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Thursday, March 28, 2013

No Spring Chicken

It's my birthday. My day to par-tay!


After a little work in the back-40, I'll take the evening off and go to a decadent seafood restaurant with the handsome and gallant Greg as my escort. I'll dine on frog legs and lobster salad--my favorites.

I stay frugal all year long. This is the only day where I whoop it up and do what I want to do (without feeling guilty).

What's your favorite birthday food?

Monday, March 25, 2013

What's Your Clickabillity?

This business with Google Reader got me thinking about which blogs I read faithfully, and where I choose to leave comments. I discovered certain posts have a native clickability quotient.

It starts with an interesting title for the post. This is followed by a great (right) hook in the opening paragraph. Pun intended! 

A good blog post is a lot like writing a novel. If it meanders, is riddled with typos, or just plain dull, you probably won't get much action on it. 

Everyone has his own taste on what makes an interesting post. My two favorite types of posts are anecdotal and informational, but only if they're short and to the point.

There are a few well known and much loved bloggers out there who beat a dead horse and all its relatives when they write informational posts. I almost never read them. I know someone, somewhere will tweet or repeat the key points without me have to muddle through all the verbiage.

Here at Casa Maria, I follow a few simple rules.

• No excerpts. I dunno. Excerpts always feel like verbal masturbation. But maybe it's just me. 

• No whining...unless I can be funny about it.

• Tell tiny stories inside my posts.

• Share a little about me. Not a lot. I don't want anybody stabbing their eyes out.

• Check for typos. This might be a personal blog, but I take pride in my words. My name's connected to them.

• Check my sources. I try to be very careful with my facts when I write a how-to post. (Those posts are usually on the Back to Basics blog, but occasionally I do them here too.)

And my #1 rule:

• Talk to people instead of at them. I almost always end my posts with a question. This is really important for me because the whole point of this blog is to grow relationships with readers. You can only do that if you encourage reciprocation.

So what about you? Are there blogs you read where you never comment? How come?

Thursday, March 21, 2013


I've been sick most of this week so I've stayed offline a lot. But I'm on the mend so hopefully I'll be back to my old self soon. I hate getting sick when the weather is nice--especially this time of year when the garden calls to me. (with apologies to those in the northern latitudes)

Goats: I went to see a man about some goats. If he still has them by next week I might just buy a couple. We are very excited. The man lives close by so I hope I can count on him to talk me through some things like hoof care and goat maladies.

Nothing to chew on. Curses, foiled again!
Puppy Report: Nana is growing in leaps and puppy-bounds. She got sick after her rabies shot and I was pretty worried, but she recovered the next day. We still have not given her roam of the property. When she gets her last booster for parvo and distemper then we'll introduce her to the bigger world outside the doggie run. (2 more weeks) 

I know some people might think I'm being overprotective, but after losing two puppies to those insidious diseases, no way am I taking any chances.

She looks a little sad in this picture because I put her on my desk and there was nothing for her to chew on. Ha! 

I can't complain. She is nowhere near as destructive as Iko, The Terminator

It must be Karma because Nana's favorite chew toy is...Iko.


Book Cover Diva is doing well. I'm really pleased with the jobs I've been getting. So far I've done covers for romance, historical, a cozy mystery, and paranormal. I've got a couple of horror covers coming up soon too. I love doing different kinds of covers! I just wish someone would contact me for a steampunk cover. I've had a few ideas rolling around that I'd like to try.

I wish I could update my gallery, but I have to wait until the authors release their books. I don't want to spoil their reveals.


Around the net:  
Angela Brown has a new novella out. Frailties of the Bond. Only 99 cents, guys!
In Frailties of the Bond, it only takes one bite to change a life…

And my Canadian sister from another mother, Renee Miller is debuting with her novel: (in paper) In The Bones and in Kindle.
Welcome to Albertsville: Population 397…and falling.


What's on the itinerary this weekend? Is your weather improving? You know if you want to vacation in Texas, I'm sure I can find a hoe that will fit your hands. :grin:

Monday, March 18, 2013

9 Google Reader Alternatives

Google Reader is going bye-bye. I almost thought it was a hoax when I first heard the news. To say that I rely on Google Reader is an understatement. With over a thousand blogs on my reader, it's a necessity.

Fortunately, Google is giving us until July to find a replacement.

Here are some alternatives for you to consider.

Feedly is a popular reader and is free. It can be loaded as an app or an extension to your browser.

Flipboard is an app for your tablets and phones. Free for iPad, iPhone, Android, Nook, and Kindle Fire.

Feed Demon is an RSS reader for Windows. It allows you to tag, use keywords, and alerts you to the keywords you've programmed into it.

RSS Owl is another reader that can be synchronized from Google Reader. To me, it looks too much like Outlook. I already get some blog feeds through Outlook so I'm not sure this is the one for me.

Feed Booster is a web-based feed reader. Unlike the others listed here, it could've done a better job presenting what it offered. Probably not for me.

NetVibes looks interesting. It seems to have an awful lot of options and is customizable. It's going on my list.

Pulse, another web-based reader. This looks easy to learn, so it's on my list to try.

The Old Reader is a bare-bones RSS feed that is supposed to be very much like the Google Reader we know and love. I will definitely try this out if only so I don't have to learn something new.

Subscribe by Email: Probably the most fool-proof of all the readers. You sign up and the post comes directly to your email. If you want to subscribe to my blog, the subscription tab is directly to your right.

No matter which route you decide to take, be sure to download all your Google data with Google Takeout. It archives all your information in one neat little package.

So, how do you read blogs? Do you click on them one at a time from your bookmarks, subscribe by email, or do you use a Reader?  Will losing Google Reader affect you?

I am very upset at losing Google Reader. It's possible my blog reading will diminish if I don't find a suitable (and easy-to-learn) alternative.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Agony and Ecstasy of Book Reviews

Authors, you're in for a treat today. Giacomo (Jim) Giammatteo is like the Pied Piper of reviews. What impressed me is that he makes it looks so effortless and transparent. He uses no hidden agendas or ploys. But as you read his post below, you'll come to understand just how seriously he takes his responsibility for keeping his books visible.
It's not just asking for reviews, but taking every opportunity to secure new readers and fans. That's a talent surrounded by hard work and dedication.
You can't argue with his stats, so I am pleased to introduce my friend and peer. 
Take it away, Jim!
 The Agony and Ecstasy of Book Reviews
 It is damn near impossible to get noticed when you're a new author. Think about this—there are more than 2,500,000 books listed on Amazon.

“Showing 1 - 48 of 1,981,178 Results”

The above was taken from Amazon’s Kindle store list of books. And yes, that is almost two million books on the Kindle store alone.

The city of San Francisco has @ 800,000 people! (City limits) The picture above is from a protest and it was estimated to be about half a million people. In Amazon’s Mystery genre there are @ 300,000 books. So how the hell is an author going to get noticed in a crowd like that?

I decided that working hard to get reviews would be the key to getting noticed. I figured if I got enough reviews, readers were bound to take notice. Little did I know how difficult getting reviews would be.

The Process of Getting Reviews

           Your Book—In the back of your book put a statement about how important reviews are, and ask the readers to please leave a review. Don’t ask for a “good” review, just an honest one.

           Bloggers—This bit of advice is perhaps the most important. Do your research. Find the bloggers who read and review in your genre. Follow their instructions and guidelines. Most of them have their policies posted on the site. Read them. Did I mention—Read the Review Policies?

           Giveaways—This is huge. I have done three giveaways on Goodreads and two on LibraryThing. I gave away 16 print books on Goodreads and more than 60 ebooks on LibraryThing. What was huge about it wasn’t the number of reviews the giveaways generated—which wasn’t nearly what I anticipated—but the additional exposure, especially on Goodreads. During the most recent giveaway I had more than 100 people add my book to their TBR shelf, and more than 900 entered the giveaway. That generated a lot of exposure, which will pay off in the long run.

           Giveaways—I know I just said this, but now I’m talking a different kind of giveaway. These are personal giveaways and this can payoff in a big way. Talk about your book. Don’t be a pest but, if you see an opportunity, talk about it, and give the book away to anyone you think might enjoy reading it.

           Giveaways—What? More giveaways? Yes. Absolutely. Now I’m talking social-media giveaways. If you get in a conversation on Twitter—give your book away. If you’re talking to someone on Facebook or Linked-in—give the book away. G+, Pinterest—give them away. Any chance you get, give a book away. And don’t forget to politely ask for a review. The keyword in this section is conversation. I’m not talking about spamming your book all over Twitter, or mentioning it in every Facebook post. I’m talking about actually engaging people and getting into a conversation with them. As a side note, I seldom mention my books in social media—unless I’m doing a promotion of some kind.

           Bribery—Perhaps the biggest opportunity of all. If a reader writes to you to tell you how much they liked the book, don’t pester them for a review, but offer them your next book free if they leave a review. You’ll get a high percentage of people take you up on this, and the best thing is you can keep the chain moving. If they leave a review on the next book, give them the one after that free. But make sure to say, “It doesn’t have to be a five-star review. All reviews help.” Otherwise, they might feel pressured to write a five-star review, and if they aren’t comfortable with that, they simply won’t write one.

The Bottom Line

This is not an easy road. I spend more than three hours every week. Yes, every week, doing something related to getting reviews, but in the long run I know it will be worth it.

What I Don’t Do

              I don't trade reviews with other authors. I'll read another author if I like the kind of book they write, and, if I’m inspired, I’ll write a review. 

              I won't buy reviews. I bought a Kirkus, and a few other "editorial" reviews for Murder Takes Time last year, but I wouldn't do it again. 

Ciao, and thanks for listening,


Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of MURDER TAKES TIME, MURDER HAS CONSEQUENCES, and A BULLET FOR CARLOS. He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.” 


I know I have a lot of crime readers out there. If you haven't tried one of Jim's books, please do. You won't be disappointed!

Let's discuss. How do you normally ask for reviews? Is there anything that hasn't worked for you?


Monday, March 11, 2013

Mini-Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

If you loved Oz the Great and Powerful, you'll probably be calling me names and spitting on my shoes after you read this review. 

In a word: Meh.

It had none of the charm of the Wizard of Oz. And it gave only timid nods to its predecessor. 

But the kids in the audience seemed to like it so maybe it was more for their demographic. Still, considering it was Disney, I expected better graphics and CGI.

The CGI was flat and they seemed to overcompensate with color rather than depth. The acting was so-so. But Mila Kunis (Theodora) was the wrong actress for this. All I could hear was her character from That 70s Show. 

Poor Rachel Weiss wasn't given any meat in her role so she was wasted. James Franco (Oz) was acceptable in the title role but I couldn't help thinking this was better suited to someone else. He tried, but he lacked the charisma of Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr, or even Adrian Brody.

Perhaps the best characters in the movie were the China Girl and Finley (a flying monkey). At least my interest returned whenever they were on screen. The rest of the time I felt on the verge of nodding off.

Speaking of flying monkeys, this time the bad guys were flying baboons. Considering how much the flying monkeys of the original gave me nightmares, the baboons barely rated a cringe. I don't expect any nightmares from these imaginings.

The base story was sound and that should've been enough to make me care about what happened next. Instead, I was chomping at the bit for the movie to hurry up and finish.

The Wizard of Oz is a family favorite here. But this 'prequel' offers none of the charm or originality of its granddaddy. I hate to be so harsh, but I had so looked forward to this movie--and it disappointed me.

If you have little kids, they'll probably enjoy it. But if you're looking for some of the depth and emotion of the original, rent The Wizard of Oz instead. They don't make them like they used to.

Have you seen this movie? Did you like it? 

I wanted to see Hansel and Gretel but it's already left our area so we'll have to wait for the dvd. If anyone has seen that one, I'd love to know what you thought of it.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

How to Get Your Book Reviewed

There's no big secret to getting reviews. It does, however, require a great deal of work and research.


Recently, I got an email from BTS eMag, telling me I received not one, but two reviews. One each for True Believers and Mistress of the Stone. Not only that, but they also featured an excerpt from Mistress of the Stone.

BTS eMag (The BTS stands for Book and Trailer Showcase) is a very slick and professional magazine that covers a wide gamut of romance titles and is run by the delightful Myra Nour

Is this not a terrific looking magazine!

I never approached Myra. I was invited to submit an excerpt and received the two (glowing) reviews all due to another reviewer who loved my work so much she recommended me for the magazine.

Getting featured on BTS and receiving two reviews was a glorious stroke of luck, but there are ways to improve your chances.

If you wrote a good book, do your homework and ask for reviews from reviewers who not only read your genre, but who are well-respected in their circles. How do you find this out?

This is where the hard work and effort comes in. You can't hide all year and then venture out only when you want something from someone. No business works that way.

The reviewer who recommended my books (now retired) was very active in the reading community. I knew this and kept my ear to the ground. When she blogged about a topic I was interested in, I commented. If she asked for book donations to give away as prizes, I gave more than what was expected. 

In other words, I interacted, participated, and showed interest in her work.

You can't do this with every person you meet, but if you pick a few respected book bloggers and develop a rapport, you'll find people who will gladly help spread the word about your work.

A few tips:

• Stay active in the reading community. You don't have to comment on every post, but be aware of what's being discussed so you'll remain informed.

• Don't complain. The internet remembers the whiners (in vivid detail).

• Don't ask for something without giving back to the community. Reviewers don't owe you anything. But they will remember the people who contributed to their bloghops and contests.

• Mingle widely. Many authors stay cocooned inside a tight little community because it's safe. It also insulates them from the real world. 

Is it time-consuming? You betcha. But if you believe all a writer should do is write, then you've been watching too many Hollywood movies. 

In the real world, the most important task is getting to know as many people as possible. The more people you know, the better your chances of getting your work recognized. 

A book becomes popular not because how good it is, but by how many people know it exists.  Click to reTweet this quote.

Reviews are one way of doing that.

Next week, I'm hosting an author who does that very thing extremely well. If you don't already know him, I'm going to introduce you to Giacomo Giammatteo.

You are going to love what he has to say. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Paws with a Cause: Tank's Story

I'm posting early today to tell you about a special guest post over at book reviewer, Jackie Burris's blog. I met Jackie several years ago on Goodreads when I noticed her profile picture of a precious chihuahua. I immediately sent a 'friend request' because honestly, you just can't say no to a cute chihuahua. We've remained friends since and even met once when we were both in the same town for a visit.

So when Jackie put a call out for pet stories, I knew I had a million of them. Rather than recount Tank's rescue story, I told what happened after he had settled in and how he became the most revered member of our family. Story here. Bring a tissue. I think you'll need it.

Tank almost didn't get adopted by us. I was still grieving for Isis, who had been gone a couple of years, and I felt I wasn't ready to add to the family. But Greg had been scanning the rescue sites regularly and had chosen Brutus. He was a big older rottweiler. Since we'd had experience with big dogs, he felt we could offer the best home. 

The rescue site agreed...but then came a strange heavenly intervention. Somehow, a mistake was made on Brutus's application papers and he had already been adopted by someone else. 

Greg was devastated because he'd had his heart set on getting Brutus. The lady at the rescue site apologized profusely and offered another dog, a long, lanky boy called Tank. But she had to warn us. Tank was an escape artist. They would have to examine our fence to make sure he couldn't get out.

We agreed and the lady brought him out to us. When he got out of the van, the whole vehicle lifted up. LOL! The first thing out of Greg's mouth was: "Oh, I see you've brought your horse."

Tank was young and hadn't yet filled out to his adult weight, but he was BIG. Greg fell in love immediately, but I was reluctant until Chelly, my best buddy, sniffed him and wagged her tail. She liked him--a lot. And that was good enough for me.

He settled in beautifully. He and I had only one altercation when he scarfed down a pan of freshly cooked liver off the stove. I'd never had a dog so tall he could counter-surf. But once corrected, Tank never makes the same mistake twice.

In the beginning he was Greg's dog, but then came the night that changed things between me and Tank forever. This is that story. I hope you'll stop by and share your experiences.

Note: That escape artist tag was a misnomer. Tank didn't actually climb the six foot fence to escape. He had noticed a big comfy couch in the breezeway on his way to the dog run. He felt that was a much cozier bed than concrete. 


Paws with a Cause is a site I've donated to regularly. Jackie will have more information on her blog on how you can too. With so many pets abandoned or mistreated, it's definitely a worthy cause.

Can you see the passage of time on your pets?

Young Tank

Tank 2012