall into the SFF or horror genres. Regarding romance, she is only looking for historical romances and paranormals (contemporary or historical). She also handles a bit of women's fiction, and is always a sucker for a very good historical novel. Literary fiction is difficult to place with us.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Killer Campaigns: Newsletters

One item many authors might consider as a promotional outlet is the newsletter. This has several advantages in that you can compartmentalize news about yourself and your books in one easy to digest venue.

I've edited several newsletters for other writing agencies and publishing companies in the past fifteen years, but my very first newsletter was one I created for myself when I was a freelance graphic artist.

It was a dismal failure but it took me a while to understand why.

It came down to content and audience. I was selling a service, my illustration and design expertise, to small business owners, but I didn't demonstrate how my service would benefit them. I was asking for their business without giving anything in return. --a big no-no.

By the time I figured out what made an appealing and readable newsletter to business owners, I had already moved on and started working for a large corporation. No more freelancing. The newsletter was gone but the experience remained.

In this new age of online presence, newsletters have to be even more fresh, have better content and delivered to an audience that has a smaller attention span than did the audience of my print newsletter.

This is an important thing to remember. Web content, that is, content that appears anywhere on the web as opposed to print must be that much more succinct and fresh. People will not read as long online because there is a lot of other material vying for their attention. Be clever. Be original. And divide your information in small easy to read chunks.

A couple of years ago, in order to immerse myself in the industry and show support, I subscribed to quite a few author newsletters. Within six months, I unsubscribed from most of them.

Many of them were very much like my first venture into newsletter writing. They were all about asking for a sale, but nothing about what they are giving to you, the reader.

Others were dull. It was a catalog of their store appearances, readings and the most recent fabulous review they got.

Let's dissect this a little. If you had a favorite author, chances are s/he would have a blog that you visit regularly. And if they were going to be appearing somewhere within driving distance, they're going to announce it on their blog anyway.

Item 2: Shall we be honest? We're not going to tell our fans we got a hideous review. But on the flip side, fans don't really care about the great review either.

It might seem like I'm sucking all the content out of a typical newsletter, but that's my point. When it's all about you, it ceases being about the reader.

The newsletters that I'm still subscribed to have a couple of things in common. They don't belabor how wonderful they are as authors, and they give me a little treat for reading. Sometimes it's as simple as a new recipe. Other times, I get tips on craft, or a sneak preview of a book that hasn't published yet.

That to me is the secret to a great newsletter. Give your readers something more than your statistics.

Things that have appealed to me as a reader:

• recipes

• crafts

• contests

• insider information about particular characters

• writing tips and tricks
(this can backfire because you want to get non-writers to read you too)

• I LOVE it when writers shares their expertise.
(I have a soft spot for ghost hunters and ancient history buffs.)

• games
(this is especially valuable for YA writers because you want to attract a younger crowd)

• secrets
(don't authors seem more personable and interesting when they share one of their quirks?) You don't have to get weird. Maybe mention what you do to get ready to write. Maybe you eat "lucky" food or wear "lucky" socks. That sort of stuff.

Lastly, it's important not to be a pest. I've unsubscribed from a couple of newsletters because they came every week. No one is that interesting. These particular two were nothing more than sales pitches.

I do not have a newsletter, though I've been in contact with a couple of authors on perhaps doing a group newsletter that would go out quarterly. If and when we do get around to creating this newsletter I can promise you it will be chock full of interesting stuff.

Promise!



Want to get a whole book with this information for $2.99?

Find it on Amazon.
 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Christmas Giveaway

Guess what's coming in December?
.

Lots and lots of prizes--including two Kindles.

What a way to celebrate!

***

If you haven't had enough of me, check out my silly interview with Michelle Pillow.

Me, silly?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Markets

Let's see if we can start regular programming again. For those of you new to this blog, I generally do writing markets on Monday and I am currently running a series on potential promotional venues on Fridays.

Wednesdays I keep open for other writing related topics. If I blog on any other day of the week, it's usually a fun topic that has no bearing on the human condition.

But today is Monday. Let's do markets.


A UK market:

Catastrophia will be a collection of stories loosely themed around the theme of catastrophes, disasters and post-apocalyptic fiction. I will be looking for original, unpublished stories which deal in a modern manner with these classic SF- and Horror-based tropes.

Rights and other technical details:
I’m looking only for original material - no reprints. I will be buying First British and First North American Rights for your story with a one-year moratorium subsequent to publication. I can offer 3p/6c a word up to a maximum payment of £100 / $200 per story. The book will be published by PS Publishing and the current expected pub date is summer 2010.

Submissions
The submission period will open on 1st August 2008 and will last until 31st May 2009 or whenever the book is full. Unless specified otherwise, all submissions should be sent as disposable hard copies to:

Allen Ashley
Editor: Catastrophia
110d Marlborough Road
Bounds Green
London, N22 8NN
England

Please include an email address for reply or a stamped and addressed envelope. Response time will be three months or less.

Stories should ideally be in the range of 2000 to 6000 words although both longer and shorter tales will be considered.

Catastrophe? What catastrophe?

In short, some event that rapidly changes the world social order, threatens the survival of humankind or the Earth, reduces people to a state of mere hand-to-mouth existence, puts the clock of progress back a couple of thousand years almost overnight, takes our attention off the exploits of celebrities, footballers and politicians and instead focuses it on keeping ourselves and our loved ones alive until sundown . . . and so on.

I will be taking a broad view of what constitutes a catastrophe/disaster / apocalypse but authors should note that I am not seeking gratuitous rape and violence fantasies.

***

Silly Fantasy Anthology

Mosey on up ta the bar and let me tell ya about the darnedest, silliest, most outrageous Western anthology this side of the Mississip'.

Y'all heard right! CyberAliens Press'll be spittin' out another one o' them themed anthos on May 1, 2009.We'll be featuring hilarious stories of the Wild West, some sappy Prairie Romance, and even a little bit o' SteamPunk - as long as it's knock-us-on-our-butt funny! We're also lookin' fer cowboy poetry and limericks, art and comics, and anything else that's sure-as-shootin' silly.

So saddle yer ponies, get them doggies ta market then set yerself down and write us the silliest bunch a words what never come outta that pencil a yers.

In plain language:We are looking for short stories from 500 to 3500 words in length, as well as poems, jokes, puns, limericks, artwork, and general silliness. All submissions must express one of the following themes:+ American Wild West+ Steampunk+ Prairie Romance or some mixture of the above.

Submissions open November 1, 2008 an' close on February 28, 2009. Acceptances and declines will be ongoing through the submission period. No late submissions will be accepted. Put "SUBMISSION: [TITLE]" in the subject line, and address all correspondence to The Editors (there's two of us) and email them to: sillywestern @ gmail.com

¿Comprende? Now saddle up and write.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lucky Breaks



Just goes to prove anything is possible.
.

Have a great weekend everyone!


.

Publishing Futures

I've been reading a lot of posts lately urging everyone to buy more paper books in reaction to the major layoffs in bookstores and publishing houses.

That's a little like putting a band aid on a corpse.

People have their hearts in the right place, but they're not thinking this all the way through.

Book publishing is and will continue to change from what we have always known. Trying to induce a buying trend is not only impossible (unless you're Oprah), it's also temporary (even for Oprah).

At best you might stave off the wolf for the season, but the bottom line is, consumers simply aren't buying books the way they used to. And little old you isn't going to change consumer buying habits in scope or permanence.

Books as entertainment cannot compete with movies, music, e-books, audio books and games. But let's take a look at these shanghai trouble makers. What do all these items have in common?

They are all digital technology.

As Steve Busceme's character "Rockhound" said in Armageddon: "Guess what guys, it's time to embrace the horror."

Case in point:
I forget what decade it was but Greg kept nagging me to get a CD player. I was a purist. I believed all music should be played on albums. I probably stood my ground for well over a year. Finally, I gave in. It was getting harder and harder to find albums anymore and I had to admit the quality of digital sound was superior to my cumbersome grooved Frisbees.

Flash forward a few years and CDs have since been replaced by I-pods. I blanch every time I remember how silly I was to resist digital technology. What the hell was I afraid of?

The sound is better. It lasts longer. And it's far more convenient to store and carry.

hmm…sound familiar?

Instead of rousing the troops and looking for ways to save print publishing--which was a loss leader in the best of times--look for ways to support the medium as it evolves.

Buying more print books is not going to be enough to resuscitate a half dead dinosaur. But writing for products that consumers clamor for--like role playing games, video games, graphic novels and short stories not only will keep your name in circulation, it gives you more clout with your agent or publisher because you will establish a following. And let's not forget it's also politically correct (and morally wise) to be green. Another formidable push toward digital that appears to be gaining momentum.

Print books will never go away. Let me repeat that. Print books will NEVER go away. We will always make room for books we love. And we will always have an audience for print. But the days of big advances and hungry agents are long over. Agents and editors have to be pickier. I can't blame them. Their butts are on the line.

I have a friend who's a great writer with a proven track record. She's had an agent for more than three years and still hasn't sold a book to the NY market.

It's not a case of talent, but having the product that publishers think people want to read. Even then, it's a matter of being at the right place at the right time with the right product.

Take for example Twilight. God love Stephenie Meyer. She's probably dancing in her sleep. No way could she or her agent have known her books would storm the market. Is her writing any better than a half dozen other vampire lovin' authors? Nope. But she found that elusive "it" quality that will make her a millionaire.

Like Rowling before her, she found an outlet for idol-worshipping pre-teens.

Think about how many authors you personally know. How many have hit it big? --I mean, quit-your-day-job-forever big?

In the old world when publishers were more willing to take risks, authors like us had a fair chance of getting noticed. Now that pond has dried up into a puddle.

Do you do a death roll in the mud, or dig yourself a new pond?

I say we stop begging for support and start digging. Stop bashing digital technology--or you'll end up looking like me in all my ridiculousness when I finally accepted CDs.

Instead, use the new mediums for all their worth. Tap into resources you haven't tried before. You may discover muscles you didn't know you had.

The pond may have dried up, but that doesn't mean we can't dig into a fresh underground spring.

I'm not going to pin all my hopes and dreams on a system that is rapidly dissolving. But I would love to be there for the birth of a new publishing model. One that works.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Follow the Ball

Greg sent this to me. It is amazing.

Be sure to follow the instructions exactly and then tell me how you did.

video

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Passion, Not Paper

I am beginning to wonder if I'm ever going to get well. It's not like me to be under the weather for this long, but I guess with all the moving and stress it's bound to chip away at my immune system. The real downside is that here I am at home and I'm too sick to do any work. Bummer.

But I can talk a little more about promotion and how to do it without being obnoxious.

Many years ago, I knew a salesman who sold advertising space. You and I both know sales people have a reputation for being ruthless when it comes to making a sale. We dread running into someone who just wants to separate you from your money.

But this particular salesman was different. Yes, he had a product to sell, but his delivery was so smooth, so genial and warm that he regularly reached his sales quota. The secret to his success was that he never tried to ram his message down your throat.

Jesse asked about your family, your interests, and you. He talked to you as a person. Jesse was also a great story teller, intricately weaving whatever topic you and he were discussing and slowly immersing you in the story. He made you feel like you were an integral part of the process.

Perhaps what made him more likable is that he was fallible, and he didn't mind if you knew it. In short, he was just like you.

A few years ago on OWW, I met someone else who was a lot like Jesse. Mike Keyton and I reviewed each other's work from time to time and I began to realize what a keen eye he had for detail. I credit him for really smoothing out my rough edges. (Not that his work is finished yet. lol) When I decided to create a private crit circle he was one of the first people I asked to join.

Since then, I've read quite a few of Mike's stories. But the stories I love most are his true stories from his childhood and post war England. I've never been to the UK and our backgrounds are as different as night and day, but every time I read one of his blog posts he pings a memory of mine. Different people, different worlds, but oh, so similar memories.

It's that tug on my synapses that makes me think Mike is very clever. Not only is he leaving behind a journal of his life for his kids, but he's creating a cache of ideas to mine from.

Mike's doing one more thing. He's building a platform. Read him long enough and you get an inkling of the man and the writer. Although his stories have nothing to do with his posts, he pulls from a wealth of experience: heroic adventures in places as exotic as Marrakesh or as mundane as the local pub. He tells stories about great friendships and old regrets, of learning and leaving and starting over.

Do these themes sound familiar? They should. These are the themes of our books. Mike is talking about life. He's describing universal truths, things we understand and can relate to.

And that's the magic word when it comes to promotion. You have to be able to relate to people. Infuse your audience with excitement for your book. The rest is up to them.

The next time you do an interview or a promo spot, share the passion, not the paper.

****

This post sparked another thought about the book publishing industry and all the hysteria currently surrounding a 'dying' market. Watch for it on my next post.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dog and Pony Show

Sorry for disappearing. I'm still a bit sick. I can't seem to shake off this bug. But my convalescence netted me a new observation.

I don't watch much tv, but lately, I've been watching a lot and I noticed a familiar dance--the promotion dance.

Maybe I've had an overdose of Hollywood, but I couldn't help notice how many actors and other big name celebrities hawk their latest projects with all the finesse of a street vendor. Some of them looked downright uncomfortable. Others hammed it up.

When I started seeing the same people on different stations promoting their latest book, movie or CD, it reminded me how we as authors come across when we blog about our books, hold contests, give interviews or do a book signing.

Some of us feel uncomfortable. We hem and haw, desperately hoping the interview, signing or whatever ends soon. Others play the clown, just as desperate to focus all attention on themselves.

There is a middle ground though. One set of celebrities, Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, looked somewhat uncomfortable, perhaps hoping the interviewer didn't ask them any embarrassing questions, yet they did try to make each interview slightly different from the last. They also did one other thing, they concentrated on their product, "Australia" as their selling point.

While the movie sounds fantastic, I'm not sure they as promoters were entirely successful, after all, their only reason for making an appearance was to sell the movie. After hearing the pitch a half dozen times, I was bored of it. But the interview suddenly became more interesting whenever the actors mentioned bits of their experience. Their anecdotes were so compelling, it made me want to watch the movie more.

That became an aha! moment.

What if when we promote our books, we don't just hawk the logline, but give a little of ourselves--an inside peek at what makes us capable of writing that piece of work?

I'll go more into this subject in my next blog post because there's a blog I follow that practices just that--and he doesn't even have a novel out yet.

Watching these big name celebrities made me realize that despite our canyon of revenue divide, we are both in the same boat. We somehow have to make consumers aware that our product is out there and invite them to try us. How we do this without alienating them is the tricky part.

More on this fascinating topic later. Off for another nap.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Real Prince

I've been under the weather for the last few days, so much so, that I've sunk to the point that I'm ready to call a doctor. It's just a sore throat, but my sore throats have a habit into becoming strep. Blech!

The one highlight of my week is that Greg took emergency vacation so he could take care of me. Is that not a prince of a man?

A few weeks ago we were talking to a clerk and she made a remark that we looked so happy. Ironically, we get that comment a lot. We've been married 33 years and we still hold hands and kiss.

Greg mentioned that he's met some people who were jealous of our relationship and he couldn't understand that. Why would you be angry at someone else's happiness? That doesn't even make sense.

Lest I mislead you, we are a normal couple in every sense of the word. We make mistakes. We have fights--at times, doosies since we're both alphas. And sometimes we can even be unkind. But we always want what's best for the other.

I think that pretty much sums up our relationship. Emotions, stress and hardship sometimes muddy the waters, but if your heart is in the right place, you'll rarely go too far wrong.

We always watch each other's back. And when one of us is down, we know the other is there to carry us for a while. It all comes down to trust.

Right now, I'm going to trust him to wake me in time for my doctor's appointment. *g* I'm going back to bed.

Have a great day, everyone.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pantry 101

My bum knee is preventing me from doing any actual work. Tragically, even sitting is painful--othewise I'd be novel writing. Keeping my knee bent hurts it more than anything else.

I've been doing menial chores that don't require a lot of walking or knee bending. This week, I concentrated on my pantry. When Greg and I lived together in SE Texas he built me cabinets, floor to ceiling since I was lacking a pantry.

I put a lot of pride in my pantry. Now that I live out in the middle of nowhere it's more important than ever not to run out of things because I sure as heck don't want to drive 20 miles for a cup of flour.

For some reason I am surrounded by people who know how to cook well. Many of my friends are true-life gourmands. My dad, who learned to cook at 5-star restaurants never prepared anything less than epicurean perfection if he chose to cook for the family. My mom usually cooked, but when dad cooked, it was like eating at a royal table.

Sadly, those cooking genes skipped me completely. I call my brand of feeding people, guerrilla cooking. It's simple, it's filling and you never leave my table hungry. But I think you'll find that there isn't a lot of difference between my pantry and one my father would have stocked.

A good pantry has the basics: flour, sugar, salt, and oil. But a true pantry caters to the diet of whoever lives in that house.

Below is my arsenal. Even a small kitchen can afford one cabinet toward all these items.

Flour: all purpose, Bisquick
Sugar: granulated, powdered and brown
Salt: table and coarse sea salt
Oil: olive, canola, and occasionally peanut oil if we decide to fry a turkey

Baking supplies: shortening, baking powder, baking soda, yeast, powdered milk and sweetened condensed milk.

Jellies: apricot, blackberry. Good as fillings for baked goods, including cakes

Honey

Spices/Herbs: I go all out here. I experiment a lot with spices so my spice rack is usually bigger than most. Must haves are: garlic, rosemary, peppercorns, thyme, cumin, and dill. Next year I hope to start an herb garden so I can have many of these items fresh.

Condiments: I never let my pantry run out of condiments. Mustard, yellow and dark, light mayonnaise, and horseradish sauce.

Vinegars: This is another area I stock a lot. Plain white vinegar comes in gallon containers, but I also keep red wine, balsamic, and rice vinegars.

Soy sauce. Worcestershire sauce used to be my stock sauce, but soy replaced it years ago.

Pasta: spaghetti and lasagna noodles are stock items. Occasionally I will buy manicotti.

Rice: I love rice. Basmati, long grain, or Jasmine.

Beans: We aren't big bean eaters, but I will stock canned beans for Mexican dishes and chili.

Tuna, salmon, sardines, canned chicken (and spam--only because Greg likes it).

Tomatoes: Canned tomatoes are my base for a lot of my dishes. I buy them whole and crushed. Rotel is another staple in the tomato clan.

Vegetables: Corn, sauerkraut, okra, spinach, squash and potatoes are canned items I store in case I can't get them fresh.

Entertainment supplies: This is my secret stash. Hopefully, I always know when guests are coming so I can prepare, but in case of drop-ins, I always stock these things for impromptu party appetizers.

• olives
• pickles
• nuts
• crackers
• cheese and assorted premade dips
• cookies

Alcohol. A few of my friends don't drink, but they are outnumbered by friends that do. We always try to keep a bar of the usual suspects, rum, vodka, whiskey, tequila and a couple of wines.

For those who don't drink, there is also an endless supply of soft drinks, tea and lemonade.

That's my basic list. Anyone else keep a pantry? What kind of supplies do you like to stock? I'm always on the lookout for items that are quick to prepare for unexpected guests. Any suggestions?

Do tell.


***
We'll get back to writing related topics next week.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I Dream of Africa

Every time I think I have this place figured out, something new changes the equation.

For the last few nights I've been hearing lion noises at sundown. It's an echoing growl that reverberates through the trees. At first, we dismissed it as an overly loud herd of cows bellowing. But one night I woke up from a dream about lions. I couldn't get them out of my mind.

The entire back side of the house is nearly all glass and we have yet to install any blinds. All you can see are woods and shadows. In my dream I woke to find a lioness roaming around the backyard. She pushed through the screened enclosure then pressed her face against the glass of my bedroom.

Yesterday, I ran into one of my neighbors and she confirmed, yes, there are lions and tigers and panthers in Terrell, Texas. There's a woman less than a mile down the road who runs a rescue preserve for big cats.

Nice, kitties. If you decide to roam, the neighbor across the street from me raises alpacas. mmm...alpacas--tastier than dogs.

I live in a very interesting place.

Friday, November 7, 2008

...and she's back!

I've been reconnected with the outside world!
During my excommunication I discovered a couple of things.

#1. I didn't hate being offline as much as I thought I would. I guess it's because I was so busy with other things---like catching scorpions!

#2. I did miss having instant information---like: Are scorpion stings fatal? LOL!


Fortunately, the scorpions indigenious to this area are not life threatening. Their sting is about as painful as a bee sting, but not toxic.
.
I have missed catching up on people's blogs. Unfortunately, there were so many posts, (my reader stopped counting at 1000) I had to delete most of them.

The house and recuperating from my knee injury are taking up most of my time. I am okay as long as I don't sit, walk, or lay down for more than a few minutes at a time. *g* It stiffens up something awful when I'm resting, and hurts the rest of the time if I move too much.

Nonetheless, I am in good spirits. For the first time in months things are moving forward.

Given that I am still settling in, we might not get back to regular programming until later in the month, but I'll be blogging and visiting other blogs more regularly now.

***

I will post pictures of this neat house in a month or so after I've painted a couple of rooms.
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I will take the time to thank Greg publicly for forcing me to "see" this house.
.
The listing came out the day after my eye surgery. It had hardly any description and the picture was dark and muddy. Still, he insisted we see this house. He said there was something about it that told him this was the one.

Sure enough, as we walked from room to room even I could tell it had good vibes. (Which at the time was all I had to rely on.) Now that I can see it clearly, I can't believe our good fortune and the tenacity of a hard-headed husband who wasn't going to let me talk him out of seeing this house.

And God bless our realtor, Linda Rudd for not only showing it to us, but guiding us through a tangle of red tape that made our negotiation even harder. She was on top of things the entire time. We love her and we recommend her highly. She is the best!
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More later, guys. Lots and lots of email to answer. Remember to contact me at (mariazannini) at gmail dot com. The other email addy is no longer valid.

Talk to you soon!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Checking In

Hello from the boonies! I am typing this from the local Starbucks. Local is a little misleading since the closest bit of civilization is no less than 10 miles away. But that's okay. I LOVE my house.

Everyday we find some cool or unique feature to the house. It needs work in the color scheme department and we have to wall off a doorway they put in between bedrooms, but I could not have asked for a better built house. It is magnificent. It's the kind of house Greg would have built for me.

We learned later that the house was built by a husband and wife team of structural engineers and they spared no expense on amenities. But it's the details that wowed me. As you enter, you step into a room with its very own sun bay. Not just any old sunroom, but a fully tiled and plumbed indoor garden area, complete with a drain.

Everywhere you look there are 10 foot ceilings with more light switches than a power plant. The back patio takes the entire length of the 4000 sq foot house and is completely screened. And the bathroom is jaw-dropping, with vaulted ceilings, a ball and claw tub, and a walk in shower lined with glass blocks. It is so big it has dual shower heads and controls for him and her.

But the room that gets everyone to gasp is the kitchen. It has the most amazing appliances I have ever seen. Whoever designed this house had to have been a chef. Me, who is as culinary challenged as they come adore being in the kitchen. --I never thought I'd say that.

Lest I sound like a complete brag, there is a downside to this house… It needs new paint. Badly.

It looks as if the last owners were trying to freshen up the house with a new color scheme, but it does not work at all. I am going to have to go in and repaint nearly every room. I'm not complaining. It's a terrific house and I'm looking forward to decorating.

My other mini dilemma centers on the scorpions. I've no problem with fire ants, bees, wasps, poisonous spiders and snakes, ferocious mosquitoes and even flying roaches---but Lord help me, I have a real dread of scorpions. The first one was dead, but yesterday Tank found a second one taking a stroll through my bedroom. He's in a jar right now, thinking about where he went wrong.

I will be out of internet range for at least another week. I don't know if anyone is still reading me since I dropped off the face of the Earth--but I'm still here.

It has been a nerve-racking and painful three months, but when I walk outside and see all those stars---I know it was worth it. I am finally home.


Addendum: I've been banned from buying any more paper books. After moving nearly 40 boxes of books, I understand completely. Our backs may never recover.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Art and You

Looks like I'm a Renaissance woman! A lot of this hits close to the mark. To find out what your taste in art says about you, take the test.



The Renaissance was a cultural movement that profoundly affected European intellectual life. Beginning in Italy, and spreading to the rest of Europe by the 16th century, its influence affected literature, philosopy, religion, art, politics, science, and all other aspects of intellectual enquiry. Renaissance artists looked at the human aspect of life in their art. They did not reject religion but tended to look at it in it's purest form to create visions they thought depicted the ideals of religion. Painters of this time had their own style and created works based on morality, religion, and human nature. Many of the paintings depicted what they believed to be the corrupt nature of man.

People that like Renaissance paintings like things that are more challenging. They tend to have a high emotional stability. They also tend to be more concientious then average. They have a basic understanding of human nature and therefore are not easily surprised by anything that people may do. They enjoy life and enjoy living. They are very aware of their own mortality but do not dwell on the end but what they are doing in the present. They enjoy learning, but may tend to be a bit more closed minded to new ideas as they feel that the viewpoint they have has been well researched and considered. These people are more old fashioned and not quite as progressive. They enjoy the finer things in life like comfort, a good meal, and homelife. They tend to be more spiritual or religious by nature. They are open to new aesthetic experiences.
***
So what did the test reveal about you?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Are We There Yet?

I'm not really out of hiatus. Actually, it may be a little longer than I expected because—are you ready for this—I Haz A House!

We sign this Friday.

On Friday, I will be running around like a mad woman getting utilities turned on and MOVING.

I am hiring movers for the big furniture, but Greg and I will move boxes. I really don't want people touching my boxes. If something's going to get broken, I'd rather know I did it.

Sooo…taking into account that I still haven't found a provider, it might be up to a week before I'm online again. I will be able to check email from my g-mail account if I can find a wireless connection. If you want to write me, the addy is: (my full name) at gmail.com.

Until I find a provider, gmail will be the most reliable way to reach me.

I am excited that this nightmare is nearly at an end. Greg and I agreed that this particular move has been the most stressful event in our entire lives—even worse than Hurricane Rita when we lived without power for a month. That gives you some indication on how bad this has been.

The marathon of grueling trials we had to endure for the last three months, topped with injuries, surgeries, and other sundry hurricanes tested us body and soul, but the light is at the end of the tunnel--and this time it's not a train coming at us.

I want to take a moment to thank all my friends, many of you who wrote to check up on me. You guys remind me how lucky I am. I love you guys. Thank you!

I hope things will line out by November. I know my life will be better in 2009. I'm planning on it!

Talk to you soon.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

On Hiatus


One house down, one to go. I'm in refugee status for a while until we can close on the other house. I'll check in soon.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sleep? You get sleep?

We've been packing and storing for four days straight, breaking only long enough to eat. We had movers scheduled but since our plans changed in midstream we couldn't get them to change the pick up time on short notice.

The house is now 3/4 empty. We're taking a quick trip to SE Texas to drop off a trailer load of chemicals, paint and the grill. The storage unit won't store those things, so we have to take them elsewhere.

We close on my house tomorrow. They are giving us until Friday to move everything out.

On a positive note, this reminds me how tough we are when necessary. Who says two old people can't move a huge glass china cabinet by themselves? It made the trip without a scratch or broken glass. I hope the movers are as careful. That thing is HEAVY!

Okay, off for a 300 mile jaunt. Be back tomorrow.

This link came in my mail today. Evidently, I still have my sense of humor.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Homeless

I knew it was too good to be true.

We are supposed to close on both houses, the one I'm selling and the one I'm buying this coming week. Friday night I got a phone call telling me that the survey was not coming out right for the house we're buying. We're buying acreage so making sure that survey is correct was paramount.

Right now that contract is in limbo. No one knows who actually owns the other four acres. We contracted for a home on nearly six acres and I want it all. Real estate lawyers have now gotten involved. What a mess!

But wait. It gets worse.

As of Wednesday, I am technically homeless. I spent most of last night crying. I worked so hard to get to this point. Juggling surgeries, hurricanes, job worries, and realtors. This last volley of heartache kicked me in the gut.

After a sleepless night, Greg and I decided to put our things in storage and look for an apartment for me while we straighten this mess out. This morning, I was visiting my friend, Mel, and I told her about our predicament. That wonderful friend of mine hugged me and told me that I can stay at her house for as long as I want. I nearly broke down and started crying again.

I have the best friends in the world.

Eight years ago, I moved up to the Dallas area. Another manager who worked with me also moved here from west Texas. Unlike me, she had no luck finding a home in her price range, so I told her she could live with me until she could get on her feet.

Who would've thought Karma would come back to repay me just when I needed it most.

I am exhausted, but at least I have some place to sleep next Saturday. I will try to keep blogging for as long as I can, if only to hear from friendly folk from time to time.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A Hiatus is Coming

No Killer Campaign post today. My last day to blog might be Sunday because ---wait for it--- I am finally moving!!

I have never in my entire life been through such a difficult time when it came to buying and selling a house. Buying was bad enough in that it took months to find the right house. But selling!!

Holy moley.

We had three contracts on the house, one within the first five days of being listed and two more a few weeks later. Each one collapsed before it got to the table. There was always something. One buyer asked for too many amendments, another seemed shaky on the financing, and the third was just flakey. Methinks he was a looky-loo but I can't imagine why he would go as far as putting in a bid.

From listing to final contract only took two months, yet it's been the longest and most stressful period in my life. Next time, I will move first and then sell a vacant house. It was just too hard to bug out with a giant dog in tow every time someone wanted to show the house.

To add to the stress, within 24 hours of accepting the last contract, we found the house. I say, "we" because I was only partially there. The listing came up right after my eye surgery. Greg insisted that we see the house even though I couldn't see very well. I was grateful for the fresh air even if I couldn't see. I was bored out of my skull.

We went. Me, looking like the Unabomber in dark sunglasses and a baseball cap, while Greg and the realtor led me around by the arm so I wouldn't trip over anything. We were a sight.

But Greg liked this house immediately and even half blind, I got good vibes from it too. We made an offer and it was accepted!

I'll post more about it in the coming weeks. Next week begins the final ordeal of signing contracts. My eyes still aren't in good shape, so I hope those title company people are patient. I am bringing my magnifying glass--and aspirin.

More on the new digs when I get back online. Until then, hang on! I guarantee you 2009 is going to see a less stressed-out me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

When Disaster Strikes

So many people do rallies, fundraisers and promotions to raise money for disaster "victims". God bless them, but there is more to charity than money.

While the Red Cross is good about helping people who really can't afford to leave or come back, if you want to help the average Joe, here's what people need.

During a hurricane, flood, tornado or earthquake, evacuees need these things:

• Water
We never seemed to have enough drinkable water. If you meet a hurricane "victim" offer them a case of water to take back with them.

• Fuel and containers
It was soooo hard to get gas during Hurricane Rita, Ike too. Gas stations went above and beyond to restore power to their facilities, but supply was still limited. If you didn't get your gas early in the morning, you went without.

During Rita, we went back to SE Texas with as many filled gas cans as we could. But what we really had trouble finding were the actual containers. Greg came up to me in Dallas to regroup, and no where within a 60 mile area could we find gas cans. When my friend Suzy found out I was looking to borrow some gas cans, her church gave us six FILLED gas containers. They wouldn't even take our money.

• Communication
Most people have the money to ride out a disaster. It hurts us badly, but we don't need government assistance. We need to be able to reach our bank, our families and our insurance companies. During Ike, AT&T set up emergency stations so people could make phone calls.

During Rita, every radio DJ in the entire three-county area teamed together on the one working station and manned the station 24 hours a day to keep us up to date on progress and where to find gas, water and ice. I appreciated this a lot. It was a life saver. You feel so isolated after a disaster, you need to be reminded that you're not alone.

If you run into someone evacuating a disaster, what they need is a place to rest, some information about your local community (like where the bank and grocery stores are) and a friendly smile.

The government and local communities were excellent in staging preparations. You knew you were going to get socked, but at least work crews moved in quickly to restore the infrastructure. Big hugs to every utility worker and the debris removal people who braved our bird-size mosquitoes and sweltering heat. You are real heroes in my eyes.

Did you notice I put victims in quotes? I hate that word. A victim is a casualty of disaster. I didn't notice anyone like that after Rita or Ike. Even the people who lost their homes. We aren't victims. We're survivors.

And because no one can say I don't have a sense of humor when it comes to disasters, I will pass along something we got in our email from a fellow trooper.

You know you're from the Gulf Coast if:

1. You have FEMA's number on your speed dialer.

2. You have more than 300 'C' and 'D' batteries in your kitchen drawer.

3. Your pantry contains more than 20 cans of Spaghetti O's, Vienna Sausages or Spam.

4. Your social security number isn't a secret, it's written in Sharpie on your arms.

5. You are on a first-name basis with most of the people at Home Depot.

6. You will wait in line for hours to pay $4.00 for a gallon for regular unleaded.


7. You own more than three large coolers.

8. You have 2-liter Coke bottles and milk jugs filled with water in your freezer.

9. Three months ago you couldn't hang a shower curtain; today you can assemble a portable generator by flashlight.

10. You catch a 13-pound red fish - in your house.

11. You can recite from memory whole portions of your homeowner's insurance policy.

12. At local gatherings, women are attracted to the guy with the biggest chainsaw.

13. You have had tuna fish more than 5 days in a row.

14. Someone comes to your door to tell you they found your roof.

15. Your drive-thru meal consists of MRE's and bottled water.

16. Your child's first words are 'hunker down'.

17. Having a tree in your living room does not necessarily mean it's Christmas.


***
A few more weeks and hurricane season will be over for another year. Yay!