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Monday, July 30, 2012

Cleaning Out the Cobwebs

Over the weekend I cleaned out my Twitter list. It's all Facebook's fault. All of a sudden I gained like twenty-five new friends. I don't know who they are. They just showed up. I never received any notification, but that doesn't surprise me. My email notifications have never been reliable.

But seeing that giant leap in friends startled me and I decided to check out Twitter and my blog to see who was still there and who just showed up for the cookies.

I get very annoyed with people who follow you on Twitter just to get a follow-back. It takes me forever to check out new followers. Twitter has always been last on my list of haunts. As much as I like visiting, I rarely have time for chit chat.

So over the weekend, I used one of those apps that checks to see who follows me and more importantly, who UNfollowed me. (the cads!)

I don't expect everyone to follow me just because I follow them, but if we're supposed to be chums, I expect them not to kiss-up and then dump me.

I cleaned house on Twitter and unfollowed everyone who unceremoniously dumped me. Then I unfollowed everyone who hadn't tweeted in more than four months. Finally, I unfollowed anyone whose tweets seemed offensive or dull. 

Hint: Look at your last five tweets. Would you follow you?

Some people are worth following even if they didn't follow me. I absolutely adore @ReneeMJ. I laugh so hard at her slice of REAL life moments that I'm in peril of wetting myself. And it must be a Canada thing because @kristadb1 has left me in stitches too--especially late at night when she churns one-liners like spitballs.

Oddly enough, I see more tweets on Facebook than I do on Twitter so I'm grateful when they funnel their tweets through FB.

I do not follow blindly. Yes, I check you out. I will not follow people if I see by their tweets or posts that we have nothing in common. This isn't high school. In order to earn a 'follow' your tweets have to entertain, inspire, educate, or save me money. These are the things that are important to me.

According to the app, there are a little over a hundred people I'm not following. So now comes the tedious part of checking each person's history to see if we're simpatico. Even though I don't spend much time on Twitter, I do visit occasionally so I don't want to be swamped by spammy people. I'm selective with whose tweets I want to see in my stream.

When I started networking I was always afraid of not reciprocating. I finally realized that my time is important and it was time I started respecting it. If you don't find me interesting, don't follow me. I'm not going to be mad at you. Your time is important too.

Do you feel obligated to accept every 'friend' invitation and 'follow'?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dynastic Dinosaurs

Is it me or has the wind blown out of the sails of agents and the RWA? It seemed to me this time last year everyone was having tearful fits if they weren't going to make it to the RWA conference. But this year only a handful of bloggers are bemoaning missing the conference and others aren't even mentioning it at all.

Don't get me wrong. The RWA conference is awesome. Expensive. But awesome. It's way out of my price range now. As much as I love the lectures and the amazing job they do at keeping things running smoothly, I can't justify the expense. Heck, I can't even justify the price of membership anymore. 

Fancy magazine aside, I can't see the benefit of shelling out $120 US for the pleasure of their company. Author, Tonya Kappes, said it beautifully here.

And what about agents? I keep close tabs on them because of my association with the OWW newsletter, but so many have either closed their doors or migrated to something new. There are a lot of new faces in the agent kingdom, but no big sales.

Therein lies the rub. Aside from two weeks worth of fame when your book (hopefully) lands in a brick and mortar store, how much are traditional publishers worth? How much is that 15 or 20 percent you shell out to the agent worth?

Decent advances are rare nowadays, made worse because the publisher divides that advance into thirds or quarters. It's not even a living wage in most cases.

It hardly seems worth the trouble--at least from my perspective.

But I won't rain on anyone's parade. If that's your goal, by golly, I hope you reach it. Someone has to make a big advance sometime. I'd rather it be YOU than some smarmy Hollywood celebrity. That way I can say I knew you when. :o)

Friday is it. It's the last day to Like, tweet, comment or subscribe to The Frugal Way Facebook page or Back to Basics blog. Winners will be announced next week. Good luck!

In the meantime, check out yesterday's guest post by Raelyn Barclay on making your own play dough. It is so cool and really easy. If you have kids--or grandkids, you have got to try this.

Next week: State of the Homestead

How do you feel about the current publishing atmosphere? Are you as excited about it as when you first started?

Monday, July 23, 2012

July, I Hardly Knew You

For someone who tries to keep on top of things you'd think I'd have a better handle on the date. It has been an extraordinary month of busyness with a side of outright terror (when we lost Tank).

But now the month is closing in on me fast and I hardly blinked. Before I go any farther, let me remind you that Back to Basics (the blog) and The Frugal Way (Facebook page) is having a contest to get more people to come by, join up, and visit. There are prizes, guys! Cool stuff too. Stuff you'll use.

I didn't realize it until just now that the contest is nearing the end. This is it! THE LAST WEEK!! 

Please, please, please Like my page, follow the blog, and if you've already done those two things, be a dear and mention it on your blogs so that other people can join in.  Thank you!!

These are totally non-promo sites. I'm not trying to sell you anything. And I have no ulterior motives. Getting back to basics is my one true passion. I love to save money, find easier ways to do things, and share the tips and freebies I find along the way.

If you feel the same way, please stop by and subscribe to my blog and Facebook page. I truly want to build a community of like-minded friends, but I can't do it alone. Spread the word and comment often.

This Friday, I will close down the contest and choose winners--to be announced July 31. There's still time to tell your friends.

This week, I have another guest blogger on Back to Basics. Raelyn Barclay will be joining me for the first in a series of fun activities for kids. If you have a few 'tax deductions' hanging around your house, you'll want to tune in. Raelyn is an expert on keeping kids busy and happy.

If you'd like to be a guest blogger on Back to Basics, visit my info page for details.

So what's new? Now that we've passed the half-year mark, have you gotten as much done as you thought you would? What's left on your to-do list for 2012?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Do You Speak Up?

A few weeks ago, I was scanning my blog list and came across a popular blogger's advice post. I rarely comment there because most of the posts are meant for people looking for the basics. Still, I usually read it briefly to see if there's any meat on the bone that could be useful to me.

I was surprised when the blogger gave what I felt was erroneous advice. It wasn't terrible, it'll-kill-your-career advice, but it was a little amateurish, especially from this blogger.

My first instinct was to challenge the statement, but in the end I decided against it. First of all, I was busy and the advice as I said, wasn't detrimental, just short-sighted. Secondly, the blogger is popular and I didn't have time to spar with all the blog buddies who'd feel the need to support the blogger.

Lately, it seems if you speak out against a review, a statement, a philosophy, or the color of the sky, you don't just take on the person taking that stand, but his gang too.

It makes me feel like you can no longer have a difference of opinion without having a lawyer present, and that's kind of sad.

Have you ever corrected someone who gave erroneous information? Given the current argumentative climate of the internet, do you think you speak out as much as you used to when someone has an opposing view?

On Back to Basics: This week, I talked about adjusting your attitude about spending and why it's okay to hoard. Yes, I talked about hoarding! Bwahaha.

And don't forget, when you comment, Like, retweet, or mention Back to Basics or The Frugal Way Facebook page, you rack up points for the giveaway at the end of the month.

Stop by and chat. Recommend it to your friends--cuz that counts too. Oh, and if you already Like the FB page, could you let me know in the comments if it's coming through on your timeline? I can't tell from my vantage point. 

In the past, I haven't always gotten updates from other people's Facebook pages and I'm not sure if it's a Facebook snafu or a step I was missing. Some people's pages come through fine, but others I have to physically go to the page to see updates. Does anyone know why that happens?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Creating Characters with True Grit

It's a rare movie that delivers writing lessons, but that's exactly what I got when I watched the remake of True Grit with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon.

I had put off watching this movie for a long time, thinking the remake was just another sappy story about a kid demanding justice. I was wrong.

While the premise remained the same, the movie was grittier and more realistic than the original. A lot of the credit has to go to the script and the young girl who played Mattie (Hailie Steinfeld).

Without giving away too much of the movie, I noticed that with every turn, the director made things more and more dire for the protagonist. The odds remained stacked against Mattie to the very end.

We all know that's critical for a good story. But what impressed me was the depth (and risk) the director was willing to take by making the cost (vengeance) so dear that the ending actually shocked me.

Had the same events happened to the sheriff (Bridges) or the Texas Ranger (Damon), it would be sad, but acceptable. But because it was a child who deliberately placed herself in danger, it made the story all the more poignant and chilling. The movie ended up being part morality play and part drama.

It forced me to examine goal versus cost in my stories. I know I'm always too easy on my main characters in the first draft. It's only when I start tweaking that I squeeze every ounce of emotion by threatening the characters to the brink of their existence.

I'll never forget the frantic email I got from a reader when she found out what I did to poor Grey in Apocalypse Rising. I did the unthinkable and the reader feared for his life--the life of a fictional character.

I try to accomplish two things in a story. The protagonist must want something well out of his reach. And the cost must be so high that the reader is sure he'll fail.

In True Grit, Mattie is obsessive-compulsive. She will not take no for an answer and she's sees her path as crystal clear and resolute. She hires a sheriff known for his true grit because he's the only person who will have the same resolve as herself. They might be doing it for different reasons, but the goal is the same and that's all that's important to her.

In the original movie, John Wayne was the one depicted with true grit, (being his movie) but in the remake, this is more Mattie's story. She's the real character with 'true grit'. She is willing to risk it all and that resonated with me. 

How far would you go to bring your father's killer to justice, to save a child, or the love of your life? How far did I go to find a beloved pet? Maybe the better question would be: What wouldn't we do? 

If it's important to us, we do whatever it takes. That's what keeps us glued to the edge of our seats.

Has anyone seen the True Grit remake? What did you think?

Second question for American history buffs: I know from reading Civil War letters that Americans spoke quite formally in the 1800s--as they do in this movie. 

There are plenty of euphemisms and slang, but the dialog itself is stiffer and formal. Does anyone know when we started speaking more casually? If I were to venture a guess, I would say after WWI, but I honestly don't know for sure.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Does Your Blog Serve a Purpose?

I'm back from my short hiatus! If you read my last post, we had a dire emergency prior to the holiday that threw us into full-scale search and rescue. Because of nearby fireworks, Tank bolted and got lost for 12 hours. Worst. Night. Ever.

When things were looking their grimmest, I had seriously considered closing down both this blog and Back to Basics. That may sound strange to some people but my reasoning was based with my readers in mind. 

Had I lost Tank so tragically, I would've been a terrible blogger mired in grief. There would be no joy in writing about books, the homestead, or my quirky observations. It just wouldn't be worth it to me. You'd feel uncomfortable visiting and I'd be as dull as yesterday's news.

Pain is something I don't think should be shared in the long term. Blogging about a singular tragedy is one thing, but making it a running theme is depressing and too personal to share. People can console you for only so long.

This is why I turned off comments the day poor Murray died. I was too grief-stricken to respond like I always do. It wasn't fair to you. So I took some time off to heal until I could be an interesting blogger again.

I've never treated blogging as a public diary, but more as a collection of observations, anecdotes, and things I've learned along the way. Maybe that's atypical, but that was my choice when I started blogging. 

This got me to wondering how other people use their blogs.

What purpose does your blog serve? What do you want it to accomplish? 

Tank is safe and sound, no worse for wear despite his vagabond ways. Meanwhile, Greg and I probably aged ten years. It's not an experience I want to repeat any time soon.

We learned several things during our ordeal, not least of which is what the human body is capable of enduring during an emergency. We walked for miles and went without sleep the entire night and into the next day. I have to assume it was adrenaline and fear that kept us going. 

Poor Tank looked pretty beat up too. Thank goodness he's a big dog. Little dogs around here tend to get eaten. My biggest fear was that someone might've shot Tank, unaware that he is so docile and elderly.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Longest 12 Hours of my Life

Saturday we had gone to a friend's house in another city for a BBQ, We had a wonderful time but it was a long drive and pretty late by the time we got home.

As soon as I got in, I rushed out to lock the gates to the hen houses. Since it's still very hot, I had let them loose to free-range, but if I didn't lock their pens, I'd be inviting raccoons and coyotes to free buffet. 

I no sooner opened the back door of the house to head out to the chickens when Tank pushed the door away from me and bolted outside. The neighbors, well behind our property, had been shooting those horrible firecracker bombs that sound like artillery. Tank is terrified of loud noises and headed in the direction AWAY from the noise.

I panicked and yelled for Greg, thus beginning an ordeal that would last through the night and into the next morning. 

We searched every ditch, culvert, creek bed, and field. I stopped cars on the street and asked them to keep an eye out for an elderly rottweiler. We called out Tank's name until our throats were swollen.


Back and forth we went, each of us going in different directions. In the meantime, the neighbors were still partying and blowing those damn firecrackers. On top of that, the cicadas were making so much noise it was hard to listen for the subtle jingle of Tank's collar.

We'd return home every few minutes, checking every potential hiding place over and over again. We left the garage and the back porch wide open in case he came home on his own.

By 3am, I was terrified that he might've had a heart attack and died in someone's field. Or worse, drowned in someone's pond.

Greg went out and I started making flyers until the ink to my printer went dry. As night rolled into day, we handed out the flyers to everyone we found on the street and taped them to every mailbox whose property could be breached by a large dog.

At 10am the next day, I got a phone call. Do I own a large rottweiler, she asked.

YES! A million times, yes. I told her we'd been looking nonstop since the night before. She told us there was a dog wandering her property this morning, looking pathetically lost. They had given him water and decided to hang onto him while she made the phone call. Even while she was on the phone with me, she was speaking softly to him.

Then I heard Tank's heavy breathing! I'd recognize that freight-train breathing anywhere.

She gave me her address and we raced out there like lightning. As we entered the private road (a road we had checked earlier) we could see Tank standing with three other people. His ears perked up when he recognized our car, and I jumped out and hugged him before Greg could shut off the engine.

That's when I broke down and started crying. Stupid dog gave me a big kiss and I hugged him again. Then I got up and hugged the lady who called me.

Tank was filthy, exhausted, and limping, but he was alive. He had crossed a busy highway to get to the quieter road. That alone scares the hell out of me. This is the same highway where feral pigs and deer get hit all the time.

We took the Prodigal Dog home and gave him two baths and examined him from head to paw. When I was sure he was all in one piece, I fed him a small meal of chicken and scrambled eggs. More petting and crying, then we all went to bed for a short nap. Greg and I had not slept since the night before last.

Saturday night was the worst night of our lives. But what a difference a day makes when your dog comes home to you alive.

Tank is not one to run away, but even well behaved dogs will run if they think their lives are in danger. Always have ID on your dog.

Living out in the boonies, we have no laws preventing people from shooting fireworks. People here like to set off those massive explosions for major celebrations and parties. Beautiful to see, but terrifying to animals.

I wasn't going to post today, but I had to share one last hurrah. We are still exhausted, but we're a family again and that's all that matters.

Some of you knew of my ordeal because I had contacted you when all seemed lost. I was afraid I'd be gone a long, long time and I didn't want to leave anyone hanging. Thank you for your prayers and well wishes. I think I'll go collapse now. It might be some time before we're recovered.