Thursday, December 23, 2010

Quotes to Celebrate the Season

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and have a super Kwanzaa. We really appreciate your visiting our blog. In celebration and as a virtual present, our dining staff would like to share words of wisdom and wit.

  1. As we struggle with shopping lists and invitations, compounded by December's bad weather, it is good to be reminded that there are people in our lives who are worth this aggravation, and people to whom we are worth the same.-- Donald E. Westlake

  2. Perhaps the best Yuletide decoration is being wreathed in smiles. --Author Unknown

  3. At Christmas play and make good cheer, for Christmas comes but once a year.-- Thomas Tusser

  4. Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas." --Peg Bracken.

  5. Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won't make it 'white'. --Bing Crosby

  6. Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts. --Janice Maeditere

  7. 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. -- Oren Arnold

  8. Which Christmas is the most vivid to me? It's always the next Christmas. --Joanne Woodward

  9. Next to a circus there ain't nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit." --Frank McKinney

  10. 'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.--Clement C. Moore

  11. Every piece of the universe, even the tiniest little snow crystal, matters somehow. I have a place in the pattern, and so do you…Thinking of you this holiday season!-- T.A. Barron

  12. The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart. Wishing you happiness.-- Helen Keller

  13. Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.--Hamilton Wright Mabi

We wish you all the best this holiday season. May your hearts and chores be light. :)


Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Holidays (a bit early)

Sorry, no 'IT' Factor post today. I've been trying to read a debut book all week but things in our house are not conducive to reading, writing or anything other than popping aspirin and pulling out chuncks of hair.

I'm still dealing with the kitchen/deck renovation run amok. After solving the *costly* problem of our backyard apparently being used as a dump site in a former life (10 old tires pulled out of 2 of the post holes), our cabinet supplier called to tell us they were going out of business just as we were getting ready to seal the deal. Then they called back the next day to say some financial backers had come through last minute and they were staying open. Needless to say, even though we love the quality of those cabinets we've lost confidence in the company. Now we're scrambling to find someone else to do the cabinets. Then the large window in the breakfast area is installed and it's the wrong size and model. Now everyone's pointing fingers over who's going to pay for the new one. A $1200 mistake. Ugh. I'm getting an ulcer and they haven't even started demo-ing the kitchen.

Hope your holiday is not nearly as stressful as mine. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

13 Ways Dieting Can Be Like Writing

Having a healthy body and writing a "healthy" manuscript may not seem to have that much in common at first glance, but here are 13 (15) similaries I thought up today instead of cleaning my house. By "diet" here I don't mean strictly weight-loss, I mean any change to your eating habits designed to make you healthier. And by writing I mean pursuit of saleable manuscripts and a publishing career, not just writing for your own satisfaction or your close friends.


1) Free yourself from any reliance on fast foods and drive thrus.
     Some folks may assume this means genre fiction, but what I'm talking about are the things that make writing feel industrialized, while possibly making it "easier" for writers to get the story on paper -- overdone premises and writing shortcuts that can result in an "unhealthy" manuscript. Conveniences, in other words. While sometimes you just gotta make a run for the border, it shouldn't be a daily dining experience.

2) Same goes for junk food! Bad...junk food bad.
     Again, not a reference to genre fiction, but to clichés. Note: chocolate is not junk food; nor is it a cliché. It's just awesome. But too much of it will make you puke.

3) If you are especially fond of "traditional cooking" that is generally laden with fats and cholesterol, try it with your own, healthy twist.
     So you really want to write a secret baby book. A big, juicy hamburger of a story. Cool. Sounds delish. Write it! But how about using a lean protein, some unexpected, savory toppings and a whole wheat bun? Add oven-baked, oil-lite fries, maybe a fruit salad, and you've got your secret baby and your health too.

4) Trim the fat from your menus.
     Every noun does not need three adjectives and every verb does not need an adverb. I promise your manuscript will be healthier if you reduce these fatty substances, but it will not lose scrumptiousness. Because you will in turn...

5) Eat closer to nature -- whole grains, raw or simple veggies and fruits, etc. Avoid processed foods when possible.
     Make up your own stuff! Your own similes and metaphors. Your own character types. That doesn't mean everything you "eat" has to be something nobody has ever thought of before (there are reasons people don't combine certain flavors, like liverwurst and, well, anything), but the more you write with a natural voice that is yours alone, the tastier your book will be.

6) Try some foods you've never sampled before, just in case you love it.
     Pretty self explanatory. The caveat being, the foods you've never sampled that you might love (premises you've never written...personalities or cultures you've never explored...) do not include the double-fried fries from that new burger joint or the weird looking holiday Twinkies. So you might usually write what you know, or eat what you know you love, but every now and then, you need to....

7) Change out your menu so you don't get bored eating the same things all the time.
     Avoid repetition of words and phrases. Or premises. Or character types. Mix it up! Even if you're not trying anything brand new, like #5, writing the same book over and over, with different character names, is not going to excite you when it comes time to cook, and it won't excite readers when it comes time to dine. The more excited you are about writing, the more exciting your finished product will be.

8) Cut down on salt.
     What is the salt part of writing? Depends. Is there anything you're sprinkling on gratuitously to cover up possible story flaws? Of course YOU don't think you're involved in any nutritional shenanigans like salting the hell out of mediocre ideas, but healthy writers allow that they might have stylistic tics doing their genius more harm than good. This one is pretty general, I know. It probably needs a little salt to bring out the flavor, which is to say, a few stylistic tics make your voice yours, but an overdose of them is not your friend.

9) Cheese is a tricky addition to the diet.
     With most healthy diets, full-fat cheeses are not recommended in great amounts. At the same time, OMG is cheese good, and OMG do humans seem to love our cheese. Sometimes, all you want is some damn cheese. A Hallmark-style story. A sap fest. So give yourself permission to write a little cheese, stir in a little sentiment, melt your readers with some mushy-touchy-feely HEA-ness if you are so inclined, but overloading on sentiment all the time will harden your writerly arteries faster than my husband can say "3000 calorie lasagna" or "cholesterol spike". Granted, you have a little wiggle room husband doesn't do anything fast...but constant cheese can be tricky for a writer.

10) Adjust portion size to the "smaller" range.
     This one is because readers currently prefer fast-paced, shorter novels, or at least that's what's selling to a measurable proportion of editors and agents. Ten-course meals of historical epics or family sagas with lots of information dumps and segues about secondary characters are not currently conducive to publishing health. Which isn't to say no writers get away with this -- see "cheese". But adjusting that portion size might increase the odds of a healthier manuscript. It's worth a try!

11) Chew your food thoroughly.
     Don't eat at the speed of vacation and bolt from the table like you can escape the calories if you run fast enough. You can't get away from the calories you just ingested. Revise your work or it could choke you.

12) It may help to have a healthy eating support group in which you exchange ideas and cheer each other on.
     Critique groups and friendships with other authors who really get what you're trying to achieve can be invaluable. Peer pressure to stick to your diet also helps :), as do the new shoes or other rewards you allow yourself when you reach certain milestones.

12.5) Don't drive yourself so crazy with the diet you become obsessive or begin to sicken.
     This sort of relates to 12, which is why it's 12.5. (Actually it's 12.5 becaue this is a Thursday 13 but I had 14 ideas.) Anyway. When pursuit of your goal, be it publication or lower cholesterol levels, starts to make you miserable, you may need to reconsider your strategy. Being eaten up with jealousy at the success of others, for example, can send you into an ice cream and adjective-laden binge that will not do you much good. Exercising all the time to beat the calories out of yourself--writing all the time to fulfill contracts or get contracts--may mean you neglect your family and other joys and responsibilities. 

13) When all else fails, it's okay to eat someone else's cooking.
     Read! That's part of why you're doing this anyway, right? Because you love to read. Noms you didn't have to make yourself are especially delicious and sometimes inspiring.


Jody W. *

15) I just thought of one more! You can't think of this as temporary. If you really want your diet to work, it's got to be a lifestyle change.
     Butt in chair, hands on keyboard. Keep it up or you'll undo all the good your diet has done. If this is what you want for yourself--a healthier body or a publishing career--your "diet" needs to be one you can really live with on a mostly regular basis. This is, of course, barring things like chocolate, the occasional holiday binge, broken legs that keep you from exercising, etc.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holiday Shopping Simplified

The holidays are upon us. Unfortunately, the “best time of the year” is also one of the most stressful. The sheer amount of questions that pop up around the holiday season are enough to boggle the mind: How many cookies to bake? Travel to visit the family or stay home? Just how dirty should that Dirty Santa present be? And the age old shopping conundrum, what do you get for the person who has everything?

For the last one at least, your worries are over. Just in time for the holidays, Sears has revamped its website to cater to the special people on your holiday shopping list…if those special people are zombies, that is.
Allow me to illustrate with some screenshots, taken directly from the new, zombie-friendly Sears website.

For the jewelry loving zombie, Sears offers a stunning collection of rings and bracelets (harmanz rangz bazzang, in zombish). Shopping tip - keep jewelry weight in mind. That heavy bracelet may be beautiful, but it will be more appreciated if it doesn't cause your loved one to lose a limb. Those decaying arms don't hold up like they used to.

Allow the technology loving undead in your life to capture those fun, brain chasing moments with a camera purchase from the electronics department. Shopping tip - opt for water proof. Remember the adage "blood is thicker than water"? That's true, but it's still a liquid.

And what better way to get all that nasty blood and brain matter out of clothing than with the Sears specialty washer? My zombish is a bit rusty, but I assume "bra!n za! n az rannan" means, "now with built in blood blocker to get your white's whiter." It's a loose translation. Shopping tip - skip the heavy appliances. At a certain point even the neatest dresser gives up the battle against dirty clothing. That point is zombification. And don't bother with refrigerators. Zombies are like lions, they prefer their food fresh.

Still stumped on what to get the lovable undead in your life? Ask a member of the Blue Zombie Crew for assistance.

As Sears’ new slogan says, “Afterlife. Spent Well.”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Time-Saving Tips for the Season: Want to find Writing Time? Here’s how.

Ah, December’s here and nicely settled in. A month full of planning, shopping, cooking and all kinds of activities to be added to already busy lives. I love this season and the whirlwind of preparation, but I also wonder how to fit in writing time.
I went online and also asked writing friends for their strategies to help me in coming up with 13 tips on finding a bit of extra time. So here goes. ...

  1. Figure out exactly how you spend your waking hours in the holiday-season. Keep a Time Journal and cut or limit any activities that aren’t productive.

  2. Concentrate on one thing at a time.

  3. Actively think about ways to free-up time. Just considering your daily schedule may help you locate some much needed minutes.

  4. Try to use the time you spend waiting. For example, write out Christmas cards or pay bills while you’re waiting for food at a restaurant or filling a waiting-room chair before a doctor or dental appointment. Another possibility: Take the bus or have someone else drive so you can work while in traffic.

  5. Plan your next day before you fall asleep. Can you combine errands? What do you absolutely have to do? What can be put off?

  6. Set your priorities each day and try to accomplish the most important things first.

  7. Consider writing a list of the things you must accomplish. There's a magic in committing a goal to paper or seeing it on a computer screen.

  8. Share the load. Delegate responsibilities whenever you can.

  9. Look at what is going RIGHT in your life. Reward yourself when you get your work done.

  10. In those jobs you simply must do yourself, try to find some element you enjoy. Look hard; surely there must be something that brings pleasure.

  11. Give your writing, or whatever activity you love, a High Priority. Perhaps wake up early. I love to write first thing in the morning, when the house is silent.

  12. TV. Yes, you must cut out time in front of the television set. Record shows you absolutely can’t miss and skip the commercials. Or watch the shows as a reward for finishing other tasks.

  13. Ask others who use time wisely for their ideas and tips.

Following my 13th piece of advice, I’m hoping you’ll help me brainstorm more time-saving ideas. How do you squeeze in extra minutes in your hectic, Christmas--preparation days? Please share. --

Sources Adapted from A. Lakein. How to Get Control of Your Time And Your Life

Monday, December 6, 2010

The ‘IT’ Factor – Debut Author Cameron Haley

Mob Rules
September, 2010

Book Blurb:
As LA plunges into an occult gang war, mob sorceress Domino Riley must unravel a conspiracy that reaches beyond the magic-soaked mean streets into a world of myth and legend.

Domino investigates the ritual execution of a mob associate, a graffiti magician named Jamal. The kid isn’t just dead, he’s been squeezed — the killer stole his magical power or “juice.” Domino summons Jamal’s shade, and the ghost points to Adan Rashan as his killer. This is tricky, because Adan is the favored son of Domino’s boss, Shanar Rashan, a six-thousand-year-old Sumerian wizard. It’s even trickier because only a mobbed-up sorcerer could have squeezed Jamal and Adan isn’t a sorcerer.

As the corpses pile up, Domino must confront the killer and unmask an otherworldly kingpin with designs on her gang’s magic-rich turf.

One of the main reasons I was eager to read this one is because the author is a man, writing a paranormal romance – or at least it’s been popping up on the paranormal romance radar. No, I'm not prejudiced. I just can't recall reading a good paranormal romance by a guy lately and I wanted to see how he’d do.

The Paranormal:
The mob in Domino Riley’s world is made up of sorcerers, dealing in underworld magic beneath the cover of crime, gambling and prostitution. Graffiti tags channel all this magic (or juice, as they call it), keeping it flowing where it needs to go so the sorcerers can tap into it for power. Domino even uses sites like Wikipedia and FriendTrace (similar to FaceBook) to research and communicate with the other side. And the human world hasn’t got a clue. Very original and sometimes quite graphic and violent. I could see shades of early Laurell K. Hamilton here.

The Romance:
What romance there is, takes a big backseat. It’s definitely a subplot and not very well developed. I never really felt the chemistry between the characters and their time together was quite boring compared to the rest of the book.
“Let’s dance.”
“I’d like to date you.”
“I’d like to date you too.”
“Your dad isn’t going to like it.”
“So what?”
Very high school for a cougar (she’s 35 and he’s in his mid-twenties).

The Humor:
While the overall tone of this book is dark and a bit gritty, Domino has some good zingers in the sarcasm department. But the real gem is Honey, her piskie side-kick. Once these two get going at each other, it’s hilarious.

The Twist:
The author throws in a great twist that neither I nor the heroine saw coming. I love it when an author can surprise me this way. And no, I’m not going to give it away.

The Problem Areas:
1) Being the first book in a series, a certain amount of world-building is to be expected. However, the heroine often went off on tangents of mob/sorcerer history and backstory that were not needed and dragged the pace.
2) Domino has a lot of power even though she thinks she doesn’t. She has a spell for everything from finding a great parking spot to levitating to erecting a force field around herself when the bullets start flying. She can wield a spell to heal a broken nose, clean her house, and make herself virtually invisible. Many of the spells were just too convenient, allowing the heroine to get in and out of scrapes without much trouble. I would have liked to see her challenged more magically. Give her some flaws and limitations. As it was, the only real problems arose when she ran out of juice to power the spells. With hundreds of nifty spells at her disposal, I had to wonder why she wasn’t top dog in the mob outfit. This is explained a bit in the end, but I still thought she had it too easy with all her various spells.

The ‘IT’ Factor:
This Urban Fantasy stands out because of its originality. I loved the use of graffiti tags and the mob as the underpinnings for this paranormal world. While the main threat is headed off at the end, the war is not over by far. And there’s a hint at more romance to come, so we’ll see if the author can improve in that area.