Run or Shut Down?

I just read my Kim Komando newsletter and had to pass this great tip on immediately.

This is the answer to all those who wonder if they should shut their PC down at night or just let it run. I'm one of those who leave mine on 24/7 because sometimes I get up in the middle of the night and work so I don't want to wait for the boot up.

Which Is Better?

You can throw the quandary of hibernation and standby into the mix, but they just add confusion. Actually, I know that it's better to shut it down completely because shutdown and power up refreshes the hard drive and tweaks out those little running errors that sometime pop up.

KK tells about Boot Snooze which offers the benefit of the power save modes (faster start up) but also the refreshing benefits of complete shutdown.

Boot Snooze is a 1-button solution, but it only works if you don't have passwords set for user accounts. Read about it on the website. It's free, and their tagline will make you smile.

Takeaway Truth

Investigate any app that promises to help you use time more effectively — especially if it's free.

Messy Christmas

One of my favorite wits, Andy Rooney, said: "One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don't clean it up too quickly."

At my home, as we open presents, we stockpile the paper, wadding it into missiles the size of softballs. When the last present is open, someone uses a paper missile to nail another, and the war is on. We toss those paper wads at each other until we're all laughing and exhausted. When someone begs for mercy, the war fades and the paper balls go in the recycle container.

Takeaway Truth

I hope you all had similar moments of happy insanity and joy this Christmas.

Magic of Christmas

"Christmas: that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance, a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved." ~Augusta E. Rundel

Takeaway Truth

Merry Christmas, dear Readers.

3 Security Habits To Make

T'was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring except for the low-lifes who make your computer life miserable.

Here are 3 Security Habits you need to adopt that will help protect you.

Avoid Piggybacking

Piggybacking is the practice of inserting a different software app in the download of a desired software that someone may download.

One example of this is the Yahoo Toolbar that piggybacks on dozens of software apps. This software is innocuous and can help you if you want to use it. I don't. I like the toolbars I'm currently using just fine.

The problem is that there are other software apps that piggyback that range from annoying to damaging. Many of these apps don't show on the initial install screen so you don't have a chance to stop the install. Even worse is when these apps are deliberately hidden.

Lately, some perfectly good freeware has become the victim of spammers who infect it with spyware so be very careful when downloading freeware.

The answer? Always choose Custom Install so you can pick and choose what gets downloaded.

Zango Lives

Avoid any window that pops up and offers you free access to live TV shows with the Zango toolbar. Zango supposedly pays for your access to premium content by showing you contextual advertising based on your browsing habits. If you choose, comparison shopping offers will then be shown to you in a sidebar by ShopperReports, another toolbar.

If you're an adult, you know nothing is free. If you keep up with Net news, you know that Zango was an adware company that declared bankruptcy last January. Blinkx, an A/V search engine purchased their assets.

Fortunately, both Zango and ShopperReports toolbars can be uninstalled using "Add or Remove Programs" in your Control Panel.

However, when confronted with the window asking if you want to install, and you click Cancel, another window pops up asking if you're sure you want to cancel the Zango install. Here's the tricky part. You have to click OK if you want to cancel (you click cancel if you want to continue. Read carefully before you click.

Scan iPod

If you decide to save some money and purchase a refurbished iPod, even from a reputable seller, be careful.

Plug a USB cable into the device and to your computer and run a virus scan on the iPod. There's been anecdotal evidence about used or refurbished iPods having worms or viruses on them. That's because iPods and other devices like them store files. They can get infected too without the owner or retailer knowing they are.

Takeaway Truth

Ben Franklin said: "In the beginning man makes the habits; in the end, the habits make the man." When it comes to computers, I'll paraphrase: "In the beginning the computer user makes the habits; in the end, the habits either destroy or maintain the computer."

Holiday Safe Shopping

Though this is the last week of holiday shopping, it's not too late to remind you of a security guideline you always need to follow. I caught myself recently about to violate this standard online safety rule.

Online Shopping Security

By now, everyone knows that before you enter credit card information at a website, you should always make sure a website begins with HTTPS://, not just the standard HTTP://.

But, we get in a hurry. Time is short. We're trying to complete an online purchase before we dash out the door to make in person retail purchase at the crowded mall so we don't take the seconds necessary to check the URL in the address bar.

Always, always check this.

Takeaway Truth

Though it takes a few seconds, the time you spend could mean the difference between security and a very bad post-Christmas season for you and your credit card.

Perfect Gifts

Oren Arnold wrote: "Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect."

Takeaway Truth

Be the person that you feel is the real you. Maybe others don't see this person. Maybe that self hides inside your existing persona. Set that better person free.

Holiday Gifts: Help Others

Today's gift suggestion is one that will benefit the recipient as well as you, the giver. Give to help those in dire need.

I urge you to do something unusual this Christmas: adopt a group that you will support until next Christmas. I did that this year and adopted Heifer International, an organization that has helped feed millions. They've done this with a program designed to foster self-reliance in people who struggle to subsist.

Last Christmas, I decided that most of the people in our family have more than enough toys, knickknacks, dining out cards, gadgets, and the like. We're all lucky because we, and our extended family, can purchase virtually anything we want.

I've visited several countries in southeast Asia and in neighboring Mexico so I know how so many on this planet struggle for clean water, food, and a roof over their heads.

After research, I decided that I would donate to Heifer International in the name of the family member who had a birthday or anniversary. With the kids, we'd send a small present also but donate the bulk of the money we would have spent in order to help someone who really needs a helping hand. To date, we've bought flocks of chicks in the kids' names and donated to help a family buy a milk cow.

Heifer International

This group takes your donation and helps families "who for generations knew only poverty" to build new homes and start businesses. Kids who never went to school because they had to work in the fields, now learn to read. This is all possible because of their 65 years of experience in the area of helping people create a sustainable source of food and income.

Whatever you've got to give, you can direct those funds to a specific area like a flock of chicks for $20.00 or a goat for $120.00. If you can't give $120.00, then you can donate a "share" of a goat, only $10.00. By combining everyone's giving, Heifer is able to make a difference in the world.

Charity Watch

I recommend Heifer. I chose this group because I think people need the very basics to sustain life -- food, water, and shelter. I chose them after checking them out with the American Institute of Philanthropy, AIP, which operates the watchdog website Charity Watch.

In fact, I'd recommend that you never give a dime to a group without first checking them out with Charity Watch. They rate charities from A+ to F so if you want to make sure your money goes where a group tells you it goes, visit Charity Watch before donating.

My Support Requirements

Ability to donate in the name of someone else.

Ability to donate online with a card sent to the recipient.

Majority of the donated money to go for the programs, not staff salaries and bonuses.

No excessive funds held in reserve rather than used to help people.

No secrets -- full disclosure of basic financial information.

Spend little on fund raising.

Visit Charity Watch

When you check the Charity Watch website, you can read all their requirements. Of more than 500 charities rated, only a small percentage qualify for their Top-Rated listing which is B+ to A+. Heifer, with an A-, is Top-Rated.

By contrast, the American Cancer Society, which gets the bulk of donations to cancer groups analyzed by AIP, receives only a C+ rating because 97% of their overhead is paid for by contributions and only 60% of donation money goes to the stated goal of the charity.

If you're like me, you work hard for your money. You want to give, but you want to make sure your money goes for the intended purpose, not to pay for some power lunch and not to pay to create a blizzard of other requests from them every time the moon changes. Be smart about giving so you make each dollar count.

Takeaway Truth

Give with an open heart and your holiday gift will enrich your soul and help someone who may often go to bed hungry. It's easy, and it will change a life.

(Also published on Joan Slings Words, my other blog.)

Search Deep with Pipl

You probably use Google and one or two other search engines on a daily basic, but do you know about Pipl?

Welcome to the Deep Web

When you use the more popular search engines, they give you the most frequent and common results, but, sometimes, often in fact, there's other information out there, but it doesn't pop up unless you dig deeper. That's what Pipl is about. They dig deeper.

Privacy Issues

I must confess I'm conflicted about the continuing invasion of privacy afforded by the Internet. Of course, sometimes it helps to be able to check out a young man who seemed to take an unhealthy interest in my daughter. Yes, I'm paranoid, but like a cop who dealt with child rape once told me, there's no such thing as too paranoid. Scary world.

Reasons To Search

There are other reasons you might want to use Pipl. Maybe you're looking for a relative with whom you've lost touch. Or a former business contact. The deep web, sometimes called the invisible web, refers to a vast repository of underlying content, such as documents in online databases. The usual web crawlers can't reach them. Deep web content is estimated at 500 times that of the surface web, but it's mostly untapped due to the limitations of traditional search engines.

Pipl searches and finds online store profiles, member directories, publications and lots more. Results can be obscure, but they could be what you need.

Takeaway Truth

Online research can be even more fascinating than you thought.

3 Resources for Free Art

On my other blog, Joan Slings Words, I'm publishing a serial Exclusively eBooks on Wednesdays. Next week I'll be doing a segment on the art files required to publish online.

I'm learning by teaching and doing. Why? Because many of you are publishing eBooks or thinking about doing that. Like me when I first started researching this, you might be confused by all the contradictory information so I'm trying to clear up the confusion.

If you're interested in eBook publishing, then you've discovered that you need a book cover with panache. Some of you try to do it yourself when it comes to cover art. For most, that's a terrible idea unless you're an experienced graphic artist.

3 Resources for Free Art

However, if you're set on trying it yourself, here are some resources that you can use. Be absolutely certain that the image you are using is actually in public domain because by using it, you bear the full burden of liability.

1. The Library of Congress Image Collection, search public domain images.

2. American Memory Project by the Library of Congress.

3. Search string for popular browsers: Public Domain Images.

Note: If you decide you'd like a real artist to do your cover, you might want to read Need A Book Cover? for a reliable and experienced source.

Takeaway Truth

Just because a book is digital that doesn't mean a dazzling cover is unnecessary. You still want a visual representation of the book to spark a reader's interest and imagination — that's what a great cover does.

3 Writing Contests

Heads up! These 3 writing contests have deadlines in January. Take a holiday break and get an entry ready now.

By the way, the links take you to a page that lists all the writing contests offered by these 3 institutions.

AWP Award Series

Deadline: January 1-February 28, 2011.

Categories: fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, hosted by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs.

O. Henry Award for Magazine Journalism

Deadline: January 9, 2011.

Qualifications: writers born in Texas, living in Texas for more than 2 years, or have work associated with Texas, hosted by Texas Institute of Letters.

Prize: $1,000 prize is offered for best written work of journalism published during the previous year in a magazine or weekly newspaper.
The Ohio State University Prize in Short Fiction

Deadline: January postmark.

Categories: 150-300 pages of fiction comprised of short stories and/or novellas (novellas must not exceed 125 pages in length).

Prize: $1,500 and publication.

You can find more contests listed at so if you want contest listings and market listings, subscribe today.

Takeaway Truth

Get a jump on the New Year by readying a contest entry today.

Cross-Genre Fiction

Dean Koontz published his first novel Star Quest in 1968, but he wasn't a novice at writing. He'd published countless short stories before Star Quest.

In the next several years, he wrote dozens of novels under many different names. Many of these novels mixed elements of different genres. In the mid-1970's, his genre-blending really took off. I'm not sure, but I think every book after The Key to Midnight, originally appearing under the name Leigh Nichols, was a cross-genre novel.

He made other writers want to write these kinds of books. I don't know if Constance O'Day-Flannery was influenced by him, but in 1986, her time-travel romance Timeless Passion was published and became the first of many of her best-selling time-travels.

Timeswept Lovers (1987), Time-Kept Promises (1988), and Time-Kissed Destiny (1990) quickly followed. Then in 1991, Diana Gabaldon's Outlander was published. It went on to win the Romance Writers of America award for Best Romance in 1991.

Disturbance In The Force

About that time, there was a disturbance in the force. At least that's one way of looking at the search for different, if not greener, pastures by the many best-selling romance novelists who had cut their teeth on series romance. They had their skills down pat and they wanted to stretch, to grow. Or perhaps they were just tired of straight romance novels.

In any event, they wanted to write something different. Blended, cross-genre novels started appearing. First were other time travel novels and a few science fiction romances that just didn't launch successfully. Then dark suspense, really light horror in actuality, emerged.

Publishing houses put a few of these early paranormal novels into their list, and they hit a nerve among readers who either loved them or hated them. Then they subsided Publishers said they just weren't a big enough part of the market, but readers screamed for more.

When Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted on TV, followed by Angel, and by Roswell on a different network, the hungry paranormal audience exulted, but an interesting thing occurred. Mainstream audiences found these stories highly addictive too. Thus began the explosion of paranormal. The audience, eager for different stories, expanded.

Of course Nora Roberts, as J. D. Robb, had great success with her futuristic detective novels replete with sex so publishers, and the young editors who did the grunt work at the houses, started looking for more novels like the TV shows and like the early paranormals.

Chicken Or The Egg

Pinning down the exploding popularity of cross-genre fiction from late 1990's is kind of like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. Did the TV shows promote like Buffy, Angel, and Roswell produce the demand or were writers like Anne Rice, Dean Koontz, Constance O'Day Flannery, and Nora Roberts producing these books that whetted the public's appetite for more?

Jayne Krentz, Catherine Coulter, Linda Howard, Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, and Karen Robards, to name a few, blend suspense, sex, and romance. Janet Evanovich, Nancy Martin, and others blend mystery, romance, sex, and humor. Nora Roberts blends science fiction, sex, and mystery. The list is endless.

Once, publishers didn't know how to sell cross-genre novels. They claimed that blending genres made it too hard to shelve the books in stores. Should it go in mystery or romance? Horror or suspense? Funny how the readers didn't have a problem finding these books.

Takeaway Truth

A good book will find its audience.

Holiday Gifts: Journals

I think it must be time for some more gift suggestions for writers. Why? Because I'm online shopping today to find a few more unique items so I figure you probably are too.

First, a note about the gift sources I site. In most cases, you'll get the best deal if you use the link I supply. This is especially true of any Cafe Press website.

For instance, the ceramic writer's ornament I blogged about earlier is half the price if you shop directly at The Write Way, my little cyber boutique, rather than going through a doorway site. Write Way products are listed on many other sites, but when you click through from a doorway site, the price you see is much higher than if you buy directly from my site.

At the end of today's post, I'll show you a picture of the journal I sell at The Write Way so stay tuned!

Why Journals

I like to give journals even to non-writers because, as motivational author and speaker Tony Robbins said: "A life worth living is a life worth recording."

Expensive journals are great stand-alone gifts, and inexpensive journals are great stocking stuffers. Here are some places where I like to shop.

Shakespeare's Den has many journals ranging in price from about 6 bucks to nearly $200. The journals are themed so you can find something that will appeal to wine lovers, artists, musicians, and, of course, writers.

Vickery has small to large journals, starting at a low price and going up. Some of their zen-style covers are beautiful.

Fine Keepsakes has a variety of journals including refillable ones. Prices range from low to high.

Renaissance-Art has a beautiful selection of leather-covered journals, and they also offer themed journals. Their products are hand-tooled and made in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Prices range from moderate to pricey.
The Write Way has tee shirts, bags, mugs, and journals. These journals come with lined, blank, task journal, or dot grid design.

I placed a quotation from Katherine Mansfield, one of my favorite authors, on the cover design.

These journals are 5" x 8" so they're easy to slip into your handbag. I always carry one.

Takeaway Truth

Journals can be a dumping ground for thoughts better left unspoken as well as a launch pad for imagination. Sometimes, they can save your sanity. To quote an anonymous sage: "I fall back on this journal just as some other poor devil takes to drink."

Christmas Won't Wait

Christmas just won't wait even though I've groused that I just don't have time to decorate, shop, party, and emit good cheer.

What's a girl to do when there are yards -- and trees -- to decorate, stockings to hang, cookies to bake?

Why a girl just dives in headfirst and ignores, or procrastinates, on other aspects of her life, and that's why I haven't blogged in several days.

Tomorrow I plan to be be back and Sling Words about holiday goodies. Later in the week, look for an article on Cross-Genre Fiction.

Takeaway Truth

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. See you tomorrow.

Recover Stolen Phone or Laptop

Phones and laptops are expensive. Do what you can to secure yours or to recover your equipment if the worst happens.

The other day I told you how you could use an old flash drive as a laptop alarm to alert you if someone tried to steal your laptop.

When I read an past issue of a Kim Komando newsletter, I knew the software she mentioned would make a great sequel to my laptop alarm post. The software allows you to track a stolen laptop.

Prey Project is a free program that works to track your laptop or your cell phone. Since most of the popular cell phones are pricey, this is a good tool to have.

Visit the website and read How It Works. Basically, when a thief turns on the phone or laptop, the Prey software attempts to broadcast the location. Even if it's not connected to the Internet, Prey will look for the nearest open hotspot.

There are many other features too like activate the Webcam to get a pic of the thief.

Takeaway Truth

Free software that works. What could be better?

Flash Drive For Laptop Security

If you're like me, you've got a bunch of old flash drives in your desk's pencil drawer. I read about how you can re-purpose an old flash drive and make it a laptop alarm.

How To Secure Laptop With Flash Drive

1. Visit Read their info. Below the Download button, the next paragraph reads:

"Prevent laptop theft. Laptop theft is common and a constant threat to laptop security. LAlarm emits a loud siren sound when a thief tries to steal a laptop. For example, you connect a laptop to a power outlet or fasten a laptop to a table by using a USB flash drive strap. An alarm will be triggered when the laptop is disconnected from the power outlet or removed from the table. LAlarm also warns the owner if the laptop is left unattended in an unsafe place for a period of time."

2. In that paragraph, you'll see a link that takes you to the page where using a flash drive is explained.

3. After you read the info, you can install the free software on your laptop.

4. Then secure a neck strap to your USB flash drive and fasten the other end of the strap to a table or other solid piece.

5. Plug in the flash drive to a USB port on your laptop and lock it by pressing the Windows logo key and the L key together.

6. If someone removes the laptop, the flash drive will be pulled out and a loud siren will sound. At the same time the alarm sounds, the software will send an alert to your mobile phone.

Another option you can program with this free software is to have the data on the laptop self-destruct if it's stolen. There's a video on the website that demos this. Just make sure you really want this to happen though.

Takeaway Truth

Security with laptops is a concern because so many are lost or stolen. Make use of the excellent online free tools available to you.

Holiday Gifts: Tees & Jewelry

Happy Holidays!

Today I'm featuring a couple of great T's for writers. The first is from my own shop The Write Way. It's in the iPod/Pad/gadget school of design thought. There are lots of other t-shirts for writers in the shop if this doesn't strike your fancy.


The iWrite Tee Shirt is only $17.99 when purchased directly from my shop. Today, CafePress is giving a special Cyber Monday sale with $10.00 off orders totaling $50. or more. With so many great gifts and PR products for writers, finding other things to buy shouldn't be a problem.

The shirt shown is a woman's style, but, guys, there are shirts there for you too.

Second Gift Idea

I love Typewriter Key Jewelry. These Cuff Links are great and so is the $24.99 price tag.

QA Create has a great selection of beautiful earrings, rings, cuff links, and pendants designed to appeal to those who work with words. Old typewriter keys are getting harder to find. Better get yours now.

Takeaway Truth

Happy shopping!


I've been publishing SlingWords since 2005. A few years into blogging, I started posting a Written Wisdom, usually on Sunday.

I've written well over 1,000 posts. Since 2008, 118 of these posts have been Written Wisdom, based on a wise or witty quotation.

Best of Written Wisdom

I decided to compile a "best of" from Written Wisdom using the platform. This book of excerpts will be printed in softcover, and I'll give them as Christmas presents to certain family and friends who, I think, will appreciate them. (I may offer them for sale to anyone who wants one. I haven't decided yet whether I have the time to undertake that kind of retail project.)

No End In Sight

I'm not ending Written Wisdom. Indeed, I've updated the graphic that accompanies each post and plan to continue indefinitely.

Today, my theme is, appropriately, Quotations. I'm sharing what Quotation Anthologist Terri Guillemets, creator of the, had to say about the subject: "Most collectors collect tangibles. As a quotation collector, I collect wisdom, life, invisible beauty, souls alive in ink."

Takeaway Truth

I'm also a collector of wisdom, life, invisible beauty, and souls -- all alive in ink, the old-fashioned liquid product and the new digital variety.

I'm a Beautiful Blogger

Back in the spring, I received an email from Randi Annette Shaw who writes for the love of Writing.

Randi was letting me know that SlingWords, this little adventure in writing that I publish, was selected as the winner of a Beautiful Blogger Award.

So why am I so late in bragging, uh, I mean, telling you about this lovely award? I guess because I received notification during one of my brief stays at home.

Late, Not Unappreciative

My mom had died in late January. I'd been traveling back and forth to the hospital all of January and sleeping on couches in the ICU waiting room. Then I spent the next few months mostly at her home with an occasional trip home to check on my family.

In other words, a lot of things fell through the cracks during that time. By the time I finished taking care of my mom's estate, it was time for my daughter's next orthopedic surgery. I won't continue in this sage lest you all begin playing the world's tiniest violin. Suffice it to say that this year was even harder than last year which was one of the worst of my life. Wow! Am I looking forward to 2011 and hoping that it will bring better times.

Memory Returns

Out of the blue, I suddenly remembered the Beautiful Blogger Award, returned to her site, and snagged the image to post here. You'll see it on the sidebar from now on. Again, Randi, thank you. I appreciate the recognition because I work hard at making this blog appealing in looks and content.

Takeaway Truth

Thoreau was right. Sometimes life really is too much for us, but, in the face of some events, simplify simply isn't the answer. Perhaps the only answer is to just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving, hoping that you're moving forward.

Review: In the Garden of Temptation

In the Garden of Temptation by Cynthia Wicklund
Kindle Edition: 448 KB
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Language: English

Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing author Cynthia Wicklund and subsequently reviewed her first published novel Lord of Always.

I bemoaned the fact that she didn't have another book coming out any time soon. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who wanted more from her, and as soon as possible! Cynthia listened to the pleas of her eager new fans and has made her books of The Garden Series available as eBooks.

Hard To Believe

Readers, you'll find it hard to believe, but these evocative, emotional romance novels made the rounds of editors and agents for years without capturing a contract. They came close many times, and Cynthia finaled in Romance Writers of America's annual Golden Heart contest for unpublished writers, but the end result was a stack of glowing rejection letters.

Strong Belief

However, writers sometimes believe so strongly in the worth of a story that they don't give up, and that's a very good thing for readers because In the Garden of Temptation is a gem worthy of a place on your keeper shelf.

Thankfully, eBook reader devices, like my Kindle on which I downloaded In the Garden of Temptation, Book 1 of The Garden Series, make the size of a keeper shelf immense. Let me tell you about this story.

No Spoilers

It's hard to tell what this story is about without revealing some neat twists, but I'll try.

Adam Stanford, Earl of Ashworth, is a man who is honorable and above reproach. He's always done the right thing. Then he meets the beautiful — and married — Lady Catherine Bourgeault, the beautiful, young wife of one of the most disreputable men in England.

Stunned by a passion and a love that no amount of conscience can deny, Catherine and Adam risk everything for a few moments of stolen bliss. Unknown to them, every event from their introduction to the consummation of their love has been orchestrated by Catherine's evil, demented husband for his own dark purpose.

When Baron Bourgeault finally springs his trap, Catherine is forced to break Adam's heart in order to save him. The baron whisks her away to his crumbling castle in the country. As he sinks deeper and deeper into his psychosis, Catherine knows that her life, and all she holds dear, may be forfeit unless the power of redeeming love can save her.

Charged Emotion

I read this book while I sat in the surgical waiting room last week. My daughter was having her third surgery in 18 months, and I was a basket case who could hardly take the slow movement of the hands of the clock. A two hour surgery turned into four and continued. If I hadn't had this book to read, I don't know what I'd have done. I can hardly believe that Catherine and Adam's emotional journey captured my attention sufficiently as to calm my nerves and give me brief respite from worry, but it did. I devoured the book.

Bottom Line

This is the second novel I've read by Cynthia Wicklund, and it's truly another winner. I can't recommend her books highly enough. She has a way with women characters and the knack for presenting them as likable and honorable even when they may not be engaged in honorable actions. I understand these women, and I like them.

Her talent with characters extends to men. In Lord of Always, she took an evil man and made him the kind of man we'd all want in our lives. In Temptation, she takes an honorable man and makes him behave dishonorably, but we don't care! We still like him. We understand how he is in the grip of a love he never expected to feel. We see his battle with his conscience. Despite what he does, he's heroic.

I'm off to purchase the next books in the series. Book 2 is In the Garden of Seduction, and Book 3 is In the Garden of Disgrace.

Of course, I'm going to buy the Kindle Editions, but you can get them in other formats or Kindle for other apps. By the way, if you want your own Kindle, just click here.

Takeaway Truth

Until next time, remember, a good book is a little vacation from the cares of life.

P. D. James & Detective Fiction

The other day I wrote about the latest Harris Poll on book buying statistics. That poll showed that mystery, crime, and thriller books were rising in popularity.

That reminded me of Talking About Detective Fiction by the talented P. D. James. If anyone knows something about the mystery genre, it's P. D. James.

Her book is a history of the detective fiction genre, and it's written in an easy conversational style. If you're into mysteries, this is a book you should read.

Detective Fiction Morphs

I like what she had to say: "What is surprising is not that the detective story has altered but that it has survived, and that what we have seen since the interwar years has been a development, not a rejection, followed by renewal."

She goes on to hold forth about the realism inherent in contemporary crime fiction, taking into account the scientific and technological advances that have changed the face of detection and therefore must change detective novels. Ms. James thinks that the increased emphasis on environment/setting in crime stories and a more explicit rendering of sexually-based scenes within the stories makes the novels closer to mainstream fiction.

Blending Genres

I think she's right. The lines between genres are blurring so that it's difficult to say this novel is a detective novel but this one over here is a mainstream (general fiction) title. Thirty years ago, writing a cross genre novel was the kiss of death. Only Dean Koontz consistently wrote these books that blended mystery, science fiction, thriller, and usually a strong romance element.

Anyone else did it at the risk of not selling the book. Conventional wisdom then said that booksellers simply didn't know where to stock books like this. Did they put it in general fiction, horror, science fiction, mystery, or what? Therefore, publishers didn't want to publish them because it would be hard to sell in sufficient quantities to make the project profitable.

Truth About Readers

Readers don't care so much about labels. They care about good books. They know what they like, and they're willing to pay good money for it when they find it. One good thing about doing online shopping is that a reader can search for the kind of book that rings her chimes by entering keywords that describe her interests.

Takeaway Truth

The ability to search by keywords may be one of the reasons why online book buying keeps growing.

3 Ways To Give Thanks

Today, across America, people gather with loved ones to feast and to give thanks. Admittedly, the giving thanks part seems to take a back seat to the feasting and football viewing.

Here are some tips that might help you restore the meaning of Thanksgiving: 3 Ways To Give Thanks.

1. Say thank you. Make a point to thank each person as they help with the day's festivities. I don't mean a quickly muttered, "Thanks." I mean to look them in the eye, touch their hand or their shoulder or hug them, and tell them why their presence in your home means so much to you today.

Then tell them, "Thank you, for being here, for helping, and for being in my life. You make me a happier person." Or words to that effect. You know what's in your heart so just speak from the heart.

2. Give thanks. Before everyone dives into the food at the big meal, tap your glass to get everyone's attention and announce that you want to give thanks aloud and offer the opportunity to everyone else to do the same. Say what you're thankful for and let each person have their say around the table.

3. Get a journal just for Thanksgiving. Ask each person to write a few words in the journal before they leave. Don't forget to ask the kids too. Even the tiniest tots know what made them happy, and their parents can write that for them.

Whether the remarks are a simple "Thanks for the food." or an essay on the closeness of family, you'll learn to treasure the journal if you make it an annual tradition. Each year you'll love looking back on feasts of the past, and your regular guests will enjoy seeing how they change through the years.

Takeaway Truth

I give thanks that so many of you read this blog. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Judge a Book By Its Cover Contest

I'm proud to be a member of the Houston Bay Area Chapter of Romance Writers of America, sponsors of an annual contest to recognize the best in book cover design.

The 2010 Judge a Book By Its Cover contest, commonly called JABBIC, is now open and ready for submissions.

What's different about this contest is that it's open to not only those published with traditional publishers but also to authors who are with small presses, or even self-published. Yes, there's a lot of good art out there on self-published books though some think that it's still heresy to say that aloud.


JABBIC recognizes outstanding graphic design in that all-important first impression: the book cover.

Grand Prize: A full-page color ad in the April 2011 edition of Romance Writers Report, the official magazine of Romance Writers of America. The ad will feature the winners in all six categories. This is big! Full-page color ads aren't cheap, and they bring a lot of exposure to an author's book.

Winners will be announced on February 10, 2011.


The categories include:

Contemporary Series


Single Title

Romantic Suspense

Science Fiction/Fantasy/Paranormal

Sexiest Cover.

Here Come The Judge

The Judges are booksellers who know what good covers look like. This year, they are:

Borders Books

A Novel Place

Barbara's Books

Beth Anne's Book Corner

Ever After


Katy Budget Books

Jane's Paperback Swap'n'Shop

Murder One

The Island Bookstore


Romance World

Temptation, the Romance Bookstore

Rosemary's Romance Books

More Info

To find out more information, visit Houston Bay Area RWA. The left sidebar contains a box with JABBIC links. To enter, simply browse to the JABBIC site. The entry system will walk you through the process of entering your contact and book information, paying, and uploading your cover electronically.

Takeaway Truth

If you think your book has a great cover, then enter JABBIC. You just might win recognition for your book and for the artist who did the cover.

Meet Maryann Miller

We're having coffee this morning with Maryann Miller, a woman who's written columns, feature stores, short fiction, novels, screenplays and stage plays.

Maryann Miller has won numerous awards including being a semi-finalist at the Sundance Institute for her screenplay, A Question of Honor.

More recently she placed in the top 15% of entries in the Chesterfield Screenwriting Fellowship with the adaptation of Open Season, the first of a mystery series that will debut, in hardcover, in December from Five Star Cengage/Gale.

It's All In The Details

Title: Open Season
Author Name: Maryann Miller
Publisher: Five Star Cengage/Gale
ISBN: 10: 1594149151

You can visit Maryann at her website or her Amazon Author Page or her blog It's Not All Gravy.

You may converse with Maryann by email: maryann at maryannwrites dot com.

Ice Breakers

Good morning, Maryann, and welcome to Sling Words! Let's get started with some fun questions. Of Tess of the D'Urbervilles or the movie Pretty Woman, which do you prefer and why?

Maryann: Between Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles or the movie Pretty Woman, I would have to pick the movie. I want to kiss Richard Gere when he shows up with the carriage, and that song. Oh my gosh, I can't get it out of my head now. "Pretty woman, walking down the street...."

Joan: How appropriate since this is the 20th anniversary of that film!

What's your TV guilty pleasure? Why?

Maryann: Okay. I'll admit it. I love to watch football, although it has lost some of its appeal since the glory days of the Dallas Cowboys. My daughter once said, "Call me for the huddle." Need I say more?

Joan: Name a book, any genre, that means a lot to you and tell us why.

Maryann: At the top of my all-time favorite book list is Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck. I learned more about developing characters from this book than any other. I also love Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird because in it she gives writers permission to just write without worrying about perfection in the first draft. For me it is important to turn the editor side of my brain off when I am first creating a scene and just let it come the way it wants to. Later I can beat it into shape.

Joan: Name a book that you were forced to read in school that you think was a time waste and please tell us why.

Maryann: I absolutely slogged through Ulysses in school and hated every minute of it. I know it is a classic and all well-rounded readers should love the classics, but that is not one that even flirted with my list of books I enjoyed. When I read, I need boundaries. Periods. Commas. Paragraph indents.

Joan: Boundaries! Well put. What an excellent definition of grammar. I may use that quotation in Grammar for Grownups, my online serial that's being published on Joan Slings Words, my other blog.

Inquiring Minds Want To Know

Joan: How long have you been working at your craft? Please tell us something about your first published book, the journey from the idea that you wanted to write a book to finally writing one for which you received a publishing contract.

Maryann: If you count the fact that I started writing when I was eleven, I have been working on my craft a looooong time. My first published book was Coping With Cults, a nonfiction book for teens dealing with destructive cults. I got that gig based on my years of journalism experience, and the book was not what I thought my first published book would be. It was more of a job than a book from my heart, but it paid a few bills and was fun to research and write.

My childhood dream was to write fiction, and while I moved in the direction of newspaper and magazine work to earn a living, I always had a fiction project that I would work on when I got a chance.

Joan: The book about which we're talking today was what number book for you? 1st, 3rd, 7th?

Maryann: Open Season is my 14th published book.

Joan: Tell us something about this particular book: how did you come up with the title; do you have a 1 sentence blurb or log line to tease readers?

Maryann: The title for Open Season came to me when I thought about the killer stalking victims, much like a hunter will stalk game. I didn't want to call it Hunting Season, and I remembered that there is an open season of hunting for some game. Perhaps hunters will make the connection. This is the first book in a series, and each title will include the word season.

I don't have a one-sentence logline, but two: Set against a backdrop of racial tension and deadly force controversy in Dallas, Open Season introduces Sarah Kingsly and Angel Johnson, homicide detectives who are unlikely and unwilling partners. When people start dying in area shopping malls, the detectives find themselves up against a killer who has his own race card to play.

Joan: Are you also publishing for eBook readers, and, if so, how did you make that transition from print to eBook?

Maryann: I have three books available for eBook readers. Friends Forever, Play it Again, Sam, and One Small Victory. I put Friends Forever and One Small Victory up on Kindle and Smashwords myself, and Play it Again, Sam was published by Uncial Press as an e-Book a couple of years ago.

I have had an e-reader for almost ten years and am thrilled that e-books are finally getting so popular. I think having books available in paperback, hardback, audio and electronic is a smart way to go. All readers have a preference, and this way we can cater to them all.

Joan: If they made a movie of your book, who would be cast to portray the characters?

Maryann: I work in a community theater and all the players here are clamoring to be in the movie for Open Season. I also have a good friend who wants to play the lead in One Small Victory. If that should ever get made, I would love for my friend to get the role. She is an incredible actress and would be perfect as Jenny. Maybe I could be cast to play her mother. We have done mother/daughter roles before.

Joan: What keeps you going when you get rejected?

Maryann: Rejections were harder to handle when I was younger and just starting my journalism career. Now a rejection is barely a blip on my radar. What is that saying about a tough old newspaper woman? I do think it benefits a writer to toughen up just a bit and remember the work is getting rejected, not the person.

Joan: What's your favorite oh, darn, I got a rejection food and/or drink to soothe the savaged ego?

Maryann: If I do feel a need to soothe my ego after a disappointment, some triple chocolate fudge ice cream sure comes in handy.

Joan: Who are your writing influences?

Maryann: I am constantly invited to grow as a writer when I read wonderfully crafted books such as The Help, Mystic River, The Black Horse, and many others that have passages I read over and over because of the use of language. I also enjoy books by Laura Castoro, Crossing the Line, Icing on the Cake. Laura is a wonderful writer, and she is so willing to share her expertise. She has been a good friend and supporter. I also have some writer friends who have persevered against physical challenges and life challenges, and they are my inspiration.

Joan: What are you working on now?

Maryann: Right now I am trying to finish the second book in the series, Stalking Season. It's close, just a few chapters to go. I am also sending queries to agents for the humorous memoir I finished this year. A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck is based on a humor column I used to write when I was known as the Erma Bombeck of Plano, Texas.

Joan: What do you now know that you wish you'd known when you started?

Maryann: Now I know how to separate the work from my ego, and it would have been helpful to be able to do that in the beginning. In newspaper and magazine work the rejections can come swift and heavy, and I really had to work to make myself send out another query when I'd get a rejection. Now I am much more pragmatic about it. Already I have received seven rejections on the memoir, but I have a list of agents to try and a new query goes out the same day I receive a "no thanks".

Joan: What's the best thing about writing?

Maryann: One of the things I love most about writing is the magic that happens on the paper or the screen when the writing is going well. Some writing sessions I start out with a rough idea of what I want to happen in this particular scene, then one of my characters surprises me. Sometimes the surprise is much better than what I had planned and I almost want to stand up and cheer.

Joan: What's the worst thing about writing?

Maryann: Editing and rewriting. Need I say more? Bring on the chocolate.

Joan: Do you have writing goals? If so, would you share some with us?

Maryann: New York Times best-seller list. Pulitzer Prize. National Book Award. Academy Award for the screenplay for Open Season. Seriously, I was just reminded in another interview that it would be good to have One Small Victory available in paperback, so that is one of the goals I would like to accomplish soon.

Joan: What advice would you give someone just starting out?

Maryann: One of the main things I like to share with new writers is the advice, "never give up." More success stories evolve out of tenacity than talent, and too many good writers give up when the marketing gets too difficult. It is also important to read and write and read and write, and not necessarily in just one genre or category. You learn a lot about craft by reading many different books and paying attention to what makes them engaging.

Joan: What's the one thing no interviewer has ever asked you about that you'd like to discuss here?

Maryann: My garden and how much working around growing things feeds my soul. I think all artists need to feed the creative spirit within and it needs to be daily nutrition. I get mine every morning.

The Last Word

: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about anything?

Maryann: I just want to thank you so much for this opportunity to share my story with your readers. It is always so much fun to do these interviews, and I hope the readers enjoy this time together.

Takeaway Truth

Until next time, remember, a good book is a little vacation from the cares of life.

Holiday Gifts: Bitchin' Journal & Mug

I'll freely admit to having a rather odd sense of humor, but here are a couple of inexpensive gifts that just scream career writer to me. Of course, if your particular career has a lot of frustration and trials, then these gifts fit your particular ring of hell also.

First up is the Fabulous Career in Bitching Journal whose cover says: Ask me about a fabulous career in bitching.

If you've been a professional writer longer than a month, then you know why this journal would make a great gift for a writer. Sometimes, it seems that all we do is bitch about the state of publishing, book sales, editors, agents, readers, and more. In fact, sometimes it seems that there's no good news about writing so why do we keep on doing it?

Next, we have the Unstable & Bitchy Mug. I'd laugh at this even if my husband gave it to me! In fact, we women tend to laugh about things like this because we have a great sense of humor, and we can take a little kidding.

Of course, we like to give our friends gifts like these because we also know that writing as a career makes us all a little crazy at times. Yep. Being unstable and bitchy is all part of my mystique.

P. S. My artist daughter designed these and sells them at one of her CafePress shops. Wonder if she had anyone particular in mind when she was creating these amusing gifts?

Takeaway Truth

A gift that makes you laugh is a gift that lifts your spirits every time you look at it. It just may help you keep your sense of perspective amidst trials and tribulations.


Quote for the Week

This is the week of Thanksgiving. Most of us in the United States have planned our day as meticulously as the American military planned the D-Day invasion.

We know who will be invading our homes. We know what we'll serve the troops. We know that the entertainment won't be the USO but football on TV. We know that R & R will be required after the big meal, and we know that the kitchen will look like the aftermath of a bombing run.

Still, with all that, we embrace the holiday and eagerly look forward to it each year. Most of us will say a prayer before we dive into the turkey and dressing. Many will go around the table and say that for which they're thankful, as we do.

Perhaps we'd all do well to think on these words from the late President John F. Kennedy. "I think as we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."

Sure, it's nice to hear someone say thanks, but it's more meaningful if that person lives each day as if he means those words, as if she truly appreciates you and what you do. Don't do lip service to thanks, and then, the rest of the year, ignore contributions from others or, worse, be angry and live with an attitude of ingratitude.

Takeaway Truth

Actions speak louder than words.

Growth of Digital Book Sales

Recently, I read this quotation in my Authors Guild Bulletin that came out this past summer. (Yes, I'm behind on reading my professional publications.)

"By the end of 2012, digital books will be 20-25% of unit sales, and that's on the conservative side. Add in another 25% of units sold online, and roughly half of all unit sales will be on the Internet." Mike Shatzkin, CEO of Idea Logical Company, said that in the Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2010.

Digital Sales: Estimates Too Low

Methinks Mr. Shatzkin is seriously undervaluing the growing popularity of eBooks. In the 2009 Association of American Ppublishers report showed that sales of eBooks had surpassed audio book sales. In fact, the eBook sales were up 176.6%.

Then, in the 2010 report, Audio Books rebounded, but in the Downloaded category. Those increased 4.6 percent over 2009, but the physical Audio Book sales continued to fall.

The eBook sales for January-August 2010 represented $263 million, compared to $89.8 million, shown in the January-August 2009 report I linked to in the previous paragraph. This was a 193% increase over the same period last year.

Extrapolating, in 2009, eBooks showed a 176.6% increase. In 2010, thus far, they show a 193% increase.

Takeaway Truth

With the kind of growth exhibited by eBooks in the last 2 years, it's entirely possible that they alone may represent close to 50% of published books sales in 2 years.

Cheap Printer Cartridges Resource

As a writer, I go through ink and toner like a whirlwind through Tornado Alley in the spring. In fact, for writers and other print intensive vocations and avocations, keeping your printers running can, well, run into big bucks. I'm always looking for a dependable source of cheap printer cartridges so I'm happy to pass along this resource tip.

Ink & Toner Resource

Whether you run ink jet or laser, you can keep your printers humming, at a low price point, with You see, they're a resource you'll want to bookmark because they offer the lowest prices for ink and toner that I've seen.

No wonder thousands of customers use their site and save from 50 to 70% off on printer ink. It's a no-brainer because they guarantee satisfaction, and they ship quickly. They're cheap enough that you can stock up so you're not running out of ink when you're trying to print an important project on deadline.

User Friendly In The Extreme

On the main page, you'll see a drop-down menu with brands of the most popular printers from Apple to Xerox. Just select your brand and a page opens with all the printers listed. Find yours, click it, and a page will open showing you a picture of the printer and listing the inks or toners it runs along with the prices.

I run 4 printers. I was surprised that I could get toner cartridges for my Brother laser at a third of what I pay when I buy one at a popular big-box office supply store. (You probably know the one I mean.) That's a tremendous savings for me.

Bottom Line

Their printer cartridges are guaranteed to perform flawlessly or you get your money back. They've got all the major brands, and they also offer refill tanks if you go that route. Low prices, convenient service, great guarantee! What's not to like?

Takeaway Truth

Running a business means keeping an eye on expenses. Decreasing the cost of printing just makes good sense.

3 Ways To Make the Most of Photos

Next week is the big feast day. There will be plenty of photo opps when family and friends gather to devour the golden brown turkey, dressing, boat-loads of gravy, token veggies, and to-die-for desserts.

Here are 3 Ways To Make the Most of Photos.

1. Resize Images Easily

Resize your photos the easy way so you can share them online, print them, use them as your desktop wallpaper, or whatever you want to do with them.

Sure, any photo editing software will accomplish this, but you have to do it one at a time. What if you have a dozen you want to upload to your website. One at a time equals time suck. There's an easier way to enlarge or shrink in multiples.

Image Resizer is a small byte program, and it's free. It works with most version of windows. You just right click on a group of photos or on a single one, select Resize Pictures, and a window opens with preset image sizes based on web usage. You can always click Advanced if you need a custom size.

This app automatically makes a copy of the photo for resizing so your original is saved unless you select to resize it too.

2. Make A Panorama From Regular Photos

What better way to capture the Thanksgiving table with all your friends and family than to combine regular photos into a panoramic image? CleVR Stitcher, an Adobe Air application, does this.

This app automatically combines several photographs into a panoramic image, and all you do is drag-and-drop the photos into the window on CleVR Stitcher. This app is that easy to use, and it's free though you must have Adobe Air downloaded first, which is also free. This works with Windows and Mac.

Note: If you plan to try making a panorama, make sure every photo you take has the same baseline. For instance, a shot of everyone around the Thanksgiving table might use the line of the table top as a baseline.

3. Have Fun With FX

If you like a little humor with your holiday photographs, try some special effects. BeFunky is one of my favorite sites that offer fun effects for photos. It's free and super easy to use with a wide variety of things you can do to photos. Make them cartoons or strut your inner grunge or add some Mick Jagger lips. Your imagination is your limit.

Takeaway Truth

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what's a Pop Art photo of your guests worth? Priceless.

Latest Stats on Genre Books

The latest Harris Poll is out. Some of its findings may surprise you. According to the results of a poll conducted with 2,775 adults in the U. S. Responding, mysteries, thrillers, and crime novels have taken a commanding lead over romance sales.

Actually, I don't know how much stock to put in this since the poll reflects answers from readers who filled out the survey online. I don't know how the respondents were led to the survey. As far as I can see, the value of the poll is in question because the only real way to know what outsold what is by tracking bookstore sales.

Having said that, I'll report their findings from last August, wherein 80% said they read at least one book in an average year, and 80% said they'd read a novel or nonfiction book in the past year.

Food For Thought

Since many of the founding ladies of romance now write mysteries, thrillers, and crime novels, I find the growth and popularity of these books rather amusing. These multi-published romance novelists have branched out into other genres and their readers have followed. Other readers who wouldn't be caught dead reading a romance novel have also bellied up to the genre bar and embraced these talented authors who are a major influence in the bestseller mystery lists.

Harris Poll Results: Fiction

48% of fiction readers said they read mysteries, thrillers and crime novels

26% read science fiction

24% read literature

21% read romance novels

11% read graphic novels in the past year

8% read Chick-lit

5% read western

Harris Poll Results: Nonfiction

31% read histories

29% read biographies

26% read religious and spirituality books

17% read political books

16% read self-help books

14% read current affairs

12% read true crime

10% read business books


Those who responded to the poll in the 18 to 33 age group are more likely than other age groups to read literature (42%) and graphic novels (18%).

Those 65 and older are more likely to read mystery, thriller, and crime novels (61%) and westerns (9%).

Gender Based Stats

Statistics based on gender aren't surprising. Women are more likely than men to read:

Mysteries, thrillers, and crime novels — 57% women to 39% men

Romance — 37% women to 3% men

Chick-lit — 12% to 4%

Religious books — 30% to 21%

Men are more likely than women to read:

Science fiction — 32% men to 20% women

History books — 40% to 23%)

Political books — 25% to 10%

Business books — 16% to 4%

Takeaway Truth

Conventional publishing wisdom has always held that readers don't follow an author to a new genre. That's why they always required a different name for a writer who began working in a different genre. Maybe that's another aspect of the publishing biz that's becoming obsolete too.

Barbara Cartland Lives On

When my daughter was thirteen, she discovered Barbara Cartland. Previously, she'd read the scary books from R. L. Stine, but, suddenly, she discovered Ms. Cartland's courtship novels replete with manners and rather innocent sexuality.

The prolific Ms. Cartland lived the lifestyle of a fairy-tale princess, complete with chauffeured cars, an English mansion, and lots of pink silk frocks and cute little lap dogs. She lived the glamorous life of a the cinematic version of a romance novelist to the ripe old age of 99.

What She Said

She was like most writers I know in that she was incessantly curious and was always writing. She once said: "Writers are a curious breed. We all suffer from the same disease – the extraordinary and mysterious need to put words on paper. I write everywhere – on the Tube, at parties, in the bath (a habit I was pleased to discover I share with Agatha Christie). Scribble, scribble, scribble. Of course, these days, it’s more tap, tap, tap, but still …."

Her Gift

And, oh, how she did scribble and tap away. By the time of her death, she had published 722 novels, most of them romance, and many of them still being published. This month, her very first novel, Jig-Saw, will be published again. She was only 19-years-old when it hit print the first time.

A lot of people think if you write fast and are prolific, then you write garbage. I think all of Ms. Cartland's fans would soundly decry that bit of philosophy. They probably adore those novels as much as my daughter does. All of her copies of Barbara Cartland books — tattered and rather ragged — have a place of honor on keeper shelves.

Takeaway Truth

Good authors never die. They live on in the pages of each book they wrote, waiting for each generation to discover them.

Holiday Gifts: Posters & Postcards

Starting today and continuing for the next 5 Mondays, you can look forward to some holiday gift suggestions for writers.

If you are a writer, consider these for your writing friends. If you want to be on the receiving end, print this out and leave it some place conspicuous so your family will find it. If you belong to writing organizations, you might consider listing these suggestions in your newsletter.

As I was writing the blog post about the Holiday Ornament for Writers last week, I received an email from Ryan Lewis, Operations Manager for 826 National. Ryan asked if I'd mention 826 National Store, a family of 8 non-profits dedicated to helping students ages 6 – 18 with creative and expository writing, as a place for writers to shop.

(I'd love to say Ryan sent along a lovely sample of gifts that writers would like — after all, who doesn't like free stuff—but that's not the case. He merely wrote a nice letter and asked.)

826 National

After I checked out 826 National, I was excited to give this worthwhile group a nod of approval. They were founded in 2002 by author Dave Eggers and educator Nínive Calegari, and they help more than 24,000 students in eight U.S. cities through programs including after-school tutoring, field trips, in-school visits, and workshops.

Ryan Lewis said: "Their mission is based on the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success."

Each chapter offers drop-in tutoring, field trips, workshops, and in-schools programs — all free of charge — for children, classes, and schools with particular interests or particular needs. They're committed to supporting teachers, offering services and resources for English language learners, and publishing student work.

Hey, I'm all for any group that supports reading and helps young people write better. The 826 National Store offers a lot of products that writers would love, from print items to tee shirts and more. What caught my eye were two items that tickled my funny bone.

The That Thing You Are Writing is Awesome! postcards. I love those! I want those for me and to give to a friend. They're going on my gift list if only so I can hang one above my computer. I don't know of any writer whose ego isn't always in need of a boost.

The Are You Absolutely, Positively, and Wholeheartedly Ready to Publish Your Novel? poster with a flow chart-type checklist is not only amusing but also actually offers good advice.

You might be interested in some of their books, such as, The Secret Miracle: The Novelist's Handbook. Edited by Daniel Alarcón, it contains dozens of interviews with authors about the writing process. All writers like to know how other writers do it.

Visit their website and check out all the products designed to appeal to writers. I'm sure you'll find something you'll like.

Takeaway Truth

Writers, buy a cool gift and support young writers with a purchase from 826 National Store, knowing that your purchase will be used to buy supplies, train volunteers, and print publications, all in support of the thousands of students who pass through their doors each year.