Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Trip to Paris, Keeping the Secret

Years ago, my husband Calvin told me that we’d celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary in Paris. Knowing our budget, I always laughed. I shouldn’t have. In June we’ll be celebrating our 25th anniversary.

This Christmas, my Christmas gift came with a card (unusual). It said, “Merry Christmas/Happy Birthday/Happy 25th Anniversary. And don’t worry, it’s already paid for.” (Yes, he knows me well.)

It turns out that Cal’s been saving for years. And we’ll be spending 7 days and 6 nights in Paris in a cute studio apartment in the Latin Quarter. (I cried when I opened the package.)

And Cal’s kept everything hidden from me. He called in help from the kids.

He told the kids to intercept the mail at all costs. And I thought they raced me to the mailbox for fun. Seriously, I’d be halfway to the mailbox when Matt/Jake would race past me. And on the days when they didn’t realize that I’d already gotten the mail, Jacob would say, “Mom, I think there’s a really important email that just came up on your computer. You need to check it right now.” He’d take the mail from me and sort through it. After checking my computer, I’d say, “The only thing I had was spam.” With a bill or brochure hidden under his shirt, Jake would shrug and say, “Oh well.”

Then, there was the checkbook. Cal didn’t want me to see any checks or fund transfers. So in the last couple of years, all the checks I needed to write were written and handed to me by Cal before I ever needed them. I knew he was efficient, but…

And his computer is a treasure trove of Paris sites, references, and price comparisons. But I never found that either. I hate his computer. It’s a hive of imps and has a weird keyboard that always misinterprets what I type.

So now I’m looking through the guidebooks and the places he’s planned for us to visit (we like the same things—art museums, gardens, architecture). And I discovered that the Shakespeare and Company bookstore is literally around the corner—a writer/reader’s nirvana. Squee!

File:Vista desde Notre Dame.jpg
Notre Dame gargoyle's view of Paris

Friday, December 21, 2012

E-publishing, the Nuts and Bolts

After being exclusively on Amazon for quite a while, I decided to publish both Screwing Up Time and Screwing Up Babylon on Smashwords. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Smashwords, they are an e-book provider that provides e-books in just about any and every format. If your e-reader is a Kindle, Nook, iPad, Kobo, etc., you can buy books at Smashwords. Click here, to visit the site if you’ve never been.

Originally, I published SUT to Smashwords, but I was disappointed with how the formatting came out. And eventually, I unpublished it. So I was concerned this time about how things would turn out. It went very well. Smashwords has become much easier to work with. And the “meatgrinder,” their affection name for the processor that turns your manuscript into various formats, has been hugely upgraded.

Here’s my hint on how to format your book to upload to Smashwords: Set up an account at Smashwords and buy their formatting guide. It will take you step-by-step through the process. Their formatting is not very different from Amazon’s, except for one big difference—the Table of Contents. Amazon and Smashwords have very different TOC formatting. My suggestion is that once everything else in your manuscript is properly formatted, save your novel in three different files. One the original file without any TOC. Two, your novel which you'll format in the Kindle style. Three, your novel in the Smashwords style. (I called mine: SUT; SUT, Kindle; and SUT, Smashwords. Yeah, very clever, I know.) It’s much easier to add TOCs to a fresh document than remove one TOC only to add in another because the formatting ends up all over the book (take it from someone who didn’t do that on the first book).

When adding the TOC, follow the formatting guides step-by-step. The first time, it will take a while, so find a few hours of uninterrupted quiet. (It may take a couple of days if you don’t use standard formatting for chapter breaks, new paragraph indents, etc.)

Also both Amazon and Smashwords require MS Word for an upload, so if you use something else, translate the file into Word. (Also I couldn’t find any information about whether Smashwords would take a .docx file, so I just used a .doc)

The bottomline here is that if I could do this, you can too. I’m definitely not a techie. The most important thing is to get the free formatting guidelines and follow them to the letter (no room for almost here). If you want to see what the Smashwords pages for my books look like, click on the titles. Screwing Up Time. Screwing Up Babylon.

If you’re looking for the formatting guides, here's what their cover art looks like. 
Good luck. You CAN do this!

Cover for 'Smashwords Style Guide'

Building Your Book for Kindle

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Scrooge-ish Holiday Rant

Holiday Scrooge Rant

I have so much to be thankful for. And I am. But I’m asking you to indulge me in a brief holiday rant.

1. Why are there so many more cars on the highways? After Thanksgiving, there are twice as many cars on the roads. When we drive home from somewhere, we have to take a circuitous route because there’s no way we can make the left turn into our street between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Where do the cars all come from? Are they extra cars hidden in garages? Do people have holiday cars like they have holiday sweaters? “Ooo, let’s drive the Christmas Toyota.”

2. Christmas cards. (Yeah, I can’t get over this one.) I finally finished the whole letter/photo trauma and took the photo to Costco. However, unbeknownst to me, I saved the photo onto a thumb drive that already contained 3256 photos—none of which were in folders. And there was no order to the photos. I had to literally look through 3256 photos. Once I found the right one and it were printed, I discovered that the photo guy had misaligned the photo. He printed 150 photos of the family with Jacob decapitated.

3. Pine needles. I sweep all the time.

4. Christmas crap. Yes, I’m a Scrooge. I don’t like 5 million Christmas knickknacks—can you say “dust magnets.” Ornaments and a few candles should suffice. But the kids have their ways. Besides ornaments and candles, we have a snowman nesting doll. I’m not sure what they’re for—no one takes it apart. It just stands guard on the piano. We also have a nutcracker, which doesn’t crack nuts. And a smiley snowman toilet cover—this one mystifies me the most. Besides the obvious—do you really want a cover on the toilet seat, which seems unsanitary to me—the whole idea of lifting the lid…well, you get the picture.

5. Baking. I love a celebration Christmas dinner as much as anyone, especially if it’s someone else’s house. ;) But I don’t get the baking, sweets stuff. Does having cookies, cake, etc., really make things more festive? Don’t get me wrong, I bake the obligatory double batch of Russian teacakes. But I’m not sure I’ve eaten one. In fact, I’m sure they’ve gone stale—the kids max out on sweets after the first day of having cookies. Maybe it’s because I’m not a sweets person. I’d rather have hummus and carrots. Or salt and vinegar potato chips. Hmm... That's it! They need to make red and green Christmas salt—that would be festivity I could get behind.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Dread Holiday Photo

Saturday was “the” day. The dread day of the holiday season. The day we take out Christmas photo.

I got out the tripod and the camera and asked everyone to put on a shirt that had a collar. Everyone did. Ariel tried to color coordinator outfits, and the boys were patient-ish. Matt had on a pair of pants with a huge hole in the rear-end. But as he pointed out, no one we sent the picture to would ever know. Ariel and I pointed out that we could see more than we wanted to. So Matt duct-taped the rather large hole. Which was great until bedtime when he discover that it was stuck to his underwear. I think it’s time to throw those pants out.

Once again, the kids wanted our dog Jezebel in the photo. And once again, it didn’t work out. The gazillion photos with the dog ended up with her looking away on all the photos where we didn’t look weird/possessed/have our eyes closed.

After the camera battery recharged (it died mid photo session) and I checked the photos on my computer, I announced we had to do some photos without the dog. We tried an outside session. But it was windy. And my hair blew everywhere—hair in people’s eyes does not make for attractive photos taken by a camera on a timer.

So now, we have to vote on two photos. Most votes wins. And even though we have six people, there won’t be a tie. Luke will abstain saying he really doesn’t care.

If you’re curious, here are the two entries. (Okay, there are three. And that will really throw off the voting. sigh.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Internet Makes Me a Happy Shopper. Sort of.

File:Pre Christmas shopping - - 1103457.jpg
Photo by Sebastian Ballad from wikimedia

 Let me start off by saying I really, really hate shopping. It’s the crowds. People who wear too much perfume. People bumping each other. The heat of too many bodies in too small a space. Walking around seeing 12,000,000 pieces of clothing, knowing that most of them are poorly made—look, that seam hasn’t been properly finished and will unravel in the first washing.

So I love Amazon shopping. No crowds. I can shop in my pajamas while I drink my mug of morning coffee. No odd smells (unless you count Jezebel nudging me for her morning walk). And if I use my daughter’s prime account, I don’t always have to pay shipping costs.

Shopping bliss. Until I discover that the perfect present is out-of-stock. Or the shipping costs double the price of the gift since it would be shipping from a third party in Outer Boondocks Eastern Europe and isn’t eligible for free prime shipping.

And there’s always the dog nudging me—she still hasn’t been walked. And my daughter who wants me to look over an essay for grad school number three, which wants something different than grad schools one and two.

I can’t forget that I need to start laundry—it’s bedding day. And then Matt and Luke need haircuts before we do the Christmas photo. (Yes, I cut everyone’s hair. And yes, I still haven’t done the photo.) Speaking of Christmas cards, I still have to edit the Christmas letter and get everyone’s approval—this is the time of year where they get payback for every paper/letter/essay I’ve edited for them.

You know, store shopping doesn’t sound that bad.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Five Favorite Pre-Christmas Moments

Here are my favorite pre-Christmas moments.

1. Plugging in the Christmas tree for the first time. Made even better by the fact that I didn’t have to decorate the tree—the kids did it. Made doubly better by the electrical engineering major who dealt with the strands of light that didn’t work.

2. Giving the official “you may listen to Christmas music” pronouncement. Actually, this is my least favorite moment. By December 26, my brain and ears will be melted by carols that Matt plays nonstop on the stereo.

3. First mug of hot spiced cider. Matthew has his own special recipe that he makes during the holidays. All I have to do is buy the cider.

4. Watching “A Dog’s Life, Merry Gentlemen” from All Creatures Great & Small, series two.  My kids are tired of it—I watch it every year. The skeleton scene gives me the giggles every time.

5. Finishing the Christmas cards. When Cal and I were first married, we agreed that he’d balance the checkbook and I’d do all the Christmas cards. Eleven months out of the year, I think that I got the bargain. But in December, I know he did. Today I have to remind the kids that we haven’t done our picture yet…

 If you hear screaming carried on the breeze today, it’s my kids protesting the Christmas photo.

What are your favorite pre-Christmas moments?

Monday, December 10, 2012

2012 Holiday Blog Hop

Today I'm participating in the 2012 Holiday Blog Hop. So click on over to my Screwing Up Time blog and participate. There are lots of prizes, including two Kindle Fires! (And if you want Screwing Up Time for FREE, today is the last day. Click HERE.)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Screwing Up Time for FREE!!

Thursday is not a normal posting day for me, but I have some exciting news. In celebration of the release of Screwing Up Babylon and the release of "Screwing Up Mongolia" in Winter Wonders, I decided to give away Screwing Up Time for free from Dec. 6 through Dec. 10. Click here. Enjoy!!

Screwing Up Time is a 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Quarterfinalist.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Wednesday Five: Bomb Threats

This is finals week for my three college age students. This means my living room has become a study hall, I make high protein breakfasts (sausage, eggs, cheese, chocolate high protein breakfast drinks—my kids are skinny), and I wait by the phone. Not to hear how the exams went, but to find out if anyone needs to be picked up because of a bomb threat.

Yes, really. For the third time this semester, there was a bomb threat at the university my kids attend. Luke was just starting a final. Five or six main buildings (and some parking lots) were shut down. Thankfully, his professor found a room in a “safe building” where they could finish the exam. Everyone else had to have their finals re-scheduled.

The police, fire department, ATF/Homeland Security (?), etc., all descend and have to spend hours certifying the safety of the building(s). It’s a huge, unnecessary expense to the tax payer. As if the city doesn’t have enough financial problems what with antiquated drainage system that get them fined by the EPA every time it rains.

So if you’re a would-be bomb threatener (I know, they aren’t likely to be reading my blog, but…), here are five thoughts to consider:

1.   Uh, dude, if you have to call in a bomb threat to miss an exam so you can have more time to study, another day isn't likely to make a difference.

2.      Really ticked off ATF agents. You don’t want them after you.

3.      Two Words. Federal Offense. Punishable by ten years in prison or a $250,000 fine. Or both. (And this applies to juveniles, so don’t get your kid brother to do it.)

4.      Your parents will be mortified. And poor—see above. Because I’m guessing you don’t have $250,000 sitting around.

5.      Public flogging. Just kidding. Though this is the South, so you might have to wear a pink vest that says, “Bomb Threatener. I cost the City of Chattanooga thousands of dollars.”* That would not go over well.

* (This is not unlikely given that drunk drivers have to wear vests that say “I am a drunk driver” when they clean up trash on the side of the interstate. We have very clean highways.)

Yesterday, my author copies of Winter Wonders came in the mail. Here’s a photo.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Passing the Time with Stories

When I was a little girl and couldn’t sleep at night, I’d make up stories. Unfortunately, they were sad and depressing, and sometimes I’d make myself cry. (No wonder I had nightmares.) At any rate, I’ve always been a storyteller. When I sit at an airport, I make up lives for all the waiting people based on the clues I see on them or their luggage. For example, a sighing sixty-year old woman with an iPhone covered in stickers—she got it from her daughter (not daughter-in-law because a d.i.l. wouldn’t usually presume to let her kids cover the phone in stickers), son-in-law, and grandkids. And grandma is still trying to figure out how to use it.

I make up stories about houses I drive by, especially those I pass frequently. There was the house with the lovely front garden that fell into disrepair. At first, it was because the woman gardener had a baby and she was too tired with the midnight and 2am feeding to keep up with the weeds. Then, as the situation got worse, eventually so bad that thistles grew up among the paving stones, I decided that the woman had cancer and died. And her husband was grieving so much he couldn’t even bear spraying Roundup. For weeks, I teared up when I drove past.

And I even make up stories about vanity license plates. Yesterday, we saw a plate that read PBJ 3930. I would have thought it was arbitrary but this state had only 6 character normal plates. So as we drove my husband and I made up stories. The license plate was a Christmas gift when the husband ate his 3930th  Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich. Or the guy played the lottery and he hit the Power Ball Jackpot on his 3930th lottery ticket purchase. (It wasn’t that nice of a car, so maybe the jackpot didn’t cover the cost of all the tickets.) Our last thought was that the wife was a Professional Baseball Junkie and had watched her 3930th baseball game (she watches the Japanese and Dutch league as well as MLB). Of course, there is the possibility that Georgia has now added a seventh character to their license plates. But that’s not as much fun.

What about you? Do you make up stories to pass the time? Do you have a guess as to what the PBJ 3930 represented?