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Thursday, August 27, 2009


Apparently, the body is a little more damaged than I thought. I think this is Nature's way of getting even with me for defying her all those years with my death defying stunts.

The doctor's prescription calls for long term rest. Yeah, I laughed too. But I will take a few days off from the computer and see if that eases the pain.

Be back soon!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Garden Journal 2009: Crikey & Crackers

What I did wrong this year:

I could plead that the time continuum was against me the entire season. Not only did I hold a full time job with a long commute, I had just moved to this place and there were lots of major renovations to take care of. And then there was my family and friends. If it were only me, I'd have no trouble working until parts of me broke off, but I have an obligation to friends and family to at least try and curb my hermit tendencies.

That disclaimer aside, I did do some things wrong that could have been corrected had I planned it a little more carefully.

• I should have kept a journal. I used to do this years ago, especially when we were raising emu and rhea. I found those old journals recently and it was like opening up a time capsule. There were weather reports, chick reports, crop failures and bonus crop entries. I was pretty efficient back then. LOL.

In 2009, I got as far as drawing a garden map of where the veggies would go. It helped in the early days when one seedling became indistinguishable from another, but without noting variety and surprise freezes, it became useless soon after.

• I should have planned better for irrigation. We tried all sorts of things. At first I hand watered, but that's labor intensive and inefficient. It also meant I couldn't be away from home more than a couple of days during the heat of the summer.

Then I rotated an open hose from one row to the next and dumped a river of water, but that was wasteful since I couldn't stand there and wait for each furrow to fill with water.

Finally I settled on laying soaker hoses along each plant. It worked, but it was nearly impossible to weed. The first week I neglected the weeding was all it took to take over.

• I should have mulched. Sigh. I didn't have natural mulch, but I should have tried something. I was feeling too cheap to buy a ton of mulch. I paid for it by weeding endlessly, only to lose the battle early on.

• I planted too early. The freeze took all of us completely off guard. But you gardeners know how hard it is to avoid planting when you think spring has arrived.

Next year I (hope) will be more organized.

• Greg has designed an irrigation module that will come on automatically and dump water on a gravity system for a set amount of minutes. We'll have to wait until we plow up this field to get the pump in the ground and grade the garden to slope slightly. We don't know how well it'll work. Time will tell.

• I invested in a couple of notebooks and will begin my journaling in earnest.

• Compost will not be ready in time, so I will have to rely on bought nutrients.

• I plan on building a worm bed. It might be a good project while I'm waiting for the soil to warm up.

For the rest of this year, I hope to plant a modest fall garden and spend the rest of my time clearing the woods and building pens for next year's animals.


Greg and I were walking around the property and he suggested we expand the garden to approximately 30 x 40 (right now it's 20 x40).

It would mean cutting some trees and moving the greenhouse over another 25 feet, but we have the room, and the trees we'd have to cut down aren't keepers anyway. It does mean a good deal of manual labor and at least a couple of truckloads of dirt so that we can raise the expansion to the same height as the existing garden.

He's also thinking about aquaponics. We don't know if it's economically feasible yet, but it's something to consider for the future.

The ideas we bounced off each other are very exciting. It'll be interesting to see where we are this time next year.

I'm on book two of my reading list. This is a NY Times best selling author. The writing is excellent, but the characterization hovers dangerously close to the pendantic. This isn't a genre I normally read so she gets points for keeping me interested despite the obligatory tropes (which she mercifully upgraded to something more original).

The characters are a little too angsty for my tastes. But they aren't whiners or victims. That would have been a death knell for the book, in which case I probably wouldn't have finished it.

I think I should have started with the first book in the series. That might have grounded me better. It just happened that I recognized the author and title and decided to buy the book. Unlike yesterday's book, this one was worth the money.

On to book three.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Brush Burning & Books

I've decided to go on a reading vacation. Okay, I've been forced to go on a reading vacation.

Last week, we burned the brush pile. Easy job, don't you think? All I had to do was light it and watch the fire lick its way to the ground. Any normal person would sit back with a cold drink and a water hose and bask in the glow of roasting coals.

Oh children of innocence! Have you forgotten how obsessive-compulsive I am? I couldn't just sit and watch fire. Nooooo. I had to add to it. Feed it. Groom it to fiery magnificence.

Oy! I did a fine job mangling the working parts I had left.

Even someone as pigheaded as I am realized I needed to give the old body a few days of rest. For the next few days I am going to dive into my TBR pile of books.

Rather than go in order, I pulled out three books that were HIGHLY recommended by people I trust.

The first one is a pirate story. I finished it a few minutes ago and while competently written, it's as dry and unoriginal as plain toast. Perhaps the thing that annoyed me the most was that the heroine suffered from TSTL (too stupid to live) syndrome. I love impetuous heroines, nutty heroines and feisty heroines, but acting like a spoiled five-year-old on a shipload of pirates is not good story logic.

The person who recommended this book loves this author. What the heck is she seeing that I'm not?

Oh well. At least the reading break is giving my body a chance to rest. With any luck, the next book will be better.


And since this is a homesteading post, here are some pics and tips for creating your very own burn pile.

This is what remains of a huge stump 24 hours later.

• Make sure your city, town or county allows open burning. I live in an unicorporated area so regulations are few and far between.

• Build your pile in an open area, far from your house, barn and favorite trees --just in case.

• Pack light and intersperse with heavy timber. We like to layer a big pile of branches, cut into manageable sizes, and then toss heavy logs on top of them to weigh it down. Reap and repeat.

• Let it sit. Once you stack it, it might look overwhelmingly tall. Don't worry. Let it sit for a week or so and the heavy logs will slowly compress the pile. Remember too, that the brush is drying. As it loses moisture, it will pack down on its own too.

• Speaking of drying. Once you cut down a tree or limb it for burning, give it time to dry out. If you burn it while it's still green, you'll be out there all day and will have to use a great deal of fuel to get it going. Depending on the thickness of your brush, it may need two to four weeks of drying. More if you live in a rainy area.

• If you let everything dry naturally, you should be able to light the pile with nothing more than a match.

• Burn on a windless day. (I'm sure that's self explanatory.)

• Make a nest of kindling. Use small twigs, leaves and my secret ingredient: dryer lint. Dryer lint is the best fire starter in the world.

• Before you light the fire make sure your hose is rolled out and tested. Do NOT start a fire until your water source is confirmed. A tall dense pile can shoot flames twelve feet high. It'll calm down in a few minutes, but the first rush of flame will be intense.

• Don't leave your fire unattended.

• Have a chair, a primed hose, a hard garden rake, leather gloves, and plenty of water for your body. You need to stay hydrated.

• As the fire winds down, regroup and redraw your perimeter. You want to create as tight a burn area as you can.

• When the fire is out and you find yourself covered in soot and blisters, shower. Twice. It's hard to get that smoke smell off of you.

One last tip:

When the ashes are completely cold, don't forget to scoop them up and throw them in your compost bin.

That's the circle of life.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

For more posts on homesteading and permaculture go here.

Monday, August 24, 2009


It's amazing what you can find in your neck of the woods. Wylie is only an hour away from where I live now.

Horror Fiction Magazine

We're looking for well written short stories in the horror genre. Please send anything up to 10,000 words. We pay 3 cents per word upon acceptance.

We do accept simultaneous submissions, but please let us know as soon as possible if your submission is accepted elsewhere. We only purchase first publication rights.

See link for contact information.



Backspace Agent-Author Seminar is giving away free admission to their upcoming conference, scheduled November 4 & 5 to two lucky winners.

The conference is a $500 value! But you must pay for your travel and hotel.

For more information, see Colleen Lindsay's blog and follow the directions.

Colleen Lindsay and Joanna Stampfel-Volpe are the judges for this contest.

The Backspace Conference is always touted as one of the best. If you have a story ready to submit, check out the blog for more info. Good luck!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Prudent Penny: Holding a Garage Sale

Holding a garage sale will test your stamina, your strength and all your nerve. It is not a project for the weak of spirit.

The key to a successful garage sale is organization. Plan way ahead on a date and coerce--er...I mean ask for help from family and friends. The bigger your sale, the more bodies you'll need.

Hopefully, by the time you have your sale you'll have already visited plenty of other sales in your area. I've found most areas have their own protocols for timing, days, and signage. If you live in a city with strict ordinances, check with them before you have your sale. I've seen some very unfriendly police officers break up a sale on more than one occasion.

Here are my tips for staying on top of the madness.

• Price EVERYTHING. I don't care if you use pre-priced tags (found at your local Walmart), or colored stickers, or if you price everything with red crayon, just make sure everything is marked. Not only will you save yourself aggravation during the height of sales frenzy when everyone descends on you at once, you'll also likely make more sales.

If I walk into a garage sale that has nothing tagged, nine times out of ten I will walk out. Usually the seller doesn't know what he wants to sell his items for and will size you up before giving a price. I've seen it happen where the same seller gave two different prices to two different people for the same item. I just find that unethical.

• Keep like things together. Clothes in one group, electronics in another, decor in another area. We even categorize our books by subject or genre.

• Sell more by making sure things are clean. If they are dirty or dusty, buyers expect a discount.

• We've never encountered any stealing, but I've seen people try at other sales. The more eyes you have on your grounds, the less trouble you'll have.

• Keep electrical cords nearby so buyers can test electronics and appliances.

• Never, ever let anyone into your house. We once had someone ask to use our bathroom. A man--yet. I don't think so.

• Keep your money box in someone's possession at all times. We always keep it further inside the garage---next to the rottweiler.

• Price conservatively, but within the 10-20% price point. I like to price big or pricey items just a tiny bit higher to allow for negotiation later.

• Put big or colorful items close to the front to draw passerby traffic.

• Embrace your inner weirdness. We had an old blow up Godzilla that stood six feet tall. We set him up at the driveway. Instead of 'garage sale', I made all my signs say: Monster Sale. People came from everywhere. They had to stop when they saw Godzilla.

• Speaking of signs...please write your information in BIG, BOLD letters. The faster traffic goes by where you place your signs, the bigger your letters should be. Lettering should be at least three inches tall. Arrows are also greatly appreciated.

• If you place your sign at a major thoroughfare, but live five miles away, say so on your sign. People will assume the sale was canceled if they don't see any assurance that you're still up ahead.

• Your biggest rush will be in the morning, but don't discount afternoon traffic. Plan on an all day event unless you live in one of those neighborhoods that close up shop at noon. If you have help, make sure they're out helping people and taking money while you mind the till.

I wrote a whole book on holding a garage sale and shopping them. Get it here!


And what would one of my posts be without a story?

One of the pitfalls of garage sales are the salers who insist on visiting before dawn. No joke! Keep the lights off and the garage or yard gate closed to keep the early birds at bay.

One year we had a particularly aggressive crowd. One by one they would unlatch the gate and waltz in while we were setting up. It was still dark for crying out loud. We kept shooing them off. The sale would not start until 7am--no earlier.

Greg even put a lock on the gate to keep people from coming in. No luck. They were so anxious to get to our stuff they CLIMBED the fence.

Greg had had enough so he did the only thing left to us. He put out Isis, a rottweiler who was as friendly as a new puppy. But hey, she was a rottweiler, and those strangers didn't know she was friendly. She patroled the gate, back and forth as more and more people showed up.

Not a single garage saler tried the gate again until Greg put her up and unlocked it.

Good dog, Isis. She got a cookie for that.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

For more Prudent Penny posts go here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Although I use the word homesteading a lot, what we're trying to do is create a permaculture (synergistic permanent agriculture).

My fascination with permaculture began with books like, THE GOOD LIFE ~ Helen and Scott Nearing's Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living, LIVING ON A FEW ACRES, and one of my favorites, A LITTLE LAND - A LOT OF LIVING.

These books began my education on sustainable and synergistic living. I'll touch on individual topics in more detail on later posts, but this one is about permaculture as a whole.

I've always been fascinated by early village life, from the Mayans to the first settlers in the New World. I liked that everything they did complemented other facets of their existence. Nothing went to waste.

For example: Chickens

One of the easiest and most reliable yard livestock to keep. Chickens can be free-ranged, ridding you of some very destructive pests. They're almost as good as pigs when you're in need of a living garbage disposal. I've fed them broken eggs, kitchen scraps, and the occasional small snake. (I've also fed them larger snakes that I already killed.)

Their manure is good fertilizer, once you've aged it for a year. Their meat and eggs, of course are food for man and beast. Their feathers and bones can be thrown into the compost heap--or the family pig.

Everything in this animal is used and recycled. Nothing goes to waste.

And speaking of waste, I once bagged up some grass clippings, but forgot about it in a weedy patch that we left to grow. That next spring when I let the chickens out they headed straight for that (now) torn bag and ate the fermented remains of the grass clippings like it was candy. I learned a new word that day: tankage. Not only was it good for the chickens, they preferred it to fresh grass.

Permaculture is a lifestyle that provides for you and yours not only by your labor, but by creating a logical and self-sustaining circuit of animals, plants and power. We're still a long way from achieving the ideal, but I hope we can come close someday.

Permaculture is unique to the individual. For example, we can't keep bees (even though I'm highly interested) because Greg is allergic to bee stings. There's no sense in inviting trouble.

Fortunately, there are enough pollinators in our area to suffice, so it's not an issue.

In the next five years, we hope our permaculture will have: Livestock: chickens, rabbits, goats, pigs, earthworms, and fish. Crops: fruit trees and vines, herbs, vegetables, and livestock fodder such as corn or sorghum and pasture. Power: Windmill, solar panels, and a woodlot.

Will it provide everything we need? Nope. There are some things we'll always have to buy, but I hope our lifelong project will provide us with all the best things in life, fresh food, honest work and the great outdoors.

This isn't an easy lifestyle but it's incredibly rewarding. It fills me with a profound connection to flesh and blood history as well as to the future of this planet. With a little land, even as small as a backyard, you can do a lot to reduce waste, save money, and eat better.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

When Do You Wear Your PR Hat?

During my radio interview on Radio Free Bliss, KS Augustin asked me how much time I dedicated to the business of promotion.

First, you have to understand that I look at promotion in a very broad sense. Promotion might entail contacting individuals for reviews, interviews or guest blogging. Blogging on my own blog is a major source of promotion for me. Working on my website, upgrading my banner, planning my advertising budget, or designing a new email signature also falls under promotion.

I was a little haphazard with my time management in the beginning, due in no small part by being overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of what goes into promotion, but now that I have a solid year under my belt, I've learned to compartmentalize it like I do most of my other projects.

Nowadays, I do most of my promotional planning and designing on Sundays. It works for me because Sundays are usually the quietest days on the net, at home, and I am usually alone 3 out of 4 Sundays a month.

So this post, like most of the posts for the week are written on Sundays. I get a great deal of information through blog reading, so I try to get caught up by Sunday. I deliberately leave posts that require more thorough contemplation for the quieter and less harried hours of Sunday.

I find it's easier for me to do things in chunks of similar tasks. Promotion uses a different set of mental muscles than creative writing. It requires reasoning, attention to timetables and the precision of an office worker sussing out a tricky monthly report.

This is the day I check old emails for people I've missed throughout the week. It's the day I examine my calendar for upcoming events, such as workshops, conferences or readings.

Putting your promotional hat one day a week might not work for everyone. If you have kids or a full time job, you might have to catch what few minutes you can here or there. But it works for me and my situation.

I'm a bit obsessive compulsive, so putting things in one basket for one solid day of work is ideal for my personality.

Lest you think it's all work and no play for Maria, I rarely spend more than four hours total on blog writing, assessing, contacting peers, or creating promotional tasks. Plenty of time to pet the dogs and walk in the woods.

How do you plan your promotional projects? Do you fit it in where you can or do you like to dedicate a set time for it?

Monday, August 17, 2009


Wait A Minute, I Have To Take Off My Bra Anthology

InkSpotter Publishing is looking for submissions for an anthology celebrating the most female of body parts, the breasts. From light-hearted memories of the first buds of puberty to heart wrenching accounts of breast cancer, these stories will run the gamut of experiences and emotions.

Unpublished submissions are welcome from both women and men. Maximum 3,000 words for both fiction and non-fiction. Poems are also welcome, though a limited number will be used (no specific length requirements, but please, no epics).

We are NOT looking for salacious material. Please keep your submissions tasteful. Think in terms of what you would want your young daughter (or niece) to be able to read.

Deadline: 10-31-09

Payment: Writers chosen for the anthology will be entitled to a share of profits. Part of the proceeds will be donated to a breast cancer charity in Canada.

See link for contact information.


Hint Fiction

Tentatively scheduled for the fall of 2010, W.W. Norton will publish an anthology of Hint Fiction. What is Hint Fiction? It’s a story of 25 words or less that suggests a larger, more complex story.

The thesis of the anthology is to prove that a story 25 words or less can have as much impact as a story 2,500 words or longer. The anthology will include between 100 and 150 stories. We want your best work.

It’s possible to write a complete story in 25 words or less — a beginning, middle, end — but that’s not Hint Fiction.

The very best Hint Fiction stories can be read many different ways.

We want stories we can read again and again and never tire of. Stories that don’t pull any punches. Stories that make us think, that evoke some kind of emotional response.

Take a look at the winners and honorable mentions of the Hint Fiction Contest for examples.
Payment is $25 per story for World and Audio rights.



Hot Hooks from Loose ID


• Title of your work
• Author Name
• Story Hook, in the form of a marketing blurb of 100 words or less
• First 250 words of a completed or in progress story of 30,000+ words in any genre currently accepted under Loose Id's submission guidelines.

Deadline: Before Wednesday, September 30.

Prizes: The Top Two hooks will receive a contract with Loose Id for the work and publication within the year 2010. The remaining three of the Top Five will receive a critique of their full manuscript.

You may submit as many entries as you like, but no more than two for any author can make the Top Twenty, and only one for any author can make the Top Five Five.

The Top Twenty will be selected by an in-house committee and notified by October 10.

During October 26-29, Loose Id's readers will be given the opportunity to vote on the Top Twenty to select the Top Ten.

Top Ten winners will be asked to submit the first 1000 words of their stories by November 1.

The Top Five will be announced by November 19.

The Top Five will submit their full manuscripts for judging by February 1, 2010.

The Top Two winners will be announced no later than February 15.


Computer Love from Scribophile

We'll admit it: we're huge Star Trek nerds. One of our favorite characters is Data, an android who spends much of the series lamenting his lack of human emotion. After watching Data bumbling through a few episodes last month (beer and nostalgia always make for an interesting combination), we were struck with inspiration for our next writing contest.

The theme for this contest is "Computer Love" (and we don't mean the Kraftwerk song). Write an original science fiction short story, under 3000 words, that features some kind of mechanical construct—a computer, a robot, an android, a spaceship, whatever you can imagine—and the greatest of human emotions: love. As long as you've got those two things, the rest is up to you!

Entries are due by September 30, 2009, and first prize is a $100 gift card. Get your word processors warmed up, and good luck!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Yay For a Day of Rest

This week feels like a blur. We finished the bedroom at Zannini South as well as a hallway. My next project will be the hardest one, refinishing the (former) master bedroom. It was ill designed from the start and it didn't improve with age. Ratty paneling, low ceiling and an ugly floor.

The original plan was to demolish the old house and build a new one right behind it, but then we found our perfect home in the boonies of north Texas and the plan was shelved, putting all our efforts into the new house.

We want to make the house in south Texas sellable, but not with a total remodel, so our fixes will primarily be paint and new flooring. I'd like to think that in a couple of years when we do sell this house that a nice young couple will want it for their homestead. Land in that area has become valuable. Chances are, developers will most likely snatch it up, but I still have hopes for a young couple with a dream. That's how we started out.

It's a great place to farm and raise animals. It's fenced and cross-fenced, with running water to all the pens and garden. And it has a shop that any handyman would kill for. Greg did a fantastic job building a 30' x 50' shop almost entirely by himself. It is awesome even 20 years later.

I have to admit of all the places we've lived at, I'll miss Zannini south the most. When we bought it back in '86, it was a dingy little house on land so thick with pine trees and brush I got lost on my own property. We still have a lot of trees (more than our neighbors) but there are also a lot of improvements--all done with sweat, blood and machetes. (we couldn't afford a tractor)

I'm really proud of what we accomplished all by our lonesome.


Iko no longer wears that horrid Elizabethan collar. He's a wild dog now, grateful to be free of that restraint. We've discovered he's a real drama queen though. He put on quite a show when it came time to remove his stitches. You’d think someone was killing him.

The vet and I held him down until he quit his yowling (about 15 minutes worth) before proceeding. I've noticed that 15 minutes is the little guy's threshold. If you can outlast him for that long, he'll submit.

Son of a gun!


The garden is nearly spent except for the hot weather plants like okra and squash. I have one lone watermelon going too. I snipped off some shoots from my healthiest tomato plants and started them in some containers. I'm going to see if I can keep them going all year.

I tried sprouting a few of the remaining potatoes but since I had to be away for a week, they didn't get any of the rain that was promised. Looks like they are DOA.

Next week, weather permitting we'll be lighting a big bonfire of brush that I've been accumulating. It ought to be grand. I'll try to remember to take some pictures.

A productive week, but tiring. My joints were so stiff, I had to take the prescription stuff to keep me going.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Prudent Penny: Garage Sales

I was going to talk about a serious subject like building an Emergency Fund, but since we're still in the season of garage sales in my neck of the woods, I thought I would talk about that instead.

I'm going to break this down into two parts: going to garage sales and holding a garage sale.

If I can claim expertise on anything, it's garage saling.

The very first time I went to one was in Chicago. There was a neighborhood garage sale where Greg lived and he invited me to come along. I was 17 years old and had NEVER heard of such a thing.

I was intrigued. It had never occurred to me to invite total strangers to my open garage to fondle my trinkets.

I was also scared. In Chicago, you just don't waltz onto other people's property--even if the garage door is up. But Greg assured me it was all right.

I clung close to him, shuffling behind him and letting his much bigger body hide mine. It still seemed strange to me to wander around someone else's property. (This affliction disappeared by the time I got to Texas.)

Also my mother taught me never to touch someone else's belongings, so I stayed at arm's length from everything that was displayed while Greg pawed at tools and small appliances, all the while assuring me that it was okay.

The more I watched him and the other strangers, the more mesmerized I became. Slowly I touched a little chotchkee and then another. Ooh, I liked this.

Greg bought a camping lantern at a giveaway price, and that's when I ceased being a garage sale virgin.

What?! A dollar for a nearly new lantern! Get out of my way! Let's see what else these crazy people are giving away.

A garage sale queen was born.

Over the years I learned how to get the best deals and sometimes even buy things that weren't for sale. And then I met the MASTER. My next door neighbor made me look like a wet neophyte. One day he took me with him on his trek and I've never been the same since. Here are a few tips from me and Cecil.

• Carry lots of small bills and change.

• Never put your big bills in the same place as your small ones.

• Keep a notebook for things you're looking for. Don't forget measurements for things like windows, doors, and floors.

• I don't buy clothes at garage sales, but it's the perfect place to buy little kids' clothes. They grow out of them so quickly, why pay full price?

• Normal price point is 10 to 20% of what the object would be new. So if a vacuum cleaner was $150 new, I will not pay more than $30 (EVER). The only exception to the percentage rule is if it's an antique. And some things are almost standard in pricing. Hardback books are generally $1, soft cover, .50. DVDs, a buck.

• Learn to negotiate, but do it graciously. My philosophy is this: if it's in a garage sale, it means it no longer has any real value to the owner. Also, the bigger it is, the less value it has. Remember, he has to put it back in his house if it doesn't sell. Nobody wants to do that.

If you come across something you really want, ask: "Will you take --- for it?" I always give a specific amount and it's always slightly less than I am willing to pay for it. This gives them room to counter offer. The seller gets what he wants and you get a bargain. It leaves both parties happy.

• Whenever possible, go with a buddy. That's twice as many eyes canvassing the grounds for bargains. My favorite garage saling buddy is Greg because I know what he likes and he knows what I look for.

• If you're not sure if you want the item, grab it and hang on to it anyway while you're looking. Put it down, and I guarantee you someone else with take it.

• Go early and go late. The early bird catches the worm and the good bargains. But the late saler gets the big stuff that lingered too long. Now the seller is desperate and does not want to put that big treadmill or china cabinet back in the house.

• Want to get the big stuff cheap? Pull out cash. Many sellers will negotiate for cash, but not checks.

• Think outside the box when it comes to home decor. I've bought gorgeous lamps, clocks and vases at garage sales and have never spent more than two dollars at most. My home looks lush and expensive, but honey, I am the original frugalista. I can take you on a tour and show you all the things I've bought for literally pennies. When you shop for decor, just remember scale and color. I promise you if you buy things within your color scheme and in the right scale you won't go wrong. It'll fit somewhere in your house.

• Buy to donate. The one thing we are always on the lookout for are items that rescue shelters need like dog crates and kitty carriers. We usually tell the sellers that we are donating these items and ask for their best price. We've actually had sellers GIVE us these items.

• Don't chitchat unless you have time to waste. You are on a mission, not a social call.

• Examine items carefully. There aren't any return policies at garage sales.

• Don't feel you have to negotiate for everything. If it's a fair price, buy it.

• Go to lots of sales. It'll give you a good feel for what the price point is in your area and you'll get valuable practice in negotiating.

I will leave you with one last story about garage sales.

A few years ago, Greg and I went to a sale. We were about to walk out when a mother approached me and handed me a quarter. "Will you do me a favor and buy my son's art work?"

A little boy, not more than four was feverishly painting away on plain white sheets of paper. His other masterpieces were lined up in a neat row.

Always having been a patron of the arts, I smiled and nodded at the woman. I complimented the little boy on his talent and asked how much he was asking for his paintings. "A quarter," he said.

I handed him 50 cents (the quarter his mother gave me and one of my own). "I'd like to buy two please," I told him.

You should have seen the smile beaming on his face. He was so excited he ran to his mother and father and told them proudly that he had sold two of his art pieces. It made my day!

Before we left, I complimented the parents for being so supportive, and for teaching their son the value of a good work ethic. He was so proud of selling his work, he couldn't wait to get back to work.

I hope that kid makes a million bucks.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hard Evidence or Stunt?

Fame seems to go hand in hand with lawsuits.

By now I'm sure you've heard about the lawsuit author, Jordan Scott filed against Stephanie Meyer.

According to J. Craig Williams who represents Scott, Breaking Dawn has similar plot and character points and a few word for word similarities to Scott's novel, The Nocturne.

So far I have not seen the evidence that is supposed to support the accusation.

I am more likely to be convinced of plagiarism if there is word for word copying. But saying that plot and characters are similar smacks of desperation.

But in Scott's defense, put yourself in her shoes. How would you feel if (insert famous author name here) published a book that seems uncomfortably similar to yours? Even if it only felt similar to you alone, wouldn't it feel like a slap in the face that the other author rose to fame and fortune on the same concept you also came up with?

It's a bitter pill to see someone else's work touted, especially if it 'appears' as if you came up with the idea first.

But let me also remind you that ideas are not copyrightable. I can go out right now and write a book about a boy wizard who goes to wizard school. No publisher will probably touch it because it can't compete with the 'original' successful story.

The idea of a boy wizard and a wizard school is not copyrighted. Harry Potter is.

The lawsuit will have to prove Meyer stole the words, but I don't think that accusation of stealing character traits and plot is going to float.

Judging also by how readers have responded to Meyer's series, they are hooked by Meyer's specific voice and style. Something Scott didn't achieve.

I feel sorry for Jordan Scott. I'm sure she's feeling betrayed and angry, but right now from what little is being revealed, it sounds like trumped up charges. Her website says the book is sold out from the site itself, but you can buy the Kindle edition or read it on Google Books.

Is it possible that the lawsuit is a promotional stunt? It's been done before. It doesn't do much to garner credibility for the author in the long run, but it can provide some fast sales in the short run.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Traffic Doesn't Equal Popularity

The other day on one of the blogs I follow, the blogger asked why she should bother to keep her blog up if no one reads it.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that if no one comments, no one is reading. One might also assume that if their counters don’t register a visit, then that is a certainty that no one is reading.

Both untrue.

Counters count physical visits, yet I’ve had people (spammers) leave comments without the counter showing a physical visit. Also, your readers could also be reading you on a Reader (like Google Reader) or an RSS feed. Neither shows up on a counter.

As for comments, that’s more in line with sociological conditioning. I’ve noticed that the blogs that have lots of comments have a couple of specific attributes. Either the blogger in question is a long time member of a group, such as a subject-specific Yahoo group, school or work, or s/he blogs using Live Journal or Facebook, which supports the friending system.

This kind of social nesting instills a sense of obligation to visit and comment regularly to others in the same nest.

I left a comment for the blogger who wondered who read her and mentioned that I had more than 300 blogs on my reader. I checked just now and it turns out the exact number is 377. I don’t read them all. I scan them.

Greg was amazed one day when he saw me deleting post after post. How could I possibly read them so fast?

The trick is reading the title and the first couple of paragraphs for keywords. If the blogger doesn’t say anything interesting within the first few sentences it gets deleted.

Sadly, if they use a truncated post and don’t say anything interesting until later on in the page, they lose a reader.

Posts that repeat (old) news also get deleted unless the blogger presents it in a new or interesting way.

I do read my friends’ posts.

I also read in their entirety posts about animals, history, magic, and the paranormal.

Speaking of animals, I almost always comment when someone loses a pet, even if I’ve never commented on his blog before.

I rarely read excerpts unless the hook grabs me right away.

I don’t read reviews unless it’s a book I’ve read or plan to read. I almost always read reviews if it has spoilers. I love spoilers!

I don’t generally comment unless the post asks a question or touches on a subject I care about.

I made the mistake of commenting only once on a blog post about politics. Must have been a weak moment because I stay away from politics like the plague it is. It’s not that I don’t have an opinion. Far from it. I just prefer to focus on topics I enjoy exploring—and politics isn’t one of them.

In a normal week, I might make 5-6 comments out of 377 blog posts. If I comment on your blog, consider yourself one of the anointed holies. LOL!

So in closing, don’t assume that lots of comments equals true popularity. The world is a big place and most of us interact with only a tiny piece of it.

If you happen to score a lot of comments it means you’re either well supported by your nest of friends, you say some really insightful (or controversial) things, or you’re immensely entertaining.

While I read and enjoy all three styles of blogs, I hope I fall into the second camp by default. I know I’m not the ‘nesting’ type and I’m only funny every third Monday when I’m washing dishes by fireflies, but I truly, almost desperately want to deliver solid, practical posts.

And on days when I can’t deliver an informative post, I’ll settle for funny.

How about you? What do you want to achieve with your blog?

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Hermit Speaks

If this appears when it's supposed to, you should be seeing this while I'm in hot and humid SE Texas, remodeling 'Greg's' house.

That poor little house needs a lot of TLC. The two hurricanes we endured took their toll. The house and the land look like they had been raped. Not much we can do about the land, but the house we can fix.

I suspect it will take the better part of a year to get it done. I started with the most important room first, the bedroom. I'll tackle the rest of the rooms as time and money permits. It's hard to explain what's wrong with the house. Basically, it's old and tired looking. --perhaps more like me than I'd like to admit. LOL!

The bedroom is looking very nice. I gave it a fresh coat of paint and Greg put in a new floor. When I get there, (which should have been Monday), all we have to do is move the bed and furniture in.


Iko, the wonder puppy, had his manhood and dewclaws removed last week. Right now he is wearing that horrible Elizabethan collar they put on pets to keep them from chewing on their stitches. The surgery never slowed that rascal one bit. He was hungry and ready to roll when we picked him up.


Since Iko arrived, Tank has been rechristened St. Tank. The big guy is so gentle and polite, even when monster puppy plays rough. That little heathen is lucky Tank is so sweet-tempered. Those aren't pretend teeth in Tank's mouth. He could hurt someone if he was so inclined.


I had several people write me about the radio interview I did on KS Augustin's show. They said I sounded interesting and funny! I almost choked from laughing.

It's all an act, folks. I am a hermit with a limp. People just happen to find that funny.


I have joined Red Room, Goodreads, and F Reado but know next to nothing about them. I kind of like The Red Room, but Goodreads makes it difficult to find stuff. F Reado seems useful, but I haven't figured out how to make a pdf out of Touch Of Fire's first chapter.

How about you? Are there any reader-based groups you recommend? --Sites that aren't too cumbersome to navigate?

What I'd like to do is settle on ONE reader-led social group and make it home. I don't have the time or energy to spend on all these sites, but I wouldn't mind focusing on one good site that makes me feel welcome and offers intelligent discussion on books.

Any suggestions?

Monday, August 10, 2009


Do I have a jinxy monkey on my back? I finally get most of my computer working when the internet went on vacation all day Saturday. Sunday was touch and go too. I hope this post materializes when it's supposed to. All I can do is wave my splintery wand and say the magic words...."Pretty please."


Working on the OWW newsletter, I contacted one of the winners of the recently held crit marathon, Elizabeth Hull, and she reminded me about Flash Me Magazine.

Flash Me Magazine is a quarterly publication brought to you by Winged Halo Productions.

FLASH ME MAGAZINE will be doing another ALL FANTASY ISSUE October 31, 2009. Special guidelines apply and any submissions received that do not follow these specific guidelines may be rejected outright.

All stories submitted for the fantasy issue must contain some element of fantasy and be 1,000 words or less. Stories with excessive gore, violence, profanity, or sex are not appropriate for Flash Me Magazine. As a magazine geared towards readers of all ages and beliefs, we reserve the right to decline stories based on their content. We do not publish poetry.

Submissions for the fantasy issue will be accepted between April 30, 2009 and August 31, 2009. Stories received outside of these reading dates will be rejected outright. The fantasy issue will be published October 31, 2009.

Ed. note: One of the nice things about this magazine is that each rejection letter contains each editor's vote and the basis for their decision. You don't find that often.


Wow. I found three anthologies from the same publisher. Please click on the link for information on all three.

Pill Hill Press

The Bitter End: Tales of Nautical

Please put SUBMISSION: THE BITTER END in the subject line of your email, followed by the title of the story. Thanks!

We are looking for scary stories that take place on ships, boats, rafts, anything - as long as the setting is on - or in - or under - the ocean (or land-locked bodies of water or lakes). Traditional monsters (werewolves, vampires, witches, mummies, ghosts, etc.) are welcome if presented in a new and interesting way. The setting (at sea) must be integral to plot development. Stories can be realistic or fantastical. They can take place at any time - past, present, future, alternate. We are looking for a good variety of unique and terrifying sea stories.


We are looking for short stories 500-5,000 words in length.

Please do not send stories with a strong religious theme. Also, please do not send rape/torture stories, anything 'x' rated or pornographic, pet mutilation tales, fiction about child abuse and/or pedophilia, or submissions that denigrate any race, gender or sexual orientation.

Submissions will be accepted until Saturday, October 31, 2009. We will not make final selections until the end of the submission period. Responses will be sent by November 30, 2009.


The Four Horsemen: An Anthology of Conquest, War, Famine & Death

Please put SUBMISSION: FOUR HORSEMEN in the subject line of your email, followed by the title of the story. Thanks!

The anthology will be divided into four sections: Conquest, War, Famine/Pestilence, and Death. Most genres, including, but not limited to, supernatural, dark fantasy, horror, suspense, crime, mystery, humor and science fiction, are welcome as long as they fit the theme of one of our four categories (conquest, war, famine/pestilence, death). Please note which category your story fits into when you submit.

Stories can be realistic or fantastical. They can take place anywhere - on Earth, under Earth, in Space, etc. They can take place at any time - past, present, future, alternate. We are looking for a good variety of unique stories that fit our four categories!

We are looking for short stories 500-5,000 words in length.

Please do not send stories with a strong religious theme. Pill Hill Press does not wish to misrepresent any religion. Also, please do not send rape/torture stories, anything "x" rated or pornographic, pet mutilation tales, fiction about child abuse and/or pedophilia, or submissions that denigrate any race, gender or sexual orientation.

Submissions will be accepted until Thursday, December 31, 2009. We will not make final selections until the end of the submission period. Responses will be sent by January 31, 2010.


A Whodunit Halloween

Please put SUBMISSION: WHODUNIT in the subject line of your email, followed by the title of the story. Thanks!

This short story anthology will feature Halloween mysteries. We want interesting submissions where the mystery is solved through the course of the story. The protagonist does not have to be a detective (though detective stories are certainly welcome) as long as there is a mystery, an investigation, and the solution is revealed. The setting must take place at or around Halloween.

Stories should be realistic (meaning that the events could actually occur without the aid of magic or some other fantastical element). They should take place on Earth. They can take place at any time - past, present, future. We are looking for a good variety of bizarre and intricate stories that celebrate the 'whodunit' genre and Halloween.

We are looking for short stories 1,500-6,000 words in length.

Please do not send stories with a strong religious theme. Also, please do not send rape/torture stories, anything 'x' rated or pornographic, pet mutilation tales, fiction that glorifies child abuse and/or pedophilia, or submissions that denigrate any race, gender or sexual orientation.

Submissions will be accepted until Thursday, April 15, 2010. We will not make final selections until the end of the submission period. Responses will be sent by May 15, 2010.

Friday, August 7, 2009

I'm On The Radio!

Huzzah! I'm limping back to some level of normalcy. And what did I find when I finally got back online?

An interview --with me!

And not just any interview. A radio interview where you can actually hear my voice. (cue scary music)

KS Augustin was crazy enough to put me on her radio program, Radio Free Bliss and although she threatened to make me sound like Daffy Duck, Kaz behaved herself and substituted a voice that instead was very close to my own. [wipes brow] Phew! Dodged that bullet.

On this interview we talked about everything from books, early retirement, marriage, and even the lions I hear every evening. It was a blast!

Authors, I highly recommend contacting KS Augustin if you think you'd be good fodder for an interview. Her style is easy going and comfortable. Even though I was nervous and scared out of my wits, she was wonderful at making me feel at home.

Go take a listen and let me know what you think.


We'll resume regular programming next week when I've had a chance to catch my breath--and find the last of my software.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Importing Data Without Committing Murder

Apparently it can't be done. Since Monday when I made the fateful decision to replace my dying pc, I have destroyed data, chewed up pencils, fingernails and lips, and even muttered murderous thoughts to the only man who was trying to get my computers to talk to one another. I was insane from lack of sleep, loss of data and trying to remember where I put the shotgun.

I seriously considered walking away from computers to live an Amish lifestyle in Antarctica,

My old computer was...well, OLD. I try very hard not to replace my computers because I can't bear to relive the transfer nightmare. Yes, I could have had service people move my data but I am paranoid about strangers near my super secret plans to control the world.

There was a cable I could buy for $50 bucks that would let me do the job too, but that too seemed a bit pricey for a one time use. We settled on making the old hard drive an external hard drive--and you guessed it--the new computer said I didn't own that property and wouldn't allow me to copy, move or mutilate said data. (This is when I started looking for a shotgun.)

Greg has been trying to convince me to replace my pc for well over a year. Finally, when the old girl looked like she had breathed her last, I agreed reluctantly. This transfer of data was even worse than the last time. More data, more chances to invoke permanent heart failure.

I finally got Microsoft Outlook working. Think what you like about Bill Gates, but I depend on Outlook like druggies need crack. It keeps me organized and I will sacrifice most any other program as long as I can keep the Microsoft Suite of software.

For some reason my old bookmarks did not all make it on the Mayflower. Most of them seem to have transferred, but I am missing quite a few of the newer bookmarks. I'm still working on that.

And don't even ask me about my art software. I've upgraded them many times and new computers aren't mollified into simply accepting the upgrades. Nooooooooooo! You have to find the original software and then re-add the upgrade. Easy if it were just a couple of programs. Not so easy if you have a dozen upgrades and realize that the original discs are probably in a box marked 'archived' --last seen somewhere near Area 51.

The new computer is super fast which was the only selling point. It's got a lot of new-fangled additions that are more annoying than useful. Yet it couldn't support my old printer (which is older than my old computer) because the cords and ports are different. Enter the new printer. Thankfully, it hooked up without a problem.

I have a lot of emails and blogs to catch up on and a lot of news and info to digest and pass along.

Bear with me a little longer and I should be back on track soon.

Today I am grateful I survived the new computer. I got my email and all its subfolders, and I am even online. There are still a lot of kinks to work out, but at least I made it intact.

D'oh! Just as I was typing the last line, my power went out. I'm off to discuss this lapse in service with my electric company. Now where the heck did I leave that shotgun?

Talk to you soon.

Monday, August 3, 2009


This post was written Sunday and should go live Monday morning. This week, the plan is to set up the new computer and not have a stroke while doing that. To be honest, I would rather do my taxes with a broken pencil than set up a computer. I have terrible luck with electronics and let's not even discuss moving software.

So...if you don't hear from me in the next few days, that'll be why.


Electric Velocipede is once again open for submissions.

Stories up to 10,000 words. Published stories tend to be 2,000 to 5,000 words, but longer is fine. If your story is considerably longer than 10,000 words (i.e., 15,000 words), please query me first.

I want to see something different. I want to see something unusual. I want to see stories that are a little weird. If you've read the zine, you know what that means. If you recognize the names of the people in the zine, you'll probably have an idea of what I want. Science fiction is fine; I just don't care for hardcore nuts and bolts. Fantasy is fine; I'm just not all that comfortable with elves, dwarves, unicorns, etc. Cross-genre is more than fine, and weird is just about perfect. I am not actively looking for horror.

Despite the zine's name, it's certainly not a requirement to write steampunk to be considered, but you will catch my ear if you do. I like stories that have something hidden in them; it can be a character with a secret, things that aren't what they seem, or places that exist where they shouldn't.

Our submissions form asks for your name, email address, cover letter, story title, and story. Your cover letter should contain the length of your story, your publishing history and any other relevant information (e.g, if you send us a lusty pirate story and happen to BE a lusty pirate, mention that). All stories should be in standard manuscript format and can be submitted in either .RTF or .DOC format. No simultaneous submissions.

Payment: 1 cent per word.

Please go to link for more info.


Christmas Story Contest from LDS Publisher

Deadline is coming up fast! August 15, 2009

• Write a short Christmas story in any genre. Stories should be positive and family friendly. I reserve the right to refuse any story I deem inappropriate for this blog/book.

• Maximum word count: 2,000; no minimum.

• Story must be previously unpublished. Stories published anywhere other than your personal website or blog are ineligible. (That includes books, magazines, e-zines or other contests.)
Stories submitted for previous years' contests are also ineligible for this contest. (But may be selected for publication in the book.)

• Paste entire story into an e-mail. NO ATTACHMENTS, please.—Put "Contest: Title of Story" in the subject line of your e-mail. (Example: Contest: A Christmas Gift for Mary)

Please go to link for more info.