Friday, April 29, 2011

Emerald City Opener Contest

The Emerald City Opener Contest is open for submissions until May 31, 2011. The entry is the first seven pages of your manuscript in one of the following categories:
  • Historical Romance
  • Romantic Elements
  • Paranormal
  • Romantic Suspense
  • Series/Category Romance
  • Contemporary
Judges are PRO members or published authors and finalists will be judged by editors and agents. Finalists will receive a private appointment with an editor or agent at the Emerald City Writer's Conference, October 28-30, 2011 at the Bellevue Westin.
See the Emerald City Opener Contest website for full contest rules.

Monday, April 25, 2011

An unexpected film festival

Thanks to a particularly nasty upper respiratory virus that's been making the rounds, I spent the last few days lying partially comatose on the couch trying to practice mindfulness to cope with the horrible sensations that I'd swallowed razor blades and that my head and ears were full of rocks. When that didn't work as well as I'd hoped, I turned my bleary gaze to the TV for a full day of "The Waltons," a childhood favorite of mine that showed from 6 a.m. to midnight on the Hallmark Channel this past Saturday, and a whole stack of library DVDs, including "Crazy Heart," "I've Loved You So Long," "Hurt Locker," and "Margot at the Wedding." I enjoyed them all, but I think "Hurt Locker" was my (surprising) favorite because it was so different than what I had expected. I found it especially interesting how jarring it was to see the main character in a civilian setting at the end of the film. I also enjoyed "I've Loved You So Long," although I had some trouble with the main premise that the family wasn't aware of the circumstances of Juliette's son. That just doesn't make sense to me. Maybe I missed something in all those French subtitles and my weakened state. I was very impressed that Kristin Scott Thomas speaks French fluently. I had no idea. "Margot at the Wedding" was very, very funny and well worth viewing.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Revision inspiration

While visiting one of my favorite bookstores last week, Vashon Book Shop, I picked up Bonni Goldberg's book "Beyond the Words: The Three Untapped Sources of Creative Fulfillment for Writers." The book is divided into three sections: Percolation, Revision, and Going Public. She writes, "Revision is. . .an act of caring for your writing. When you complete a first draft, you've created a base form, the clay. Rewriting is working the clay to make it useful" (p. 82).

I appreciate thinking of revision as an "act of caring" and a continuation of the creative process rather than a chore!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Money matters

In honor of the upcoming tax deadline (which, by the way, is April 18 this year instead of the usual April 15), I thought I'd dedicate a post to saving money (a topic most writers find relevant!) and share a few of my favorite strategies for managing money. Over the years, I've developed a bit of a reputation among my friends and family for my ability to create a savings strategy for even the tightest of budgets. Finding money where there appears to be none has always been fun for me. Here's how I do it:

1. Track all input and output.
I use a simple monthly budget using an Excel spreadsheet. Every bit of money coming in and going out goes into the spreadsheet. I review it at least twice a month so that I can adjust spending if needed.

2. Make necessary changes.
If the output is consistently greater than the input, I take a hard look at where this is coming from and make needed changes. It's especially tempting to overlook "small" expenses, but they can be the biggest culprits. $2 for a cup of coffee (or a chocolate croissant!) from the corner cafe doesn't seem like a lot compared with other expenses, but multiplied by two times a day, five days a week it turns into $80 per month. Reducing this expense by half results in a savings of $480 a year.

3. Ask for better rates.
Every couple of years I do a thorough check of all the services I use (cell phone plan, cable, auto insurance, etc.) to ensure that I am getting the best possible rate. I just completed this process last month and managed to save an average of $20 a month ($240 a year) on every account I checked. For example, when I called my telephone company to review my account, they offered me free unlimited nationwide minutes and a faster internet speed for $10 less than what I'd been paying. A quick call to my credit card company resulted in an immediate savings of 2% in my interest rate.

4. Automate debt payment and savings building.
I find that money automatically deducted for debt payment and savings building is much easier to let go of than trying to decide how much I can afford to pay into each of these important categories every month. Setting up an automatic transfer to each results in the delightful discovery at the year's end that debt has been paid and savings have "miraculously" appeared! 

5. Use cash for expenses.
Although I like to automate most of my fixed expenses, I find that using a predetermined amount of cash for weekly expenses is easier for me to manage than putting purchases on my bank card. When I see the money dwindling in my wallet, I am more mindful about how I spend it. This also results in fewer surprises at the end of the month!

6. Have fun!
This is my most important secret strategy for managing money. Everyone in the household has to be on board and the most effective way to do this is to make it fun for everyone, especially yourself! There are lots of different ways to do this, but one of my favorite ways is to make saving money a game with rewards. For example, if everyone in the family competes to see who can help save the most money that week (by finding the least expensive items for the grocery list, using the car less, etc.), the winner gets to decide how to use the saved money to celebrate. Buster's favorite way to celebrate is a trip to the doggy bakery for a special treat! :)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pondering the paranormal

This month's GSRWA chapter meeting featured paranormal investigator Neil McNeill. Unsurprisingly, given the high number of paranormal authors in this area, this meeting was one of the most well-attended I've been to. I will admit I was unsure about whether or not I should attend. I don't write paranormal and envisioned the lecture being focused on haunted houses like some of the programs I've seen on television. Instead, we received a mini-course on the history and meaning of "paranormal studies." Neil explained that many of the phenomena we commonly associate with paranormal studies have their own discrete field of study, such as mythology or ufology. He defined paranormal studies as referring specifically to psi, which is, according to the Parapsychological Association, the study of psychic experiences including "telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, psychic healing, and precognition." He had some excellent tips for "responsible writing" about the paranormal: doing historical research in libraries and museums; learning about other related fields, such as mythology; and learning about paraormal studies in general. Great tips for writing about any subject, actually. The lecture was so fascinating, I'm considering registering for one of Neil's classes in paranormal investigation! I also left with some ideas for a new book with slight paranormal elements. . .