April 17, 2014

Thrifty Thursday tip

After this past winter of record low temperatures, you might be looking for ways to reduce your electric bill.  Here's a suggestion:  Many electronics in use these days still draw power even when not in use (you can tell by looking for red lights on televisions, DVD players, shredders, cable boxes, some vertical fans, cordless phones, stereos, etc.).  If any of these are in a hub, consider plugging them into a power strip and turning the power off when not in use.  This might not work for cable boxes if you have the type that has to re-boot whenever you turn off the power, but if you have a television, DVD, and cordless phone in the same outlet or outlets just a few feet apart, this will cut your electricity usage and subsequently, your bill.  
April 8, 2014

Re-discovering the joy

I started this year by being exhausted. I’d finally finished Secrets and Sins, and I published it on January 3rd. As I always do, I took a little time off from daily writing to let readers, both established with me and potential new folks, know about the book and its free prequel, Sinner Man. Sales were strong, which was most welcome after a sluggish November and an even worse December. I even got into the Top 100 Amazon list of women’s fiction/saga novels—not merely multicultural women’s fiction, but general women’s fiction/saga, with writing heavyweights like Danielle Steel, Debbie Macomber, and Barbara Taylor Bradford. I turned my attention to working on my next release, Love Will Grow, to complete my Love Will series.

Then something strange happened.

I found that writing was starting to feel like a chore. I knew the strong sales of Secrets and Sins would only last for so long, for my sales have been down since last fall…and I felt pressured to get the next book out ASAP, within three or four months. But it didn't feel right. Writing was supposed to be something I enjoyed, but it had turned into something I felt pressured to do.

This year has not been without its stressors, mainly in the form of health issues of aging family members. The extra stress of “gotta write” was only making things worse. 

Another problem was the Internet. It was starting to depress me. Everywhere I looked, people were posting about their books. Between hundreds of new eBooks being released every day at e-tailers and my Facebook feed clogged with dozens of requests from authors practically begging for sales, plus pleas from authors who'd gotten wind of a colleague doing something innovative and wanting to do the same thing (with a little help from their friends) became a real turnoff for me. I sensed desperation closing around me like a blanket thrown over my head. It also told me that maybe I wasn’t the only one with slipping sales numbers (authors love to talk about how well they’re doing, but tend to keep quiet when they’re not doing so well). Another sign of a downturn was that authors who always posted about their book's Amazon rankings or how they'd made a Top 100 list had become conspicuously silent. All these factors contributed to my asking myself if I really wanted to make the strenuous effort of trying to produce a book every three to four months just to try to stay in the game…and the answer was no.

Once I recognized I was going down a path of dissatisfaction, I stopped writing completely while I sorted it out. Eventually I started up again, with one major difference:  This time I wrote only when I wanted to (not because I felt I had to), because I felt compelled to put words down on paper and tell a story. I wanted to reclaim the joy that comes with writing, the simple enjoyment of crafting a story that's been part of my life since adolescence. The result: A scaled-back output, because that urge simply didn't hit me every day. 

I asked myself what else I wanted to accomplish this year.  Getting organized topped the list, with weight loss a close second (I've been trying to lose the same 15 pounds for 10 years, except by now that figure has crept up to 30 pounds). Ideally, I'll have our house organized to the point where—pardon this morbid thought—if my husband and I should get crushed by a semi or something, the kids could simply come in and go through our things, take what they want and donate or sell the rest without having to go through all that stuff that’s been sitting in the garage for years, not to mention all that stuff in three walk-in closets in the extra rooms (the only closet that’s organized is the one in our bedroom).

I’m happy to be able to say I’ve gotten quite a bit done, with several 55-gallon bags of either brand new or still in good condition clothing and housewares donated to Goodwill, plus at least one other bag that size put out for the trash man. I've also ramped up my exercise with near-daily workouts and watching what I eat, and I've lost 6 pounds. I still have much to do, but I can see the progress in both areas, and that alone will help me keep going.

And as for my writing? Even with cutting back, I recently made the happy discovery that Love Will Grow is almost complete. I know I can expect to write some additional bridging scenes as I go over it, maybe insert some paragraphs here and there to give readers more insight into the characters, but at this point a late spring release is feasible. Even with cutting back, I seem to be getting my book completed (although who knows how long it will take me to get my next project done). Best of all, I’ve re-discovered the joy of writing.

I think I’ll keep that joy, write the best story I can, and publish it when it’s ready, at my own pace. I’m my own publisher, so I’m not going to let myself go if I can’t produce enough to meet an ambitious publication schedule. In today’s world you’re only as good as your ratings or most recent accomplishments, but I’m happy to leave the stress of constant performance to mutual fund managers, advertising and television executives, sports team coaches, network news anchors…and other writers.

I might not be as prolific...but I'll definitely be happier.
April 3, 2014

Thrifty Thursday tips

I'm not a coupon cutter for grocery items--the places I shop at the most (no-frills Aldi and Sam's Club) don't take them.  But I do collect restaurant coupons, mostly for fast food like Wendy's and White Castle, which come in handy when I'm out and about and want some lunch, and occasionally for chain restaurants like Applebee's.  Nothing annoys me more than when the coupon expires before I can use them.  Then I started asking the employees if I can use them anyway, and the answer is usually yes, provided it's only been a few days since the expiration.  I got a free sub when I bought two at Cousin's Subs the other day.  So don't toss a recently expired coupon; ask if they will still accept it.

One coupon I always toss is anything that requires you to buy a sandwich, large drink, and fries to get a free sandwich...when you add up the cost of the drink and fries (both low-cost, high-profit items for the restaurant), you are practically paying for that extra sandwich.  It's not worth it to save a quarter.    
April 1, 2014

Dear Hotel Manager

We found ourselves in your city this past weekend, with plans to return home that evening, but as so often happens, we decided at the last minute to stay overnight and make the drive home the next morning. When we called our usual hotels (the Candlewood Suites and the Marriott), we were disappointed to learn that they were both sold out...apparently there was an NCAA game going on.  Our next preferred hotel, the Hampton Inn, was sold out as well.

We were about to lose hope (or settle for lodging 20 miles outside the city) when we tried calling your establishment.  We'd had an unpleasant experience with your chain in Tampa some years ago, when we arrived to find the hotel in the midst of a messy, noisy renovation, with the room itself looking like that of a cheap motel rather than the mid-range accommodations the rate suggested.  We ended up leaving and going to the AmeriSuites down the street.  Still, you were the only hotel left who was charging under $129, as everyone's rates, like roses on Valentine's Day, had shot up for the special event.

There were renovations being done at your hotel as well, specifically the installation of plush new carpet on the steps of the exposed staircase (the hallways had already been re-carpeted, even if the baseboards hadn't yet been replaced).  Our room itself was lovely and comfortable, but when my husband tried to turn on the television he met with a pink screen.  When we tried to call the desk, we couldn't get a dial tone.  I had to go down to the desk myself to inquire and was told that a) if we disconnected the power cord of the TV momentarily and plugged it back in, it should be fine, and b) that she would connect our telephone (I've never heard of a phone in a hotel room having to be turned on). 

When we tried disconnecting and re-connecting the TV, we were not successful in getting it to work, and when we tried to call the desk the phone still didn't work.  I made another trip downstairs, made it clear I wasn't happy with either situation, and the clerk came upstairs, got the TV working, and once more said she would turn on our phone.

I went to work out that evening.  Whoever decided that the workout room should be adjacent to the indoor pool and Jacuzzi, with a partial glass wall that did not extend all the way up to the ceiling, made a serious error in judgment.  Indoor pools require warmer temperatures while cooler temperatures are best when exercising, and the thermostat read 81 degrees.  I lasted for 12 minutes.  The exercise equipment itself was cheap, without any cup holders (and that water fountain with its lukewarm water was a poor substitute for a water cooler putting out cold, refreshing liquid) or book holders.  The weights of the bench press kept falling down.  I had to get someone from the desk to get the TV to come on.  

Before going to bed, I went to place a wake-up call...and the phone still did not work.  Instead I set the in-room alarm clock to the correct time and set the alarm manually. 

While your hotel came through in a crunch, we weren't impressed.  The problems we encountered were not indicative of a room that cost over $100.  The hotel looks quite nice, but I predict all those redecorating dollars wasted when someone either has a heart attack in that sauna of a workout room, or suffers injuries from a slip and fall when walking through the pool and Jacuzzi area to get to the sauna--er, workout room, because water and rubber-soled shoes just don't mix.  
That's my unhappy experience this past weekend. What are some of your hotel stay horror stories?
March 27, 2014

Thrifty Thursday tips

Easter is almost here, and we're about to go into prom and wedding season.  Dressing (for yourself and also for your kids) for these can get very expensive.  The cost of new shoes alone for a mother and children will set you back over a hundred dollars. (I didn't mention the men, because they can usually just go out and buy a new tie and matching hanky to give their suit a snazzy new look, unless they have to rent a tux.)

Fortunately, we are also going into garage sale season.  There are plenty of goodies to be found at these, especially in dressy kids' clothing...coats trimmed in fur collars, suits, dresses with things like satin bows and lace trims, sometimes in velvet, that have usually just been worn once for special occasions.

Women would probably do better at thrift shops, which also have children's clothes.  Check the yellow pages for locations in tony suburbs, where they're more likely to have the best stuff.  Try to find something that goes with shoes you already own so you don't have to buy a new pair (since your feet, unlike that of your children, aren't growing anymore).  

The best part?  After those dresses and suits have served their purpose, you can have them dry cleaned and sell them back to the store on consignment...if they sell, you'll get part of the proceeds.  Ka-ching! 
March 13, 2014

Thrifty Thursday tips

Today I have a bonus tip for all you Nook owners...as well as anyone else who uses Nook screen protectors (they are the perfect size for my Panasonic tablet).  It's following this week's regular tip, which is...

With all the specials on vitamins and supplements (Walgreen's, for instance, usually has a buy-one-get-one-free special), you should probably never have to pay full price.  If you're big on vitamins, supplements, and natural products, consider patronizing a vitamin store and joining their buyer's club.  The clerks are generally knowledgeable and can help you make your selection, i.e., determine which products are more natural than others.  Every time I've gone in there, the salesperson will offer me half off the price of a similar product to the one I bought.  Since I happen to use a lot of essential oils and other oils (my hair should probably smell like a salad, since at any time I slather it with carrot oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, or apricot oil) for both personal and household use, this saves me quite a bit.  Last week my hubby bought a diet jump start kit (normally $70, on sale for $35) and the clerk offered us a second set for me for just $17.50).  Needless to say, we jumped on it!

Now, for you Nooksters...y'all might want to visit your local Office Max store...just yesterday I found a bunch of screen protectors marked down to just $9.99.  Wish I'd known about that before paying $19.99 for a set of two protectors and a tiny cleaning cloth at Barnes & Noble about six weeks ago.  (incidentally, the package on the right is the one I paid $19.99 for at Barnes & Noble; the package on the left with the yellow sale sticker on it was $9.99 at Office Max).  Seeing them selling so many of them at a reduced price has all the makings of a closeout to me, which means it might be available nationwide...

Until next time, and remember...it's not what you make.  It's what you keep.
March 11, 2014

Oscar Follow-Up

Yes, I know I'm late with this...but what can I say?  I've been busy!

I'm pleased to report that all six of my Oscar predictions that I made here were correct.  It's not about picking who I wanted to win...it's about trying to think like a member of the Academy and calculate how the majority of them would vote.

If anyone is wondering why I didn't announce the final Movie Trivia winner on Oscar night, it's because I had no entries!  Moving on...

My least favorite moment at the Oscars:  Ellen DeGeneres' saying that the real Liza Minnelli was a male Liza Minnelli impersonator.  Thought that was really mean-spirited, and Ms. Minnelli was very generous to go along with it.  If that had been me, I would have had some choice words for Ms. DeGeneres backstage.

I had several favorite Oscar moments. The speeches of producer Steve McQueen when Twelve Years a Slave was announced as the Best Picture, along with Brad Pitt and the other producers (Brad spoke first, but he kept it short), and also Lupita Nyongo's acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress.  I love the sound of her voice.  I wish her a long and varied career.

But my absolute favorite Oscar moment of the evening was the words Robert DeNiro said when presenting the Writing awards.  The words, as were all of the preludes by presenters, were scripted by someone else, but as any writer knows, they are the truth:

"The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day."

And with that, I will go back to my manuscript.