Survived Christmas

My calendar says it's December 27. Wow. Christmas is over. I survived. The last of the visitors leaves today. I think I'll be packing up the shiny ornaments, mistletoe, and garlands and reclaim my house.

The yard can stay festooned with sparkling lights and candy canes. DH can reclaim it because like, it's not my job, man.

Pralines, pray-lines or prawlines

A praline by any other name is still delicious, fattening, and irresistible.

"I can't imagine a world without pralines," cookbook author Nathalie Dupree wrote in Southern Memories.

Yes, I know this blog is about slinging words, but this is Christmas. I not only sling words but also I sling pecans and brown sugar and butter and all those yummy ingredients as I make my Magic Pralines. I guess you can't grow up in the south without knowing how to make pralines, those yummy melt-in-your-mouth confections.

When the holidays come, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I can't seem to make enough of my special Texas Trash crunch mix and pralines. I give them as gifts to my husband's office, the neighbors, friends, and family. Now that the kids are out of the nest, they expect tins of them when they visit.

So if you've wondered why I've been absent from the blog universe, that's the reason why. I'm spending way too much time sweating over a hot stove rather than a hot keyboard.

About the only writing I've done this past week are the holiday letters I send with the Christmas cards. Since I'm a writer, I feel as if I should put my art to work. I write either an essay or a short fiction piece along with a humorous, hopefully, letter, complete with photographs, recapping the year for those relatives and friends I don't often see.

This year in some of the cards, I enclosed a piece about the song The Twelve Days of Christmas: Christian Fact or Fiction along with the holiday letter. Some on my list got that, some got the holiday letter, and some got both.

If you are a writer, have you written something original to go with your greeting cards? If not, consider doing it next time. After all, we are writers, and writers write.

Sling Words out.

Punish spammers - a primetime special

Do you know if anyone has started a petition to give capital punishment for spammers? If so, I'm willing to sign it. I'm so fed up with the deluge that circumvents spam filters which will trash important emails and let the crap through in too many instances.

Okay, maybe capital punishment is a little severe so how about corporal punishment? With a wooden paddle like Mr. Lyles, my high school science teacher, wielded. It was about three feet long with a shaped handle so he could swing it easily. That sucker was a good four inches wide at the widest part and was made of hardrock maple. It was infamous in our school back in the day. Of course, girls didn't get paddles because there's no way any girl would be dumb enough to do something to merit The Paddle.

Let's sell broadcast rights to the event and have it beamed by satelite all over the world. Line those spammers up. You know the people I mean. They're the ones who send endless streams of emails. Emails wanting to show you porn pictures of children and adults and animals in sexually depraved acts. Emails wanting to sell you medical marvels to turn a man into something resembling a freak of nature. Emails wanting to sell bootleg prescriptions that are dangerous. Emails wanting to steal your financial information so they can steal your identity, reputation, and every last dime you've got. Yeah, those creeps.

Line them up, and have Mr. Lyles come out. In his booming, terrifying bass voice, he'd command: "Bend over and grab your ankles."

Mr. Lyles never gave more than one lick with his paddle. But the punishment should fit the crime so give those spammers what they deserve based upon the obnoxious quality of what they've done and continue doing. Give them, oh, I don't know. How many can the human buttocks withstand without doing internal damage? That many.

I predict worldwide that the primtime special "Punish The Spammers" would be number one in the ratings which, of course, means it would instantly be made into a weekly series.

Probably with William Shatner as host.

The Lost Room

The Lost Room continues to prove that SciFi is the place to find intelligent programming. With a clever, thought-provoking story, which means well-written, The Lost Room features a great cast. I'm sure it will be shown several times so be sure and catch all episodes.

Sling Words back to the kitchen to check on another batch of pralines.

POD: Part 3

Let's add to your knowledge base about print on demand publishing via Lulu.

So far, you've learned that if you go with one of the standard copyright licenses, and you do not feel the need to register that copyright with the United States Copyright office, that your expenses, not including your time, are still zero dollars. Nada. Zip.

Today's decisions involve other aspects that may or may not cost you money depending on what you feel you need.

ISBN means International Standard Book Number. At the ISBN site, you'll find information relating to this number that is used by the book industry as well as learn how to get one if you want to do so independently of Lulu.

First, read the Distribution FAQ on Lulu to make sure you understand all the options.

If you want to have your work distributed, meaning sold, outside of Lulu, then you must have an ISBN. This enables your work to be listed on Amazon, B&N, and in other book stores. Each book and each version of a book has an individual ISBN.

If you only plan to sell your work through Lulu, which my mom intends to do with her memoir that I'm producing, then you don't need an ISBN. This means that the ultimate means of distribution, making your work available to the public, determines whether you want to cough up some significant bucks to obtain an ISBN.

Next decision involves Distribution Services meaning who will be the publisher of record for your book. On Lulu, there are three choices: Free, meaning you won't have an ISBN or any distribution services other than Lulu itself, Published By Lulu and Published By You. The two options are mutually exclusive and cannot be changed once purchased.

Once you have your final manuscript uploaded, reviewed, and ready to go, if you want the potential of wide distribution, you click the PUBLISH tab and then click the link for Distribution Options next to your title.

Published by Lulu costs $99.95. With this service, you grant publishing rights to Lulu and you receive a Lulu-owned ISBN assigned to your work. This does not affect your rights as the owner of the content just as publishing a book with Bantam, for example, they assign a Bantam-owned ISBN and are listed as the publisher but you still own the copyright.

Published By Lulu gives your book a slot in the global marketplace and will allow it to be sold on Amazon and other book retail outlets. If you think you have an undiscovered masterpiece that will attract a wide audience, then it would benefit you to pay the ninety-nine bucks and change to have it available worldwide.

To purchase this service, you'll click Purchase a Distribution Package link to the right of your project in your Projects List. Your ISBN will be assigned immediately and you will be expected to update your file with the ISBN and/or barcode in the appropriate places. Then you'll have to purchase a Proof Copy to make sure it displays properly and approve it.

Registration via Published By Lulu includes:

1. Pub rights to Lulu
2. an ISBN
3. a scannable Bookland-EAN bar code to be placed on back cover
your bibliographic data will be entered by Lulu in major international bibliographic databases and will be available to booksellers. Booksellers have the right to make your book available for sale online or in "real" bookstores. Or not.
4. Retail price will be converted into US$, British pounds, Australian$, Euros, Canadian$ by Lulu to facilitate global marketing
5. your book will be listed in a wholesaler's catalog which gives you access to online retailers

Published By You Distribution Service costs $149.95. Choosing this option allows you to be the publisher of record. I suppose if you wanted for whatever reason to be a publisher then this would be for you. The only reason I can think this would appeal to someone is if they registered a business name i.e. Starving Authors Publishing and then wanted to use Lulu for all the technical aspects of producing a finished book.

This option is offered only in the United States, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico. This is more complicated, more expensive, and requires more knowledge in order to make decisions.

Registration via Published By You includes:

1. you are the registered publisher.
2. you recieve the ISBN
3. you receive the Bookland-EAN bar code to place on the back cover.
4. bibliographic data is still dispersed by Lulu, same as the other option
5. Lulu still responsible for converting your retail price, same as other option
6. Lulu gets the listing in the wholesaler's catalog, same as other option

Study this and make the decision necessary. I imagine Mom will go the FREE route since she's not expecting to hit the NYT list with her memoir. After all, free is good.

Favorite Christmas things

These are the things that put a smile on my face during the holidays.

A young, brawny man carefully wheeling a pink bicycle with training wheels from the store to his car.

The Salvation Army bell ringer greeting everyone with a Merry Christmas and a God Bless You when they drop anything - coins or bills - into the red kettle.

A white-haired woman holding a can of pumpkin and telling a much younger woman how to bake a pumpkin pie.

A little boy toddling along with his mother, holding her index finger and walking up and down the toy aisle, while he exclaims, "Santa's going to bring me this and this and this and this...." Sure hope Santa has deep pockets.

Men with cell phones pressed to their respective ears as they shop. The conversations are, well, darn funny. "Okay, I'm looking at marshmallow cream in a glass jar with a blue decorated label. Is that what you want?" Or, "How many artichokes did you say to buy?" Or "I can't find Dora the Explorer in a medium size doll. Should I get my niece the large one or the small one instead?" Or, "I've been to four stores, and they're all sold out of Elmo's Anniversary doll. Wouldn't a G.I. Joe action figure with weapon be better?"

The local radio station playing endless Christmas music. Yes, it does get tedious after a while, but the first few weeks are wonderful. I sing along which is much better than griping about the traffic.

Watching A Christmas Story about young Ralphie's quest for a Red Ryder BB Gun, which by the way, my husband gave our daughter one year.

Weeping over It's A Wonderful Life when George Bailey cries out, "I want to live again." Then smiling when his brother Harry makes the toast, "To my big brother George, the richest man in town." What a sucker I am, but I like having it affirmed again that you just never know how many lives you touch as you live your own.

The smell of smoke drifting from a chimney somewhere in the neighborhood. Even here in the Houston area, home of heat and humidity, we sometimes light up the logs in our fireplaces. I remember one unfortunately warm Christmas when I turned the AC on high and then built the fire. Not environmentally conscious perhaps, but for a brief moment, I had that crackling Yule log just like the snowy places up north.

My Mom talking about her fruitcake. Though I've never acquired the taste for this dense, candied-fruit, brandy-soaked concoction, I do love my Mom's fruitcake escapades. There was one year when she the annual fruitcake before Thanksgiving, wrapped it in foil, and every day poured a portion of bourbon, I think it was, over it. A couple of weeks before Christmas, she unwrapped it to slice and serve it for dessert. Fortunately, no one struck a match. The fumes and an open flame would probably have blown the house sky high.

The first batch of Texas Trash, my secret recipe for what everyone else calls Chex Mix. Yum. Spicy enough to make your eyes water if you're in the kitchen when I'm cooking up the drizzling sauce.

Oh, and the sweet caramel smell of pralines as I spoon them onto parchment paper will make your salivary glands work overtime.

Unpacking the decorations and putting them up - inside and out. Seeing the sentimental ornaments that snooty decorators would probably label tacky always brings a tear to my eye. There are the pieces of the mobile that hung over our daughter's crib. I dismantled it years ago and have hung it on the tree ever since. Then there's the salt dough ornaments I had all the kids make each summer when it was too hot to play outside and I didn't want them watching too much TV. Ornaments made in school and Sunday school. Photographs from Brownies through Girl Scouts. From each kid's wedding, there's the boutonniere my husband wore and so many other bits and pieces of our lives. It may not be a glamorous tree, but it is a tree that reflects our lives.

Isn't that what Christmas - or whatever holiday you may be celebrating - is all about? Life and love and the best of humanity?

Major task finished

Whew! Finally I finished painting the dining room. I'd planned to do this before the holiday crowds descend, but I've been busy writing. The ladder has been in the dining room for a month. So I bit the bullet, climbed up on it and got that sucker finished.

Tomorrow, I'll blog again about the process of Print On Demand as I get ready to publish my mom's memoirs with Lulu, the Print On Demand publisher I've selected. When I get her manuscript uploaded, I'll be able to get back to my work in progress in hopes of finishing the first draft by the first of the year.

Sling Words out.

POD: Part 2

Now that you're registered, you've, I hope, cruised Lulu and printed out the articles you need to educate yourself as a PUBLISHER and a WRITER because that will be what you are if you self-publish via Lulu and do it the cheapest way possible - meaning free.

Why is it free? Because you do all the work from preparing the manuscript (writing, editing, proofreading, etc.) to publishing the manuscript (formatting it properly, uploading the electronic file, reviewing proof copies to make sure there are no grammatical errors, typos, or other mistakes, setting the price, setting up a storefront in order to sell your book, promoting the book, etc.).

Before all that happens though, you have other decisions to make. So don't upgrade your Lulu account to Creator just yet. There's more knowledge gathering to be accomplished.

1. Familiarize yourself with the Help section on Revenues. How and when they are paid. What's the difference between the retail price and the Lulu price? How to access the numbers regarding your sales. How is your royalty and the Lulu commission calculated? Print, save in your binder, and read all the financial Help section because it's important.

2. Decide what kind of Copyright License you want for your book. Most of you are familiar with "Copyright usually followed by the C in a circle, a date, and a name, and the phrase All Rights Reserved. You may not be aware that there are other possibilities from this full copyright to the Public Domain, No Rights Reserved. Read the Help section about setting license. For further information, to to Creative Commons where this subject is explored in text and even in a comic strip. Print and save in your binder and decide what copyright you want to claim.

3. Learn the difference between claiming copyright and registering copyright. When a work is created, the copyright is automatically yours, but to register the copyright, you fill out a government form, submit payment, and receive a certificate back showing your copyright is registered. A book can be published without registering copyright because the copyright is inherently yours as the creator. Whether you want to claim full copyright or limited is up to you as is whether you want to register copyright. The main reason to register is that it offers you more protection, greater legal recompense, if someone plagiarizes your book and the copyright has been registered.

These last two points may sound as if I'm belaboring the point, but it's important for you to understand the implications of the various licenses and the significance of registration.

POD: Part 1

Before we get to the how-to's of Print On Demand via Lulu, let me first go through the legal blah blah blah that one must do in today's world.

1. This series on POD via Lulu is about how to self-publish ONLY on Lulu and doesn't apply to other POD ventures.

2. This series is based upon what I interpret from the instructions easily found on the Lulu site so if you want it straight from the horse's mouth, that is, Lulu, then go to Lulu and read them yourself rather than get it spoon fed to you from me.

3. I assume absolutely no responsibility for you and your POD project. None. Nada. Zip. I hold myself accountable only for the project, my mom's memoirs, which I am attempting to publish.

4. I assume no responsibility for the accuracy of the information displayed on the Lulu site nor for my interpretation of that information.

5. In other words, you're on your own in the cold, cruel world of self-publishing and print on demand.

Got it?

Okay, here goes Part 1, what I've learned thus far.

When you decide to use Lulu, you must make a series of decisions from the outset. It's easier if you think about these decisions beforehand rather than making them on the fly as you fill out the forms.

In order to purchase or create a book from Lulu, you must first register. If you've purchased from them before, you already registered and this registration can be upgraded to CREATOR.

I recommend you get a three ring binder and prepare to print a lot of the information, three hole punch it and place it in the binder and stick a labeled tab on each section so you can find it easily. That way you have easy access to all the pertinent info if you need to refer back to it.


1. Read the Lulu Basics (kind of an FAQ) which defines POD and discusses these issues: Is Lulu a vanity press; who is the publisher; how much does it cost to use Lulu; how much will the printed book cost; and much more. If you are not a writer familiar with these matters, print this info out and place it in your binder.

2. Go to the HELP index and read and/or print any of the topics you feel you may need to know. If that means all the topics, then load up the printer and get started. This section covers: who will lay out the content; what rights does Lulu have over your work; what is Services Marketplace; is this a scam. Knowledge is power so learn what you are getting into.

3. Print and read the Member Agreement to which you must agree. To find the Member Agreement, click SIGN UP, don't fill out the form yet, just click Member Agreement and get started.

4. Print and read the Privacy Pledge.

5. In the Privacy Pledge it mentions that as a registered creator, if you enable the Thank You Note process, you are permitting Lulu to display the publisher name (usually the creator) and the associated email address. Now is a good time to think about whether you want to set up a separate email account just for use with your Lulu account. There are many free email services available or you may have the capability with your current email provider. You can use your name or possibly the title of the book you plan to publish if the title is short or anything that may resonate with you for whatever reason.

6. Can you publish FanFic? NO. NO. NO.

7. Get ready to Register. You need the email address you chose and a password. Write these down in your file of online login names and passwords. (If you don't have a file like this either maintained on your computer or in a little notebook, start one now.) Fill out the Registration form.

Voila, you are signed up. At this point, don't upgrade your account to Creator status. Just cruise the site, printing out info you might need. Tune in tomorrow for Part 2.

Publishing my mom

For the last few years, my mother has written essays about her childhood, and I've edited and published them on my website. These captivating looks at life in the Roaring Twenties and pre-World War II Thirties have afforded me the opportunity to see my mother as the child she was and understand the forces that shaped her.

I published the essays on Memory Lane, a page I set up on my web site. This past summer, I finally fulfilled a promise to her and set up The Website of Lucille Dickinson Ainsworth. Now I publish her slice-of-life essays there, but the time has come to fulfill another promise I made to her - to publish all her essays in book form. (My mother has a way of getting me to make these rash promises.)

I started last week by studying all the POD venues out there and selected Lulu as the one that would be the easiest to use. Not only is it easy to use, but also if I use only their basic services, it's FREE. Free is a big selling point. Plus, I have a friend Ralph Neal Hansonwho just used Lulu to publish Flashback To The Golden Years 1940-1960, written at his daughter's request. So I can bug Ralph if I can't figure something out.

Since I'm mainly doing this as a labor of love for my mom who will give or sell copies to family and friends, I'm going to use the free services since we don't want to pay any fees up front which means it won't be available on Amazon and the like. It will be available only on the Lulu site.

Still, I regret the lack of a wider audience because I think about some of the events she describes, and I know there would be more readers interested than just her family and friends. Who you may well ask? Why those who need or want to know about life during that era or people who also lived during that time and want to vicariously stroll down Memory Lane. Perhaps writers too?

My mom was the only child of parents who were in their forties when they married. Her parents were born in the 1880s so she actually spans two centuries in attitudes and opinions. She comes from a family of storytellers. I can remember my grandfather who lived to be a hundred telling about seeing Annie Oakley in a wild west show when he was a kid.

My mom has an absolutely amazing memory. She's compiled several enormous books of genealogy, and her books are in the genealogy sections of libraries like the Mormon Library and the New York City Public Library. She can recall with such detail how her mother kept house, did laundry, cooked, sewed clothes, and other laborious chores. This was in rural Louisiana where most people still lived without electricity and indoor bathrooms. Soap was homemade, and laundry involved boiling clothes in a cast iron pot outside.

Mom tells about how her father and the neighbors would gather together on a crisp autumn day to butcher hogs in order to have meat through the winter. Hog Killing Time was definitely educational. By the time she was grown and married and had children, times had changed. Thank goodness! I don't think I'd have liked the nearly pioneer existence people lived when she was a child.

She talks about Huey Long and his equally flamboyant brother Earl, about outlaws Bonnie and Clyde, and so much more. These are her memories which I'll compile and edit in MEMORY LANE: My Sentimental Journey by Lucille Dickinson Ainsworth. She considers all those memories wonderful still no matter how primitive they may be to us of today's world.

So it now falls to me to learn all about Lulu and how to go about this self-publishing POD. Naturally, I like to pass along things I learn so I thought this would be a great blog series.

As I learn how to navigate the POD world, I'll pass on to you the knowledge that I've gained. Who knows? Maybe you too have a mom or dad or grandparents who'd like to see their memoirs in print.

Stay tuned tomorrow for POD: Part 1.

Sling Words out.

Winter hits Texas

It was 70 when I awoke this morning. An hour later it had dropped to 50. Another hour passed, and it was down to 40. Oh my gosh! It's winter. Yesterday, when I was running around in shorts, tee shirt, and sneakers, and it was 85, I wondered if we'd have a fall this year. Suddenly, it's winter.

Think I'll go put on a big pot of vegetable soup. Oops, I forgot. I still don't have a stove. You may recall my gas line disaster discovered a few days before Thanksgiving? Well, I still don't have a new gas line.

When the plumber, darling Mr. Ramos who will be installing the new gas line, left after installing the new water heater, he said: "If I don't see you before Christmas, have a merry one."

Oh, dear. I hope he was joking.

Definition of insanity

I'm sure you've heard this definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Okay. So that's insanity.

Here's insanity in action. Working at the computer and going through a series of steps that's supposed to do something but it doesn't yet we keep doing it because, damn it, it's supposed to work!

That was me when I couldn't get this blankety blank new hard drive to work. Today this was my mom who couldn't get her scanner to work and she kept double clicking the icon and getting the same error message over and over until she was so frustrated she finally asked me about it. Solution? The scanner wasn't powered on.

Yes, we had a laugh about it, but how many times have you lost something like your car keys or your glasses and searched for them, repeatedly looking in places you'd already looked as if they would magically appear there the next time.

We all do it which of course means that - drum roll please - we are all insane. It's endemic in the human race.

Sling Words out to go check the closet again for that spare printer ink cartridge that's supposed to be there but can't be found anywhere. Hope the office supply fairy makes it magically appear.

Post Thanksgiving

I waddled home from the Thanksgiving bacchanalia in the country. At times like these, I wish my family didn't have so many talented cooks. Even my younger brother gets in the act with a duck gumbo for which he's famous.

It's not so much the cajun fried turkey, dressing, and gravy that does in my best diet intentions, but the sweet things like that good old southern standard Pink Stuff. Supposedly, this is a salad. At least that's how it's classified in a half dozen church cookbooks my mom has in her bookshelf. This concoction of marshmallows, whipped cream, coconut, jello, and chopped fruit has about as much a connection to salad as cheesecake does--and probably more calories.

Yes, there was four different kinds of vegetables, but then there was also homemade hot dinner rolls, chocolate and vanilla layered dessert, cherry pie, pecan pie, coconut cream pie, and a coconut layer cake that made you wish you were alone in a room with the cake, a fork, and no conscience.

Today, post Thanksgiving started with cottage cheese and diced apple. Ah, diet, thy name is Joan.

Sling Words out.

Giving thanks

Thanksgiving is the holiday, always the fourth Thursday in November, that allows us to take a step back from our busy lives to reflect on those busy lives and give thanks. Why is it important to do this? Giving thanks is a way to stay grounded and in the present moment, as everyone on television talk shows seems prone to saying. Since I'm Christian, I give thanks to a higher power for having a life I enjoy populated by people I love.

Whatever your faith, Thanksgiving Day is a time to simply take a look at your life during the past year. It's a way to look back and say, "This was good. This was bad, but I survived. Better times are coming."

We celebrate with food, football games, parades, and family gatherings. Some see it as the eve of the biggest shopping day of the year, the day after Turkey Day, affectionately called Black Friday by retailers who usually go into the black (profit side of the balance sheet) from the sales rung up that day.

Yes, it's become more commercial than spiritual, like most holidays seem to have done. I sometimes think those Pilgrims who fled England, first to New Holland then to America, to escape religious persecution would go into a catatonic shock were they to witness Americans on a typical Thanksgiving Day.

Those brave men and women who boarded the Mayflower, certainly spartan by any standards, and landed at Plymouth Rock on December 11, 1620, probably thought they'd escaped the frying pan only to land in the fire. That part of the country is formidable in winter.

Their first terrible winter was a struggle just to survive. Many died. Those who survived did so with the assistance of the native people. When the Pilgrims brought in their first harvest in the fall of 1621, there was much for which they gave thanks, not only the bountiful harvest but also the mere fact that they'd made it from one year to the next.

For three days, the colonists celebrated with the tribe who had helped them survive. (Perhaps Congress needs to review the Thanksgiving holiday and extend it by two additional days?)

A hundred years plus a few passed before the holiday we call Thanksgiving became formally established. Many influential Americans wanted to have an official day of thanksgiving, including George Washington, who in 1789 declared a National Day of Thanksgiving. However, there were just as many who did not want this holiday, including President Thomas Jefferson.

The opinion of the White House resident determined whether there would be a holiday to be celebrated. The campaign for Thanksgiving Day continued until 1863 when President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving.

This practice of a presidential proclamation for Thanksgiving continued until President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed the third Thursday in November as the holiday in order to lengthen the holiday shopping season which upset many. (That crass commercialism we scorn isn't a modern day invention.) In 1941, Congress made Thanksgiving official by declaring it a national holiday to be celebrated the fourth Thursday in November.

Perhaps we should consider writing our representatives about making the holiday reflect the way our founding fathers celebrated. I mean a three day Thanksgiving would even give us time to exercise more to burn up all those calories we consumed.

In any event, I wish you a fabulous day filled with loving family and friends as well as good food. While you're dozing off after dinner, take a moment to reflect on the goodness in your life.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Idea ether

There's one final thing I want to say about writing contests, and it's a general observation about the "uniqueness" of ideas.

I, like most beginning writers, jealously guarded my ideas, certain they were so unique that they'd be "stolen" if I mentioned them. After a while, I noticed that an idea I'd thought so singular and compelling was already used in a book. In fact, I noticed that my unique ideas appeared in many books, sometimes in different genres.

Time passed and I began to realize that I, an unpublished writer, could think of something and start a manuscript with that premise only to see a new release with the idea already executed and hitting the shelves.

After getting published and beginning to judge writing contests, I was surprised at how many entries seemed to follow trends as far as ideas go. Finally, I realized it wasn't uncommon for writers in different parts of the country to somehow come up with the same premise. I saw this over and over in contests.

In fact, this year I've had an entry from three different contests that involved a famous painting being stolen after the artist was murdered. Even had one about a famous artwork being damaged. Saw two other entries about politicians as hero in romance novels.

After years of seeing such similarities, I've begun to subscribe to the philosophy that there's a creative ether into which anyone can tap. That explains how someone can think of the same thing you thought up. Sound silly? Just read about famous scientists. The American medical researcher who discovered the AIDS virus did so at the same time as a French researcher. In history, you'll read about scientists in different parts of the world who invented the same thing at nearly the same time.

When you get one of those lightning bolt ideas just realize that someone else probably got the same idea. The one who acts first and executes well will be the one who chalks up a success.

Ah, yes. Sometimes, the early bird does indeed get the worm.

Gas lines & water heaters--oh my!

Been a tough weekend in old Casa Reeves. Had two dire situations occur. The first was a sudden broken gas line which services the range top. Had to call the gas company who sent out a serviceman with a clickety click gas detector which went crazy when he stuck it in the cupboard beneath the stove top.

I never go in that cupboard since that's where I store parts for the grill along with small appliances. However, with Thanksgiving around the corner, I decided to retrieve the dusty food processor and make my famous cranberry-orange relish. I opened the cupboard and immediately smelled the gas.

So the very nice man from the gas company went up in the attic to check all the pipes and such and discovered that one of the water heaters was also leaking!

Great! Two expensive, no, make that VERY expensive issues suddenly rearing their ugly heads.

So tomorrow the plumber comes about the gas line and the water heater. So excited to hear how much this is going to cost. NOT! Of course, with Thanksgiving a couple days away, nothing is going to get done until after this week.

The bad news is there's no stove until this problem gets fixed. The good news is there's no stove. No way to cook. (If you don't count the microwave.) No meals to fix. Woo hoo!

I'll be heading to the country for Thanksgiving. I'm officially off the hook for even bringing a dish or two or six to my family's celebration. Wow. Great timing huh? And, yes, I am smiling at the moment. Sometimes you just have to look for that silver lining.

Authors Guild

I want to talk today about an organization all writers should join. At least that's the way I feel about Authors Guild. I've been a member for a long time. I even use their web services for my Joan

What brought about this sudden urge to recommend them to you was a flyer I received about their fall programs. I was looking at it again yesterday and realized what a fantastic value they offer for the price of membership. Membership fees are based upon your earnings as an author with a minimum of $90.00 per year.

That may sound like a lot of money, but listen to this lineup of "phone-in" seminars and roundtables. For a member, each costs only $10.00. For nonmembers, they're $60.00.

The Author-Agent Relationship
Copyright in 30 Minutes: How & Why to Register
Publicity Roundtable: Pre & Post Publication
Tax Tips for Writers
Contract Negotiation

These phone-in seminars are given several times during the year, but this is just one of many benefits. Cruise on over to their website and find out if you're eligible for membership, and just what you can get as a member.

Create Restore Point

Today's blog entry is a lesson in something important to know about your operating system which in most cases means Windows XP so you Mac users can just have a big laugh about this.

Last week I really screwed up some of my programs when I was trying to offload them from my C drive to the new external hard drive I'd purchased. I messed up my C drive so much that I belatedly went to the Windows Help Index to find out how to "go back" or restore my drive to the way it was before I messed it up.

I found out something important. To successfully restore, you first need to create a restore point. Now Windows is supposed to make Restore Points by default each day, but I learned that's no guarantee your system will restore to the way it was.

The proper thing to do before installing a new application or upgrade or making major changes is to first create a Restore Point that Windows can easily find.


1. Click START then click HELP AND SUPPORT.
2. Click PERFORMANCE AND MAINTENANCE and it opens the wizard. (Then you'll CLICK the action you want to take from the list displayed.)
3. Click CREATE A RESTORE POINT then click NEXT.
4. In the Restore Point Description box, type a name to identify this Restore Point, System REstore automatically adds to this name the date and time the Point is created.
5. Click CREATE.

You can read all the detailed instructions in the Help Index under To create a Restore Point.

Take a tip from me: do this before you mess your computer up.

Sling Words (still cleaning up my messed up hard drive).

Josh Groban's new album

Awake is the new album, and I have it!

What a voice.

Sling Words off to listen to the long-awaited new album.

Uh oh X 2

I had just about maxxed out my hard drive so I bit the bullet and bought an external hard drive with 160 dazzling gigs of space. Two days ago, I started transferring files to Mr. G, the external drive. Somehow in the process, I accidentally uninstalled my music application and all the music files I'd accumulated in the past three years, a not inconsiderable amount of tunes. Bad? Yep. What was worse was that I also somehow deleted my digital illustration software and project files.

I have no idea how I did it, but six hours of work and a lot of angst later, I had reinstalled both applications, found and undeleted the songs and the art work, but what a pain in the old derriere.

At the end of all that, I was toast.

Vote today

Here's another of those things I don't understand. Why don't people vote? There are more people who clog the phone lines to vote for American Idol contestants than who clog the voting booths on election day. A recent movie used that fact as its premise.

In America, you have the privilege of voting for those who represent you. Yet few seem to honor this responsibility. I grew up in a household where all the adult members voted. Maybe that was a good example for me because I've always voted too.

This is probably useless ranting so I'll be succinct. If you don't vote, then keep your mouth shut about what is happening in this country - good or bad. You haven't earned the right to say a single word about anything if you don't exercise your right to vote.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is very "quotable" so today I'll use his words to close this blog entry. "Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves — and the only way they could do this is by not voting."

Acacia delight

The other day I was talking to someone about the beauty of my acacia tree, and they had no idea what kind of tree that was. So here's a close up of the profuse blooms of the acacia at the end of my driveway. The tree starts blooming in mid-October and blooms its heart out with showers of yellow blossoms until spring.Early this morning a huge storm blew through and removed all the spent blooms so the lovely tree will keep blooming.

Some years it becomes so heavy with blooms that it begins uprooting so we have to anchor it to the ground with cables in order for it to survive the March winds. For a semi-tropical tree, it's amazingly hardy once it's established.

Okay, that's your botany lesson for today. Back to writing now.

Ted Bundy story

I turned on the television early the other morning and caught The Deliberate Stranger, a movie about serial killer Ted Bundy, starring Mark Harmon as Bundy. Though this was made twenty years ago and I'd seen it before, I still found it darkly compelling and frightening. Harmon is one heck of an actor who portrayed the charming, intelligent killer without chewing up the scenery in the process. Creepy and disturbing are two adjectives to apply to his performance and the movie. Seeing this movie again made me want to call up my kids and review all the safety procedures drummed into their heads when they were younger.

Watching The Deliberate Stranger and seeing how this supposed all-American guy is revealed layer by layer as the sick killer he was will certainly give you some insight into characterization.

If you're writing suspense or have serial killers on the brain for a crime novel, take a look at this movie and read the book by Richard W. Larsen from which the movie was adapted.

Just don't do either at night, alone.

William Styron, gone but not forgotten

How well I remember the first time I read William Styron. The book was The Confessions of Nat Turner for which he won the Pulitzer. Though in my teens, I was barely more than a child and completely shocked by the world he depicted.

Fast forward several years and Styron did it to me again with Sophie's Choice. What a brutal, heartbreaking story. I wept buckets, but that didn't keep me from seeing the movie version starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline with each so young and beautiful and doomed. I wept more buckets.

Styron's biography says he explored the darkest corners of the human mind and experience and that he was plagued by his own near-suicidal demons. It's easy to believe that the darkness he explored mirrored that inside his own heart. How else could he have written in a way that conveyed such authenticity?

I always liked knowing that he'd served in 1945 in Okinawa. Many years after he'd been there, I lived on the island. I'd think about the things I'd see and know that he'd seen them too, and they probably had looked about the same.

I also liked that he and other authors successfully kept the Disney company from putting a theme park near the Manassas National Battlefield in northern Virginia.

His writing, and he himself, was revered and reviled. Maybe that's always the way it is with people who touch our deepest emotions.

John Kerry, what were you thinking?

I rarely discuss anything political because there are so many other ways to make people mad at you. Besides, I'm a good southern girl who was taught it's bad manners to discuss politics, religion, or money.

However, sometimes your Inbox contains something so funny that it's just too good not to share. A picture is worth a thousand words. Right? My military buddy sent me this. Don't know where he got it, but I'm sure it's going around the electronic world even as we speak.

God bless our soldiers. The ones I've known have a great sense of humor, and they never pass up an opportunity to laugh. They know a joke when they see one.

Writing contests: elements judged

Halloween is over. Let's get back to business. That's contest business. I think some of you are as confused as the signs shown here. I hope I can clarify the situation and help you.

Writing contests break down the various fiction skills required to write a solid story into individual parts which will be used to judge the entry. You don't have to be a NASA astrophysicist to understand this fact. However, most people seem to be selective when it comes to reading the rules and subsequently submitting their baby.

Study the rules carefully because they tell you what areas will be judged. Better yet, if a sample copy of the score sheet is provided, study that until you know what elements are crucially important. Then ask someone else to read the sample score sheet and then read what you plan to enter and see how your manuscript compares. Be sure this reader is someone who has not read your selection before. Don't give it to your critique partner, because s/he will unconsciously be kinder than say, the retired school teacher next door.

I think every contest I've ever judged usually has these elements: characterization, conflict, plot, hook, dialogue, pace, setting, viewpoint, sexual tension or romance development, and manuscript preparation. There may be other elements, but these are the basics though they may be labeled something different in certain contests.

When you enter the contest, you probably know that these are some of the things you'll be judged on. So why do I see so many entries that totally ignore these elements? I won't even focus on the really hard things like characterization, conflict, plot, pacing, and viewpoint since those require a lot of work to develop properly.

I'm talking about the stuff that gets completely left out which means you're going to be rated very low. Most often I see hook, dialogue, setting, sexual tension, and manuscript preparation completely forgotten.

The Hook. I've already held forth about the beginnings that open with reams of description, backstory, flashback, or any of the other ways that are more or less boring. So I won't go into more detail here. Go back and read the blog on Writing Contests: alpha and omega. Suffice it to say that if you don't have a hook, you've lost this category.

Dialogue. Contest judges rate an entry on dialogue in a few ways. Two of these are (1) Is it good dialogue? (2) Is it balanced with narration and exposition? (3) Do the different characters sound different?

When you pick up an entry and there's NO dialogue, how can a judge honestly rate you with anything above, well, zero? Same with the balance. How can you expect anything but a low rating when out of perhaps 20 pages there's a grand total of 1 page of dialogue when you add it all up? Or 1 or 2 sentences? People, quit shooting yourselves in the foot with this category.

Each character should speak with his own voice based on his educational background, personality, etc. Yet most times, in contests, they all sound alike. Perhaps Aaron Sorkin wrote them? Why do I make this crack? To me, everyone on Sorkin's show West Wing sounds the same. This is why I couldn't get through one epidsode of West Wing despite that it was well written. All the people sounded the same. They talked at the same pace and in the same style. It drove me nuts.

Setting. Within the first few pages, a reader should know where and when the story is taking place. Where basically means geographical location, and when means the time of the year and whether it's day or night. Why is this important, other than being judged on producing a credible, concrete setting? Because the reader's brain is constantly producing mental pictures that illustrate the story being read.

One of the best movies I've ever seen that depicts this is The Big Picture starring Kevin Bacon and a host of stars in cameo roles. Kevin is a screenwriter. He tells the studio head what his story is about and the viewer sees the vision of it - two young, sensitive married couples in an old house. As the studio head starts to edit the story, saying, no, we really need it younger and sexier, the scene changes to screaming, laughing 20-somethings in bikinis being chased by hunky surfer dudes.

That's the way it is when a reader reads. The picture is formed in the mind. It's very jarring to have an entry that has a throwaway line about being a cop in a big city is a hard job, and I picture New York, only to discover at the end of the contest entry that the writer is talking about Topeka, Kansas. Now Topeka might also have eight million stories to tell, but am I willing to read them after being tricked like that? And the reader does feel duped.

So do yourself a favor and let the reader know where the story is taking place and what time of the year it is. Give us a picture we can replicate in our minds.

Sexual Tension
. Oh, brother. This is a biggie in romance. Every contest asks you to rate this or the development of the romance or something similar. How can you rate something that isn't there? I wonder over and over why someone bothers entering a contest where their entry will be judged for this, and there's not a smidgen of romance or sexual tension. So how do you get rated for this when there is none? I'm sure I don't have to tell you that on a scale of 1-10, 1-5, 1-20, or 1 to a zillion that you get 1 if the judge is generous and gives you the benefit of the doubt that there will be a romance somewhere in the story since you labeled your entry a romance. You get a zero if the judge is honest.

Why enter something that has no tension or romance? Don't shoot yourself in the foot and say, "Well, that's how this is written." Professional writers learn to revise. Either revise it to show a meeting between the hero and the heroine where sparks fly or enter something else that does have this evident.

Another thing about sexual tension. Having immediate gratuitous sex by page three or before is NOT sexual tension or romance. A strange man slipping into a woman's bedroom and fondling her while she sleeps, then having sex with her when she awakens and finds an UNKNOWN man, naked and erect in her bed is NOT sexual tension or romance. That's every woman's nightmare, and it's usually called rape. If you think that's romance, you need to read more romance novels. Please don't submit any more of these in contests. I've seen it so many times that I'm no longer stunned by it.

Manuscript Preparation. This is a no-brainer. If you don't know when and where to use commas, then get someone else to proof your manuscript. If you can't spell, and trust me on this, hardly anyone seems able to in today's world, find someone who can. Manuscript preparation is covered in many books and articles. (There's probably one on my website. I'll check and pull it out of archives if not.) Everyone who enters a contest can score the highest on this, yet I rarely have an entry that does. It's as if most people think this doesn't matter. Yet it can easily cost you 5, 10, or 15 points depending on the scoring system.

If you slept through English in high school or your girl/boy friend did your composition work in college, it's not too late to learn now. Get a basic grammar book and go to work. If you are unwilling to master this required skill, then get someone who knows these things to proof your manuscripts.

I just want to say one other thing. Some of the contests produce entries that are all uniformly good. Year after year, I'm amazed at how good the writing is in a few of the contests so I enjoy reading these. Unfortunately, other contests seem to produce uniformly mediocre entries. I suspect the contest just hasn't "grown up" yet. I won't give names in either category. You know who you are.

So, you contest divas out there, choose your contests wisely, and be just as wise when selecting what you'll enter. And, for pity's sake, don't shoot yourself in the foot with dumb mistakes.

Happy Halloween

Tomorrow, I'll talk some more about contest entries. Today though let's celebrate Halloween. Why carve a pumpkin into a mundane jack-o'-lantern when you can amaze the neighborhood kids? Just visit Extreme Pumpkins and you'll see what I mean.

Sling Words away - to get the pumpkin carving knife.

Writing contests: alpha & omega

I think if you enter a writing contest it's because you not only want feedback from professionals in the biz, but also you want to win the contest. No, no, don't bother saying you didn't enter with hopes of winning. Everyone wants to win. It's human nature.

So why do so many of you ignore two very crucial elements of fiction writing, the beginning and the end?

When I first started writing, I studied books on the craft, listened to other authors, attended workshops, and read novels in the area in which I wanted to be published until my eyes crossed in tiredness. Repeatedly, two points were emphasized in all this.

1. You must hook the reader with a dynamite opening sentence, paragraph, scene, chapter. The goal is to make the reader move from the first sentence to the second to the end of the paragraph to the next page, etc.

2. You have to leave a hook at the end of each chapter in order to pull that reader to page one of the next chapter. You do this from chapter to chapter, dragging that reader along until the final two words, "The End," appear.

This is the same advice I've seen and heard from countless sources. If you don't know how to do this, there are books that tell you how to start a story, speakers who give talks on it. I've posted articles on this same subject on the Writing page of my web site. (I'll check and see if they're still there, they may have been removed to make space for newer articles.)

There are books and speakers who tell you how NOT to start a story i.e., dreams, flashbacks, exposition to tell us every facet of the character's personality, back story to succinctly explain why the character is going to do whatever he's going to do, weather, blocks of description as massive as a pillar in a freeway overpass - and just about as interesting. I've written articles about that also.

So I'm completely baffled as to why I receive entry after entry throughout the year with the main character dreaming or hallucinating or flashing back to when s/he was a child or describing page after page of scenery or explaining why she just can't get a man. (Worse is an opening scene where the heroine explains why she hasn't had sex in a year even though she has tumbling tresses of golden curls that reach to her waist, flashing aquamarine eyes, bouncy boobs without benefit of plastic surgery, and on and on - all told in the character's viewpoint. But that's another rant, uh, lesson, about characterization via viewpoint.)

I totally understand why an editor/agent says reading the first page - sometimes the first paragraph or even sometimes the first sentence - is all it takes to know whether to reject the submission or go to page two. Trust me on this. I've yet to read an entry that had a lousy first page to discover a gem in the rest of the manuscript.

The problem with a dream/flashback/hallucination opening is multi-layered. Usually the dream has no relevance to the story and no intrinsic interest. In other words, it's boring. Usually, it's just a sneaky way to get that backstory in that the writer thinks the reader absolutely must have in order to understand the story. In reality, the reader doesn't care. Yet. You must have reader identification with your character in order for the reader to care that Bob Sixpack is dreaming about snakes because his father terrorized him with a water moccasin when he was six-years-old.

Another problem with this kind of opening is that it STOPS the forward motion of the story. A novel is all about forward motion. It's like starting at the bottom of a mountain and slowly climbing that mountain with peaks and valleys (scenes and sequels; action and reaction), never stopping at a plateau, moving ever onward to the peak. Well, when you drop back into the past, there is no forward motion. So anything that takes you from present day, stopping forward motion, must be after the reader bonds with the character and is interested enough in what makes the character tick to follow the character into the past or into a dream or drug-induced hallucination or whatever.

Let me elaborate on a flashback beginning. These are entries where the writer thinks the reader absolutely must know everything that ever happened in the character's life. So they begin with a flashback of some crucial event that probably occurred when the character was a child. Often, the entire entry is composed of this kind of flashback, and we never meet the character as an adult. Presumably the story is to be told from the character's viewpoint as an adult not a child. So how are we to bond with a character not yet introduced until page 20-40? In this day of competing entertainment where new TV shows are canceled if they don't draw an audience with their third showing, we move on to something else.

Writers who do this have basically shot themselves in the foot already because how can you judge characterization, when you never really meet the character who will be starring in the story? This goes for contests or submissions to editors/agents.

Now, let's talk about the {shudder} description opening. It's midnight, and I'm in my lonely little office. I'm tired. DH is already asleep; I want to be also. Just one more entry, I tell myself. I pick up the partial and start to read.

After a one page synopsis, most of it taken up by a description of, let's say, the magnificent Grand Tetons, and the first couple of pages of the manuscript where the heroine is introduced, then more description of you guessed it. My eyes have long since glazed over.

I flip through the rest of the pages. More description. Several pages of flashbacks about why she's going to do what she plans to do. No action. Just her thinking about doing something. By page 10, there's been one line of dialogue and that was a fake line: her saying something out loud to herself. I keep flipping. Now she's describing the scenery of the place she plans to travel to. More memories of her lousy marriage/childhood/love life/college experience - pick one. I drop it to my desk and go to bed.

I do go back and wade through every page, trying to explain why this just doesn't work, but it's tedious. That's when I decide that I'm just not going to judge so many contests next year.

Exposition beginnings don't work either. I don't want someone telling me Molly Trueheart's life story. I can read that in a newspaper. I want to peek into the corners of Molly's life. I want to know what can't be told in a newspaper story about Molly Trueheart. What's her essence? Who is she really? Will she be revealed as warm and loving or as a cold, heartless woman? Show me the way she flinches when her husband pulls her into his arms. Don't tell me she doesn't love her husband.

Show, don't tell. I'm sure you've heard that phrase before. There's some really good books written about that subject. Get one and read and study it until the lightbulb over your head illuminates.

Endings. Oh, boy. Nearly every contest I judge asks in some shape, form, or fashion (sorry, been reading too many cliches in entries, I guess), whether there is an ending that makes you want to read on. I wince every time I see that question. I can just imagine how the writer will be crushed if I honestly write, "No!" Sometimes you're so tired by the time you wade through an entry that you know would never have been written if the writer had not possessed a computer (** see P. S. Rant below), you want to say, "Not no, but hell no!" But that's cruel.

All of us writers are sensitive whether we admit to it or not. The difference in those published and those still unpublished is that we pubbed writers have learned how to hide it better otherwise we'd be going around weeping all the time. So when I reach that question, I try to be gentle. I mention something that's good in the entry, and I always try to say something encouraging and wish them good luck.

I've written about this too. I look at an ending as a cliffhanger. Each chapter ending should be a cliffhanger, ending in a way that the reader absolutely cannot put the manuscript/book down but must turn the page. I seldom see this in contest entries. Often, it's because there is a page limit to contests so the scene just stops at the end of whatever page is the max that can be submitted. But, people! This is a contest. You want to win so why not tailor your entry to end the scene at that max page number and end it with a hook big enough to land a great white?

You see, there's always a judging element about the hook ending. If you don't tailor your entry so there's a hook, then you get graded low on this element. That's just common sense. I can't tell you how many entries there are that end at the end of the line on the last page in mid sentence! If the final judge of the contest is an editor and the highest scoring entries go to the editor, you've possibly just shot yourself in the foot because you lose points for no hook.

The bottom line is that you pay money to enter these contests. Don't shoot yourself repeatedly in the feet or your manuscript won't be able to stand up before that final judge - the editor/agent.

**P. S. The Rant
I think if we were still pecking away on IBM Selectrics that the numbers of aspiring writers would be far less. Computers make it easy to put together a manuscript. So easy in fact that every Tom, Dick, and Jane who owns a computer thinks they can write a novel.

Upon learning I am an author, I've had a hair stylist, dog groomer, bank clerk, three doctors, a water plant worker, and a lawyer tell me they were also working on a novel in their spare time at night when there wasn't anything good on TV. After all, these people have a computer, they know how to read and write, and they're pretty sure they can write just like Janelle Taylor (hair stylist); Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, Tess Gerritsen (doctors); or John Grisham (lawyer).

Trust me, it takes way more than that to write a novel. Even more to write one worth submitting, and even more to write one that actually gets accepted. So if you don't have a burning desire to plug away at learning the craft and at persisting long after a sane person would have given up, find something else to do with your time.

Life is too short to engage in something for the wrong reasons.

Writing contests: here comes the judge

I judge a lot of writing contests every year. Why? It's a way to help a writer who may be struggling with that whole "can I write or am I fooling myself" complex from which all of us seem to suffer. My heart goes out to people like this because I'm one of them too so I'm glad to light a candle for those stumbling in the dark.

When I first started writing, hardly any writing contests existed. I'd have given anything to get some feedback from "real" authors. You know, the people who actually had a book in print.

Now that I've written just about everything from newspaper and magazine articles to published novels, I feel I have some credibility so I volunteer - and frequently find myself over-volunteered because there are soooo many writing contests now. Mostly, I'm asked to judge the romance genre though I have judged other contests too. Each genre has its own characteristics, but good writing is good writing regardless of the genre.

Often I find myself burning the midnight oil in order to fulfill my commitment. Just recently I've finished judging two contests and have one waiting on my desk. Another couple will be arriving in the mail in the next few weeks. When you add that to my own writing, I'm, well, I'm swamped! But I wanted to share some insights with those of you who might be on the contest trail. Maybe it will help.

Who judges writing contests?

Let's talk about the judges. Who are we? Hopefully, we are all published authors, editors, and agents. Of course, we all know why having an editor or agent as judge is a good thing. They'll fall in love with our entry and ask to represent and/or publish it. Right? But why published authors over unpublished writers?

Now, you aspiring writers out there, don't get your quills ruffled. I'm not saying you don't know how to write because you're not published. I'm just saying that published authors have been in the trenches. We've managed to get published, but we also have submitted and been rejected countless times so we might just know a little more about what editors are looking for in a story and what separates a good story from a good story that will get published.

So look for the contests that guarantee these kinds of judges.

Why don't judges sign their names?

When I first started judging many years ago, I signed my name. I felt I should be willing to stand by my comments. I stopped signing my name after a couple of years. Let me reitterate that I always try to be objective and not let personal taste enter into the judging. I give balanced comments and always find something good to say about even the worst writing so it's not like I insult the writer with scathing, sarcastic remarks knowing the writer won't discover who I am. That's just not nice, and I'm a nice person. Ask anyone.

So why did I stop being upfront about my identity? Two reasons. The first reason was because I met a well-know author who told how her career was nearly ruined because she judged a contest and the entry had a strikingly similar plot line to a book she'd already sold and was in production at her publisher. When the author's book hit the shelves, the contestant immediately filed suit, claiming that the author had plagiarized her.

Publishers don't like law suits. They are more than willing to settle out of court even when the author is innocent of wrong-doing in order to avoid bigger legal wrangles that might drag on and on. Sadly, this happens more often than you think. I personally know two authors this has happened to. In that case, the author knew she was innocent so she fought back. It dragged on and on and on, costing her thousands of dollars in legal fees, the loss of her relationship with her publisher, and ultimately affected the author's health.

Life is too short, people. I'm not alone in my unwillingness to risk hard-earned bucks, reputation, publisher relationships, and emotional health. That's why you don't see very many signatures on the judge's comment pages.

The second reason I don't sign my name is that after a couple of years of judging contests, I got fed up with receiving rebuttals from contestants who wanted to explain to me why I was wrong, why I didn't know what I was talking about, why I was a loser, why he or she was a better writer than me, etc.

These are probably the same people who post anonymous, scathing reviews on Amazon and the like - which is probably the zenith of their creative writing abilities.

Tomorrow, I'll continue discussing writing contests. I'll talk about beginnings and endings.

Sling Words out to judge another entry.

Cover contest

Now's your chance to express what you really feel about book covers. I just voted for the best and worst covers of the year, and you can too. Cover Cafe is hosting the annual book cover contest that used to be under the aegis of All About Romance.

The contest ends October 31 so take a few minutes to go vote. The category with the toughest decision is Worst Cover. They're all pretty bad, but I think I could have won this category a few years ago with one of my covers.

Promo tip

Sometimes I think Kim Komando reads my mind. I'd wondered about the easiest way to put together a newsletter that displays graphics and articles. Voila! Click and learn.

Romance testimonial

Jina Bacarr has an interesting video testimonial on the difference between romance and porn as that controversy still rages here in Texas. According to her video clip, that controversy plays out in other locales as well.

Give it a look because it's a thoughtful, well-done statement.

Doggie rescue

My daughter and I spent Saturday afternoon at Poodle Rescue of Houston visiting the doggies. We'll be going back to help bathe dogs, clean cages, and do whatever we can to help this small organization that saves 300-400 poodles from homelessness or euthanasia every year.

I was shocked to discover that people actually turn poodles loose to fend for themselves. You think of poodles as being expensive, pampered, wanted dogs. Sadly, there's just as many abandoned poodles as any other breed.

Some of the dogs in the shelter are lost dogs who Gwennette, the guiding force behind Poodle Rescue, took from the pound to save them. One dog was surrendered by its elderly owner when she entered a nursing home. Another dog was brought in by a homeless man who loved it dearly but couldn't give it the food and medical care it needed. Another dog was abandoned at a kennel I believe when the owner just left it rather than pay the bill.

There were dozens of beautiful poodles, and each had a sad story. Some of the dogs have lost their teeth because the owners never had them cleaned. When I asked how they ate, Gwennette laughed and said: "They'll just swallow hard nuggets whole if that's all they can get, but a soft diet is an easy thing to do so prospective owners shouldn't be put off by that."

When the dogs are brought in, just about all have heart worms because the owners didn't give them the medicine they need on a regular basis, and their hair is fist-size balls of mats. Just about all the dogs have to be shaved to the skin when they come in. Many have mange. Regardless of their condition, Poodle Rescue takes them and gives them the care they need then they try their best to find homes for them.

There are poodles of every color - white, various shades of cream, cocoa, apricot, silver, black, parti-colored, and there are sizes from teacup to standard. If you've ever thought about having a poodle, this is the place to find one. These dogs absolutely go ape when someone comes in. Not in barking loudly so much, though some do, but in gazing intently into your eyes as if saying, "I'm looking for someone to love. Would you take me home and let me love you?"

Yes, I'm being fanciful, but if you visit and see the dogs, you'll know what I mean. Some of the dogs sit quietly looking at you as you look at them. They seem resigned or depressed, but if you reach out to them, they come alive. They don't hold back in giving you affection in return for the scratch behind the ears you give them.

The most heartbreaking are the dogs which are considered unadoptable because of problems. Some, young and old, have lost their teeth. Some have had heartworms too long. Some are elderly. Some are diabetic though that's easy for a new owner to treat. These dogs need love too, and they have so much to give.

Interested in adopting one of these amazing, resilient survivors? Call Poodle Rescue281-477-3297 or go to their website. Got a few bucks to spare? The shelter is always in need of donations to pay the vet bills. They receive no public or government funding though they are trying to get 501(c)(3) status. The vet bills are always big.

If you adopt a dog, you'll pay a fee which covers the dog's treatment expenses. Sometimes, Gwennette will take as little as she can get by with if anyone is interested in adopting one of the unadoptables.

While we were there, a mother, her young daughter, and the mom's friend visited. The mom fell in love with one of these difficult adoptables, an adorable white poodle named Danny. Gwennette placed the dog in the mom's arm, and I think it was love at first sight on both parts. They looked into each other's eyes and Danny seemed to settle into the woman's arms as if he'd always been held by her. Danny has no teeth, but he's healthy and with a loving home can enjoy six or more years of life.

Danny's new owners will come back to pick him up next weekend after he's finished his heartworm treatment and has been groomed to look like a show dog. He's a beautful dog, and I think he'll brighten a new home with his loving personality.

Poodle Rescue provides a cental rescue buiding to house and care for the dogs which of course means utilities, maintenance, lots of food. laundry, etc. They take care of all the dogs' needs. They groom, feed, vet, transport, medicate, and socialize the dogs and don't depend on foster homes to care for them.

If you'd like to make a donation to Poodle Rescue or at least buy one of their tee shirts, go to the web site. If you want to make a donation directly to pay vet expenses, call Champion Forest Animal Clinic, 5211-Z Suite 160 1960 West, Houston, TX 77069, (281)586-9910, and tell them.

If you'd like to volunteer to bathe dogs and help take care of them, just call Poodle Rescue and let them know.

Most importantly, if you want to adopt a poodle or know someone who does, please, please go to the website (has pictures of many of the dogs) or visit Poodle Rescue.

Kim Komando rules

Kim Komando is my hero. If you don't receive her email newsletters, sign up. Today Kim was pointing out the free software offered by Microsoft, and one element addressed something I was trying to figure out how to do.

I'm amazed how much free information is on the Net, and KK seems to know where all the good stuff is.

Sling Words off to the Pink Elephant sale!

Murder by the book

Hey, this contest sounds pretty exciting. In conjunction with their new series, Murder by the Book, Court TV is asking aspiring crime writers to submit an original idea for a crime fiction novel and sample chapter(s) to be reviewed by a panel of judges.

Wow, some of the judges are Jonathan Kellerman, Faye Kellerman and Lisa Scottoline as well as publisher Judith Regan.

The winner gets a book contract with Regan.

Sling Words wishing she had a fab crime novel residing in her inventory.

Pink elephant sale

Ever wonder what the rich have that you don't? Now's your chance to find out if you live anywhere within driving distance of the Houston area. The River Oaks Garden Club is holding their annual Pink Elephant sale Friday, October 20, 2006.

Furniture, antiques, designer clothing, collectibles, and, oh, yes, plants - after all, this is sponsored by the garden club. Trust me, if you're into bargain sales (tag, estate, garage, yard, or rummage), this is one that's not to be missed. I'll be there.

You know what they say: one millionaire's trash is another person's treasure.

Well, something like that.

Uh oh

I started customizing Sling Words with the new Blogger stuff. Sure wish I'd taken some screen shots of how it looked before I hit the customize button.

If you haven't migrated over to Google/Blogger, make sure you know how your stuff looks on the screen before you hit customize because you have to manually input each link, etc. Once you get the info in, you can shift it around but the input is a bummer.

I changed the fonts to make them more readable on the template I use, but I noticed that this makes some of the comments titles nearly unreadable. Can't figure this out and there's no way I can find to change the color of those fonts.

Lots of work ahead.

Sling Words disgusted. Think I'll go walk in the fog.

Floodin' down in Texas, the sequel

Well, Stevie Ray isn't playing yet because I'm too busy trying to find out about road closures due to the latest flood. It's been raining at my house since Saturday night. We've been way short of rain this year so it's a good news, bad news situation. Good, because we need the rain. Bad because we don't need another flood.

Electricity is iffy today so that's all for now, folks.

Waltzing across Texas

Our vacation is mostly over, but we had a couple more stops to make so today we visited Brenham, Texas, to tour a couple of manufacturers. Lucky us! We got the nickel tour and free samples at each place.

Our first stop was Blue Bell Creamery. I love touring factories. There's just something mesmerizing about watching cans or cartons race along a track, fill with product, get sealed, packaged, crated, and shrink wrapped faster than you can say assembly line.

Blue Bell Creamery, maker of one of the world's best ice creams, is clean, modern, and a great place to visit. We got a little history, and at the end of the forty minute tour, we received a generous scoop of whatever we wanted.

I had Birthday Cake, totally to die for, with bits of frosted fudge cake mixed with vanilla ice cream. Darling Husband had Tin Roof, also to die for with chocolate covered peanuts and chocolate chunks blended with vanilla ice cream. Blue Bell Creamery tour gets a definite thumbs up! Great, inexpensive family excursion.

Now, for a more adult adventure, we stopped by Windy Hill Winery. Owner August Meitzen was gracious and hospitable. The tasting room and gift shop are interesting with their antiques and gift items ranging from original pottery and wine items to wrought iron bottle racks and more.

You can pay a tasting fee or simply buy a bottle of wine and taste for free. Since their beautiful wine label graces bottles of darn good wine, we opted to buy a bottle, well, actually, four bottles. In fact, I think these excellent sipping wines with their Texana inspired labels are going to be a major part of our Christmas gift giving this year since you can order over the Net.

After we'd sampled Windy Hill's wines, August took us around the winery and explained the growing and manufacturing process. Made me want to write a book about a winery owner and made my husband want to own a winery. I think my pursuit would be far less expensive.

So another thumbs up to the Windy Hill Winery. Great day trip for adults.

Fred Head vs. Susan Combs

I normally steer clear of politics and such. Imagine my surprise to return from vacation and discover a candidate for Texas State Comptroller has launched a political attack on his opponent based on her authorship of a contemporary romance novel.

Fred Head has branded his opponent Susan Combs as a pornographer based on a romance novel she published with Meteor Kismet many years ago.

What's wrong with this?

1. I also published with Meteor Kismet and know that none of the novels were what would be considered porn.

2. Head excerpts text from this COPYRIGHTED novel to prove his so-called point. He has scanned in the back cover copy, the author's bio page, and 3 random pages from the novel itself. This is illegal under the copyright laws of the United States unless he has permission from the copyright holder ... drum roll please ... the book's author Susan Combs. Now, I doubt Ms. Combs would grant permission for her published work to be used in this manner.

3. So this self-righteous man apparently thinks romance novels are porn AND he thinks he is above the laws of this land and can take copyrighted material and use it however he wishes without permission or remuneration to the author of said material.

You Texans out there, remember these names when you vote for Comptroller.

Fred Head who apparently thinks romance novels are porn. If he'd ever actually read one instead of just excerpting what he considers offensive sexual text, he'd have learned that romance novels are relationship novels that celebrate love and commitment. Mr. Head also seems to think he can violate the copyright laws of this nation with impunity. Or perhaps he is ignorant of what the United States Copyright laws are which is just as bad if not worse.

Susan Combs, who is a victim of copyright violation, is being called a pornographer for writing a novel about a consensual relationship between an adult man and an adult woman which leads to love and commitment. Ms. Combs is a businesswoman who apparently has served well in her current position. She's a wife and a mother, and, now, a maligned romance author.

Sometimes I get very tired of the "trashing romance novel syndrome." Romance novels are written mostly by women and for women. We're like the Rodney Dangerfield of the literary world. We get no respect. But, boy, are we popular. More than 50% of all mass market paperbacks sold are romance novels.

If Mr. Head wanted to take a stand against immorality in literature, why didn't he take on Dan Brown, an author who has written something millions consider not only morally wrong but sacriligious. So why didn't he take a swipe at Dan Brown and The DaVinci Code? Oh, right. Dan Brown isn't opposing him in a political race.

If you read this, and you are a registered voter in Texas, please feel free to check out the sites I've linked to. Pass the word or link to this blog. We don't need more politicians who pick and choose the laws they obey especially when we authors are an embattled bunch desperately fighting for our livlihood which in this electronic age is only too easily taken from us.

Harlequin's parent company news

Torstar takes a $2.5 million hit. They plan to cut employees. Just kind of reading between the lines, I don't think it's their romance publishing program that is languishing. It's the newspapers they also publish that are faring poorly in the new digital age. Ad sales revenue is probably way down.

I bet dollars to doughnuts that their romance publishing helps maintain their other enterprises. Not good for romance bottom line of course, but that's the way the world works. Hope they won't attempt to injure their golden goose in these cutbacks.

Million dollar prize

Got any code writers out there? NetFlix is offering a million dollar prize to anyone who can design a software packet.

Go for it!

Blogger beta

I made the transition to the Beta version of Blogger/Google. So far it seems without problems.

Am I the last to make the switch? Any of you guys have any problems with the Beta version yet?

This weekend I'll try upgrading the template. Wish me luck.

Sling Words off to explore the supposed new features.

Finally, a new Matrix movie

Muppet Matrix is fantastic. Kermit as Neo and Miss Piggy as Trinity. What more can you ask for in a paranormal movie?

Beyond hooking the reader

I'm judging a couple of contests and thought I'd give all you aspiring writers a bit of advice. Too many contest entries show that writer worked really hard at creating a hook beginning. Unfortunately, the same amount of effort didn't go toward the part of the manuscript beyond the beginning.

You create a dynamite hook sentence for your novel which leads into a hookable first chapter. Right. Then what? Well, if this is the usual contest entry, the first chapter is all I generally see, but a synopsis of the whole book is, most times, also submitted. That's where the story really falls apart for a lot of beginning writers. Somehow the more they write, the less magic they create. I imagine that happens when they come to the muddle of the book. That's the middle for all you who haven't got that far yet.

Suddenly, Chance, your hero, is fighting for his life against an armed assailant. Oh my gosh! It's Surely, his psychotic twin brother who left town a decade ago. Chance reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out - a Glock 9 mm. and blows Lance to kingdom come!

Hold it! Hold it! Just a darn minute!

Where did that evil twin brother come from? You never mentioned in the beginning of the book that Chance had any kind of brother. You never indicated that your hero carried a gun, much less a Glock! And why on earth is he fighting for his life? Aren't you writing a romance novel?

What happened to your book? How did you go from a great hook to unbelievable contrivance? Your novel skidded from Great Beginning to Muddled Middle in less time than it takes an editor to slap a form rejection on a slush pile manuscript. What happened is that you didn't pay attention to your beginning.

The beginning of a book is the critically important first fourth of your manuscript. From the hook sentence to the first plot point which concludes that first fourth of the book, you must set everything up. If you don't, then you constantly will be going from the scene in the middle of the book which you are writing back to the beginning, making notes (and later revisions) to insert in that beginning to account for characters, motivations, and actions that have occurred later in the book. As you do this, your taut beginning can start to bloat, even to sag.

In the campy sample above, you must let the reader know that the hero has an evil twin before the man appears out of the blue. If the hero draws a gun, then by golly, the reader needs to know in the beginning that he carries a gun and what kind - and that he is the kind of guy who would use a gun - or not use one.

If the story is going to have the hero fighting for his life, then the mood from the beginning should indicate to the reader that this might be a possibility.

In the crucial first fourth of the book, a writer must do this for her reader:

* hook the reader (apparently, everyone knows this)
* show the setting (evocative description to make it real to the reader and allow her/him to suspend disbelief
* introduce all the important characters (never introduce a major player after this part of the book)
* create a sense of immediacy that glues the reader to the page (you want the reader concerned about what is going to happen next)
* present the conflict that keeps your characters from getting what they want (a book without adequate conflict is an unpublished book)
* create suspense (will she get her man, will he win his lady fair, will they catch the terrorists before a bomb is planted)
* show the characters' motivations for doing what they do (unmotivated characters are unbelievable characters)
* show a decision that must be made (what to do, oh, dear, what to do, and of course the decision brings disastrous results)
* show the dominant emotion that colors the book (is it a happy book, a sad book, a hopeful book, pessimistic)
* set the tone for the book (is it a comedy, a horror, a romantic suspense
* introduce all the plots of the book (small books may have only a main plot line such as boy meets girl but big books can have the main plot line, a secondary plot, and an information plot; whatever the scope of your book be sure to introduce all the different plot lines during the beginning)
* end the beginning with a plot point that will propel the story into complications (an action or event that spins the story around, sending it perhaps in a different direction, but definitely propelling it into complications, the dreaded middle of the book).

Once you have successfully reached this point, your middle should not turn into a muddle because you know where your story is going, and you should have developed and presented enough conflict for your motivated characters that they will act and react and interact, leaving you just to record what happens. Right?

Ha! If it were only that easy!

Tickle your funny bone

I received this in an email yesterday, and I laughed so hard I wanted to share the picture. Guess it's easy to see who rules the pet roost around there, huh?

Contract advice

There's been an ongoing discussion on one of my lists about an author's disappointment in discovering the true meaning of her contract - after she'd signed it.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to give a bit of advice about book contracts.

Do NOT sign a book contract unless:

1. You have read the entire contract.
2. You understand the entire contract.

If you and the editor discussed anything that is NOT in the contract, then no matter what the editor promised, it doesn't count. Only what is in the contract is legal. If there's something you've been promised, then don't sign until the contract has been revised to represent that.

It goes without saying, but I'll say it any way, an agent is the ideal person to handle contracts. However, many of you do not have an agent as of yet, so you have to educate yourself about contract terms.

Romance Writers of America has published excellent articles about the different publishing house boilerplate contracts. Join RWA and look these up.

If you have already published, then you may be eligible for membership in Authors Guild Inc. They offer a contract review service for a relatively inexpensive fee.

As a last resort, ask your friends who are published if they will go over the contract with you or even go on your lists and ask for help.

Yes, there are individuals like attorneys and some agents who will review contracts, but they usually charge a couple hundred bucks minimum. If you're thinking of signing an E publishing or small press contract, chances are you won't be getting an advance or will receive only a nominal advance so that fee has to come out of your personal pocket. Use some common sense. Don't pay $500.00 to someone to interpret your contract when you are getting $-0- advance and the publisher has a track record of only producing a hundred dollars or less in earn out on its projects.

There are many books out there (check Writers Digest Books) on understanding contracts. Educate yourself even if you eventually plan to get an agent. An informed writer is a writer who is less likely to be taken advantage of.

Good food, good meat, good grief did I eat!

I think my planets are all alligned against me. Had a late night yesterday, or last-erday as precocious little Katelyn calls the day before today, and am feeling the effects today. How else do you explain reaching for a washcloth from the cabinet above the toilet, knocking an extra one off the stack, and then flushing it down the old loo? I just hope the sewer gods are lenient because an expensive plumbing bill I do not need.

By the way, if you want a great meal, try the fried asparagus and the steak and lobster combo at Pappas Grill on the Southwest Freeway in Houston. The Hess 97 bottle of red wine was perfect with it, but by this time I can't remember what kind of red it was. Hmmm. Perhaps I had one too many glasses of the smooth red. Even better than the dinner was the company. (Hi, Cindy! Great seeing you again.)

When we arrived at the restaurant, there was a white stretch limo parked out front. As I finished a cell phone conversation, another white stretch limo pulled in. Of course, I scoped out the restaurant to see who might be there. The only person I saw who might have arrived via limo was good old Tom Delay. So was Tom in the limo and his guest in the other? A vehicle the length of a Greyhound bus for each?

Now, I'm a rather simple person. Of course, I wondered why Tom (if in fact he was the limo passenger) couldn't have just jumped in his own car and driven from his house which is mere miles away. Then he could have parked in the parking lot with us peons and walked to the door.

Oh, right.

Enough rambling. Time to sling a few words together in hope they make a scene.