Comment Problem Solved

I must have failed to get the memo about this, but I managed to solve the problem after a bit of sleuthing. I intended to write about this last month when it happened, but my good intention fell through the cracks of my busy life.

In case you are suffering a problem with the Comment function on Blogger, I'll talk about it today.

Problem

A curious situation developed a month ago when anyone who tried to comment would see the Verification Code to type but the box in which to insert it was gone. I discovered that both of the recent Firefox and IE updates have new security features to protect your privacy. Unfortunately, they also protect you from anyone placing a comment on your blog if you have a particular Comment setting selected.

Blogger's Comments Settings

You can choose one of three for Comment Form Placement:

Full page
Pop-up window
Embedded below post
The embedded comment form can not be used if you have Post Pages disabled.


I have always used Embedded below post. Apparently that doesn't work with the updated browser versions.

Solution

Change setting to Pop-up window which works fine. I didn't try Full Page, but it probably works also.

Takeaway Truth

Why can't software updates list the critical problems one might incur because of new security features?

Cooking

Quote for the Week

American Journalist Harriet van Horne said: "Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all."

I'll confess I'm probably a dying breed. I cook 3 meals a day, 7 days a week. Sometimes we pop out for a bite to eat at lunch, and, sure, we have special dinners out, but, for the most part, I prepare all the food my family eats.

Why?

After you pick yourself off the floor where you fell in shock at my startling revelation, you're probably asking why I do this. I'm a full time writer, and a full time mom and wife so am I nuts for tackling this too? Why cook when you can order takeout or pick up something from the deli or use convenience packages?

Quartet of Reasons

There are actually 4 reasons why I do this.

1. I'm a very good cook. I spoiled my husband and kids with good food and varied menus so they prefer eating at home instead of eating out.

2. My mom set an example of doing the same so, when I was young, I thought all women did this. What was the big deal?

3. I like cooking. It satisfies an artistic impulse.

4. It's habit. I can whip up a dinner faster than you can get a pizza or pasta delivered.

My Method

Salad is a staple on my table, and I keep a big container of greens in the fridge ready to go. I keep fresh veggies chopped so I can toss them in along with maybe some grapes or chopped apple and raw nuts of some kind. I make my own dressing in nothing flat so it's always fresh.

Veggies get stir fried the way I learned in Japan though I vary the seasoning from sea salt and fresh ground Italian herbs to soy sauce and ginger. I toss in sliced almonds or some other unsalted nut, even Spanish peanuts, the last couple of minutes.

A pasta dish is the easiest to throw together because I cook a box of pasta at a time. It keeps superbly in the fridge. Toss in some chicken chunks or sliced smoked sausage, a can of drained tomatoes, a cup of shredded mozzarella or other cheese, and bake for 20 minutes. You want fancy? Mix bread crumbs with equal amount of Parmesan and sprinkle on top before putting in the oven.

Dessert? I make a cake or a batch of cookies every week. Last week it was Big Mom's Pound Cake. This week it was Sock It To Me Cake.

End Result

Am I crazy? Yeah, like a fox. Nothing gets a family around a dinner table like good food. Dinner time has always been family time, and that ends up being talk time. As the kids grew up and went out to find their way in the world, I sent a special cookbook I put together with them. Every now and then, one of them will call and ask how to make such and such because, guess what? They all love to cook.

Takeaway Truth

Cooking is easy and fun and gives lifelong benefits, not the least of which is always being able to feed yourself well.

Novel Writing Contests

These writing contests are all about commercial novels which means genre novels.

Romance Genre

Harlequin Writing Competition 2009 is for you romance genre writers. Romance sales are stronger than ever, even in the recession.

The competition entry must consist of either the first chapter and synopsis of a Harlequin Presents or Modern Heat novel. Please email your entry to writingcompetition@hmb.co.uk. The winner receives an editor for a year. (Wow! This is priceless to work with an editor for a year.) Two Runners-up receive critiques of their first chapter entries and an editorial consultation.

Deadline: November 2, 2009.

Crime Novel

First Crime Novel

Rules for the 2010 Minotaur Books/ Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition

Sponsored by St. Martin's Minotaur and Mystery Writers of America (MWA), this Competition is open to any writer, regardless of nationality, who has never been the author of a published novel, as defined by the guidelines. Read ALL the rules and guidelines on the website.

All manuscripts a) must be original, previously unpublished works of book length (no less than 220 typewritten pages or approximately 60,000 words) written in the English language by the entrants; b) must not violate any right of any third party or be libelous, and c) must generally follow the guidelines.

Deadline: November 30, 2009.

Cozy Mystery

Malice Domestic Competition

This is also sponsored by St. Martin's Minotaur Books, and you'll find the guidelines on the same page as the First Crime Novel guidelines. Read carefully.

Deadline: October 15, 2009.

Takeaway Truth

Why not try? Someone has to win, and it just might be you.

Writing Hack: Naming Characters

Writing Hack: short cut method to perform a writing technique. Yep, I made up that term myself since I liked the term Lifehack which means an easy, short way to do accomplish an action.

Today's Writing Hack is a quick, down and dirty way to come up with great character names that reflect a character's time era and sometimes their career, ethnicity, or socio/economic status. Here's how you do it. Start reading printed material like church bulletins, newsletters, and newspapers. Don't forget the phone book either.

Church Bulletins

I always read my church bulletin because the news is broken down by age group from Sunday school classes for little ones to senior citizens. New babies, those to be prayed for, and deaths are listed. So if you want to see what people are naming babies right now, make note of those names. Five years from now when you're writing about kindergarteners, you'll know the popular names that would predominate in a class.

Same with an aged character. You wouldn't name an 80 year old woman Brittany, but Betty would be a good choice. If you look at the seniors Sunday school class, you'll see names you don't hear any more like Edna, Nell, or Rose. For men, though the names are more enduring and classic, you won't find Chad or Justin. Instead, you'll see Elmer, Norman, or Ronald.

Newsletters

Newsletters are published for special interest groups. If there were a newsletter entitled Sons and Daughters of Italy, the names would be vastly different from a newsletter for the Sons and Daughters of Egypt or of Ireland.

Newspapers

I hope this doesn't sound morbid, but the best source of names is usually the Obituaries because the name and age are clearly linked. You can also read brief histories of the deceased and see what major life events affected them. The career is also given, and a lot of times, reading this will make you think, "yeah, sounds like a lawyer or doctor or teacher or farmer."

Sure that's a superficial assessment, but people make assumptions based on superficial assessments in real life so naming a millionaire lawyer J. Langford Smithson III plays with readers' preconceived assumption that the name sounds like a snooty rich lawyer.

Sometimes this can be a shorthand way of indicating to the reader that this character is a rich arrogant snob. Other times, you can choose a name like that and play against type by making him warm and compassionate but saddled with the weight of a name he doesn't want to live up to.

Just reading news in the paper helps too. Names, ages, and sometimes origin are given. Names for a South Korean man in the news will probably be different from a man born in the U. S. who has Korean grandparents, just as Hispanic names will vary from Cuban to Mexican or Colombian.

What About Magazines

To a lesser extent, magazines can be useful though most of the ones with which you're familiar are aimed at a mass, general interest audience. Trade Magazines, published for highly specialized audiences like the AMA Magazine for doctors might be of use, especially if a career field tends to attract the same people from the same geographic area. For instance, a magazine about ice fishing in Alaska might attract residents of that area and most of them might be Inuit so you could find a narrow focus group of names that might indicate ethnicity.

Phone Book

Looking through the Houston phone book, it's easy to find lots of names. Make a list of given names, mix and match them to create a character name. Even small communities in the U. S. will have ethnic flavor to their phone books. Vietnamese settled in large and small towns across the country, as have Muslim, Hispanic, and other Asian groups.
The Rules

Never take a real person's name. Mix and match surnames and given names.

If creating a character of different ethnicity from you, check to make sure you've made the right assumption. Let's say you need a Hispanic surname with Mexican origins, not Puerto Rican, starting with the letter S. Using our new Supreme Court Justice as an example, you won't find Sotomayor in Mexico, but you will find Santos. Just as not all Polish names end in Ski, not all Irish names start with O' so make sure you reach the right conclusion.

Research

Verify your assumptions with research. Search online for fraternal groups based on ethnicity or national origin. In my case, if I wanted to create a character with my ethnic background, then I'd look for groups proud of their Choctaw and Cherokee heritage as well as the Scots, Irish, German, and French groups. Yep, I'm a Heinz 57 variety American like most of my fellow citizens.

Post a question to your online lists.

Ask your friends, coworkers, etc. if the name you created is true to your character's background.

Takeaway Truth

Character names are just as important as a real person's name so choose wisely.

I Got Rhythm; I Got Music

Let's talk Freeware. I first heard about today's website from Kim Komando a few months ago. I finally visited WildBits and found not only Tunatic, a software that helps you discover the title and artist of any song you've heard and want to identify but also three other softwares geared to the music minded.

Chained To Computer

Sure, there's a iPhone ap that does the same thing, but, if you're like me, you probably haven't plunked done major cash for an iPhone. This freeware is for you, especially if you spend a lot of hours in front of the computer. It's all for PC but free to try on Mac too since it's universal binary.

How It Works

Tunatic works this way: your radio plays a song you like, you hold your PC mic to the speaker. Almost instantly, Tunatic gives you the song info. How cool is that?

But Wait, There's More

The other freeware available at WildBits.com are: AccuBeatMix, a plugin for iTunes that matches and mixes; BPMer, a plugin that gives you automated BPM detection & export; and Ask the DJ, an automatic mix engine for parties.

Takeaway Truth

Free? They're playing my song.

Help Vets

You'll see this post here and on Joan Slings Words, my other blog. If you're a blogger, feel free to pass this post along or backlink to it please to spread the word.

I'm trying to help Fred Campbell of the American Ex-Prisoners of War. I read his most recent letter to Dear Abby in which he thanked her for reaching out to veterans with service connected health issues or their surviving families.

Back Story

On July 18, 2009, Abby had written a column about benefits available to widows of vets who had died of ALS. The column generated thousands of emails, letters, and phone calls to Mr. Campbell. Due to the volume of mail, he's snowed under and worried that people may not get the help they need.

Procedure

He's handling things as fast as possible, but he wants people to get the help they need as quickly as possible so he wrote Abby again and asked her to tell her readers what they should do.

1. Call the Department of Veterans Affairs at 1-800-827-1000. That will help them get in touch with the VA regional office closest to them.

2. They should ask to speak with a service officer about their ALS claim for Compensation, not pension. That will help expedite the claim process.

Takeaway Truth

If you know anyone whose spouse was a vet and who died of ALS, pass this information on to them.

Hit Into The Curve

Look out! Here comes one of those curve balls. Be careful, or you'll get smashed!

I've spent the last two weeks shuttling between meetings and my daughter's high school where I was helping get her classroom set up for the school term that began today. She's walking with the aid of an orthopedic boot and slowly recovering from her surgery in early June and the DVT complication in July.

Business Cutback

Oh, I squeezed in a fraction of my other daily activities like email, responding to client requests, working on edits on a romantic comedy manuscript for an editor, plotting a mystery I've been wanting to write for a long time, and writing for clients. That's just the business side of the equation. I won't bore you with the laundry, housework, cooking, and personal relationship part of my life.

Long, Long Days

I remember when my dad was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's that my mom and I read a book entitled The 36 Hour Day. The premise was if your day was extended by 12 hours that you could have time for a real life as well as rest to recover from each day's exhausting toll. Personally, I think, for a caregiver, each day seems longer than 24 hours.

Somehow, We Manage

At the moment, I think I'd need a 48 hour day in order to take care of everything and everyone with time left over to nurture me. Still, I'm just thankful to be able to handle the load and thankful that my daughter is doing well.

Today, as I said above, is the first day of school so my assistance is limited to getting her to school since she still can't drive and picking her up in the afternoon then driving to whatever doctor or lab appointment she may have. I'll have time in between to focus more on my writing business and personal life. One of these days I'll focus on nurturing me. Later. That's what Moms do. We wait.

Takeaway Truth

When life throws curve balls, you either get hit and fall apart or you learn to get a bat on that ball and move to the next base.

School

Quote for the Week“Going to school does not make a person educated, any more than going to a garage makes a person a car.” So said an anonymous wit. School starts tomorrow here in the Houston area. Parents, this message is for you.

Education is a process and a partnership involving child, parents, and teachers. Parents, I know it's tough when there's so much to do in today's busy world, but do not fail to do your part.

If you're wondering exactly what your part is, it's to support the teachers, don't automatically assume your little angel is in the right and the teacher is wrong, and to provide your child with the right environment at home.

What is that environment? It's one where knowledge and education are prized. Where TV, video games, Internet, and other entertainment and distractions are not allowed until after homework is done. Where bedtime is enforced. Where nourishing meals, not empty junk is provided. That's the basics. If you want to know what's needed, just ask a teacher.

Takeaway Truth


Most importantly, it's being interested in your child's school life and talking to him or her about it, even if they don't seem to want to talk. Keep the lines of communication open.

Give Writing Contests A Try

Essay Contest

Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest offers more than 40 awards with the top prize being $10,000 for an essay on the philosophic ideas of Ayn Rand. The prize is open to high school seniors and college undergraduate and graduate students.

Deadline: September 17.

Poetry Contest


Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Series is open to unpublished collections of poetry with a first place prize of publication and $1,000.

Deadline: October 1, 2009, postmark.

Short Story


Family Circle Fiction Writing Contest
c/o Family Circle Magazine
375 Lexington Avenue
9th Floor, New York, NY 10017

Submit an original fictional short story of no more than 2,500 words.

Entries must be typed, double-spaced, with pages numbered, 8-1/2" x 11" paper. Include your name, address, daytime phone number, and e-mail. No purchase necessary. Contest opened March 1, 2009; ends August 31, 2009.

Entries must be original, unpublished, and may not have won any prize or award. Up to two entries per individual will be accepted, but each entry must be a unique short story. Open to amateur writers who are legal residents of the 50 United States, or the District of Columbia, age 21 or older.

Grand prize: $750 and publication in Family Circle, a certificate for one online mediabistro.com course (valued at up to $610), and a one-year mediabistro.com AvantGuild membership ($49 value).

Two runners-up: $250 each and a one-year mediabistro.com AvantGuild membership ($49 value), and will have his or her story published on familycircle.com.

Deadline: August 31, 2009, postmark and received by September 7, 2009.

Literary Writing


Robert Watson Literary Prizes offers prizes in both fiction and poetry. First place for each is $500. Winners will also receive publication in The Greensboro Review.

Deadline: September 15, 2009, postmark.

Takeaway Truth

Why not try? Someone has to win, and it just might be you.

Show Off Your URL

You've opened a website whether that's your domain name, a Café Press shop, or a blog. How do you let people know so they can come and visit.

Well, if you had changed residences, you'd send out little note cards that say: "The Rumplestiltskins have moved to 123 Easy Street" because that's your new address.

In the cyber world, your new address is the URL (Uniform Resource Link), that http thingee that stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol. All that tells the enormous linked computer array where you are on the World Wide Web.

Now that you've got that URL, what do you do with it, if anything?

Promote and Publicize

You add the URL to your Signature File on Emails, maybe with a tagline. Here are a few fictional examples for laughs.

Sincerely,
Jack Rumplestiltskin
http://www.JackRumplestiltskin.com
Where Fairy Tales Meet Reality

Have a good one!
Beauty Adams
http://www.BeautyAdams.com
Sleep Renewal Specialist Guarantees You Awake Beautiful!

Stick It Where?

In fact, you stick your URL on all your electronic and print resources. That means, emails, chat and blog comments, and any other place in cyber space you can list it. On print materials, it means business cards, letterhead, speaker sheets, brochures, bookmarks, postcards, biography, press releases, media kits, and bumper stickers. (My Café Press shop The WriteWay offers a customizable bumper sticker.)

Teaching a class? Stick it on the course materials. Advertising professionals used to say that it took 9 times for a person to see a name before it stuck. In a world where everyone is trying to get your attention, it may take many more times than 9 before someone remembers it.

Takeaway Truth

In today's world, the Internet is a crowded marketplace with millions vying for the attention of web visitors. Take every opportunity to direct attention to your place of business, i.e., your website.

Who Writes In Plain Sight?


Another outstanding series from USA Network is In Plain Sight created by David Maples, a writer who got his start writing for Rugrats and Home Improvement.

He's the creative genius behind the show, and he's written and produced several episodes, even appeared in the first as an airport cop. You'll see his wife Holly Maples as Eleanor Prince, the new office manager who is more than able to stand up to Federal Marshal Mary Shannon's bitchiness.

The dramatic series stars Mary McCormack as Federal Marshal Mary Shannon with WitSec, the Witness Security program, and Fred Weller as her partner Marshall Mann. Poor guy, stuck with being Marshal Marshall Mann. Weller carries off his role with aplomb and has become one of my favorite characters. He's smart and articulate to Mary's "I can out-man any guy here."

Premise

Mary Shannon is a U.S. Marshal in the witness protection program who spends her time relocating federal witnesses. Based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mary works with her partner, Marshall Mann. Their assignment is to place criminals and innocent witnesses into new lives and then make sure they don't screw up the government's efforts on their behalf.

Cast in the parental role to her boozy, insecure mother and her spoiled sister, both of whom put the dys in dysfunctional, Mary financially supports them both, bails them out of trouble, and generally has no life because of them. Somehow though, she finds time for gorgeous boyfriend and pro-baseball player Raphael Ramirez.

The Cast

The regular cast is rounded out by stellar acting from Leslie Anne Warren as mom Jinx Shannon who uses booze to camouflage her fear and insecurity; Nichole Hiltz as Brandi Shannon, the black sheep sister who hooks up with any guy who gives her attention; and Cristián de la Fuente as Raphael Ramirez, Dominican pro baseball player and Mary's boyfriend.

Paul Ben-Victor is the boss Stan McQueen who is tasked with keeping Mary in line. Holly Maples as Eleanor Prince, widow of an FBI agent killed in the line of duty, is the new office manager. She and Mary are like oil and water, but she can more than hold her own. She's Stan's love interest, or would be, but she's scared to care after losing her husband.

Last season which was its first, the characters were established in their ordinary world. Mom boozed it up and cried and whined a lot. Sis was with a meth dealing criminal boyfriend. Then they both moved in with responsible Mary, into a house she'd just bought. As the episode progressed, you saw that Mary was the one who'd always taken care of them.

Enter Rafael who takes care of Mary's physical needs. He'd like to do more than that, but she's as prickly as a cactus in a New Mexico desert. That's the other thing about this show. It's not set in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. It takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico. How refreshing that Hollywood has discovered there's something in between the coasts.

Watchability

The series is an interesting archetype role reversal in that Marshall is the touchy-feely character who's smart, articulate, and communicative. Mary is the tough as nails macho character who leaps without looking and thinks with her ballsy attitude.

In Plain Sight is also a show where every character has plenty of room to grow so you see character growth arcs from everyone, with Marshall being mostly the same from episode 1 to the end of season 2. He's such a nice guy that I have a feeling we just haven't seen his demons yet. They're probably there because every person, real and fictional, has them.

The setting makes this show imminently watchable, and not just because I once lived in New Mexico. It's nice to see how other people live. Sometimes it's amusing to see Hollywood's interpretation of how other people in different parts of the state live. That's one reason setting is so important in books. With most television shows set on the east or west coasts, Albuquerque is a breath of fresh desert air.

Let's Talk About The Writers

You know how I feel about writers. Nothing exists without someone who puts the words on paper. In this case, the writers are David Maples (27 episodes), Brynn Malone (4 episodes), Jessica Butler (3), Alexander Cary (3), Constance M. Burge (2), Matt Ward (2), Lynne E. Litt (2), and John Mankiewicz (2).

Brynn Malone has writing credits for this show.

Jessica Butler worked with the production crew on this show and According to Jim. Her writing credits arefor this show.

Alexander Cary was a producer on Sacred Cargo in 1995 and a writer on that film, The Riches, and In Plain Sight.
Constance M. Burge has long list of credits as a Producer, everything from Savannah, Charmed, and Ally McBeal to The Starter Wife, In Plain Sight, Royal Pains, and Eureka. As a Writer, you've loved he work in the same projects as well as Ed, Judging Amy, and Boston Public.

Matt Ward has producer credits on My Name Is Earl, several credits as miscellaneous crew, including story editor, and writing credits for Talk Soup Lucky, In Plain Sight, and My Name is Earl. Lynne E. Litt has virtually the same credits as Ward.

John Mankiewicz has killer credits as a Producer with the most popular shows from the late 80's to present day. As a Writer, he's written for some of the most acclaimed series like Hill Street Blues; one of my favorites that was ahead of its time, Karen Sisco; House; and so many more with In Plain Sight being the latest in a long line of achievements.

Great Characters

The interesting thing is that Mary is really very good at her job. The even more interesting thing is that Mary discovers something about herself or learns how to deal with a personal situation because it has been mirrored by that episode's premise or story about the witness she's been assigned. Nice profound punch of truth. Nice bookending, writers.

Takeaway Truth

In Plain Sight is a wonderful show that will make you laugh, think, and probably tear up at some point.

New Sony E-Readers

Sony has entered the hotly contested electronic reader war. They just came out with two models to go head to head with Amazon's Kindle.

The Reader Pocket Edition has a 5-inch display and will sell for $199. Reader Touch Edition has the same along with a touch-screen version and will sell for $299. I guess if you want the version that accumulates fingerprints on the screen faster than a new author's fleeting fame, you have to pay more. Much more.

Takeaway Truth

Electronic readers will never become massively popular until the masses can afford to buy them.

Teachers

Quote for the Week

"If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn't want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher's job." ~Donald D. Quinn

I spent the last week driving my daughter, a high school art teacher, to various meetings, clinics, and workshops since she's still unable to drive after her surgery. I've always had great respect for teachers, but this past week, I realized how much they go through in order to prepare for their job.

Every summer while kids are goofing off, teachers are writing new lesson plans or tweaking old ones. At least my daughter and her co-workers do this. They spend two weeks in training every year before school begins. They listen to lectures about how to be better teachers, participate in group and individual projects, set up classrooms, and get back into the habit of early to rise and late to bed.

Teachers Pressured

Once I thought about being a teacher, but I don't think I could cope with all the legislative interference. Teachers are on the front line of every idea that comes down from the legislature. Just ask a teacher what he or she thinks about no child left behind, an idealistic concept that is a nightmare in reality.

Nightmare Parents

Then there are the parents. Sometimes I think the world has gone insane. Parents have emailed insults, cursed my daughter, and threatened her with bodily harm because of a grade she gave their child or maybe because the kid was high in class, and she reported it. This doesn't just happen to my daughter but to all teachers, and this is a "good" school.

Students

My daughter loves teaching and calls her students her "kids," but she's also had to run from a student who threatened to beat her. He was on drugs. Most of the kids are delights though some break her tender heart. She's young and compassionate, not yet jaded and hardened by life. Some kids have parents who get angry if she calls in an effort to find out why a former good kid is suddenly apathetic and uncaring. Some of her kids are high achieving, but the parents never show up at award ceremonies though my daughter has driven at night all the way across Houston to attend something honoring one of her students.

Feedback

Every year my daughter has the kids fill out an exit interview form. It's multiple choice with a space where they can write anything they want and don't have to sign their name. I read all of them, and my heart swelled with pride. Not one complained about her or her class even though there were several that said they sucked at art.

Instead, the comments were: Your class saved my life. This class was the only good thing about this year. Thanks for listening to me. Thanks for helping me. I'll never forget you.

On and on, dozens of compliments and heart-felt sentiments. I told my daughter to save them in notebook and read them when her job depressed her, as it sometimes does, because they proved that she was appreciated, she makes a difference, she helps kids that need help.

So, Teachers, I applaud you and wish you a good year filled only with happiness and success.

Takeaway Truth

We should all strive to make a difference and leave the world a better place.

Tickled Blue Party Supplies


Is there anything more fun than parties that celebrate the best in life, like having a baby? Why not think outside the box and explore some new baby shower ideas for that special occasion?

Of course, everything from a military campaign to a baby shower begins with a plan. There's no better resource to help you draw up your plan for the perfect shower than PartyPail.com. They've made it so easy and broken it down into 4 steps for a fun baby shower.

First, get your plan. Guess what? They have links that you can click and print out a budget worksheet and a party supply worksheet. How easy is that.

Second, line up your volunteers. There's work to be done, but it will be fun for all concerned.

Third, decide on a theme. Ah, now I get to tell you about tickled blue party supplies. When you know the baby is a boy, you can choose the adorable Blue Polka Dots design created for Tickled Blue Baby Shower Decorations. From the printed materials to the centerpiece to the dinnerware and everything else you need, soft blue polka dots with rick rack on the edges is perfect for a themed baby shower.

Don't worry. If a baby girl is expected, you can get Tickled Pink instead. Both packages are professionally designed and coordinated with solid color accessories so you can customize your decoration kit.

Fourth, don't hesitate to ask a pro for help. Guess what? PartyPail has professional party planners, and they're available to help you with any issue you may have. Just use their toll free number to speak to one.

Need Help

When you visit the PartyPail website, you'll see immediately that they are a comprehensive resource with the goal of helping you have the best shower or party possible. Of course they're a secure website. You'll see the security badges, like the BBB Accredited Business for example. They're policies are clearly explained, but if you need assistance, don't forget they have a toll free phone number for your convenience. Plus, you get free UPS Ground shipping on orders over $60.00.

Takeaway Truth

Baby showers are happy times. Give yourself the advantage of an expert so you can enjoy the party as much as the guests do.

Trouble With Love Continues

If you’ve been looking for the next chapter of my romantic comedy The Trouble With Love, and I know some of you have by your emails, it should now be posted on Romantic4ever.com.

Through Chapter 4

Both the publisher and I have had real life interfering with our work. Though the publisher had the chapter to publish in July, her family suffered the loss of a loved one. That kind of loss is hard to bear. However, the latest chapter has now been posted so hurry over there and enjoy.

Takeaway Truth

Sometimes, you have to set aside work and give yourself a chance to recover before moving forward again.

Flawed Characters

Do you ever find yourself at a loss when it comes to creating believable flawed characters? Here's a tip, what I'll be calling a Writing Hack from this point on. Derivation of Writing Hack? From the blog I wrote on Lifehack.

My advice is to start reading Dear Abby. As Dave Barry always says, "I'm not making this up, folks."
Background

I'm writing about a column that sent me fleeing to the keyboard. It's about some poor soul with an 18 year old daughter who hooked up with a much older ex-con. Of course he got her pregnant and had a baby. Though the parents disapproved on him, they let him move into their home.
Long Story Short

The ex-con got caught with another girl. The daughter ended the relationship. Now he wants her back, and she's going back to him. The kicker is that she wants her parents to let him move back in. Get this. He's still living with the other girl!
Start Your Imaginations

Okay, this is the perfect setup for a plot involving murder, but I'm writing this about characterization so I'll quit thinking of murder plots. Need flawed characters? They abound in this little epistle.

The Girl

Think about this naive teenager and her low self-esteem or high hormone level or sky-high need to rebel, maybe a combination of all, that sent her into the bed of a guy who's nearly 30. Now she's a mom. Has she grown enough to place the needs of her child above her own? Obviously not. What kind of mother is she going to be? What kind of child will her detriments create?
The Dad

Think about the dad who's tired of supporting this deadbeat who can't keep it zipped. Is he full of rage? Probably. How does that rage exhibit itself? How does he cope? What kind of resentment does he feel that he'll probably end up supporting his daughter and her child, maybe for the rest of his life?

The Mom

Think about the misguided mom who needs to learn a little about tough love. True, she probably fears her daughter and grandchild will end up on the street if she doesn't provide a roof over their head, but doesn't her personality smack of an enabler, maybe even a doormat? Why is she that way? Does she feel taken advantage of? Is she bitter that her daughter has now handicapped her future by becoming a mother so early? What dreams did she have for her daughter? Are they dust now?

The Guy

Think about the ex-con who fathered the child. Does he have other children? Is he a decent guy who made mistakes or is he a truly a criminal in thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes? Does he want to change? Does he have any genuine feelings for the near jail-bait he impregnated or was she just an easy score? How did he let himself get hooked into a relationship? Did he purposely get caught with another woman in order to get out of the relationship?

All of these people have character arcs that resemble upside down bowls. What tremendous growth potential. This is how you build characters. You ask questions like these in order to get at the core of a personality and find out what really makes them tick. You'll learn a lot by analyzing and asking questions about the odd people who find themselves writing letters to advice columnists.

Takeaway Truth

Every character, like every person, acts and reacts in ways specific and logical once you understand them.

Stolen Domain Name

I was reading an article by Purva Patel (I like to give credit since I once wrote for this paper so I know how important it is to give credit to the hardworking writers.) in the Business section of my Houston Chronicle about a criminal case that will create precedent when tried, and it's all about the value of a domain name.

Gist Of It

Marc Ostrofsky of Houston is known for having sold his domain Business.com for seven $7.5 million. He's back in the news because he was hacked and, I guess I'm supposed to say allegedly, had a domain name stolen. He and his business partners own a lot of domain names. The stolen name P2P.com was purchased in 2005 for $160 grand.

A year later someone stole the name and eBayed it, selling it to pro basketballer Mark Madsen of the LA Clippers. Madsen, poor guy, didn't know it was stolen.

A week and a half ago, New Jersey police arrested the suspected domain name thief, 25 year old Daniel Goncalves who left a cyber trail when he transferred ownership of the domain name to himself after hacking into the online account of one of the owners of it, then he resold the name to Madsen for $111 grand.

So What's The Problem

You may well be asking yourself why can't Ostrofsky just take back the name. Why can't the authorities prosecute the suspect? The main problem is that there hasn't been much prosecution for the theft of Internet real estate or assets.

In Dallas, intellectual property lawyer Jeff Becker used the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act to recover names that infringed on registered trademarks. Those were civil lawsuits. Unfortunately, that act and those kinds of lawsuits don't apply to Ostrofsky's recovery effort because he's trying to bring criminal action against the suspected thief.

Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch

Until things get sorted out, and the case is either tried or dismissed, ownership of P2P is frozen. In the meantime, Ostrofsky and his partners are filing amended lawsuits to include Go Daddy, the domain company where the names were parked. I know a lot of writers do this: buy several variations of names and park them with a web host that charges a nominal fee to "store" them.

A Duh Moment

As I read the original article, I realized that names can be big business. I never really thought about it before even though I'm familiar with the lawsuits famous authors had to bring against people who bought bunches of famous name domains and then tried to sell them back to the authors for huge bucks.

I'm always looking for a way to increase income. (Writers are the original starving artists I think. Well, we don't actually starve, it just seems like it.) I like brainstorming. Maybe I should create a list of domain names and then purchase and park them until someone wants to offer me a hundred grand for them. What do you think?

Takeaway Truth

The Internet has changed the world, and now the world must change to accommodate this new world. (I had to fight to keep from saying "this new world order.")

Supercharge Your Ride

My husband wants a new Chevy Camaro, you know, the Transformers car. I wonder if he could be talked into supercharging a car rather than paying big bucks for the latest male toy of choice. After all, you can get anything from a mercedes supercharger to a Pontiac or Buick supercharger or one for just about any car at SuperChargerPros.

What's A Supercharger

If you're not into vehicles the way my husband and I are, let me explain. A supercharger, sometimes written as super charger, is a device you add to your engine that gives your vehicle more power. With many under powered vehicles, a supercharger is the answer to let you compete for your place on the freeway without getting run over while you're in the warm up lane.

Go Cruising

Visit SuperChargerPros.com. They have what you need to increase your horsepower and improve your vehicle's performance with an inventory of new and remanufactured parts ready to ship when you order them, and at affordable prices. Call them using their toll free number or email them. They can help.

Takeaway Truth

Sometimes a little tweak is all you need to turn your vehicle into the car of your dreams.

Time To Check Web Hosting

We're past the halfway mark for this year, and the end of the third quarter is approaching. Whether you're an individual or a business, now's the time to start analyzing the cost effectiveness of many expenses for which you pay on a quarterly or annual basis. One of these items for just about everyone in today's world is website hosting. Is yours cost effective or do you need to make a change?

What You Get For Your Money

There's an old cliche that you get what you pay for. Sometimes, however, you get less than you pay for when it comes to website hosting if you signed on to a plan when you don't understand what you need. I like to point people to WebHostingGeeks.com because they're a great resource for the average, non computer person to educate themselves about what they need from a web host.

Resource

You can start with the basics of do you need a website now with Park Your Domain or Build A Site and progress through articles that tackle the more technical aspects of websites. Everything you learn will help you make better decisions.

Top 10

First though, start with their list of the Top 10 Web Hosting Sites for 2009 so you'll know who's the best based on independent reviews of web hosting providers. You'll see that prices range from cheap, under 10 bucks a month, to much higher, but, remember, you get what you pay for so make sure Cheap is all you need. By the same token, educate yourself with their articles so you'll know if you opt for expensive that you really need all those bells and whistles.

Takeaway Truth

In the Internet world, it's nice to have a resource to help you make a smart decision.

Anti-Virus Softwares

I'm always surprised by the number of people who don't use anti-virus software. They either don't pay for the subscription for the program that comes with their computers once the free trial expires, or they don't enable it, or they don't schedule regular scans.

Why Not?

Some say the anti-virus program already installed on their PCs make the machine run slow or it's too expensive to renew.

Free To Low Cost

Anti-virus software is an absolute must have, can't operate without it in today's world. If you don't want to pay hefty renewal fees, then sign up for one of the free products offered online.

AVG AntiVirus by Grisoft is a good one and is for home use so, for most users, it's perfect. Since it's free, you don't get tech support. If you're not proficient enough with computers, then buy the software and pay the annual fee.

There are other good anti-virus softwares available. I purchased VIPRE for my new laptop, and it's so good that I also bought their Firewall protection. Best thing about VIPRE, you can get a site license for very low moolah.

Takeaway Truth

Protect your PC and make sure it's not a threat to others by using anti-virus software.

August & Lord Byron

Quote for the Week

Lord Byron

The handsome young poet, George Gordon Noel Byron, wrote:
The English winter—ending in July,
To recommence in August.


The weather has been so hot this summer that I'd welcome a little English winter commencing this month. Not going to happen. I went into the garage yesterday evening at 7:30, and it was 97 degrees. Simply no breath of wind anywhere. That's just not typical despite what some may think about the Houston area weather. This heat is more like Dallas than Houston.

Still, there's a reason they call August the Dog Days of summer, and that reason is heat.

Takeaway Truth

Fortunately, seasons change. If we can endure until the end of September, we'll see some lovely fall weather. Maybe.

Stunning Photos of Europe

Here's a resource for you if you need artistic photographs of Paris, Rome, or Firenze. These aren't your usual photos. These are Versailles in the harsh winter, sculptures retouched with filters to create unusual vignettes, and Notre Dame at night.

Need a photo for an art project or to illustrate writing? Check out the studio on Cutcaster. The prices are low for the qulity of the art.

Takeaway Truth

Good art can enliven and illustrate your prose.

Crafting a Log Line


Do you know what a log line is? Though used mostly by screenwriters, log lines have made their way into the novel writing world during the last ten years. A screenwriter composes the log line first. They work on it, crafting it to be a one sentence description of what the screenplay is about. When they've nailed it, they type it in italics, centered, just below the title.

Why Create Log Line

Used by novelists, a log line is a tool to help a writer focus her or his story. When you have your log line condensed into one sentence, then you really know what your story is really about. It cuts through all the subplots and your emotional entanglements that can keep you from seeing the essence of your story. If you can condense your entire book into one sentence, then you'll be able to discuss your book with editors and agents when the time comes.

Research

Read the blurbs in television guides to get a handle on what a log line is. The writers that produce these very brief synopses are experts at crafting one sentence descriptions of movies and television shows. That's what you need to do with your manuscript. Read scores of them. Master the succinct formula they use.

Half Dozen Tips

Beyond writing the log line in present tense, keeping it short (duh!), and stating the genre, here are some tips to help you create a log line. Answer each question with as few words as possible then take everything you wrote and condense, condense, condense.

1. What's your protagonist's situation and what complicates it?

2. What action does your protagonist have to take?

3. What decision must your protagonist make in the supreme crisis?

4. During the story's climax, what threatens the protagonist?

5. What is your protagonist's growth arc or the transformation he/she must make?

6. Where's the excitement, the thrill, or the high concept in your story?

Takeaway Truth

Practice crafting a log line for your story. It's time well spent.

Does It Pay To Advertise?

When I was a kid, I remember a radio commercial for a newspaper that always ended with: it pays to advertise. Though you may agree with that bit of wisdom, you probably wonder how to go about creating effective advertising in this digital age when you're faced with so many different possibilities from social networking sites to paid in place ads. How domain traffic works is something you need to know.

Special Deal For You

Have I got a deal for you! That is, elephant-traffic.com has a deal for you. They're giving away $50.00 in free advertising credit. If you want to get targeted, high value traffic, (trust me, that's the only kind worth having) then visit their website and claim your credit. All you have to do is fill out their signup form and ask for it.

Who Needs This

Anyone who wants to get ahead. If you're an author wondering if you're really reaching the audience you want, or if you're a business that needs to know if your ad campaign is really working to get the consumers who want your product, then claim your credit. Spend as little or as much as you want. They can create an effective strategy to give you the results you want that fit your budget.

Takeaway Truth


If you optimize your online advertising by obtaining expert help, you'll get the targeted audience you need for your product whether that's your published book or a consumer product.

Harry Potter Bewilders Me

Writing a review of the latest Harry Potter movie is a damned if you do/damned if you don't situation. If I say what I really think, I'll tick off all the Harry Potter fans. If I try to sugar coat it, I'll be insincere. Besides, regardless of what I say, it won't change anyone's mind. You either love Harry or you don't.

By now, you've probably already figured out that I don't much care for Harry and the gang. In fact, I'll be honest. I'm not a fan. Fantasy of the wizards and sorcerers type isn't my thing, and the mythical world created by J. K. Rowling just doesn't interest me. If you're like my daughter and love it, then that's great.

Why Did I Go?

You're wondering why I went to see the movie. My daughter made me do it. Since she still can't drive after her surgery and DVT ordeal, I'm chauffeur. She's a huge Rowling/Harry Potter fan so, of course, Mom tries to accommodate her wishes. Thus, I found myself at a matinee this week.

Pluses

Of course, computer graphics make it possible to replicate any world so Harry's world is faithfully executed. The actors have grown with their parts until they, and Harry and the gang, are young adults though I wonder if any young adults are as dense as this group when it comes to what the heart wants. Still, there's something appealing, albeit odd, about teens this naive and innocent.

Detractions

I'm such a cynic. I find myself constantly wondering if these would-be wizards are so powerful, why can't they do a better job of ferreting out the wrong-doers and thwarting their evil plans. Again, I'll confess. I just don't get Harry Potter, and I'm bewildered by the worldwide popularity. Though I don't understand it, I certainly applaud J. K. Rowling. I love it when an author succeeds, and she has succeeded in a big way.

Takeaway Truth

What one person finds supremely appealing, another may not. Luckily, there are many books published by many different authors so there's something for everyone. From good books spring good movies. One hopes.

Who Writes Leverage?

Have you become a loyal Leverage viewer? We have from the very first episode. The show, as I've written before, has a lot to recommend it, and not just for Timothy Hutton's casting as Nate, the good guy who organizes a band of thieves, grifters, and muscle into a group that rights wrongs and gives justice and redress when the system fails.

Created by Chris Downey and John Rogers, Leverage is a must-see for caper flick fans. Each episode is a finely drawn con created to shaft someone who so richly deserves it. It should appeal to the Walter Mitty in all of us.

Cast and Characters

Led by Timothy Hutton as Nathan Ford, the cast that brings these characters to life are: Christian Kane, known to fans as a lawyer with Wolfram and Hart on the fabulous series Angel, is Eliot Spencer, the muscle; Aldis Hodge is computer wizard Alec Hardison who can hack anything, anytime, anywhere; Gina Bellman is Sophie Devereaux, an aspiring actress who can't act unless she's working a con; and Beth Riesgraf as Parker, a thief so good no one knows she's ripped them off.

Writers

Of course, as a writer, I know that any television show or movie is only as good as the writing. Quality writing has to be the foundation on which a successful story is built. In the case of Leverage, the top notch caper flick every week is written by a team including Chris Downey (17 episodes), John Rogers (16 episodes), Amy Berg (3 episodes), and Albert Kim (3 episodes).

Backstory

Prior to Leverage, Chris Downey's pedigree included stints as producer and writer of The King of Queens, What About Joan?, the Joan Cusack series that didn't catch fire; Oh, Grow Up; and an episode of Cosby.

John Rogers was a producer on Global Frequency, Red Skies, and several episodes of Cosby. His writing credits before Leverage include: Transformers (story) aka Transformers: The IMAX Experience (USA: IMAX version), an episode of Eureka, Global Frequency, the screenplay for Catwoman, The Core, Red Skies, American Outlaws, an episode of Jackie Chan Adventures, and 9 episodes of Cosby.

Amy Berg was on the crew of The 4400 as executive story editor for 13 episodes and story editor for 5 episodes. She also served as story editor for one episode of Threshold, a sci fi series that was compelling but didn't build an audience. Add in North Shore, Boomtown, Kenan & Kel, and All That to conclude her writing credits. As a producer, she's been co-producer on 13 episodes of Leverage.

In addition to Leverage, Albert Kim has written 2 episodes of Dirt, and he's worn the Producer hat for two episodes of ESPN Hollywood.

Directors

The series has the talents of Dean Devlin (6 episodes), Marc Roskin (3 episodes), Jonathan Frakes (2 episodes), and Rod Hardy (2 episodes).

Devlin has credits as a Director for Leverage, Writer, Actor, and Producer. He's produced diverse projects from Stargate and Independence Day to The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice. As a writer, he's scripted or assisted in the writing of Universal Soldier in 1992, Stargate, Independence Day, an episode of TV's Stargate SG-1, Godzilla, Universal Soldier: The Return, the TV mini series The Triangle, an episode of Leverage, and the new Universal Soldier: A New Beginning, now in post-production.

Marc Roskin has credits as Producer and Director. Prior to Leverage on which he serves as producer and director for several episodes, he served as producer on many of the same projects as Devlin.

Jonathan Frakes is probably more familiar to the general public as an actor. As Commander Riker of the Enterprise, he has a loyal following. He has numerous Director credits for everything from various Star Trek vehicles to Diagnosis Murder to one of my favorite series, Roswell where he also made cameo appearances and served as Producer. He also directed 2 of The Librarian TV movies.

Rod Hardy has dozens of directing credits going back to Division 4 in 1974. Since the century turned, he's directed, in addition to 2 episodes of Leverage, episodes of Mental, Saving Grace, Dollhouse, Burn Notice, In Plain Sight, Battlestar Galactica, December Boys, Touching Evil, The Practice, Robbery Homicide Division, Route 52, Hack, JAG, Special Unit 2, The X Files, and High Noon.

Takeaway Truth

Don't miss this motley crew of likable characters, each with their own growth arc, who have bonded together as the family each of them needs, whether they know it or not.

IMDB: My Fave Movie Data Base

Want to know something about the movies? Then go to Internet Movie Data Base, or IMDB for short. This resource is one I consult regularly because I do a lot of movie and television reviews for this blog and for other clients.

In fact, I've written nearly 500 movie reviews for a private client's website though I can't tell you which one because of a Non-Disclosure Agreement.

There are a lot of movie data bases online, but I find IMDB to be a bit more comprehensive than most. No matter how obscure the movie is, they usually have casting, a synopsis, and technical details available.

Their movie synopses are posted by viewers, but, for the most part, they appear accurate though not unbiased. Sometimes, it's interesting to see what others think.

Takeaway Truth

Good writing requires good research. Choose your sources carefully.

Money

This afternoon I've been catching up on my accounting and paying bills. The last two months have been so hectic with my daughter's surgery and then in the hospital that I haven't had time to do much except pay a bill and get it in the mail.

Today as I'm posting the various sets of books I keep for the various businesses my husband and I engage in, I found myself thinking that life would be so much easier and happier if one did not need money.

Of course, I remembered what Jane Austen wrote in Mansfield Park: "A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of."

Oh, Jane, you were so wise to be so young.

Takeaway Truth

I'll finish with another quotation. This one, from Ernest Haskins, is often quoted because it's so true to life: "Save a little money each month and at the end of the year you'll be surprised at how little you have."