Friday, March 29, 2013

Fort Worth Friday

Welcome to the fifth edition of Fort Worth Friday.

Right in the heart of downtown Fort Worth is a Barnes & Noble--

But, Jen, there are B&Ns across the US, what's so special about that??

Well, it's a two story store, which probably doesn't make it completely unique, but what does make it special is the humongous metal sculpture of a cowboy on a rearing horse. The picture doesn't do it justice... The escalator is on the right, so you can look down at it as you reach the second floor.

How cool is that??

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Getting out of debt..

It's been on my mind of late. More so than usual, though I'm not sure why. DH and I reviewed our finances at the end of 2011 and re-did our budget in an effort to put money aside both for emergencies and for retirement. The chances of Social Security being around when it's time for us to retire are slim and none, so we need to ensure our own ability to support ourselves.

Last year, 2012, was better than 2011. While our retirement fund holds exactly the amount it should, the emergency fund does not. But that's what it's for, right, to pay for life's surprises. Try telling DH that. He gets upset when we spend from it, but it's there so we don't get off the budget. It's there so we can pay the regular bills when we can't get our regular paycheck.

We did a minimal amount of paying down debt last year. Instead, we focused on establishing the two safety funds and making them a part of the monthly budget. Although, we did receive a health insurance rebate check towards the end of the year and I did, in fact, pay off a gasoline credit card. I took the payment from that credit card and rolled it over to another credit card, increasing the amount I have been able to pay toward it.

This year, my goal is to focus more on debt reduction, now that the safety funds are established.

A few weeks ago, I received money from the bank that holds our mortgage. That went towards this next credit card. I also filed some AFLAC forms for annual doctor/dentist visits and got money back. Guess where it went? Yeppers, to this same credit card. In the last month, I've been able to cut the balance in half. I have one freelance editing job in the hopper and when I get paid, that money will go straight to this CC as well. I should have it paid off no later than June. Woo hoo. That really makes me happy.

Once I've paid it off that money will roll over to the next credit card with the lowest balance. Unfortunately, with just this additional money, it's going to take fourteen months to pay it off. That's a bit more daunting, but if I get the Final Line Editor position with Samhain Publishing, then all that income will go towards eliminating this debt as quickly as possible. (My goal would be December2013 or January 2014 (as the due date is early in the month)).

After that, well, you get the idea.

I know there are other things I can and need to do, but I need to figure out what and then how. Any suggestions would be most welcome. (Just FYI, while we haven't cut them up, we rarely use our credit cards anymore. Mostly minor online things. Like my RWA membership.)

Sad to say, we exceed the average debt amount. And I'm trying to change that.

Wish me luck!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Happy Birthday, DD

Twenty-three years ago today I gave birth to my second daughter. A beautiful bald baby girl. She's not the sweet cuddly kind, but is, instead, prickly and grumpy and has an attitude, but she's got the most beautiful skin and a pretty smile, as well as the thickest, most gorgeous hair you can imagine. Aside from the attitude, she and I are a lot alike and are generally very compatible. She's my reader and my crafty girl.

Anyway, I've bought & wrapped presents and baked birthday cake. This evening, before we go out to eat at the restaurant of her choice, she'll open her presents. I can't imagine she won't like them as she made a list and didn't deviate much from it. I'm not sure where the singing Happy Birthday and eating cake is going to come in...I guess after dinner. Although, I'm all for eating dessert first.

Here are the pressies. There are a few for the Brown Eyed Girl (the pinkishly wrapped ones in the bottom right corner). Her birthday was the 2nd of March. I'd stashed them and couldn't find them and then came across them when stashing DD's gifties.

Care to share your birthday traditions?

Friday, March 22, 2013

The dump...

Today, I'm just going to dump a bunch of random stuff -- I haven't done that for a while, because there's been one thing or another needing posting, so, in no particular order...

My oldest daughter, aka the Brown Eyed Girl, moved out a week or so ago into her own apartment. That was the week that threw me a few curves. It was stressful as hubby was/is really worried about her ability to pull it off. Her biggest challenge is that she doesn't have a car. I hadn't posted before now partly because I hadn't talked to my mom about it and I didn't want her to hear it here first.

Anyway, the Brown Eyed Girl came home for a visit on Tuesday and brought Kitty with her too. It was good to see them both.(Kitty's grown.) And BEG wanted mashed potatoes. She bought me some flowers when her and DD went to the store for said potatoes. So now I have a pot of beautiful pink Gerber daisies in my writing room. She said she bought them because I always buy flowers or a plant when I go to people's houses. Nice!

Speaking of the writing room... because BEG moved out, I got it back. I don't have the big screen, high def TV since that's down at the fireworks store, but I'm not missing it too much. It's been so nice to have a place to go and close the door to work and not be bothered or distracted. Since the loss of my writing room, I've only had my bedroom to work in, except when DH is home. Then he comes in and wants to watch TV and snack and chuckle and move around and talk to me. Can't you see me working here?? I can concentrate better in the living room while Sonshine is playing Xbox. Argh. And, sure,there's the garage, but until recently it's been too cold to be out there and soon, it'll be too hot.

Spring is pretty much here in north Texas, but last year's drought took its toll. I'm seeing A LOT of dead trees. Surprisingly, the three trees in my back yard are still alive though a bit worse for wear. I thought for sure the one farthest back near the shed was a goner, but it's sporting some greenage on the lowest limbs. They all need some serious trimming too.

I don't remember if I mentioned our most recent trip to the vet and Sammy's diagnosis of some sort of spinal/neuro degeneration--basically not all the messages are getting from her brain to her legs. And because I'm such an awful dog owner and wasn't walking the poor thing hardly ever, her muscles have begun to atrophy. So the vet prescribed some mild pain meds even though she didn't really think Sammy'd reached the pain stage yet. She thinks she was probably just uncomfortable more than in any pain. The vet also suggested some carpet runners for the house along the dog's usual pathways since we have flooring and no carpet. I also asked about walking her and was told absolutely.

So Sammy and I started walking. First just up one half the block (we live dead center) and then up and down both ends. This week, we graduated to actually going around the block. Between that and the carpet runners, Sammy's doing so much better, so I'm very relieved. So far, we've walked every day for probably two and a half weeks. Another week and it should officially be a habit. :)

I haven't talked about Sonshine too much of late, so let me just say he cracks me up. The other night he had a sweet tooth and I told him to get a bowl of cereal. And he said 'damn skippy' as an affirmative response. It's a funny little phrase and he likes to say it and I like to listen to him and watch him when he does 'cause he gets such a kick out of it.

So that's me playing catch up...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Beta Readers, Critiques, and Editing, Oh My

Last week, I mentioned how I'd finally gone back and re-read one of my books. I read it and sent it to one of my CPs who also read it and made a few comments. Comments I agreed with. Comments I wanted to address. Only I'd decided to put out a call for beta readers and had already done so. So I sent off the same old, needing-work version to these readers...

Unlike critique partners, who are generally writers, beta readers can be either or both. I wanted readers only so they'd be focused on the story and not on the writing. I've had a total of six responses so far, which is awesome, but the last two ladies are on hold until after revisions.

One gal read it and sent back her thoughts within 24 hours. WOW and thanks. She had positive things to say, which was very nice indeed. She also expressed a wish that there had been more. More in general and more specifically about a certain character, as well as story for the secondary character. It just so happens that I've written that character's story, though it's not quite finished yet.I had a few questions about specific things and asked. She got back to me with those.

I've heard back from all four of the original volunteers. They all had very complimentary things to say about the book. Along with the gal above, I was able to ask one other reader some specific questions about the book and received a helpful response. Both those ladies expressed interest/willingness to re-read the first book as well as read the second book. I'm very excited about this prospect.

Monday, I talked about my writers group celebration. What I didn't mention is that I won a door prize--and the only reason I mention it now is because I won a critique from an editor at The Wild Rose Press. I get to send in the first 15 manuscript pages and up to 5 pages of synopsis. I'm very interested in what she thinks and has to say. I tried working on the synopsis yesterday, but it's kicking my butt.

In addition to all that, I finally heard back from Samhain Publishing about a Final Line Editor position. They sent the first of a two-step testing process, a partial manuscript, which I read through once last week and done what it is I'm applying to do. They require two read-throughs and so I' perform the second pass some time today. Should I pass the first test, I'll get a 12K word complete manuscript to work on next. *fingers crossed*

And if all that wasn't enough, I'm negotiating a freelance editing gig. Woot!

I'm tired just thinking about it, but looking forward to finally moving forward, both with my writing and with the editing.

If you're a writer, have you ever used beta readers? If so, how was your experience?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Happy Anniversary

This past Saturday, my writers group celebrated its 30th anniversary. Yep, back in 1983 a group of women, all pursuing the dream of writing romance novels, came together and formed a local chapter of Romance Writers of America, founded three years earlier.

Of the dozen or so women who formed our group, two remain members, one whose health prevents her from attending and the other who rarely misses a meeting and continues to write, submit, attends classes and conferences, and even teaches classes herself.

Carolyn has served our organization in just about every way and we're so grateful. She's a dedicated member and writer. She was a special guest speaker and talked a bit about the formation of group. And after thirty or more years of pursuing publication, Carolyn announced the sale of her first book to Noble Publishing.

As a way to honor Carolyn and her perseverance, the board voted to name the new published author contest after her. She was quite surprised, as you can imagine, as were the rest of those in attendance.

We were given goodie bags and had extra door prize drawing gifts as well as cake to celebrate.

Overall it was a really awesome day.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fort Worth Friday

Fort Worth has many nicknames: Cowtown, Funkytown, the Metroplex (shared with Dallas), Queen City of the Prairie, the city Where the West Begins, and...

Panther City!

Seems a little odd, considering, but the story goes that back in the late 1870s, a Dallas lawyer had been in Fort Worth and claimed things were so quiet in town that a panther lay sleeping in the street.

There are a couple of statues in downtown, several district high schools have panthers as mascots, and our local Triple A ball club are the Fort Worth Cats--whose mascot also looks suspiciously panther-like.

Here is my picture of one of the two panther statues:

This statue and fountain is located at the corner of Houston and West 9th Street, right next to the Flat Iron Building, which we'll cover some other Friday.

This picture of the other panther statue was taken by Darren Wright and I use it without permission. I was trying to take my own, but my camera battery died but either the charger died or the battery has gone bad. My apologies.

This statue is located across the street from the Tarrant County Courthouse in front of the Tarrant County Tax Assessors office building.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

SPARK is subjective

I'm not an acquiring editor, though I wouldn't mind being one. I've submitted exactly one manuscript to an editor and received a rejection. As I said on Monday, the reason for rejection was because the editor didn't feel my manuscript fit the line I was submitting to. Which is fine, though she didn't say specifically how.

Over the years, a lot of authors, aspiring and otherwise have received rejections from agents and editors that really told then nothing except no. Reasons for rejections are generally vague at best and leave the writer frustrated and wondering what she might need to do to make her book wanted.

Sometimes, the answer really is nothing. Being an acquiring editor is, I think, a lot like judging a contest. You receive a slew of submissions and must read all levels of writing, from the beginner who is nowhere near ready to be published (that's what the contests are for) to the prolific writer who's been around the block a few times.

Since January, I've judged three RWA chapter contests with a total of sixteen entries. Of those sixteen entries, there have been two entries that I would have loved to have gotten my hands on the rest of the manuscripts. What was about them that made me cry out in dismay when I reached the end of the 25 pages I read?

It's that elusive thing I'll call SPARK. Some might say voice, but I can appreciate someone's unique voice without the writing sparking at me and making me want to read the whole damn book. In one sitting.

SPARK is subjective. What sparks for me doesn't spark for everyone.

And SPARK doesn't always equate to a higher score in a contest. Conversely, a higher score doesn't always mean an entry has that spark. That entry mentioned above--it didn't receive the highest score of the entries I judged.

The very last question on the score sheet for this last contest asks: After completing the selection, how much did you want to read more of the story? I get to answer by way of a number rating, 1 to 5. One being not very much and five being very much indeed.

The last couple of entries I read received relatively high marks from me overall. But when asked this last question, I'm compelled to rate them rather low. And why? Because, for me they didn't SPARK.

If you judge contests, are you a generous judge or a tough judge in terms of score? Do you give comments/feedback to the entrant?

Monday, March 11, 2013

After how many months?

After seven months I finally went back and re-read my 15K word novella, A Snowball's Chance in Texas. I submitted it at the end of August and waited and waited and waited to hear back from the publisher. Finally, in November, maybe even December, I heard back from them. They didn't want it. But, sheesh, they sat on it long enough.

Even though I wrote it specifically for the particular line, I was told it didn't fit. Huh. But by that time, the holidays were upon us and while I thought I knew there was something wrong with it, that it wasn't as ready as I'd thought it was, I wasn't ready, didn't want, to go back and try to figure it out.

So what changed? I don't really know. What I do know is that because of an online class I'm taking, I've been in and out of the story that follows Snowball: Children With a Chance of Marriage. And despite my hiatus from writing, I love to write and I guess I just needed a break. I gave myself permission to take a break and I took it. And now the words, the stories, are teasing me again. Still, there's no pressure. If I want to write, I will. If I don't, I won't.

As for these two stories, well, I want them to be published together, so that means figuring out what if anything is wrong with book one and finishing book two.

To that end, I'm looking for several beta readers. I'd prefer folks who read only. I've got one offer already, so I'm looking forward to hearing what a stranger thinks of my work.

Anyway, last night, I read Snowball. And you know what, it wasn't half bad. I think there's one place I need to add a scene, but otherwise...I think it's okay. And hopefully, this beta reader will know her romance. I guess I need to figure out what I want to know from her.

My weekend was nice and relaxing, though not as productive house/yard-work wise as I would have liked, but that's okay. After last week, I really just needed to relax and regroup, which I did.

How about your weekend??

Friday, March 8, 2013

Tag, I'm it again...

My friend, Char Newcomb, tagged me to name five of my all time favorite reads. It was supposed to be historical fiction, but we've decided all fiction works, so here goes, in no particular order...although four out of five of these could be considered historical. :)

1) Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - It's been a really long time since I've read it, but I have done so probably five or six times. I love the movie too.

(Used with permission from WikiCommons.)

2) Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman - loaned to me by my CP, Lavender Daye, a couple of years ago, this book has stuck with me ever since.

(used without permission)

3) Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling - I'm lumping all the books together, otherwise they'd take up all the slots. And I can't really decide which one of the seven I like best.

(my picture of my books)

4) The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett - I had the book as a child, but was never able to read it until I was an adult. And then I loved it.

 (Used with permission from WikiCommons.)

5) Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne - yep, I'm over forty and I still love Pooh. I still have my 4-book set that I got as a little girl.

(Used with permission from WikiCommons.)

So, how about you friends...what are some of your favorite books?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I've got nothing today...

The day is running late and life has thrown a few curves on me this week. I am drawing a blank as to what to talk about today.

So I'll just leave you with the fact that it's Wednesday and we're heading toward the weekend.

Hope your week is going better than mine. :)

Monday, March 4, 2013

The dog who cries wolf

So my dog, Sammy, likes to bark in the middle of the night. Not just straight-up bark-bark-bark-bark. But a single fairly non-starting low-level woof.

That's what I heard this morning at about 4:50am. Ugh.

But now I'm awake. But I'm cozy and it's chilly beyond the covers, so I ignore it and hope like heck she doesn't do it again.

Does it ever work? Rarely.

Upon the second bark, I haul myself out of bed and to the living room and find her still laying on her dog bed, facing the vertical blinds on the front window. But she's heard me and looks up. I admonish her to hush and shuffle back to my room, chug some water because my stomach has woken up too and sneak back under the covers.

I get comfy and warm, and just as I think I've dodged a bullet. Bark.

Ugh. So I drag myself out of bed yet again but detour to the bathroom. But I'm on the far side of the house and her hearing's going, so when I'm done, I decide to try for more sleep. But just as I lift the covers...another bark.

Well, there's no ignoring her because I'd rather get up than risk a puddle or worse. Plus, I really was hungry. And at least it was five am rather than one or two or three. Up again, and this time she's sitting in the middle of the room, but she's stuck because her back leg is acting up and it doesn't always work properly. I help her to her feet and we head for the back door and I start cooking.

Are there pet behaviors you can't ignore even though the chances are good it means nothing but the alternatives are enough to spur you into action every time?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Fort Worth Friday

Today, instead of a location, I'm going to talk about a person....

Harvey Lavan "Van" Cliburn Jr....

You see, he died on Wednesday...

And who is this Van Cliburn, you ask. Well, he was a really famous classical pianist and he lived here in Fort Worth. Not just a local celebrity, but a great international name in the classical music world.

(This image from Wiki Commons and is allowed to be used if I agree to attribute So there it is.)

You see, at the age of 23 in 1958 during the Cold War, Mr. Cliburn won the very first International Tchaikovsky Competition--an event designed to demonstrate Soviet cultural superiority.

His subsequent recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 became the first classical album to go platinum. It was the best-selling classical album in the world for more than a decade, eventually going triple-platinum. He is also the only classical pianist to ever receive a Ticker Tape parade in New York City.

In celebration of his victory in Moscow, The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition was organized by a group of music teachers and Fort Worth citizens in 1962. It quickly became one of the world's most important and renown piano competitions. For more info on the competition, click here.

A section of street in our Cultural District was re-named Van Cliburn Way at some point.

(borrowed with permission of Wiki Commons)

And here, for your listening pleasure, is Van Cliburn playing his most famous piece: Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, which I'm sure you have all heard at some point. And I do believe this is his original performance in Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in April 1958. The Soviet Union's new Premier, at the time, Nikita Khrushchev, was in the audience. They even asked Mr. Khrushchev's permission to give an American the award.

Mr. Cliburn was 78 and had been diagnosed with bone cancer in the fall of 2012. May he rest in peace.