Open Office

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For some time I've been meaning to tell you all about one of the niftiest FREE software suites available for PC or Mac. It's Open Office, and it is incredible in that it is mimics the Microsoft Office suite - Excel, Word, etc.

You can download it free, and use it just like you use the much more expensive MS softwares. You can save as an Open Office file format or in the MS software format.

I've used it extensively, and I've yet to find a problem with it.

FREE and perfectly usable. That's a combo that can't be beat.

Addicted To THE DISH

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I guess I’m going to have to join a 12 Step Program for television addiction. I never had this problem before. I blame it all on my darling husband. He bought what I call a “big ass TV” as a Christmas present. Just shopping for this flat screen monster was an experience in itself. I mean, our main TV before was a hulking 29" monolith that we bought back when that size was considered a big TV. Still works great.

SHOPPING

So I foolishly thought anything larger than 29" would be fine. Boy, was I wrong! He went immediately to the 50-inchers and started comparing contrast ratio and pixels per square inch and all that techno babble that determines the resolution on the HD LCD televisions.

The only reason he ended up with 48 inches instead of 50 or larger was because the 50 was out of stock. I mean, honestly, how much difference is 2 inches going to make? You’d think they’d told him the Super Bowl had been canceled. Still, he handled the disappointment with grace and just a little grumbling.

CABLE VS. SATELLITE

So the big ass TV got delivered. Next came the decision about cable versus satellite. He researched this as if world peace hung in the balance. After reading umpteen forums about digital cable in the area and the other satellite and fiber optic options, we finally ended up with The Dish.

No problem. I was just amused by the whole process. Outside of a few television shows like Stargate Atlantis, Gallactica, Burn Notice, The Unit, and a little Discover Channel and HGTV to feed my decorating habit, I’d always been a take it or leave it TV viewer. Of course, that was when we had basic cable.

THE DISH

Little did I know the marvels in store for me with The Dish. I was amazed at the variety of channels out there in the digital world. I found myself learning the intricacies of the DVR so I could record programs on Gallery HD, an art channel. Dead Art, sculpture and art in famous cemeteries; Art Of The Heist, tales of famous art thefts. There are History channels, domestic and world; Biography; several Discovery Channels and decorating and cooking channels. Oh, let’s not forget Weaponology on the Military Channel, fascinating stuff. And Treasure, Equator, International Film. The possibilities are endless.

THE WRITING PROCESS

I can’t seem to start the day without checking what’s on The Dish. Of course, I’m using The Dish for writing - inspiration and research. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Beware Get Rich Writing Claims

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Wow! I'm going to make 83 grand by writing a business letter! This little brochure I received in the mail is going to tell me how. This is wonderful news for me because I've been a freelance copywriter for years, and I've never earned $83K for a letter. Geez! I must have been doing it wrong all this time.

Procrastination via Googling


Since I'm heavy into a couple of deadlines here, I could not help but fall into procrastination mode for a few minutes. I plugged in every name in this nifty 40-page brochure into Google so I could read all about these amazing copywriters.

I was so surprised (not!) to discover there was nothing positive about these people or the organization that was not disseminated by them and/or the organization with the oh-so professional sounding name.

Get real.

Seriously, folks. If you get this brochure in the mail, save your $457.00 plus shipping and handling. I've been doing this for umpteen years, and I don't know of anyone who gets the kind of salary quoted in this and other similar advertisements. If we freelance writers did, we'd all be living in the south of France and sucking down expensive wine by the barrel.

Writer, educate thyself.

If you really want to learn how to be a copywriter or any kind of freelance writer, go to any number of websites from reputable writers and start studying. My website and this blog have scads of articles about the subject. Get some of the excellent books published by Writers Digest Books and study.

Take classes. I'm probably going to teach Writing for the Net later this year for a continuing education class at a local college. Other writers teach too. Look for these classes in your area. There are online courses. Always check the credibility of anyone who teaches a class. They should be successfully DOING what they're teaching.

Write.

Write samples of different kinds of articles and projects of every description. Put together a strong portfolio then get some writing jobs. Internet writing is one area where strong writing will let you get your foot in the door. Again, seek out information from established professionals on how to go about this. There's some awfully good info FREE on the web.

Beware

Always, always, always remember: Let the buyer beware. There's always someone wanting to make a buck on your dreams. Especially for dreamers in the arts.

Monetized: A Word About Sponsors

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You may have noticed that this blog is now "monetized" as they say in the Internet biz. So I thought it appropriate that I discuss this with you since some of you in private email have asked me why I've gone the route of crass commercialism. Though you asked it in a very nice way.

I had refrained from having ads run on my blog and website because I usually find them annoying when I visit other blogs and websites, and they are so littered with ads that it's a chore to read what I came there to read. You know the sites I mean? The ones with more ads than content.

I hate that. If I take time to visit a site, I'm there for a specific reason. I don't want to wade hip-deep through ads to find the article. Of course, that may be just me.

So I decided to test this monetization process at the beginning of this year with Google AdSense and Indeed job listing. I limited the size of the ads and tried to place them in an unobtrusive yet convenient place for anyone who was interested in perusing them.

I test the ads by clicking on them to see if any are completely obnoxious. To date I haven't found any in design that fit that description. I have found many freelance writing positions that I think are viable and are of interest to any of you pursuing that endeavor.

However, since many of the ads tout writing and editing services, I think it's appropriate that I publish a disclaimer of sorts.

Don't think that because something is advertised that it's been scrutinized for reliability. YOU check it out before you do anything that requires parting with a single dollar. And check it with more than 3 resources.

I don't choose the ads that run. I just choose the "genre" of ad. The responsibility to make sure you're getting what you think you're getting lies with you.

As with any advertisement, "let the buyer beware" is a motto that everyone would be wise to adopt.

Writers Create Memorable Movie Words

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As I read some of the commentary about the writers' strike on Sun Oasis this morning, the question posed a few days ago by the blog: "How important are writers?" struck me forcefully because I'd just finished reading the obituary for Roy Scheider, one of my favorite actors.

Now, before you think, "Geez! Joan's really stuck on slinging words about death!" let me explain.

The obit told how Roy Scheider would be remembered for saying: "We're gonna need a bigger boat." It also said how those words uttered by him were listed as one of the 50, I think it was, most memorable movie lines.

Like I said, I really like Scheider and his body of work, but I couldn't help arguing out loud with the article. (Stupid? Yeah, it is.) But think about it. Scheider would never have had those words to say if some writer hadn't created them.

Hollywood and the whole world has it back-asswards. They should be celebrating the writers who wrote the words at least as much as the actor who spoke them.

Can anyone out there name the writer who first penned: "Here's looking at you, kid" or "Do you feel lucky, punk?" or "A man's got to know his limitations." or "The truth? You can't handle the truth." or even the line from Jaws that Scheider spoke with such awe?

If you don't, look it up. The Net makes it easy.

Come on, Hollywood! Start recognizing that if it weren't for writers, your industry would shut down. Or start producing opuses like "Survivor: Easter Island, Sequel 53."

Death and Writers

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While reading my Winter 2007 edition of Authors Guild Bulletin, I was struck by an inescapable truth about writers and longevity. Writers seem to live longer than the average person.

There were 30 obituaries listed in this edition. The age of death of these 30 writers who died were:

50's -- 1
60's -- 3
70's -- 5
80's -- 12
90's -- 8.

Now I'm no statistician, but it seems obvious that writers have found the secret to longevity.

Want to hear another interesting stat? Of these senior citizens, 12 had published in the last 10 years. Indeed, the oldest who published during that time period was Rosamond Carr who died at 94 last September. She beat out Norman Salsitz who died at 86 and published as recently as 2003.

I've noticed this before when I've read the obits. Writers live long and productive lives. Why do you think this is? Because they put their emotions in their writing instead of letting the emotions fume inside them? Because they are doing something they love? Because they are still capable of being productive long after they've lost the ability to jog around the block or mow the lawn? Probably for all those reasons.

So if you are a writer, be of good cheer. You just may have a cup to be filled from the fountain of youth.

I Remember Where Ernie Pyle Died

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Recently, a photograph of the dead body of Pulitzer Prize winning, World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle was re-discovered. He’s shown lying on rocky ground. He looks as if he’s asleep, but he isn’t. I’m too young to actually remember Ernie Pyle, but seeing the photo brought memories of Ie Shima, the coral atoll on which he died, rushing back.

Many years ago I lived on Okinawa, the largest island in the chain of islands called Ryukyu. Ie Shima was a tiny bit of rock off the coast of Okinawa. Ferry boats ran daily between Okinawa and Ie Shima, a popular day trip for picnics.

One day, my husband and I took the ferry over to Ie Shima to “climb” the mountain with the other tourists. Actually this consisted more of hiking through slight elevation and rocky terrain than climbing. That day, the ferry was filled with Okinawans, Japanese, and us, the only two Americans in the bunch. That never bothered us though. I was often the only “yankee” in my rambles and adventures.

There was a lot of talking and laughing by everyone. The ferry docked and we all jumped ashore. Picnics were set up, and we all set out to climb Ie Shima which looked then pretty much as it looked in the April 1946 photograph that sparked this story.

At the foot of the well-marked path was a very small plaque. In English, it said that this was the place where War Correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed in World War II. That was it. No politically incorrect statement about his being felled by a sniper’s .30 caliber round through his left temple. Nothing about the pitched battle for Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands that lasted three of the bloodiest months of the war.

Despite the conscious effort to not point fingers or talk about the Japanese and the Americans who had been enemies a few decades ago, the war was ever present on Okinawa. When I was there, you couldn’t go anywhere without butting up against a reminder of the painful past.

Concrete bunkers that had housed the kamikaze planes lay in weeds at the end of one of the runways at Kadena Air Base. The local museums had displays of huge photographs of the rubble and destruction all over the island. They had written accounts from Okinawan people who fled in terror because they believed Americans were nine feet tall, had horns, and demon eyes.

I adored my Okinawan neighbors and the merchants I dealt with. I learned Japanese because I wanted to communicate with them. I dined in their homes and played with their children and gossiped with the other okusans, or wives, in the late afternoon in the street.

A large portion of the population in Okinawa profited from the American bases, but that didn’t mean the older generation had forgiven and forgotten. I well remember the day I was window shopping on the main street in Koza when this ancient Okinawa lady wearing a faded kimono and wooden geta (clogs) walked up to me and spit on me.

I was more surprised than upset as I wiped spittle from my arm. The mamasan who owned the shop rushed out, speaking too fast for me to catch what she said to the woman. The old woman looked defiantly at her and me then in a fierce tone, she replied before slowly walking away.

The shop owner apologized by shrugging and saying simply, “She remembers the war.”

I could understand that and accept it without rancor.

Unfortunately, too many people remember too many wars.

Today, I remember. The old woman. The island of Ie Shima. The humble marker for a great writer who told the story of a war and the men who fought it.

Oops! Fingers and brain at odds

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Cele was kind enough to correct a goof I made in a Jan. 16 blog "Short Fiction Markets."

I said Redbook was dead. Obviously, Redbook is like Mark Twain.."rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated...."

Sometimes, my fingers just don't get the right message from my brain. When I was talking about Redbook, what I actually meant was McCall's and its incarnation under Rosie O'Donnell.

I apologize Redbook, and I thank Cele for pointing out my faux pas.

I'm a non-sport Eli Manning fan

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All the shouting is over. Well, almost over. The Giants, led by Quarterback Eli Manning, won the Super Bowl yesterday. I watched ever thrilling moment.

Now, as you may know, I'm a weird kind of fan. I'm an avid golf fan who doesn't play golf. When it comes to football, for the most part, I can take it or leave it.

However, my interest in football underwent a rebirth when the Manning boys started playing. You see, I grew up with the New Orleans Saints, our beloved Louisiana pro-football team that never went the distance.

Archie Manning was quarterback, and he was from a part of Mississippi that has a fair amount of "my people" as my mom says.

The Saints died every Sunday, but that never kept me from rooting for Archie. My sister-in-law had a world-class crush on the man. When her husband, my younger brother, met Archie and had his picture made with the him, he scored major points with his wife. And the snapshot is framed on their mantle, even today.

So when Archie's boys stepped into pro football, I felt morally obligated to cheer them on. And I have. Cheering for Peyton when he got that big honking ring last year. Then yesterday rooting for Eli who now gets a big honker too.

Something funny happened as I watched the Giants last night. I found my admiration for Eli strengthening. With only two minutes left, when many had read them the last rites, Eli kept going like an Energizer Bunny.

He never quit! He kept going as if he had all the time in the world to win the game. And that made me recall the great Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach whose autobiography was entitled TIME ENOUGH TO WIN.

Staubach's philosophy was that as long as the clock was still ticking, he had time enough to win the game. Obviously, Eli Manning has this same never-give-up, time-enough-to-win persistence.

That's what great people have, whether they're the Staubachs and Mannings of the sports world or the captains of industry or the leaders of countries. Belief in oneself and the will to persist.

You can always be a winner, regardless of what the scoreboard specific to you may say if you believe you can do something and you put action behind that belief.

That's why I really admire Eli Manning today. Not because he won the big game, but because he never quit trying. He just kept on believing and acting based on that belief.

Believe. Act. Persist. Never give up.

Quick! Catch that rodent!

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Yep. Today is that somewhat spurious holiday where a hibernating rodent leaves his warm burrow to venture out into the world. If he sees his shadow, we're in for six more weeks of winter weather. If the day is cloudy, then spring is nigh. Never did understand that. Seems like if it's sunshiny then spring is coming not more winter.

Old Punxsutawney Phil is the Prognosticator of prognosticators, the Seer of seers. Or at least he's called that in one of my favorite movies Groundhog Day starring rubber-faced Bill Murray.

Love, love, love that movie about a callous, self-centered TV weatherman who's doomed to relive Groundhog Day again and again from waking up with Sonny and Cher on the radio singing "I Got You Babe" to sleeping in a freezing cold inn at night. He must endure all until his worthless soul is redeemed. (In the writing biz, we call that growth the character arc.)

Great movie. Great theme. I'm heading to the den to pop the DVD in and watch it to celebrate Groundhog Day with a glass of a cheap, but good, Sangiovese. Get you a copy of the movie. You'll have something to watch each year on Feb. 2.