Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Android War Rages On....


Your new gadget brings even more joy today. If you haven't given in, now is the time to buy that techno-toy and join the 21st century. You can get ahead of the curve if you keep going at this rate! 

Above is my horoscope for yesterday. 

So...my new toy is going to bring me even more joy, is it? Right. It's brought me so much joy already--and I say that with unrestrained sarcasm. Sunday night, it went dead on me. I was having what I'm convinced was a panic attack when Collin came home and corrected the problem, whatever it was. (I still don't know what went wrong, but it's fine now.)

The 16GB mobile memory cards Collin ordered arrived, so I now have all of my e-books and audiobooks on the phone. I have my music. I can work on my blogs and manuscripts. I can read from one of a dozen different Bibles. I can get movie times. I can find out where I am (believe me, I'm not always sure). I can check Facebook and Twitter--how does anyone survive a day without that? (Again, sarcasm.)

But I still can't make a phone call on the damned thing.

I'm really not kidding. Anyone who owns an Android knows it's not a simple matter of just keying in numbers. No...I have to click on Contacts and then something else to get the keypad, and that's where I always get lost. I wanted to go back to using my old phone as a phone and the Android for everything else, but Collin talked me out of that. He can't understand why I'd even consider such a thing.

He doesn't forget how to do it.

I can receive calls...but then I usually end up pressing the touchpad and going God-only-knows-where.  The solution to this problem, fortunately, is simple: a headset. That's what Collin and I did yesterday. We went shopping for a headset. I have two already, but as luck and smartphone manufacturers would have it, neither of them will work on R2D2 (it could have been worse--I could have named it C3P0--then it would be an even bigger pain in the A). Collin wanted to buy a Bluetooth.

A Bluetooth? No, no, no, no! Maybe later, once I can actually use the phone--but for now, a simple headset will do nicely. The one I finally chose hooks over my ears, which is great because the bud-type earphones always fall out. And they hurt--my ear canals are very small, it seems. 

I may not be able to make a call yet, but I can hear the music and audiobooks with amazing clarity.

And then there's the matter of funny ringtones. Collin set a Family Guy ringtone for severe weather alerts on his phone--one of the characters yelling "Holy crap!" Mine is the Minions from Despicable Me in full panic mode, yelling and screaming. It's cute, but you never know when severe weather is going to strike in this area, so here we were in QuikTrip when the Winter Weather Warning came in. Other customers heard panicked screams coming from my backpack, while something in Collin's coat pocket was shouting, "Holy crap!"

It could have been worse. Has anyone ever checked out the full range of available ringtones? They run from cute to downright vulgar....

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How Will I Say Goodbye?

Meet Sam. He's been my companion for the past twenty-one years. Sam is a grey cheek parakeet, though he looks like a tiny parrot. Up until very recently, he was a healthy, plump little bird, feisty and extremely vocal. Spoiled rotten is the phrase most often used to describe him. But as I've already stated, Sam is twenty-one years old. For his subspecies, that's very old. The average lifespan of a grey cheek is fifteen years. Up to fifteen years. In bird years, Sam is a real geezer. He should be on Willard Scott's birthday list.

The years have slowly begun to catch up with my little buddy. Arthritis has made it difficult for him to use his feet. When he climbs, which he still insists upon doing at times, he relies mostly on his hookbill. He used to dunk his donuts (actually, they're Honey Nut Cheerios), holding one in his claw to dunk and eat. He can no longer do that, unable to balance on just one foot. Today, he's started sitting on the perch on his food dish for long periods of time. He sleeps off and on with his head in the seed. If that weren't so sad, it would be funny.

At his advanced age, all we can do for him is make him as comfortable as possible.

I will never forget the first time I saw him. I went to the pet shop to buy a parrot for my dad. He'd seen a large Amazon there and had talked about how he'd like to have it--but Dad was not one to plunk down a few hundred dollars for a bird, no matter how much he liked it. So I was going to surprise him. It would be an early Father's Day gift.

When Mom and I got to the pet shop, we discovered the bird Dad wanted had already been sold. We were disappointed, but we didn't go home empty-handed. There were two grey cheeks in one of the cages--they caught my eye because the grey cheek is very similar to the canary-winged parakeet--or Bee Bee Parrot, as they're commonly known. As a teen, I'd had a Bee Bee I dearly loved, also named Sam.

One of the two birds immediately came forward as I approached, bold, curious, acting almost as if he knew me. He could whistle--wolf whistle, that is. I assume he picked that up from guys hanging around the store. He was still a baby, barely six months old. And I was hooked. I told the salesperson I wanted to buy him. As she reached into the cage to get him, he dodged her and flew...straight to the checkout. I guess he was in a hurry to go home.

It was, as they say, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

At first, he was my baby. No one else could even touch him. But as he grew older, he also became attached to Collin. Some days, when his health issues are weighing heavily on him, when he doesn't make a sound otherwise, he'll chatter his head off when Collin comes home.

He still wants to eat when we eat. When we sit down to dinner, no matter how badly he's feeling, he'll go to his dish and start chowing down. He still likes to watch Paulie on DVD. And he still likes to take a nap, nestled on my shoulder while I work on the computer. Still, I know his time with us grows short. And I wonder how I'm ever going to say goodbye to someone who's been such an important part of my life for so long.

My once plump little bird is now just a handful of feathers...or that's how he feels, anyway.

Death bites. I've had to bury too many loved ones, human and otherwise. As a Christian, I know there's a life after this one, and I hope to see all of them there...but it's still so hard to say goodbye, even for a little while.

For more information on Grey Cheeks, check out the Avian Web

Monday, January 17, 2011

Can The Terminator Be Far Behind?

Allow me to introduce my newest love/hate relationship: R2D2, also known as my new Android phone, a late Christmas gift from Collin. He got his Android a few months ago. I wasn't interested at first--too complicated. But the more I saw of his, of what he could do with it, I began to think Android was definitely for me. What can it do? There's not much it can't do!

It has the capacity to write and edit manuscripts via Think Free Office. I have access to six e-mail accounts. I have Skype Mobile. There's a camera and a media player. One app gives movie times. Another connects to the Weather Channel--weather warnings can be received on the go (after all, if there's a tornado coming, I'd like to know about it before I can see it). Amazon provides a free Kindle app, as does Barnes & Noble for Nook--e-books to go! Audible also has a free app, and I love digital audiobooks. I have a Bible app that gives me access to a collection of Bibles at my fingertips--literally.

The best part, however, is that I can store and work on my manuscripts on the phone. It has a full QWERTY keyboard, but it also has voice-to-text capability. I can dictate my manuscripts and the phone will type them for me!

But since I am one of the most technologically-challenged people in the world, I knew it would take me a while to learn to use it. I'd played with Collin's phone a bit, but I was still hoping he would be home for at least a day when I got it. I didn't want to be alone with it. Not yet.

He spent four hours setting it up Saturday evening, adding all of the desired apps, ringtones, etc. I love personalized ringtones for my contacts. For William, that ultimate alpha wolf, the sound of howling wolves. For another friend whose last name is Crowe...crows, of course. For Collin, a lifelong pro wrestling fan, what else? John Cena's entrance theme! For fellow church members, Carrie Underwood's Jesus Take the Wheel. For my writers group, Natasha Bedingfield's Unwritten. For my alarm, a crowing roosterAnd the list goes on.

He showed me the basics...and then he left me alone with it. The last time I felt so apprehensive, Collin was a newborn baby and we had just come home from the hospital. I was thinking, I'm not ready for this!

I really wasn't. That wasn't just panic talking. I couldn't figure out how to compose an e-mail. I could answer an existing message, but not create a new one.(Collin later explained that this was what the Menu icon was for.)  I was clumsy in using the slide-out keyboard--almost dropped the phone half a dozen times in one day. (Good thing I opted for phone insurance.) But my lowest point came when I had to call the couple with whom I usually go to church.

I didn't know how to make a call on my new phone!

Seriously. It took me at least fifteen minutes to figure out how to use a phone to make a phone call. I was about to go for my simple little flip phone, my trusty backup phone, when I finally discovered a way to make that call. My phone and I made it through that first twenty-four hours, but it was touch and go. I just have to remember one simple rule: if I get stuck, I go for that back-up key!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Let Me Count the Ways....

The other day, very early in the morning, I found myself watching a movie on Encore--Valley of the Dolls, based on the '60s bestseller by Jacqueline Susann. No one could ever call Susann a romance novelist with a straight face, but she certainly did write about about relationships. Her characters' relationships were closer to reality than the classic romance formula, in which the heroine hates the hero for most of the book, then falls madly in love with him at the end. In Valley, Anne Welles falls for marriage-shy Lyon Burke from the start, and they have an on-again-off-again affair throughout the book. At the end, however, she does not rush into Lyon's arms. He realizes he's been an ass and seeks her out, finding her at her family home in New England. When he tells her he loves her, she responds by telling him that there was a time that was all she wanted to hear. But Anne has come to realize that this past history is an indicator that a marriage between them would never work.

She sends him packing, and he deserves it. It took him too long to make up his mind about her, about them.

Early in my career, I fiercely resisted the "romance writer" label (except for my Silhouette romances, and even they weren't formulaic). I didn't have a problem writing about love, about relationships--in fact, I don't believe any novel can work without it. My problem was in the type of romances I was expected to write. In Dance of the Gods, for example, I had to delete a reference to Meredith padding barefoot across the room. She couldn't like Barry Manilow. She had to be a feminist. I've already mentioned in other posts all the projects that were rejected because they weren't "glamorous."

Love isn't about expensive jewels, five-star restaurants or jetting to exotic locales. That's just grandstanding. It's not Scarlett and Rhett (though it could be Scarlett and James--but then, that's a personal bias).

I've loved writing the love stories of Connor and Lynne in Chasing the Wind, who found each other against all odds and endured a supernatural war; Alex and Robyn in An Army of Angels, her insistence that they belonged together overcoming his doubts--theirs was a love that transcended death itself; Jamie and Kate in Final Hours, willing to die together rather than be apart; and Gabriel and Chloe in Same Time, Tomorrow, meeting on the internet and discovering they're soul mates....

My favorite romances are mostly from movies: Jack and Joan in Romancing the Stone, Harry and Sally in When Harry Met Sally, Edward  and Vivian in Pretty Woman, Indy and Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ian and Samantha in If Only, Noah and Allie in The Notebook.

Who are your favorite lovers in books or film? I'd love to know!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Astrological Chaos!


Astrology buffs should be using these dates, reflecting where the stars currently are aligned: Capricorn: Jan. 20-Feb. 16. Aquarius: Feb. 16-March 11. Pisces: March 11-April 18. Aries:April 18-May 13. Taurus: May 13-June 21. Gemini: June 21-July 20. Cancer:July 20-Aug. 10. Leo: Aug. 10-Sept. 16.Virgo: Sept. 16-Oct. 30. Libra: Oct. 30-Nov. 23. Scorpio: Nov. 23-29.Ophiuchus:* Nov. 29-Dec. 17.Sagittarius: Dec. 17-Jan. 20.
* Discarded by the Babylonians because they wanted 12 signs per year.

Is this some kind of bad joke? I'm not a Leo after all. Forget it.  I like being a Lioness. I don't want to be a crab. (Shut up, Collin.)
I've been told on many occasions by many people that I am a classic Leo. I have most of the traits associated with Lions. Being a Lioness is very cool. Being a crab...not so cool.  They get eaten. With cocktail sauce. Lions are not eaten. They're the ones doing the eating. (Shut up, Scarlett and James!)
Who, may I ask, are the geniuses who decided the ancient Babylonians got it wrong, that we have thirteen signs, not twelve? Are they the same experts who decided Pluto is not a planet?
And what kind of chaos is this going to cause for all those guys asking women in bars for their signs? Have they been picking up the wrong women?
All these years...we've been checking our horoscopes and astrological charts to guide us through each day. We're lucky we survived! We were looking at the wrong signs!

That's putting it mildly!
I used to have a bracelet that looked exactly like this....

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Writing and Prostitution?

Writing is like prostitution
First, you do it for love
Then you do it for a few friends
And finally you do it for money.

I wish I could remember who said that. I used to have it on a poster, hanging in the home office I rarely used. There is some truth in what appears at first glance to be a humorous statement.The selling of the author is, in a sense, very much like prostitution.

A fellow writer recently asked me how to promote his novel. I was giving some thought to this when I agreed to do a blog interview--in which that same topic came up. I have to admit that I came to self-publishing with no idea of what to do at first. I was accustomed to having the publisher's publicity department do that for me. Advance bound galleys were sent out for review. Slick sales brochures were handed out to buyers from the bookstore chains. Press releases were issued. In some cases there were book giveaways. Interviews were arranged for me.

The smart writer also did things independently. For example, some authors go into the warehouses in their hometowns and spend a day applying Local Author stickers to their books. (I never did, because as a reader, whether or not an author was from my neighborhood had zero impact on whether or not I would buy their book.)  And if they're really smart, they get a bunch of writer friends to help, with the offer of reciprocation.

The late Jacqueline Susann was one of the best promoters I've ever seen. She would go to the warehouses and spend time with the truck drivers who took her books out to the stores. She'd go armed with coffee and donuts and she'd win them over. They'd go out and give her books the best possible placement because they liked her. No star attitude--she was one of the guys. They wanted her to succeed.

One of my fellow local authors decided to try Susann's method. She got a small group of us together and we spent the morning stickering her just-delivered books at the ARA warehouse. Then, during a break, she told the group at large that she wanted to go out and talk to the truck drivers. Eileen spoke up: "Better send Norma in a blond wig. You use too many big words."

I looked at Karyn. "You do realize she just took both of us out with the same bullet."

Eileen was teasing Karyn a bit. Karyn was a very talented writer, but she was sometimes too intelligent for her own good. Billy Graham has always said he wrote his sermons on a fourth-grade level to reach the largest audience possible.  Karyn was one of those writers whose books sometimes needed to be read accompanied by a dictionary.

In selling one's books, the author is also selling oneself. Making a good impression on distributors, bookstore staff, reporters and ultimately, readers, has always been essential to making sales. Some things have changed over the years. Others have not. These days, an author can be interviewed by a dozen reporters in a dozen different locations, speak at half a dozen book clubs and never leave his house, thanks to the internet. High visibility can be maintained via social networking, blogging and online writers and readers' groups. Publicity and promotion that once meant spending a large amount of money can now be achieved for little or no expense.

These days, we can publish our own books in a fraction of the time conventional publishers would take. If we find it's not working, we can rewrite it and put it back on the market. We can change the title and the cover. We can take it off the market completely in the press of a button if we so choose. We can keep a much larger chunk of the profits than we could with a conventional publisher.

There has never been a better time to be a writer....

PS Please...stop by Maria McKenzie's blog, Reading, Writing, Romance and catch her interview with moi! And while you're at it, check out The Life of a Novice Writer.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ooops...I Did It Again!

Last night, Collin wanted Ramen noodles as a snack. I don't know how he can eat them. I can't even stand to smell them. But this is what he wanted, so while he plugged away on his computer, trying to work the bugs out of my upcoming e-book, I broke my own record for mouth breathing and prepared his noodles. I put them in a bowl, got a fork from the drawer...and went back into the living room.

Fifteen minutes later, Collin went into our galley-style kitchen (no table, chairs...in other words, no place to eat) in search of his noodles.

I'd gotten them ready for him. Just forgot to put them on the dining room table.

As I write this, he's getting dressed to go to work...or he will, once I get the laundry out of the dryer. It's been there since yesterday. He's probably turning his room upside down in search of his uniform....

Poor Collin. He's so patient. After waiting months for me to give him an e-mail address for the head planner for our public transit system (he has an idea to streamline service on one route), he finally dug it up on his own.

Sam is also unhappy. I washed and filled his food and water dishes...and left them in the kitchen.

My doctors tell me I do not have Alzheimers, thank God. I am not suffering from memory issues or any form of dementia. I am, they tell me, simply distracted. Now, seriously, how distracted can one get? I don't have that much on my mind...yet I somehow managed to get our birth certificates from the safe deposit box so we could get updated ID and passports, and lose them before those documents were obtained!

When we were about to move to our current residence, I had seen it before the remodeling was completed. I brought Collin back later to see it. I didn't have the key, but he could peek through the windows. He did...and let out a shreik.

"There's somebody living in there!"

We were on the wrong street.

I lost Christmas gifts I bought for Carolyn and Kathie two years ago. I have packages waiting to be shipped off to William and April. The Tylenol April left here on her last visit will probably be far past its expiration date by the time she gets it. 

Ohhhh...Collin's left for work. I forgot to give him his water bottle. I think I remembered to fill it...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Blowing My Own Horn


For those of you who don't already know,  I recently set up four new blogs, strictly for the purpose of promoting my two current novels and the two upcoming books....

The Unicorn's Daughter is a reissue in e-book format of my 1990 thriller, A Time for Legends. Photojournalist Jaime Lynde discovers that her father, long believed to be dead, is a CIA operative and very much alive. Her search for the truth takes her into the Middle East and to the center of a military strike...and puts her life and her father's cover at risk.....

                                                    Chasing the Wind

Chasing the Wind is the first of a series of supernatural romances involving cloning, genetic engineering and prophecy. When Connor Mackenzie joins archaeologist Lynne Raven's dig in the Sinai, neither is prepared for what they discover there...or how high the price they'll have to pay for falling in love....

                                                        Final Hours

In Final Hours, Jamie Randall must decide how he will spend the planet's last hours when an asteroid collision is imminent.. Will he grab his one chance to survive...or will he choose to die with the woman he loves?

                                                       An Army of Angels

An Army of Angels is the second book in the series that began with Chasing the Wind. Coming this summer, it's the story of Alex Stewart, a gifted artist whose work reflects his terrifying nightmares. Alex has a secret that could destroy his marriage to fiery Robyn Cantwell...a secret that's made both of them targets of a powerful cartel that allegedly has a supernatural connection....

I do hope you'll check them out. All of them!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Know When to Fold 'Em....

Recently, a friend and fellow author made a comment I found disturbing: "I always get what I want." She made it clear she had no problem with getting in publishers' faces to make her goals attainable. I found it disturbing because her statements made me think of another writer I know quite well: me. 

My friend's determination can be a blessing or it can be a curse. It can take her just about anywhere she wants to go...or it can make her desperately unhappy. I've experienced both. 

When I began my career, I felt like Leonardo diCaprio on the bow of the pre-iceberg Titanic. I was the queen of the world: three books under contract with advances totaling six figures, promises of a prominent position on the publisher's list, advertising, publicity, the works. I had, in my estimation, the best agent and editor in the business. When I went to New York, I got the star treatment. I should have been the happiest person in the world. So why wasn't I?

I'd made an unsettling discovery. How they saw me as an author and how I saw myself were not in sync and never would be. I was viewed as the next Danielle Steel. What did that mean for my future, I wondered--writing sappy romances and having multiple marriages? 

I rebelled. This was not me. I'm a middle-class Midwestern girl who doesn't know Donna Karan from Kmart. Jeans and T-shirts. I make it a rule to never wear jewelry someone would be willing to kill me for. There's a photograph of me out there in a fur coat, for crying out loud! I'm an animal rights activist! I consider Town and Country the most boring publication ever printed.

I grew increasingly unhappy, taking offense at just about everything. It didn't take much to trigger an emotional outburst from me. Fellow authors advised me to "take the money and run," but I'm not made that way. I'm not one to settle for less than what I really want. I don't give up easily, but once I realize it's not working and not going to change, I'll walk away. As Kenny Rogers sang, "Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." I should have paid special attention to the line that followed those well-known lyrics: Know when to walk away. Know when to run.

I should have cut and run.

When Maria (my agent) rejected a project I dearly loved because it "wasn't glamorous," I knew it was time to leave the game, but I couldn't quite give up. I wish I had, because my unhappiness with the direction my career was taking, compounded by a personal crisis, soon put me in self-destruct mode. You know that saying about burning bridges? I blew mine up on my way out.

Oh, there were many people in the business who were still willing to work with me--we had a total of four agents representing Chasing the Wind--but I was still dissatisfied. That was when I realized the only option for me was self-publishing. Pride got in the way at first, but once I took the plunge, I found a happiness and contentment I could never have known in New York.

So yes, when I heard my friend say "I always get what I want," I was concerned. The reality, in publishing and in life, is that no one always gets what they want.

Definitely not in publishing.... 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The New Year's Eve Miracle

When Collin left for work this morning, I told him I hoped we didn't both end up regretting it. A tornado watch had been issued early. Though tornadoes here are rare in the winter months, they tend to be much more violent than their summer counterparts when they do occur.

That was the case Friday.

Only days ago, we had snow on the ground. The roads were icy. Friday, the thermometer climbed to almost seventy degrees. And the storms arrived.... 

It was late morning when the first signs of trouble came. Collin and I had gone out for breakfast. He'd headed off to work afterward and I stopped at Walgreens before going home. I was three blocks from home when the warning sirens started to wail. Sam was home alone and terrified of storms, so I ran. As soon as I got in the door, I turned the TV on. A tornado had been spotted at Pacific...Eureka.... It was headed toward Fenton. So was Collin. 

Local news crews were on the move. Meteorologists remained on the air all day. A possible tornado had been spotted at Fenton just after Collin would have arrived there. I managed to get him on his cell. He was all right. He'd been at Kohl's--customers had been herded to the back wall, the safest part of the store.

There was damage to the church just across the highway, as well as some nearby homes. But Sunset Hills, just a few miles to the northeast, took the brunt of it. Two dozen homes and a strip mall got the most damage. Vehicles were overturned, windows broken. At O'Leary's, a restaurant co-owned by actor John Goodman, diners took refuge in the coolers and bathrooms. At nearby Massage Envy, a woman who'd been on the table when the storm hit admitted all she could think of was, "They're going to find me in a tree naked."

Displaced residents are now staying at local hotels. Restaurants in the area provided meals for them and the first responders. When 2011 arrived at midnight, no one was watching the ball drop. Sunset Hills was still without electricity. A section of Lindbergh Boulevard was closed until this morning.

The National Weather Service determined that the tornado was an EF3 with sustained winds of 165mph. That no one was killed or even seriously injured indeed qualifies it as a New Year's Eve miracle....