Thursday, October 30, 2008

5 Best Sites for Online Shopping

Want to save money on Christmas gifts? Then shop early and shop online. Here are a few of the best deals going right now.

  • is my go to site. Their shipping charges range from Free to 2.99. At the time of this post they have $1.00 shipping site wide. One of their best deals right now is a Wii Docking Station for 26.99 which is considerably less than the 109.98 list price. Make sure shop this site early. Quanitities are limited on many items.

  • can get virtually anything on eBay. When searching select the free shipping option or the lowest price item + shipping. Be careful here. Don't be afraid to email the seller with questions and check out their return policy. If their rating isn't 100% read the complaints. If it's just slow shipping I don't worry. If it's a refusal to refund or a bad product I think twice. Don't forget to price check. Some of this stuff is higher than you can get it elsewhere. Oh, and get yourself an auction sniper.

  • you know that you can order things from their site that they don't carry in the stores. Plus they'll deliver it to the store that you specify for free. If you're traveling out of town for Christmas you could order the gift and have it sent to your destination store. A family member or friend can pick it up for you and you don't have to worry about shipping it or lugging it on the plane.

  • is the place to go for any book you can imagine. They have a huge selection of both new and out of print books. Another plus, they have free shipping on many of their books with no minimum purchase. I found an out of print book here that I'd been in search of for twenty years.

  •'s not all about shoes anymore. Though you can certainly find plenty of them there. They now have electronics, jewelry, housewares etc. Plus, Zappos has free shipping both ways and a returns can be done up to a year later.

What are some of your favorite online shopping sites?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mary Kate and Ashley's Influence

The Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen have a new book out. It's titled Influence and consists of interviews the girls did with famous people who have been an influence on the girls lives. It includes Lauren Hutton, Christian Lauboutin, and Diane Von Furstenberg among others. The book will also include some exclusive photos of the twins.

If you have a teen who grew up watching Mary Kate and Ashley this will make a great gift and is more affordable than their designer clothing line.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My Favorite Writing Reference Books. . . So Far

It's hard to know which books to choose from the thousands of writing reference books available. As far as fiction writing is concerned, these are my favorites so far.

  • Immediate Fiction: A Complete Writing Course by Jerry Cleaver-I love this book. Mr. Cleaver lets you know right up front that writing is an acquired skill. If you can't sit at the computer and have perfectly plotted, perfectly formed manuscripts pour from the tips of your fingers that's okay. My favorite quote: "Letting yourself be bad is the best way to become good."
  • Fiction Writer's Brainstormer by James V. Smith, Jr.-James has great insights into the novel writing process. He revealed things that I'd never read anywhere else. And I've read a lot. James will take you through the process from choosing a salable idea to readability to submission.
  • Writing Realistic Dialogue and Flash Fiction by Harvey Stanbrough- This book is an absolute must for fine tuning your dialogue. It'll also help keep your writing concise.
  • Fiction Writing Demystified: Techniques That Will Make You a More Successful Writer by Thomas B. Sawyer.- Tom wrote many episodes of the popular series Murder She Wrote. He brings his experience as a screenwriter to fiction writing. If you want to know how to keep your reader turning pages, Tom will let you in on his secrets.
  • The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall- Evan will give you all the information you need to know about how to structure a novel. He is after all an agent and an author so he should know what he's talking about.
  • First Draft in 30 Days by Karen Wiesner- This book doesn't show you how to complete a manuscript in 30 days but it does show you how to outline and organize a novel in that amount of time. In addition, she reveals her method for planning your writing career. Excellent resource!
  • Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go by Les Edgerton-This well written book will strike a chord with every writer. Les tells it like it is in a down to earth tone. It feels as if he's sharing this information with a friend over coffee. When you get ready to get real, the you need to pick up a copy of this book.
  • Don't Murder Your Mystery [Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction Book] by Chris Roerden- Chris will walk you through all the mistakes that many writers make the first time out. If you want to produce a salable piece of fiction, mystery or not, this is a book that bears reading.

Like I said, this is the list so far. I find new ones all the time but these are the ones I've found most helpful. Leave me a comment and let me know what you're using. Who knows? You may have one that I need to add to the list.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Is Your Manuscript Pretty?

I had it pointed out to me that it doesn't matter if you write Pulitzer prize quality material. If it doesn't look good it'll never be read. Don't believe me? Fine, but can you afford not to? If your manuscript has lengthy paragraphs, say over 2-3 sentences per and not much dialogue then it's probably destined for the rejection pile.

I've heard from an eyewitness that agents and editors actually flip through your manuscript and may not read it at all based on the way the pages look. I've read that you should avoid large blocks of exposition but I didn't realize that it was because of the way it looks on the page I just thought it was because it'd bore your readers to tears. So you need to make it pretty. Leave plenty of white space and keep your paragraphs short.

I know I've harped on the Marshall Plan for Novel Writing a lot on this blog but listen to this. In a 400 page work an agent/editor will flip to page 100, 200,& 300 to make sure you have your turning points in place. Just as Evan Marshall tells us to do. He is an agent after all so he should know.

So add making a pretty manuscript to your list of things to do if you want to get published.

Monday, October 20, 2008

How to Shop for Health Insurance

Buying health insurance is a lot like buying a car. You can purchase your bare bones economy model or you can get a plan that's fully loaded. The question is are you driving a commuter car when you really need a 4WD SUV? Whether you've begun a new job or are shopping for private coverage there are a few questions to ask about your coverage in addition to the price of the premium.

  • You'll know what your deductible is up front. Let's say it's $500.00. Is that per person covered or is that for the entire family? If you have a procedure that isn't covered by your insurance company and you pay for it out of your own pocket does that count toward your deductible? Better to know now than later.

  • Perhaps the insurance company has specified providers in it's network. What happens if you're on vacation and have to use a provider that's out of network? Or if you simply chose to use an out of network physician? Will they pay an out of network physician anything at all or will you foot the entire bill?

  • Do I have to precertify my visits/procedures? Many times you will need to get your doctor's visits precertified. Even if your doctor refers you to another doctor it may need to be precertified. The burden of precertification is on the physician but you've got to let them know that it should be done. Many times you're required to contact the insurance company within hours of an emergency room visit as well, so check your fine print.

  • What's my limit? Just because you have insurance it doesn't mean they'll pay indefinitely. Some of them have very finite limits on the number of hospital days, doctors visits and/or a yearly dollar amount that they will cover.

  • But my doctor said I needed physical therapy, massage treatments, surgery, shots etc. No matter what sort of treatment your doctor recommends, that's no promise that your insurance will pay for it. Make sure it's covered!

  • When your spouse has insurance as well find out how this will affect your coverage. Some companies will act as a primary for you with your spouse's insurance as secondary and some will only act as secondary for you if you have other coverage.

  • If you're shopping for secondary insurance make certain that it will indeed cover the amounts your primary doesn't cover and not small fraction of that amount.

  • What are your copay amounts for regular visits vs. specialtists? What if you just pop in for a B-12 shot and don't see a doctor? Once you hand over your $20 it can be hard to get back.

The most important thing to remember about insurance is that you need to tailor it to your situation. If your spouse has great coverage and this will only pick up the co pays and secondary amounts then your coverage needs will be different than if you were shopping for primary insurance. Evaluate your needs, don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't get stuck with a 15 passenger van when all you needed was a Hyundai!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

LBYM: 10 Tips for Frugal Living

The current state of the economy has people wondering how they'll live within their means much less below them. Here you'll find ten tips to help you if you're trying to curb spending or save up for the little luxuries like electricity and water.

  • Check out This is a fabulous and fast growing non profit movement. You simply sign up with a group in your area and add a post when you are either looking for something or have something to get rid of. The only catch? It has to be free and you have to pick it up.

  • A lady by the name of Amy Dacyczyn has become something of a legend in LBYM circles. She produced a newsletter in the 90's titled The Tightwad Gazette. In the newsletters she came up with all kinds of money saving tricks that she used herself plus tried out those suggested by readers. The newletters have been compiled into a book of the same name and it's still available for sale. In the true spirit of being a tightwad try to get it used on Amazon if your library doesn't have one available.

  • Check out the LBYM board at You don't have to pay a subscription fee or even log in to read what's posted there.

  • You know that infomercial you just saw for the Fluidity workout, Proactiv solution, etc? If you really need it, you can probably get it cheaper on eBay. Check it out before you dial 1-800-I was really bored when your flashy infomercial hypnotized me.

  • Borrow a cup of sugar from your neighbor. No, I don't mean you should become a bum. You should definitely pay them back but don't jump into your car and use a gallon of gas if you just need a couple of eggs, a box of mac and cheese or the proverbial cup of sugar. Politely ask your neighbor and pay them back after you restock.

  • Schedule your normal Saturday errands for after work. After all, you can go to the dry cleaners on Thursday or pop into the hardware store for a gallon of paint after work and save another trip.

  • Have a potluck party with your neighbors or friends once a month instead of eating out. You'll have lots of fun and save a ton of money.

  • Clear out your rented storage unit. If you were actually using that stuff you'd have it at home. Evaluate what you have and get rid of those things that aren't either special or useful. Keep only what you adore.

  • Don't buy whatever flips your lust button. If you see something at the local chain store, rest assured, if you don't pitch it in your cart and take it home, chances are good it'll be there the next time. Trust me, your junk drawer will thank you.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Author Interview: Marilyn Harris Collins

I had the opportunity to visit with Marilyn Harris Collins about her career as an author of non fiction books. She's the author of several books for Acadia Press. Her most recent work, Write History Right details how to capture stories from your family, town, church or civic group and organize them into book format.

MP: When writing non fiction do you outline before you begin?

MHC: I use a timeline covering the scope of my book as my "outline." Obviously, I start with the first event and end with the last, including backstory. I continually add to the timeline as I research the book. There is added value to a timeline other than keeping the story on track. Natural chapter breaks will appear. From this you can readily tell if you have too much information on one topic, not enough on another. This is a good time to assign an estimated word count per chapter -- thus the entire book. An overall project schedule will begin to take shape judging on how many words you can write a day plus adding time for research, site visits, interviews and so forth.

MP: What is a normal workday for you when you have a book in progress?

MHC: After I walk the dog, help my husband pick out a tie, I take a quick coffee run. When I set the coffee on my desk and turn on the computer, my day begins. I work until mid to late afternoon. Sometimes I could back and work late into the night - if I'm on deadline or the writing is going really well.

MP: About how long does it take to finish a first draft?

MHC: After several trial starts and stops, once I get started it takes me about three months for a first draft, another three months to get a workable final draft. This does not account for the prelude to writing - research, interviews, collecting visuals, and some tearing out of my hair!

MP: How many revisions do you normally do?

MHC:There are probably 100 ways to say the same thing. I keep making minor tweaks to the last minute trying for that one last, best way to bring the reader into the story. I find rewriting valuable beyond grammar checks and choice of words -- the story and my purpose for telling it becomes more clear. I learn more about myself as well as the subject as I go along. The book means more to me at the end than at the beginning.

MP: What is the most difficult thing about writing non fiction?

MHC: I suppose the most difficult part about writing nonfiction isn't finding the truth to tell - but in bringing that truth alive for the reader through the characters, setting, and conflicts of the time. I want the reader to "be there." Creative nonfiction ploys allow the writer to use more dialogue, explore inner feelings of the characters, and provide a very realistic setting for the book. Another difficult part of writing nonfiction is finding the arc for the story when you have to deal with facts as they happened. This takes some skill.

MP: What are your top three reference books for writing non ficiton?

MHC: I have a bookcase full of how-to writing books that I've been absorbing for years. However, I found no books for writing history per se on the American market. So, I wrote Write History Right as the user-friendly guide for anyone planning on writing a history of their town, region, family, church, school, and so forth. I found two books invaluable in setting up my publishing company:
Dan Poynter's Self-Publishing Manual, Para Publishing, 2007
The Well-Fed Self-Publisher by Peter Bowerman, Fanove Publishing, 20077

MP: How do you feel about critique groups?

MHC: Belonging to a writer's group is very important to me and to my work. My advice is to join the right group for you. My group, Northwest Arkansas Writer's Guild is for published writers. Just as other specialty groups are for romance, mystery, sci-fi writers, and so forth - the level and purpose of our critiques are tailored to our needs as a group. Our group is excellent because: a) members are all published and provide critiques toward that end, b) our size is small - 12 to 16 members, c) we share mutual trust and support, d) are flexible to help each other on current projects, and e) we have fun and there is no jealousy.

MP: What's your best piece of advice for a new writer?

MHC: Many wise words have been directed to writers over the years. After all those are said and read, I offer this: I have a very inquisitive mind - I'm interested in almost everything and see a good story around every corner. And I want to write it all! This can be not only overwhelming, but can keep me running in so many directions I don't accomplish as much as I could if more focused. I like writing magazine articles at the same time I'm writing a book (or maybe two). They add variety and supply constant deadlines. Not everyone likes to juggle multiple plates over their head at once, but I do. So, my advice is know your own personality and find ways to make your quirks and skills work for, not against, you.

Learn more about Marilyn Harris Collins non fiction books at

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Halloween Candy: The beginning of the end

photo courtesy of Flickr

Halloween can mean the beginning of winter weight gain. You start with the leftover candy, segue into fall baking, Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas cookies and candies, the grand Christmas feast and finish it off with a Superbowl party.

But, Halloween candy can be okay if you watch what you're doing.

  • Eat Tootsie Pops instead of Tootsie Rolls. I know those cute little rolls only have 13 calories to a pop's 60. But realistically the pop will last lots longer. And who are you trying to kid? You'll never eat just one Tootsie Roll.

  • Eat Peanut M&M's instead of regular M&M's in the Fun Pak size. You'll save 50 calories a bag.

  • Choose Milk Duds over a fun size Milky way and save 50 calories.

  • Have a treat size of Twizzlers instead of raisins and you'll save 55 calories.

Don't take this as permission to sit and snack as you write. I you're going to splurge just have one or two servings after that, step away from the pumpkin. I also advocate purchasing candy that you don't like (Skittles, YUCK!) and not overbuying just because it's a bargain. With a little planning you can put off the weight gain until the PTA Bake Sale!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Author Interview: J.A. Jance

I did a little research before this interview and found out some fascinating things about J.A Jance. Did you know that the first book she wrote was a true crime novel? Did you know it was 1200 pages long? (No it didn't get published.) Did you know that she doesn't plot all of those amazing twists and turns in her novels but lets the story devolop as she goes along? If you want to learn more read on.

MP: What's a typical workday for you?

JAJ: I get up, have coffee, answer e-mail, read the papers. Go to work. I work longer hours the closer I get to a deadline. I also work longer hours when I'm editing and need to keep the strings of the story straight in my head. Starting a book is always harder than finishing one.

MP: How long does it take to write a first draft?

JAJ: Three to six months.

MP: How many revisions do you normally do?

JAJ: I revise some every day, going back over the most recent material rather than going back to the beginning. Otherwise, I would end up with a very polished beginning and the book would NEVER be finished.

MP: Has your process changed since you became a full time author? If so how?

JAJ: I used to have to write before I got my kids up and ready to go to school and before I got me ready to go sell life insurance. Now the kids are raised and I don't have a day job. Writing is my day job. I usually start with a crime and write until I figure out who did it and how come.

MP: Do you talk about your books when you're in the process of writing them? If so who is the lucky person?

JAJ: My husband reads as I write and helps talk me off the cliff when I run into trouble.

MP: How do you feel about critique groups/first readers?

JAJ: I've never belonged to one primarily because, when I was starting writing I had small children and a full time job. In other words, I could belong to a critique group or I could write. I chose to write. Having a critique group of other unpublished writers may be a good social outlet, but it seems a lot like the blind leading the blind. But again, that's probably unfair since I was never part of one. Actually, I attended one once. Someone complained about a continuity problem in my second book and told me that never would have happened if I had had the manuscript read by a critique group. But, of course, by then I was working on my FOURTH book. My critic, by the way, died without his first novel ever seeing the light of day.

MP: What are your three favorite writer's reference books?

JAJ: I don't have three favorites. I don't have one favorite.

MP: What advice would you give to new writers?

JAJ: When I bought my first computer, the guy who installed my word processing program fixed it so that, when I booted up, these are the words that flashed across the screen: A writer is someone who has written TODAY. Those were words I clung to back when I was an unpublished author and those are words I cling to today. Writers write regardless of whether or not they are being published.
Her latest Ali Reynolds novel, Cruel Intent will be in stores December 2008.