9 Ways to Achieve Your Goals

Wow! Where did January go? You had 12 months to make your dreams come true. Today's the last day of January. As of midnight, you'll have 11 months left. What happened to the energy that fired you up at the beginning of the New Year?

Well, it's time to T. A. K. E.  S.T.O.C.K.

9 Ways to Achieve Your Goals ... And Live Your Dreams

1. Think

Think about those resolutions / goals / wishes you wrote 31 days ago. Do you still want to make them happen? Think about it and ask yourself why you want that.

2. Analyze

Analyze your goal and any action you took to achieve it. Did you take even the smallest step? If not, why not? What are you prepared to do to get achieve a particular goal?

3. Kindness

You are probably the type of person who is kind to others. Extend that kindness to yourself. If you did nothing to achieve any of your goals, don't berate and heap insults on yourself. That won't help the situation. Be kind. Give yourself permission to try again.

4. Encourage Yourself

Do you know if you really want something, you can make it happen? Do you know that? Deep down inside, do you know that? Now is the time to look at your goal and decide if it's something you really and truly want. If it is, then every day encourage yourself that you can achieve it. Create a mental pep talk that addresses that goal achievement. Tell it to yourself. Write it 10 times each morning and evening. Tell it to yourself again at bedtime.

5. Select or Discard

At the beginning of the year, you were enthusiastic about your goals /resolutions / dreams. Now how do you feel about them? Are they still valid? If they are, then write them down again to infuse them with enthusiasm for the new month starting tomorrow. If, however, you've decided that goal isn't something you're willing to devote time and energy to, then discard it, or change it to something that does warrant your personal investment. There is no shame in quitting something for valid reasons. Stephen Covey says: "Before you try to climb the ladder of success, make sure it's leaning against the right building."

6. Take Action

Okay. You've got your goals listed again. Now, let's talk about what to do to make the most of the new month. The secret to goal achievement is to take action. Look at your goals. One mistake a lot of people make is to have dozens of goals. Hopefully, your list is manageable and addresses the major areas of life: career, personal, physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and financial. You've probably got at least one goal in each of those areas with maybe two or three in some areas.

Now, take each goal and make a list of all the steps between where you are now and where you want to be. That list should be baby steps to giant steps -- things you can do today, this week, next week, next month, etc.

7. Optimize Your Time

Success in anything isn't achieved by hard work so much as by effective work. Make the most of your time by working hard and effectively. You've planned your work, now work your plan. Above all avoid putting off till tomorrow what you can do today.

8. Change

Achieving a goal requires change. If you want to take a college class at night -- or write 5 pages of a novel at night -- then you change your habit from watching TV in the evening to attending class or writing. To get something new in your life, you have to make room for it. One of the ways you make room is by changing the way you live your life. You must be willing to make those changes.

9. Keep Moving Forward

The first month of the new year ends tonight at midnight. Waste no time agonizing over what you didn't do. Focus on what you can do tomorrow. Always keep moving forward.

That's right the 9 Ways to Achieve Your Goals spell out a message: Take Stock -- of where you are right now and where you want to be and what you have to do to get there.

Takeaway Truth

Write down a To Do list for tomorrow, taking into account your final destination at year's end. Now go for it!

Test Your American Civics Knowledge

This test my friend Frank sent me is pretty cool. I only scored 69.7%, but I'll make a disclaimer. I was tired and didn't think overly long about the questions, and many of them required thought.

Test your knowledge of Civics.

Takeaway Truth

Sometimes it's hard to retrieve that knowledge stored long ago.

Movie Review: The Host

Today was bitterly cold -- for Houston at least. I went to bed early and snuggled under the electric blanket since hubby is not home to keep me warm. I've spent most of the evening watching obscure films, courtesy of Netflix. In fact, I've stayed up way too late. I'm getting ready to call it quits now.

The Host was one of the best of the movies I sampled, but I was surprised by how similar in premise it was to the Stargate movie and series, Stargate SG-1, with the superior but physically vulnerable G'oauld, as they were called in the Stargate mythology.

When an alien race implants a parasite soul named Wanderer into Melanie Stryder's body, she resists the takeover. Soon, Melanie and Wanderer become reluctant allies as they go on a quest to track down the men they love in this sci-fi thriller.

Still, this was a rather compelling though uneven young adult flick directed by Andrew Niccol and starring Saoirse Ronan, Diane Kruger, William Hurt, Frances Fisher, Jake Abel, and Max Irons. (Mr. Niccol wrote Gattaca and Lord of War.) I think the main problem with it was that it couldn't decide whether it wanted to be a romance or a science fiction movie.

I did a little online sleuthing and discovered the book on which the movie was based was by Stephenie Meyer of Twilight fame. I don't read YA very often so I was unaware of her journey from vampires to aliens. This review is no judgment of her book since movies and books are two disparate entities that often bear no resemblance to each other. 

Takeaway Truth

The movie is a good reworking of the G'oauld premise and is fairly decent though it suffers from being strung out to reach a certain time length.

Learn About Google Authorship

Do you know about Google Authorship? This is an effort by Google to make it harder for content to be stolen.

A lot of people don't know about it, or they're not taking advantage of it. A lot of people think there's no way to prevent someone from pirating your books, scraping your blog content, or any of the other crimes against writers.

That's probably true, but I don't believe in making it easy for the criminals, and that's what they are--criminals. Stealing intellectual property is a crime.

Google rules the search engine world so take advantage of that by using Google Authorship. As soon as you create content, the authorship tag  links it back to your name and website. Hopefully, if someone scrapes your blog post then, the content will already have been associated with you.

Visit Google Authorship and find out how to do it.

Takeaway Truth

Try it. You may find it worthwhile and useful.

Old Man Winter

I love Houston's climate. Since I grew up on the Gulf Coast, the hot, steamy summers don't bother me at all. Heck, we didn't even have air conditioning when I was a kid.

Normal Winter

Normally, winter in Houston is perfect. Just cold enough to wear sweaters and the occasional coat. The cold days are sparse with lots of sunny days and blue skies to provide contrast.

Abnormal Winter

This past week has been another story. Somebody left the freezer door open! Brrr. We've had temperatures dropping down into the 20's here, and that's just too darn cold.

I've always thought Shakespeare chose wisely when he paired winter and discontent, i.e., "Now is the winter of our discontent."

Winter Sports

Winter of course has winter sports. Many look forward to the Olympic Winter Games. However, I'm forced to agree with humorist Dave Barry who said: "The problem with winter sports is that--follow me closely here--they generally take place in winter."

Takeaway Truth

Shelley wrote: "O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?"

I sincerely hope not!

5 Easy Tips for Great Blog Post Headlines

Follow these five easy tips, and you’ll improve your blog post headlines. That will help you improve your Google PageRank. You do know about Google PageRank, or PR for short, don’t you? Do you even know why it’s important?

PageRank, an algorithm used by Google Search to rank websites in their search engine results, was named after Larry Page, one of the founders of Google. PageRank is a way of measuring the importance of website pages. Among other business uses, PR determines how much a website or blog owner can charge advertisers.

In its simplest definition, one assumes PageRank is high if there are many visitors to the website/blog. So how do you get visitors to your site? By providing worthwhile content with some very important characteristics.

SEO and Keywords

Simply put, SEO, Search Engine Optimization, is the process of improving the visibility of a website/blog/web page in search engine rankings. You do this by organically writing text that web crawlers look for.

The earlier in the content and the higher on the page and the more frequently a website appears in SERP (Search Engine Results Pages), the more visitors it will receive from the search engine.

Keywords, or keyword phrases, are the words people enter into a search engine to find something specific among the millions of pages on the Internet.

Begin At Beginning

So if you're looking to improve your standing in Search Engine results which ultimately results in people finding your site more often, then you write blog posts or website articles using SEO techniques and tag or label those posts with specific words or keywords.

You begin your article or post with the headline, and that's where I'll start.

What Makes A Great Headline

Headlines are very important. Most readers find your blog through the good old RSS feed so you want your headline to immediately attract them so they click to read.

What kind of headlines appeal to readers? Those that follow some tried-and-true formulas. Here are my 5 easy tips for great blog headlines.

1. Headlines with numbers that promise special information.

Example: The title of this blog post has the number 5, an odd number.

Make a chart with 3 even columns: left, middle, right. On the left, put numbers. For some reason, odd numbers seem to work better along with the number 10.

2. Headlines with a "magical" word.

Example: The title of this post includes the magical word, tips.

In the right column, write down specific words that promise to divulge something unique. Some of these words might be: secrets, mistakes, nuisances, revelations, fantasies, tips, habits. Write down as many of these special words as you can think of.

3. Headlines with a modifier of the "magical" word.

Example: The title of this post has the modifier, easy.

In the middle column, write modifiers that increase the interest of your "magical" word. Example: easy ways, awful things, funny outcomes, perilous mistakes, cool tips, logical reasons, etc. Again, write as many as you can think of.

Then start combining a number from the left column with a modifier from the middle and a "magical" word from the right.

9 Little-Known Secrets of Published Authors
7 Down and Dirty Diet Tips
3 Blogging Tips for Success
10 Dangerous Mistakes Websites Make
5 Remarkable Secrets to eBook Success
7 Funny Situations At Book Signings
5 Shocking Truths About Keywords
7 Delightful Secrets from eBook Authors

4. Repeat the headline word or words in the first paragraph. That's another SEO technique, but do it naturally, not where it sticks out like a sore thumb.

5. Use keywords in the headline. If you're writing about ebook authors, then that phrase "ebook authors" is a keyword phrase that people plug into search engine to find content about that subject. So make your headline use the keyword phrase, repeat the keyword phrase in the first paragraph and in at least the middle and last paragraphs as well. Make it organic to the piece.

Make a list of your keywords and sprinkle them organically in your text. Never use them over and over in each paragraph. That’s called keyword stuffing and does little but create boring text.

Takeaway Truth

SEO and keyword inclusion are important in getting your content seen, but good headlines are needed to make the viewer click to read. Just remember to make your SEO and keyword usage seamless and organic to the content.

TV Review: Hell on Wheels

The Western is making a comeback, but it's not your dad's Western.

Once the staple of television, the Western fell out of favor in the late 1960s. By the early 1970s most of them had been ridden out of town on a rail.

According to Wikipedia, 1968 was the last season a new Western debuted on television. Parental advocacy groups, dead-set against them because they considered them too violent for TV, killed them off one by one.

Old School

In today's world where violence is pretty much a part of the most popular video games, movies, and television shows, that seems laughable in its naiveté. If you watch an old episode of The Virginian or High Chaparral, you'll probably scratch your head in bewilderment at the violence label that got them canceled at the height of their popularity. Bonanza got the axe in 1973, and the venerable Gunsmoke in 1975, but they live on, and are apparently quite popular, in reruns on several cable outlets.

The hybrid Westerns that filled the gap after the purge -- shows like the touchy-feely Little House on the Prairie, the modern western McCloud, the steampunk western Wild, Wild West, the martial art western Kung Fu, and the eco western The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams -- proves that there was still a desire for the Western. Hollywood tried to fill that gap by producing westerns with a gimmick.

A whole generation or two grew up without watching Westerns. Is it any wonder that the western genre in fiction shrunk more every year?

From the 1990s to the early 2000s, a few Westerns were sent out into the world to try to build an audience. Walker Texas Ranger did quite well, but most failed. A few like The Young Riders lasted a couple of seasons. Then along came Lonesome Dove, and that was a godsend to the Western genre.

New Sensibility

Joss Whedon's Firefly, a Western set in outer space, came along in 2002 and made the Western cool again. More TV movies were made and did well. Then, in 2010, Justified, and FX production, hit the small screen.

Justified is about a U.S. Marshal who would be right at home in an old-fashioned Western movie with his "he pulled first" attitude. The only thing is this series is set in modern rural Kentucky. Fans don't care. I think this series met the hunger for Western stories about mythic heroes, and it made new fans as well -- even though those fans might not realize they're watching what amounts to a Western.

True Western Roars Onto TV

Then in 2008, Joe and Tony Gayton created Hell on Wheels. It subsequently sold to AMC who debuted it in 2011. The show is aptly named because it's a Hell on Wheels thrill ride of retribution, redemption, betrayal, revenge, ruthless ambition, and every emotion you can name.

The cast includes, among other talents, Anson Mount is Cullen Bohannon, the Confederate soldier seeking revenge; Colm Meaney is a railroad barren; and Common is a former slave locked into a life of violence. The acting is superb. You end up hating the bad guys and rooting for haunted Mr. Bohannon.

This American Western series, written by Jeremy Goldabout, is about the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the United States, and follows the Union Pacific Railroad and the people who worked to build it -- surveyors, laborers, prostitutes, mercenaries, railroad men, and other camp followers -- but it's primarily about Bohannon, the former Confederate soldier who signs on as foreman and chief engineer on the railroad. Bohannon is as ruthless as the men he hunts, the Union soldiers who murdered his wife and young son during the Civil War.

Takeaway Truth

Hell on Wheels is a no-holds-barred cable show that's probably not suitable for children. It's gripping and suspenseful, and some scenes just about break your heart. If you haven't seen it before, the first 2 seasons are on Netflix so watch it today.

Business News in Book World

I'm catching up on all my email newsletters today. I saw some important news that I want to make sure everyone knows about.

Book Earnings

If you wondered how your book earnings compare to others, check out this article on GalleyCat. You'll either feel better or feel worse after reading this.


If you're using CreateSpace to publish print editions of your work or thinking about doing that, here's some good news. Just as Amazon removed a minimum payment threshold last month, CreateSpace, an Amazon company, is doing the same. As of January 20, 2014, the minimum threshold amount has been removed for accounts selecting Direct Deposit as their payment method.

India Hungry For English

I've been getting a trickle of royalties from India. I suspected that was a huge untapped market, and another article in GalleyCat, India Expected to Publish More English Language Books, supports that notion.

Dangerous Email Attachments

MakeUseOf has a great article on how to spot dangerous email attachments. Everyone knows not to open a .exe file. But do you know the other file extensions to be wary of? Do you know the ones that are just about always safe? Be sure and read the entire article.

Takeaway Truth

Good news mostly, right?

How To Use Video Promotion

Have you started making video book trailers yet? I have, and it’s a lot of fun. I intend to do even more this year -- not just book trailers but writing lessons, humor pieces, and maybe book reviews. You can see my current videos on my YouTube Channel.

I think of book trailers as a blurb done movie-style. I've also done videos to promote group blogs to which I belong, but I particularly like doing the humor videos like How To Recognize an Author.

This year, I intend to do a lot more with video production -- for me and for clients. (If you're interested in having me create a video book trailer for you, just email me.)

Video design and production is just so much fun. If you don’t have interest in doing it yourself – it is time-consuming – then consider hiring someone to create videos. True, most video producers charge quite a bit, but there are bargains to be had.

Make Video an Effective Tool

Of course, you need to spread your video link around so people can find your video. Here are some suggestions of where to place your link and/or video clip:

  • on your personal social networking page
  • on your website and blog
  • in your signature file for emails, group lists, and forums.
Most importantly, send a copy of your video via DVD or flash drive out whenever you can because if a picture is worth a thousand words, what's a video worth?

DVD blanks and jewel cases are cheap. So are flash drives when you catch them on sale. Save your video to storage media and sent it out. Here are some ways to use video hard copy:
  • in your press kit – hard copy and online
  • to accompany donated items you send to a conference
  • send a video to the person who books engagements if you're pitching yourself as a speaker
  • take discs to hand out at a personal appearance (speech, workshop, book signing, etc.)

Takeaway Truth

Traditional marketing tools just don’t cut it in today’s world so try something new.


Yesterday, I saw the previews for a new TV series called Klondike, set in the Klondike Gold Rush. That made me think about the California Gold Rush.

My thoughts leapfrogged to the musical Paint Your Wagon, set in the California Gold Rush. Looking out across the back of our property, I could see the windsock at the airport as it extended, completely horizontal, from the fierce north wind.


When I was a very young girl, I heard the song, They Call the Wind Maria, and fell in love with that song. Maybe that haunting song of longing for love is why I like windy days.

They Call the Wind Maria (pronounced muh-rye-uh) was the most popular song from the aforementioned 1951 Broadway musical, Paint Your Wagon. (Lyrics by Alan J. Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe.) In the 70's, I saw the movie version of the musical and totally loved it. The song  was, I understand, a huge hit and was one of the most rquested songs by troops during the Korean War.

If you don't know the song, listen to it on a remastered YouTube video with Harve Presnell, who sang it in the movie version, performing it.

Wind often makes me feel as if it's blowing away negativity and bringing new energy.

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn said: "You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of."

Takeaway Truth

You can't change the wind so just imagine it blowing away the bad stuff and allowing good things to flow in and surround you.

6 Ways to Be Stronger

Do you wish you were emotionally stronger so the slings and arrows of the writing life – of life itself – wouldn’t hurt so much?

I’ve thought about this a lot because when you’re in the public eye, you can get stomped on a fairly regular basis. It can take years to build the thick skin one needs to become impervious to the hurt.

I’ve been through a lot in life, and I’d like to pass along some of the things I’ve learned from experience and from others who offered advice. Sometimes I learned from bad advice by subsequently learning that the advice was bad.

1. Don't take advice from anyone who's more screwed up than you. Everyone likes to give advice, but always ask yourself if the person dishing out the advice is living life more effectively, with less hiccups, than you. If not, smile and nod and feel free to ignore what they say. Unless what they tell you is based upon their own bad experience of doing the opposite, then listen.

2. Do learn from others who have been where you want to go. Model their behavior. Find out how they did it and adapt their method to your efforts. Unless the way they achieved their success was dishonest and goes against your own beliefs and integrity. You can't model negative behavior without far-reaching consequences.

3. Do stop working so hard. Instead, learn how to work effectively. Unless you assess your efforts and realize you really aren't working hard – you're just giving lip service to the idea of working hard.

4. Do enjoy yourself and your life more. Unless you're already spending way too much time in the pursuit of pleasure. You have to have a good balance between hard, effective work and play.

5. Do change your attitude about work. Sometimes when we describe an activity as work, even though it's something we truly adore doing, the activity, in our mind, becomes linked to work which popular culture tells us should mean unpleasantness. The more you enjoy something; the less it should seem like work so celebrate that fact. If, instead, your work really is sheer drudgery then you need to find something else to do for a living.

6. Do remember that you want to achieve something with the investment of your time, energy, and brain power. At day’s end, ask yourself if your investment will reap rewards even though that may be far in the future. If the answer is yes, then salute yourself. If no, then resolve to do better tomorrow. No guilt. Just a resolution and commitment to make tomorrow count.

Takeaway Truth

Each day is a new chance to be the person you are – the person who is sometimes hidden by fear and insecurity and lack of confidence. Be strong. Be that person.

Watch The Bletchley Circle

The Bletchley Circle is excellent! I found it on Netflix, and decided to give it a try because the blurb pushed all my buttons.

Four ordinary women with an extraordinary flair for code-breaking and razor-sharp intelligence skills are the focus of this murder-mystery drama. Having served as code breakers in World War II, the four now focus their talents on catching killers.

The unwieldy title is such a disservice to this movie which is in 3 parts. This movie is topnotch in every respect. Set in post-WWII, these women have been thrust back into the mundane and forced to resume their former lives. When you've been a genius code breaker, it's hard to be "the little woman" again.


Anna Maxwell Martin is housewife Susan Gray. Rachael Stirling is the outspoken Millie. Sophie Rundle is Lucy who has an eidetic memory. Julie Graham is bureaucrat Jean who still has connections.

Bottom Line

Prior to WWII, women were marginalized. It was a man's world, but the war changed that. Men went to war, and women went to work. Women had a chance to show what they could do whether it was shooting rivets into an airplane wing or working for a super secret think tank. Women showed that they too had brain power and could analyze complex problems and come up with solutions.

So what do they do with those skills, that experience of working with other super-intelligent women and men? How do they turn off their brains and return to housework, laundry, and cooking for hubby? Of course, they can't. This film is about these women who contributed so greatly to the war effort. They were never allowed to divulge what they did -- not even to their husbands.

What do they do when they see a pattern in a series of unsolved murders? What do they do when the authorities pat them on the heads and tell them to run along?

Takeaway Truth

I truly hope The Bletchley Circle will have more episodes made because it's intelligent as well as entertaining. Definitely watch this one.

How To Conquer the Blank Page

How can you write when you don't know what comes next? When you're staring at a blank page or today's equivalent, the blank monitor screen.

Sometimes even when we writers have notes or an outline or some kind of roadmap, we sit down at the computer, lift our hands to the keyboard, and nothing happens. We're blank. Our mind is as clean as a wiped slate.

What Do You Do Then?

You write anyway. Just start writing even if it's something dull and stupid and uninspired. Start writing sentence after sentence, describing what should be happening even if you only have an inkling. Or write what the character should be doing, thinking, or feeling. If nothing else, start writing about your blank brain.

Amazingly, the very act of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard sparks something. Indeed, it's almost miraculous. You'll fill the page with words, and, lo and behold, many of them begin to resemble what you should be writing. Sure, it's probably yukky, stinky writing, but it's still writing.

Your brain in an act of desperation will output words. It's like turning on a water faucet. At first the spigot is hard to turn, and the water trickles out. Some of the water might look rusty and undrinkable, but if you keep turning that spigot, the flow will increase and the stream of water will become sparkling clean.

Bad Writing Is Still Writing

You know what you do with that page of bad writing? You fill the page up, and you'll probably keep going by filling another page. Then you put those pages in the stack as today's work. You see, you can fix a page of bad writing, even really bad writing, but you can't ever fix a blank page.

Nora Roberts is often quoted as saying something along those lines. I doubt if she was the first author to state that insight, and I won't be the last. It's a universal truth in the writing world. Rough draft can be edited into finished draft – no matter how awful and pedestrian the rough copy may be. Blank pages can never be edited into anything – they'll always stay blank.

Takeaway Truth

Learn how to refine gold from dross. Give yourself permission to write crap and then edit that into readable prose.

Self-Published Book Competition Open

Writer's Digest is hosting the 22nd annual Self-Published Book Awards. If you have self-published a book, now's your chance to win some acclaim for it. Co-sponsored by Book Marketing Works, LLC, this competition spotlights today’s self-published works and honors self-published authors.


Early-Bird Deadline: April 1, 2014

Prizes: Grand Prizes and special awards include $3,000 in cash, National exposure for your work, attention of prospective editors/publishers, and a paid trip to the Writer’s Digest Conference.

Mainstream/Literary Fiction
Genre Fiction
Inspirational (Spiritual, New Age)
Life Stories (Biographies, Autobiographies, Family Histories, Memoirs)
Children’s/Picture books
Middle-Grade/Young Adult books
Reference Books (Directories, Encyclopedias, Guide Books)

How to enter: Visit the contest page to register and pay online or to download a printable entry form. (Early-bird entry fees are $99 for the first entry, and $75 for each additional entry.)

Takeaway Truth

Although this isn't an inexpensive contest to enter, it is credible and has a good rep so if the fee isn't a deterrent, go for it. Good luck.

Improve Typing Skills in 2014

Typing, or keyboarding, if you prefer, is a vital skill in today’s world. A lot of people still use the “hunt and peck” system of typing, but it’s never too late to learn how to do it properly. If you already type, but slowly, then make a resolution this year to get faster and more accurate.

There are a lot of apps out there to help you improve. Some are serious, and some are fun.

http://www.keybr.com/ is one I like because it seems particularly effective. The more you work with it, the better your reflexes get and the faster your speed. It’s almost addictive once you start. If you register, you can save your profile and stats.

http://www.typingtest.com/ offers a free download to help you test your speed and several apps to help you increase that speed.

http://www.typingweb.com/ has free typing tutorials from Beginner to Advanced and Specialty. You have to register, but it’s free.

Go For Fun

Some of the fun ways to improve your skills are the many typing games online. They're fun for kids and adults. WordGames has several like Key Krusher, Dooma, and Typing Defense.

Lifehacker has a great post on improving your mobile typing skills.

Takeaway Truth

How's your typing skill? Room for improvement? Then get started today.


This cold I caught is dragging on. Even though I don't feel like it, I tackled the paperwork that has piled up since November when we started moving into the townhouse we were remodeling.

Ugh! My new office is awash in piles of charge slips and receipts, bank statements waiting to be reconciled, bills to pay, etc.

I just finished computing my 4th Quarter Estimated Tax Form so that's a load off my weary mind. (Deadline is Jan. 15 so get yours in the mail.)

Of course, after figuring that out, I'm reminded of what Lewis Carroll said about the business of writing: "I don't want to take up literature in a money-making spirit, or be very anxious about making large profits, but selling it at a loss is another thing altogether, and an amusement I cannot well afford."

Takeaway Truth

More and more, I think Leo Rosten was spot-on when he said: "The only reason for being a professional writer is that you can't help it."

Wine: Sunshine in a Glass

Red Red Wine by Roger Kirby
Today, we're celebrating a birthday so we'll be opening an excellent bottle of wine this evening -- possibly one of the bottles of Signature Red from Red Road Winery. They call this a soft merlot, and it's so smooth and drinkable that it goes down almost too easy.

As we are preparing dinner, we're talking about wine and some of the best films about wine. Most of the adult members of the Reeves clan really like A Good Year starring Russell Crowe as Max, the heir to a vineyard and chateau in Provence. The movie is delightful and based on one of my favorite books, A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. Mayle has built a literary career writing about beautiful Provence, and he does so with great affection.

Another family favorite is Bottle Shock starring the remarkable Alan Rickman as an Englishman who owns a wine shop in Paris and who sets up a competition between California wines and French wines. Bottle shock is the jostling of the contents when wine is moved from place to place.

Set in 1976, this docudrama which also stars Bill Pullman and Chris Pine, is about the real-life showdown between California's wineries and their French counterparts. This event is what put California wines on the tables of restaurants around the world.

Another good film we recently saw was Somm [HD], a documentary that was filmed in 6 countries over a two-year period. The film follows 4 sommeliers as they try to pass the almost unpassable exam for Master Sommelier. The documentary makes becoming a rocket scientist seem almost easy by comparison.

You'll gain new respect for a sommelier after seeing this film, which is an education in itself. You'll certainly remember the phrase, "essence of black currant." In fact, over the holidays, we had a German Riesling and that phrase immediately came to mind with the first inhalation of the wine's aroma.

Takeaway Truth

Be sure and watch any or all of these with a glass of good wine in hand.

Note: Photographer's Webpage: http://www.sxc.hu/profile/theswedish

Southern Pickles

I don't know what it is about Southern kitchens, but we tend to pickle just about everything.

In convenience stores in Louisiana, you can find huge jars of dill pickles -- you know, the kind that are as big as hotdog bun? The amazing thing though are the big gallon jars of pickled eggs next to them. (I'll confess never to eating a pickled egg because the idea of them always seemed gross.)

I was thinking about this pickling craze when I was in Louisiana last week and visiting with my sister-in-law Judy in her pantry. On the shelves of her pantry were beautiful jars full of pickles. Dill pickles, sweet pickles, bread and butter pickles, picked green jalapeno, pickled red jalapeno, pickled okra, and pickled beets.

With the pickled hot peppers, we use the vinegar from them, which we call pepper sauce, to spice up cooked mustard greens or turnip greens so a jar of pickled peppers does double duty.

Judy filled a box with some of my favorites for me to take home, and she gave me a cooler full of veggies from her freezer. Nothing tastes as good as vegetables from their kitchen garden. Oh, and I scored a half-dozen jars of jellies too: muscadine, grape, and yellow plum.

Takeaway Truth

Home cooking and canning are alive and well in the South. In other places too, I hope, because it's some of the best food around.

Writing Lesson: Conniving Women

There are a lot of women villains in movies and television now. Have you ever dissected one of these characters? If you want to create one of these dangerous, conniving women, how do you go about it?

One way is to observe a woman like this. In real life, this is a bit tricky. Fortunately, there are other ways to find a woman and pull away the layers of deceit to discover the truth behind her usually appealing facade. It's much easier to take a look at a movie built around a deceitful, conniving woman and see how she spins her web.

Recently, I watched an old movie that perfectly depicts the manipulation and deceit of a conniving woman. If you haven't seen All About Eve, made in 1950 and listed as one of the Top 100 Movies by AFI®, for the sake of characterization, get a copy and watch it.

You can buy it on Amazon or view it on Netflix. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards and 5 Golden Globes, it's still compelling and captivating in its portrayal of a seemingly gentle starstruck fan who adores the glamorous -- and aging Broadway diva Margo Channing.

About the Film

The film itself is a fabulous look at New York theater life in 1950 as well as the struggle of an established star to stay on top. It's a dog eat dog world in the entertainment business, and that was just as true then as it is now.

All About Eve won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (George Sanders). Bette Davis played aging actress Margo Channing and Anne Baxter played the starstruck fan with a hidden agenda.

Analyze & Learn

If you're a writer, take note of Eve, the gentle, sad fan who waits by the stage door. See how Eve, played superbly by Anne Baxter, first attracts the attention of Margo's friend, how she gets that introduction to the great star, and then how she makes herself indispensable to Margo.

There is a brief moment when you get a glimpse of Eve's ambition. There are 2 people who see behind Even's facade. One instinctively doesn't like her -- pure gut instinct. The other is someone as deceitful as she. It takes one to know one, right?

Watch how Eve sets everything up to get her big break, and see how she tramples on everyone in her way. In fact, make notes about the progression of the plot from beginning to end because it's a perfect character arc, except in this case, it's from apparent goodness to villainy.

Characterization lesson apart, the film is glamorous and one of the best women movies ever. The cast were at the top of their game when this movie was made. You even get a glimpse of the young ingenue Marilyn Monroe in a bit part. One of the best scenes in All About Eve occurs at the end. What goes around, comes around.

Takeaway Truth

Watch people -- all kinds of people. Since denizens of deceit don't usually reveal themselves to the casual observer, find those characters in film and study them carefully. Then apply what you've learned to your writing.

Last Call for Book Cover Art Contest

Hey! This is your last chance to enter your book cover art in the annual Judge A Book By Its Cover Contest -- informally known as JABBIC?

This prestigious contest sponsored by Houston Bay Area Romance Writers of America Chapter 30 celebrates the best in book cover art. The contest closes January 15. If you haven't entered yet, read on. This is a contest you don't want to miss because it is open to self-published books as well as traditionally published books.


Books published during the calendar year 2013 by traditional publishing houses, ePublishers, Print-on-Demand publishers, or self-published.


Booksellers from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. All decisions of the judges are final.

  • Single title/Mainstream
  • Contemporary Series
  • Historical
  • Inspirational
  • Romantic Suspense
  • Science Fiction/Fantasy/Paranormal
  • Sexiest cover
  • Young Adult

Midnight, January 15, 2014. (This means you must have uploaded your cover via the entry process by that time.)

Entry Fee

$15.00 USD. Fees are payable via PayPal or by check as directed during the entry process. (Credit cards will not be directly accepted by Houston Bay Area. You may use credit cards with PayPal, however.) One (1) entry fee per cover. You may enter as often as you like, but remember 1 fee per cover.

Entry Content
  • Front covers only which will be submitted electronically.
  • Cover art should be in JPG, GIF, or PNG format. No PDF files.
  • You may enter as many different covers as you wish, but each cover entered requires 1 entry fee.
  • Each cover may be entered in only one category.
  • If you know the actual artist's name, you can submit it with your entry. If you don't know the artist's name, you can simply leave that field blank.

Each winner in each category will be asked to submit a high-resolution image file for inclusion in the RWR ad which is the prize for winning.

Grand Prize

A full-page color ad in the April Romance Writers Report featuring the winners in all six categories.

To Enter JABBIC, just visit the Entry Page and follow the instructions.The entry process is easy, and the instructions on the page are clear.

Takeaway Truth

This contest has been around for many years and is respected in the publishing industry. The entry fee is small, and the honor of winning is large. Enter today.

Movie Review: Today's Special

When we were remodeling our townhouse, I bought a Samsung Smart TV for the kitchen. The remote had a Netflix button so I linked my Netflix account to it which made My Queue -- now called My List -- just a click away.

I watched a lot of indie films, documentaries, and other obscure offerings   while I lined kitchen shelves, unpacked the kitchen stuff, and arranged everything. Some of what I watched was excellent. I probably wouldn't have viewed it under normal circumstances so I want to pass my recs on to you.

Today's Special

After he gets passed over for promotion, haute cuisine sous chef Samir quits to pursue his dream of cooking in Paris, but an emergency forces him to take over his family's shabby Indian restaurant in Queens.

What It's Really About

A father accepting his son is an adult who just might be more knowledgeable and talented than he ever thought, and a son recognizing his father's accomplishments and realizing that the old man has something to teach him after all. They learn respect for each other that intensifies their love.


Talented Aasif Mandvi wrote the screenplay and stars as Samir, the under-appreciated chef who must learn to trust his instinct, training, and taste buds. Mandvi, born Aasif Hakim Mandviwala, is an Indian-American actor, comedian, writer, and producer. He is a regular correspondent on The Daily Show.

Mandvi's one-man show Sakina's Restaurant was the first play written by a South Asian American to be produced Off Broadway.

Jessica "Jess" Weixler is Carrie, the chef who is attracted to Samir, and not just for his knowledge and skill as a chef. Weixler is an actress, writer, and director.

Dean Winters is Steve, the head chef who denies Samir his promotion. Winters is always good. You probably know him as Detective Brian Cassidy on the long-running Law and Order SVU.

Naseeruddin Shah is Akbar, the wily cab driver with the eclectic resume and a wealth of knowledge about spices. You'll love the scenes where he's teaching Samir to trust his senses.

Harish Patel is Hakim, the patriarch of this family who sees no reason to change the status quo. Patel is known mainly for his stage work, but he's been in several comedy films and on television. If you're a dad, you'll appreciate his performance.

Madhur Jaffrey is Farrida, Hakim's wife and Samir's mother, whose characterization has that universality that all cultures recognize as a mother's love -- as exasperating as it is profound -- and a wife's gentle, but iron will, who directs her husband's path. Jeffrey is amazing and exudes a sense of wisdom and peace in all her roles. I always enjoy her performances.

Final Thoughts

I loved this movie because of its lesson about embracing the best of one's past and discarding old attitudes. The film is amusing with a few laugh-out loud moments, emotional in the relationships that cross all cultures, and witty. There's a great lesson in this story about fathers and sons, change and acceptance, and finding out that accepting your roots can give you wings.

There's a language warning on this film on Netflix for the F-bombs, without which this would be a great family movie. Use your own judgment about letting kids watch. If you don't have Netflix, you can rent or buy Today's Special on Amazon.

Takeaway Truth

Definitely see this. Great underdog story, emotional depth, wit, and relationship lessons not to mention some great performances.

9 Uses for Old Towels

With the cold weather upon us, we who live in the normally warm states are scurrying around winterizing things we usually don't worry about.

I realized as I looked out at my neighbors' yards that we all use a lot of old towels in winterizing. Of course, it's best to get to the hardware store and buy special pipe insulation and insulated covers to go over outdoor water spigots, but, in a pinch, old towels are better than nothing.

I have a stack of old towels. I'm pretty sure most people do because terrycloth is practically indestructible. So I thought I'd list some of the ways one can use old towels. In the spirit of economizing, here are my reasons not to ever throw away old towels.

1. Drape old towels over shrubs that aren't meant to endure temperatures below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Shrubs like varieties of azalea, hibiscus, gardenia, and jasmine just to mention a few.

2. After you remove the water hoses outdoors, wrap the spigot and any exposed pipes with several thicknesses of old towels if you don't have pipe insulation handy. Tape it up with duct tape.

3. Lay old towels in window sills and/or door sills if you have drafts there.

4. Use several as pet blankets and bedding.

5. Old towels make great doormats on really rainy days. In fact, make a path of them from the door to wherever the wet shoes come off.

6. If you wash and detail your car, use old towels to dry your car. In fact, I started saving old towels after darling hubby used the good ones to dry his car. I mean, I know he loves our sports car, but...

7. Cut old towels into squares and use them as dust cloths.

8. Cut them into the size of Swifter floor pads and attach them to your floor cleaner device in the same way you'd use a floor cloth you bought. Spritz them with your favorite floor cleaner or with plain white vinegar and use them to clean your floors.

9. Use an old towel as a pressing cloth on your ironing board to press delicate fabrics.

Takeaway Truth

The New Year is here. Why not adopt some new habits that make the most of your dollar? Economize. Maybe even adopt the old philosophy of: "Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do, or do without."

Death in the New Year

Sadly, the New Year began with a death in my family. My last aunt. Once I had so many aunts and uncles, now they're all gone, as are my parents.

Irving Berlin wrote: "The song is ended, but the melody lingers on." That lingering melody are the memories of our loved ones.

I like the fanciful imagery in this Eskimo legend that says: "Perhaps they are not stars but rather openings in Heaven where the love of our lost ones shines down to let us know they are happy."

That's such a lovely thought.

Takeaway Truth

Rest in peace, Aunt Pauline.

Milestones To Success

Most people have this mindset of celebrating the big things in life. That's good, but, sometimes, those big events are few and far between. When you're working toward a big goal -- like writing a book or landscaping your yard or getting your college degree -- the celebration can lie far into the future.

Often, when you're working so hard on a big goal, burnout is a real possibility. If you're not immediately successful or you receive no positive feedback, you can begin feeling as if you're butting your head against a stone wall.

Mile Markers

To avoid burnout on your journey to goal achievement, mark your progress with small celebrations.  You see, as you take action every day to achieve your goal, you'll pass milestones along the way -- kind of like those mile markers you see on highways. Celebrate these milestones as they occur because they show you're making progress.

Progressive Realization

Motivational speaker Earl Nightingale once said that "success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal." Progressive realization means taking consistent action to achieve the goal. You are succeeding each day that you work toward your goal.

For example, if you're working toward a college degree, celebrate each course you pass, every year you complete, etc. If you're landscaping your yard, celebrate when each phase of the landscaping plan is completed. If you're setting up an online store, celebrate getting the design finished, getting the webpage done, getting the business online, making your first sale, and so on.

If you're writing a book, celebrate getting the first draft done, finishing the book, choosing a path to publication, and taking action to get it published. If you're self-publishing a book, then celebrate each skill you acquire along that path.

In November, I passed a milestone: more than 2,000 posts published on SlingWords since 2005 when I founded this blog. At the time I passed that mile marker, I was carting boxes to my new townhouse so I was forced to quietly note the milestone. Today, I've finished moving so I'm celebrating that achievement.

Celebrate With Me

Join me in celebrating. Receive a free copy of Written Wisdom (a Book of Inspiration for the New Year), available at all major ebook sellers. Just leave a comment with your email address (write it out, don't leave it as a hot link). I'll send you a Smashwords Coupon code for a free copy by return mail.

Takeaway Truth

True success is never a destination; it's a journey.

New Year Is New Chance

The Old; The New

I'm excited about renewing friendships with old acquaintances and making new acquaintances this year.

Change To Stability

Last year was a year of change for me. This year, I'm looking forward to a year of stability.

I also look forward to giving you articles that will entertain, educate, and help you achieve your goals.

I believe strongly in second chances. A New Year is a second chance for everyone. 

Takeaway Truth

Rejoice in the New Year for it's another chance to live the life you want. Happy 2014!