Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Resolutions for 2008

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my resolutions for 2007 didn't go so well. Nonetheless, I have an even longer list of resolutions for 2008. Some are business-related, and others are concerning my personal and family life.

Business first, of course:

1. To dedicate the first hour of each workday to my own projects, with the larger goal of completing a novel and two ebooks within the course of the year.

2. To finish and launch my long-overdue website updates.

3. To increase my annual income by a third.

My personal goals for 2008:

4. To pay off 75 percent of my credit card debt.

5. To keep in better touch with my friends, especially those I neglected in 2007.

6. To get pregnant! (Yep, we've decided it's time to expand our menagerie... er... family.)

What are your resolutions? If you would like to share, please feel free to comment with your resolutions or a link to your own blog post on the subject.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Making money blogging

The Denver Post ran an article yesterday about the money to be made in the blogging business. As usual, the article cites the unusual cases: the folks who make $1,000 or more every month by selling ad space on their own blogs.

However, to its credit the article does note that this is the exception and not the rule:

That doesn't mean bloggers are suddenly flush with money. For every blogger earning a decent side income like Brooks, countless others will never earn a cent.

What I thought was interesting and useful about this article is its discussion of different companies you can use to make money selling ad space on your blog. Here are the services mentioned in the article:

* Google AdSense
* PayPerPost
* BlogAds

Honestly, the only one of these I am familiar with is Google AdSense, which I use on my own blog. And though I am one of those bloggers that earns only peanuts, those peanuts do build up after a while, making a nice bonus for something I'd be doing anyway.

Does anyone have any information or personal experiences with either PayPerPost or BlogAds? I am interested in how they compare to Google AdSense, and I'm sure it's probably a subject of interest for many other bloggers as well.

Horse lovers: Support our "Right to Ride"

For years, horseback riders' rights to trail ride have been slowly chipped away. Many wonderful horse trails have been closed — at least to the horses.

In response, a new bill, S. 2283, has been introduced to protect our "right to ride." I urge you to read the bill, spread the word, and write to your senators and representatives. Even if you do not ride yourself, no one can deny that horseback riding is a historical tradition in our country, and an important pastime for many Americans.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How to spot a micromanaging client

Today, Kathy Kehrli blogged about oDesk, a freelance bidding site that has been using the disgruntling Elance situation to market itself. Judging by the article Kathy linked to, oDesk = eSlavery 2.0, oDesk is the micromanaging client's wet dream.

I'll let you read the article for yourself, as this blog post is actually about a different, but related topic: the micromanaging clients themselves.

Any writer who has been freelancing for a while has probably experienced the misery that comes from working for a micromanager. As Kathy noted in her post about oDesk, "I got out of the corportate world precisely because I didn't like slaving away for others and being watched over my shoulder." That was also part of what inspired me to leave my technical writing job for the freelance life, and I imagine many full-time freelancers have similar motives.

Unfortunately, freelancing doesn't guarantee that you won't run into micromanaging clients — it just gives you the freedom to turn and run the other way when you do. Here are several warning signs that I usually take to mean a client is going to be way more trouble than they are worth; feel free to comment if you think of something I've missed.

Signs a client will try to micromanage you:

* The ad emphasizes ridiculous stipulations, or states outright that they have high (read: supernatural) expectations of their freelancers.

* The client insists that you must be available during certain hours, whether or not you a) are actually working on their projects at the time, or b) usually keep those hours. (Most freelance projects can be performed without constant supervision — and if they can't, they shouldn't be outsourced, in my opinion!)

* The client contacts you once a day (or more!) asking where you are on the project and/or whether you're done yet, regardless of how long you have until the deadline.

* The client wants you to stay signed in to AIM, wait by the phone, or be otherwise constantly available to her/him during office hours.

* The client suggests that you should drop all of your other clients and work solely for her/him (but still, presumably, on a freelance basis).

* If the project is paid hourly, the client insists on a time sheet accounting for the hours spent on it, with notations indicating what you did and when.

* If the project is paid at a flat rate, the client continually talks about how easy it is and how quickly you should be able to finish (hint, hint).

* The client won't take no for an answer, instead attempting to beg, cajole, or threaten you into doing what s/he wants. (Particularly if you've turned down a project — the harder s/he tries to force you into it, the faster you should run in the other direction!)

* The client just feels high maintenance. (Sometimes you have to follow your gut instinct on this one.)

The beauty of being a freelancer is that you don't have to put up with micromanaging clients. If you feel a client is being unreasonable, finish out your contract and refuse further work as professionally as possible.

If the client is really unreasonable, you might even consider backing out before the project is finished, but be careful: You run the risk of not getting paid for the work you've already done, and you may do some damage to your reputation if you do this too often. However, don't put up with difficult or disrespectful clients for your career's sake, either — most likely working for them is not going to benefit you enough in the long run to justify putting up with it now.

More snow, and going back to work

We're getting more snow here tomorrow: another 4 to 8 inches in Denver (though if they are as far off as they were on the last storm, we may be in for a downright blizzard). Michael is planning on taking public transit to work, and I'll forego my visit to the stables in order to stay home and work, all warm and cozy.

Which brings me to another reason tomorrow is important: It's technically my first day back to work after Christmas, assuming Michael goes to work. (If it's bad enough, his company will close, though that's a rare occurence.) I have work lined up already, of course, so I won't be able to stretch my vacation any longer — though I do have a light enough load to allow me to take it easy until after New Year's.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Our white Christmas made the news...again

Just like last year, our white Christmas made national headlines.

The article comments that by mid-morning we had already gotten as much snow as had been predicted for the entire day. Actually, I'd say we surpassed the original forecast by mid-morning: As of yesterday, they'd still been predicting 2 to 4 inches of snow. This morning they decided it would be more like 4 to 8 inches, but by mid-morning we'd already gotten that.

It didn't stop snowing until mid or late afternoon.

Michael and I have taken it easy today — we're watching movies, and for dinner we'll have the sweet potato soup we were intending to take to my sister's house. Tomorrow we'll try to make it to the stables to see Panama, and to my parents' house to visit them. (My sister and her boyfriend are taking his mother skiing tomorrow.)

I haven't been working the last couple of days, but I've used the time to get caught up on my blogs. It's been nice to do some writing that is entirely for my own pleasure.

How have you spent your Christmas?

Another too-white Christmas

Last year, we had two blizzards this time of year: one a few days before Christmas, and another just a week later. The result was that we had an extra-long vacation around Christmas and New Year's, but that we were also snowed in for several days each time.

Unbelieveably, I think our snowstorm this year might have trumped last year's. Although we are technically getting less snow, getting it on Christmas Day has impacted our Christmas plans much more than last year's blizzard did: We're pretty much snowed in, which means we won't be going to my sister's house for Christmas dinner as planned.

I'm also disappointed that we won't be able to go to the stables today — I really wanted to visit my horse on Christmas. I even have a present for him, but I guess it'll have to wait until tomorrow.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

I hope you are all spending time with your loved ones and not on the computer, but if you fall into the latter group, here are some pictures to cheer you up.

This was the picture on my Christmas cards this year:



The inside read, "Next year it'll be a one-horse open sleigh."

The Santa hat photo shoot was quite an experience. In this picture, Panama looks like he's had too much egg nog:



Here are some other Santa hat photos. Panama was actually pretty tolerant of the whole thing: Once he realized I really did want him to keep the hat on his head, he just looked at me like, "Okay... What now?"





Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tools for writers: Online backup

Periodically one writer's blog or another will discuss the importance of backing up your work regularly. The fruits of our labor are entirely electronic, and therefore can be entirely lost to us if our hard drive fries, or if our computer is stolen or destroyed.

Up until recently, I've always backed my work up using a USB drive, but unfortunately I am getting increasingly worse about remembering to do so. Plus, backing up on a USB drive isn't always the best protection — if you keep your backup device at the same location as your computer (as many writers do, by definition of the "home office"), it is subject to the same calamities that could befall your computer (i.e. theft, natural disaster, etc.).

I've been contracted to write about online backup twice, and the most recent time — just last week — made up my mind to try it myself. The difference was that in writing an article about online backup, I ran across a popular service that offers a basic package for free: MozyHome. (Get the free account by clicking the orange "Sign Up Now" button on the left side of the screen, under the heading "MozyHome Free.")

The free account gives you only 2 GB of space, but I figure that's enough to keep my most important things backed up: my writing work (both freelance and fiction), my financial records (i.e. scans of payments and Excel files detailing my income), the website revisions I'm working on right now, and my Outlook emails and contacts. If I decide to add anything else to the list, I'll have to move to their paid account ($4.99 a month for unlimited storage space — not a bad deal, but I want to see how I like it first).

The nice thing is that I don't have to actively remember to back up my work anymore. MozyHome has two different settings to choose from: I can either back up once a day at any time I choose, or I can set it to back up any time the computer is idle, and simply limit the number of times in a day it backs up. Right now I have it scheduled to back up in the evenings, when I'm theoretically done working for the day. However, some evenings I work late, so I may eventually switch to the idle computer setting.

The big advantage is, of course, that my backups are stored offsite, and are available over the Internet. In other words, if something happens to my laptop, I can access my files via my account at Mozy.com... from any computer.

So far I really like online backup, and I would definitely recommend the free account to my fellow writers.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Good news no longer sells

Who says news has to be negative in order to sell? Michael found this article about the Saguache Crescent — a local paper in a small Colorado town that specializes in good news.

I found the article interesting because it operates on the exact opposite premise of big newspapers and newstations:

"There's plenty of media that will center on anything bad, the crime, accidents," said Coombs. "Doesn't sell papers. Good news sells papers."

It's sad, though, because as wonderful and wholesome as that sounds, it sounds like the paper actually isn't bringing in enough money to continue on to the next generation.

I've thought about it before, but this story is a reminder of how focused we (as a society) feed on gossip, drama, and stories of other people's misfortunes. We're so focused on the negative that a positive publication like the Crescent no longer has a place in our world.

This quote describes me

One of iGoogle's quotes of the day pretty much sums up my attitude toward books:

"Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?"

-Henry Ward Beecher

I've gotten better than I used to be, primarily because with all my other hobbies I have to save money where I can: Now, instead of buying every book I want to read, I check most of them out at the library. Having due dates also prevents me from developing stacks and stacks of books I own but don't have time to read.

Even so, every time I'm at the bookstore I have to fight down the urge to buy something.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Panama's big day

Panama moved to his new home today. Overall, he handled it well: He was nervous at first, but by the time he'd been there a few hours, he acted almost as though he'd always been there.

My trainer arrived at the stables early this morning, thinking she would have a hard time turning the truck and trailer around in the drive. As it turned out, she didn't at all, and we were able to get Panama loaded up much earlier than we had expected.

We arrived at the new place at about 10 o'clock this morning, and I didn't leave until 3 this afternoon. I watched Panama progress from being really nervous about the place, to settling in and making friends with the other horses. I was worried originally about turning him out with the other horses too soon, but after a little while I realized he seemed to want to go out into the pasture with them.

The cutest thing was how Panama was so aware of where I was... or wasn't. At first, we had him turned out with a flake of hay to snack on. He was pretty focused on eating, but if I walked away from the fence to go inside the barn or to my car, he'd come to the fence and start looking for me. He clearly felt more secure when I was nearby.

As he started becoming more comfortable in his new surroundings, he also became much more vocal about wanting me close. Even when he was in the pasture with the other horses, if I disappeared for too long he'd start whinnying for me. I know his voice and can easily pick it out from the other horses, just as he no doubt knows mine. It makes me giddy knowing we have that connection.

Anyway, the day was a complete success. Panama already seems happier in the new place than he was at the old stables — it was a joy to see him running and bucking across the big pasture, socializing with the other horses, and checking out the various nooks and crannies of the new place.



Why my article isn't getting published on EzineArticles.com

The other day, I promised to publish my personal essay on EzineArticles.com (in addition to Associated Content), and to provide the link.

Unfortunately, EzineArticles.com refused to published the article, claiming it's libelous. I assume they mean libelous against Mars candy, but I can't really see why they think it's libelous.

I've blogged about the definition of libel before, but to sum up here, libel is written material that is falsely defamatory. That means that if you can prove that what you wrote is TRUE, it's not libel. Another defense is if the material is clearly written as your opinion.

I think EzineArticles.com is complaining about my opening sentence, which reads:

The other day I received an email from PETA: They have discovered that the Mars candy company is testing on animals, and are using their usual brilliant marketing approach to make sure everyone else knows it, too.

Personally, I don't think that can be considered libelous, as I'm simply stating what the email from PETA says, which is easy enough to prove.

The only other mention of Mars is when I mentioned emailing the company, daring them to watch PETA's video on animal testing.

EzineArticles.com gave me the choice of revising the articles so that they could publish it, but I opted not to, for two reasons:

1) I don't feel it's libelous, and

2) The parts they presumably want me to change are the point for writing the entire essay, and I think by changing them I would risk compromising the essay's message.

Sadly, what this means is that for right now, Associated Content is the only website running my essay. I'm sorry that I wasn't able to keep my promise, but I intend to keep trying to publish the essay elsewhere — I'll let you know if anything comes of it!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Preparations for a move

Since we'll be moving Panama to a new stables very soon, yesterday my trainer and I spent our session practicing trailer loading.

For those of you who don't remember the full story of Panama's rescue, at 11 months old he was in a trailer accident that resulted in his mother's euthanization. Soon afterward, Michael paid the vet bill and we assumed ownership of Panama.

Perhaps as a result of the injuries Panama sustained in the trailer accident, he has had some issues with trailers ever since. He did have two uneventful trailer rides after the accident — back and forth to the vet's place — but they were very short and occurred in the wake of tragedy, so I'm sure he associated even the good trailer experiences with major life changes (i.e. losing his mother and leaving his first home for strange and scary experiences).

It was when Panama was brought to Denver from the in-laws' rural pasture that his trailer issues really became apparent. The truck that brought him out here was a semi, so not only did Panama had to load up into a loud and scary trailer-like vehicle, but he also had to go up a ramp first. I wasn't there for this part, but the in-laws told us he was panicked and rearing, and even once broke loose and ran through a wire fence in an effort to get back to the pasture.

With all of this in mind, my trainer and I decided we had better get Panama comfortable with the entire process before the actual day. Last week, I started walking him around the outer yard, where he'd never been before and where the owner keeps large pieces of equipment, such as a broken old tractor and unused trailers. Panama was quite spooky about that the first time, and by the third time had started planting his feet in downright refusal to go out there.

Yesterday my trainer and I used the stable owner's two-horse trailer to practice loading up. It took about a half an hour to get Panama into the trailer at all, and I had to actually pick up a front foot and put it in the trailer the first few times. However, by the end of the hour my trainer had him loading up, even if he was still a little nervous about it.

Having already practiced loading up should help considerably on moving day. I am getting very excited about moving! The new place should be practically a dream come true for me and Panama — daily turnout, good hay, and a friendly atmosphere for him, and full care and peace of mind for me. Hooray!

No Child Author Left Untapped

On Monday, Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware posted on a disturbing trend that has been growing recently: The tendency of vanity presses to prey on child authors. Her post got me thinking, for two reasons:

1) Because I also started writing novels as a teenager,

and

2) Because I have had firsthand experiences with one of the child authors she mentioned in her post, Adora Svitak.

In regards to #1, I agree with Victoria Strauss completely when she says that some youngsters may be able to write beautifully, but most don't have the maturity to deal with the publishing industry. We're talking about an industry that can be pretty cutthroat — there is a lot of competition and a lot of rejection, whereas most children and teens are still at the point where social rejection is the end of the world. Plus, they lack both the experience needed to know the publishing industry's standards, as well as the maturity to learn and apply those standards.

Of course, as with any rule there are exceptions, but I am pretty certain I wasn't one. I wrote my first novel at age 14, and I know looking back at it that it was not and will never be publishable. My second novel was better, but it is my third novel — written when I was 15 — that I think has the most potential. However, even that one needs work — revisions and corrections that I don't think I would have seen the need for earlier in my career.

In spite of the fact that I once complained about my parents not encouraging and helping me to pursue publication, I think now that I wouldn't have it any other way. Maybe I haven't published a novel yet, but I'd rather get there on my own two feet than to have my work sell because I was some kind of child prodigy, an oddity and a fascination.

Which brings me to #2: My experiences with Adora and Joyce Svitak. I got involved almost exactly two years ago, when Adora's book, Flying Fingers, was first published. Joyce advertised looking for reviewers, and being a little naive about how the industry worked, I agreed to work with them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I got burned.

Victoria's post about Aultbea and their child authors made me start thinking about the situation with the Svitaks for the first time in many months. It occurs to me that Adora was not the only one whose work was being exploited — by looking for writers to work for free and betraying our initial agreement regarding my review, Joyce was also taking advantage of other writers. This makes me wonder: Is it only the vanity publishers who are guilty of exploiting children's talents? Or are some of the parents equally as guilty?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Essay on animal rights

Last week, I posted a video on animal testing, in honor of PETA's boycott of Mars candy.

The email and video inspired me to write a personal essay on animal testing and animal rights. Though I'm not normally a fan of giving away my work, I decided to go ahead and post my essay on Associated Content. Though I'll get a pittance for pageviews ($1.50 per 1000 views), it's not really enough to count, so I'm considering this my donation to a cause I feel strongly about. Goodness only knows, if Associated Content is good for anything, it's visibility!

If you are interested in checking out my essay, you can find it here:

Mars Vs. Peta: Is Animal Testing Wrong?

And because I don't want to seem like those lowlifes who spam others for pageviews, I am also submitting the essay to EzineArticles.com. When it's live I'll post that link here, too, so that you can decide for yourself whether or not you want to contribute to my page views. We're talking one-sixth of a cent here, folks, so don't worry about hurting my feelings if you hate AC and would rather not click. What I care about is getting the word out about the PETA video and the Mars boycott.

Update 12/20/2007: Sadly, EzineArticles.com refused to publish my essay because they claim it's libelous. Ha! You can read more about it here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Titanic and pet peeves



Michael took today off work, so we decided to see the Titanic exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. We've been wanting to see it for some time, but just never was able to make the time... Until now.

We both loved the exhibit, but an excessive number of errors in the signs reminded me of a post Deb Ng recently published on her blog, about writers' pet peeves. Here's a pet peeve I apparently overlooked in the discussion: glaring errors by large companies who should know better (or be able to hire a copywriter who does).

The error that annoyed me the most was also the most frequently repeated: the capitalization of words that shouldn't be capitalized. For instance, "ship" was almost always capitalized, in contexts such as, "Passengers on board the Ship..." (I completely made that up, because I can't recall any of the exact sentences, but that's the sort of usage we're talking about here.)

Misuse of capitalization drives me nuts, perhaps partly because my old boss thought his technical writers should capitalize Important Words and Terms; the result was that almost every other word was capitalized (not to mention bolded or highlighted in red, blue, or green text).

According to the AP's Stylebook,

"In general avoid unnecessary capitals. Use a capital letter only if you can justify it by one of the principles listed here." Those are proper nouns, proper names, popular names, derivatives, setences, compositions, and titles.

It's not just the Associated Press, either. People just don't write like that anymore.

I thought perhaps they were trying to write in a style appropriate to the period, but personally, I think if that was their intent they should have put the signs in a period font, too. Otherwise it just looks like a mistake. (And anyway, I'm not at all certain the capitalization of subjects was common in 1912 — I've seen it in the literature of the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, but not the 20th century.)

The impression that the capitalization was a mistake wasn't helped by several other mistakes in grammar and punctuation, such as "it's" instead of "its," and a missing period on a rather large (read: highly visible) sign.

The exhibit was fantastic, but I was still annoyed by the mistakes, particularly the rampant over-capitalization. The moral of the story? The museum needs a copywriter like me to make sure things like that don't happen!

Christmas lights

I mentioned the other night that Michael put up our Christmas tree. Well, he did more than just put up the tree: He also decorated a little with the Christmas lights. They look so nice that I decided I just had to take some pictures and post them on my blog.

Here is the tree. I took this picture with the lights out and my camera set on "night portrait," because I liked the effect:



Here are the lights in the kitchen:



And here is one of the windows in the office, with my desk lamp on...



...and with the lights off. (I couldn't decide which picture I liked more.)



It's starting to look a lot like Christmas...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A very harried Christmas

This ought to demonstrate how un-Christmas-like the season has been for us so far: Michael and I only just started our Christmas shopping today.

I don't want anyone to peek and find out what they're getting, so I'm not going to list the gifts here. But I will say that I think everyone will love their gifts.

In general, though, Michael and I don't have as much to work with as usual right now. My reduced work hours and our decision to move Panama to a more expensive (albeit more convenient) facility, combined with a few other factors, has made money a little tight lately. It's mainly bad timing, as I expect to be able to work longer days again two or three days out of the week once we get Panama moved, but it still sucks to be nearly broke around Christmas.

Besides the money issue, Michael's job has also been considerably more stressful lately. Unlike my work, though, a lot of stress at his job isn't balanced with a higher income. (Usually, when I'm stressed it's because I'm working a lot, which in turn means I'm earning more.) Poor Michael has said that it hasn't felt like the holidays at all — and I suppose it really hasn't.

It's starting to feel more like Christmas, though. We took the picture for our Christmas cards last weekend. The cards came a couple of days ago, and I'll have them all ready to send out on Monday. (I'm thrilled with the cards, by the way. I'll post pictures from the photo shoot on Christmas Day.)

Michael also put the Christmas tree up tonight while I was working, which should help a lot. However, getting ready for Christmas this late means that before we know it, it'll all be over. I hate doing it this way, but there's just no way around it: We're having a very harried Christmas.

How is your holiday season shaping up?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I edited a Wikipedia article

There have been a few discussion in the online writing community about whether Wikipedia is a valid source. Most people say no, but I disagree: While I don't think it is always reliable or high quality, I do think Wikipedia offers a good source for general or background information, and an excellent jumping-off point for more in-depth research.

But I am getting away from my point: I edited a Wikipedia article just now, and it felt good.

I often find grammatical mistakes and other minor problems in Wikipedia articles, but I've never tried to change them. Tonight I finally did. Someone had written that so-and-so "shot dead" a bunch of people. That bothered me to no end — what is this, a Western? — so I changed it to "shot and killed."

I was pleasantly surprised to see that my change showed up instantly — no review or anything. While that is obviously why there are so many errors in Wikipedia — and why pages never stay the same for very long — I have to admit, it was rather satisfying.

Even for a published writer, who should be above getting her kicks by making changes to lowly Wikipedia articles!

When writers screw other writers

No, my title is not a reference to Kathy Kehrli's Screw You! (one of my favorite blogs, incidentally). Rather, it's a reference to when writers intentionally screw each other over.

I received an email today from a fellow writer, one that I once almost worked with on a project we both got through Writerlance. We both had serious misgivings about the client, and the two of us (along with one other) backed out. That was a year ago.

This writer apparently put me on a mailing list, because today I received an email about a current project the writer was hiring for. I clicked on the link, more out of curiosity (and trying to figure out who the heck was emailing me) than anything else, and found this:

Budget: $30-100

I need 10 articles completed by Saturday, 5pm, Eastern time! This is an urgent project, and please only apply if you can complete them by tomorrow for sure!!!

If you have any doubt about completing them, please do not bid. Place your bid for 10 articles by tomorrow. The articles need to be 750 words long.

You will get the complete details once chosen and I need them submitted to me by tomorrow. I am on Eastern time.

I can pay a total of $30 for the project. If I find a writer that is reliable there will be plenty more work in the future with varying payments. = )

The project itself pisses me off, of course: Ten 750-word articles for $30 is bad enough, but a rush project too? Yeah, sure, let me spend my Friday night working my butt off for your measley thirty bucks!

The fact that it's a writer posting the ad infuriates me even more. Even if webmasters don't always understand why paying a writer peanuts for professional work is wrong, another writer ought to know.

No doubt she signed on for too much work, couldn't finish an assignment, but still wanted to keep most of the income.

I hope her conscience keeps her up at night.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Watch it, I dare you!

Please excuse the off-topic post, but I want you to watch something: a video on animal testing.

Evidently, PETA has discovered that the Mars candy company is testing on animals.



Learn more at MarsCandyKills.com.

Can't handle watching the video? Then why on earth would you support animal testing?

SUPPORT PETA — BOYCOTT MARS!

A perfect snow day

I knew today was supposed to be cold and snowy, so I made sure to take care of Panama's needs yesterday so that I wouldn't have to go out today.

Sure enough, when I woke up the three or so inches of snow on the ground had doubled. It's not a ton of snow, granted, but it's still nice not to have to go anywhere. It's on days like today that I really appreciate being a freelancer.

I have a lot of work to do today, but here's how I'll be doing it: Sitting on the couch, where I have a view of the pretty snow scene outside our living room window, and listening to my favorite Christmas album, Christmas Eve by David Lanz.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Moving Panama

I've decided to move Panama from the stables he is at now. There are many reasons for this, but they fall into two basic categories:

I don't feel he is safe and well cared for where he's at.

The owner is very lackadaisical about horse care and the upkeep of the facilities. Some of these are minor problems, some are more serious:

* Ongoing problems with mold in the hay, probably having to do with the fact that he stores some of it outside with only a tarp as protection from the elements...

* Infrequent breaking of the ice in their water troughs during cold weather — once I had to give a horse water because hers was frozen all the way through, even though the owner had already been out there that morning...

* Infrequent manure removal — there is a HUGE manure pile in the yard, and as many as four wheelbarrows frequently sit in the yard with full loads of manure...

* Lack of attention to the horses' needs or condition — one horse is so skinny her sides cave in behind her ribs; another boarder told me about a horse who got sick, stopped eating, and died over a period of several days, and the stable owner never noticed!

* Infrequent (two or three times a week at best) stall cleanings, even though he calls his facility "full care" — sometimes it's so bad that the horses are all standing in six inches of manure, and he actually told me once that he doesn't think they care!

* Poor maintenance in and around the barn — for example, once he pointed out to me a repair that needed done in one of the stalls, laughed about it, and said it was "an accident waiting to happen." Uh, whose responsibility does he think that is?

I can get real full care for less than $100 extra each month.

My visits to the stables are taking more and more time out of my days. I'm basically taking care of everything the stable owner should be: cleaning my horse's stall, turning him out, cleaning his water trough and filling it, even giving the other horses water! I really need to be able to work more hours, and I'm never going to be able to do that if Panama stays where he is.

I started looking at other facilities, and realized that there are quite a few that offer real full care — i.e. daily stall cleaning, daily turnout, etc. — for only about $100 more each month. I quickly found a place that I like — a place that actually treats it like both a business and a moral responsibility to provide good care for the horses. They get high quality hay there, clean water, daily turnout, and their stalls are cleaned daily. The horses even look and act happier than the ones where I am now.

I've given my notice at my current place, and just need to decide how much of an overlap I can afford to pay for — the sooner I can get Panama moved, the better!

A horse is a horse, of course of course...

This is the most amusing example I've ever seen of how well horses take to training. They really are intelligent creatures.



I just hope there wasn't really any meat in that cheeseburger.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Reviewing my goals for 2007

Deb Ng posted today about her goals for 2008. In her post, she mentioned that she met her goal of increasing her income by $10,000 in 2007.

Unfortunately, I haven't been as successful in my goals for 2007. Here they were:

1. To revise my NaNoWriMo novel and get it ready for submitting

2. To submit my NaNoWriMo novel to at least one publisher during 2007

3. To start work on my next novel

4. To double my freelance income in 2007

The only one of these goals that I have achieved is number 3, starting work on my next novel — if you consider a detailed outline to be "starting work."

Although I didn't double my income in 2007, by the end of the year I estimate I will have succeeded in increasing it by 50 percent. I am disappointed that I can't say "I did it!" — but I guess it's not a bad achievement, particularly for my second year of full-time freelancing.

However, I also somewhat achieved this goal in another way. In my post, I commented that part of the reason for this goal was so that I could afford to stable my horse in town. While I didn't manage to double my income, I did still manage to bring Panama out here!

I haven't yet decided on all of my goals for 2008, so those will come in a later post.

What I love about my horse

Days like this one make me marvel anew at what funny creatures horses are. They all have such distinct personalities, and as I get to know Panama better, I've found that his personality is especially cute. Here are some of the things he does that I love:

* The deep nicker he uses to greet me every day. It's surprising, considering what a little horse he is, but Panama has a very deep nicker — maybe because he was left a stallion until he was two. He always greets me when I arrive, and sometimes he nickers to get my attention or when I give him hay before I leave.

* The way he follows me sometimes when I walk. After he'd been in training for a few weeks, Panama suddenly started to follow us sometimes after we finished lunging him. My trainer then taught him to turn and stop when we did, too, but I'm tickled that he was inclined to follow us on his own. Now he does it with very little encouragement, particularly when he is ready to go back to his stall or when he is looking forward to getting turned out.

* His "What next?" look. When my trainer or I ask him to "whoa" when lunging him, Panama always stops with his head high, turns to look at us, and puts his ears forward. It's adorably eager, like he's saying, "Okay, Mom. What next?"

* The way he plays with me in the arena. This is a fairly new phenomenon, but the last few times I've turned Panama out into the arena, I've noticed that he seems eager to play with me. I chase him a bit, sometimes jumping toward him suddenly when he's running past, or dodging him as he runs by. He often responds by bucking (which is how I got kicked) or changing directions abruptly. If you have ever seen horses play together, imagine that without the physical contact, and you've got a pretty good idea of how Panama and I play together.

* His "I want a treat" head bob. Part of our daily grooming session is the occasional treat. I don't like to give him too many, as I don't want him to get mouthy, so the treats make grooming time special. When he knows he's about to get a treat, he turns his head to watch me dig the treat out of my pocket. Because he's tied up, there's only so far he can turn his head, which results in a gentle bobbing as he pulls against the ties.

He's doing it a little here, because he's trying to figure out what I'm doing — see how his head is tilted a little sideways?



Isn't he adorable?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Borrow books at your own risk

I've mentioned before how anal I am about my books, and I've posted several times on books in my collection. Now the blogger who started the "Weird Book Habits" discussion, Debbie Ridpath Ohi of Inkygirl, has created a comic that pretty much sums it all up for me.

Mark Twain wrote in Pudd'nhead Wilson, "The holy passion of Friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money."

Personally, I think it should have said, "if not asked to lend books."

Full-time work with part-time hours

I've decided that I need to start telling clients that I only work part-time hours: I put in an average of four billable hours every day, with another couple of hours spent managing client email, blogging, and networking.

This is actually a fairly new phenomenon for me. I used to put in about six billable hours a day (more if I was slammed), but at least two or three more hours were spent on email, job boards, and other forms of marketing.

All of that changed when we moved Panama out here. I head out to the stables in the morning, and generally stay there for anywhere from one to three hours, depending on how much I have to do that day. Most of the time now I don't get to work until at least noonish.

Sometimes it's frustrating to get home, only to realize that I only have a few hours to work before Michael comes home. Often I end up working in the evening to make up some time. But I don't mind it at all — rather, I am grateful to have a job where I have the flexibility to change my schedule as needed.

However, many of my clients — particularly my newer clients — don't understand why I'm not available in the morning. I'm not sure why I haven't had to deal with this problem before, since until earlier this year I was rarely up before 11:00 am — the difference being that I usually worked until 3:00 or 4:00 am.

Needy client syndrome indicates that I will need to be a little more clear about my hours. The dilemma I am facing is that I don't want to label myself a part-time writer, for fear that it will make me sound less serious about my work: The term "part-time" intimates that writing is a hobby, rather than a career.

I think my solution will probably just be to let clients know that I am typically only available in the afternoons and evenings. What do you think?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The nicest form rejection letter I've ever received

I received a rejection letter today from Orchid, where I had submitted one of my short stories. Although it was just a form letter, it was the nicest form rejection letter I've ever received. Here's an excerpt:

Your story was carefully read. We're sorry to report that your story does not meet our needs at this time. We're writers, too, and understand the disappointment of rejection. Please keep in mind that we're all in good company. The average story is rejected 25 or more times before being accepted.

The letter goes on to list rejections of now-famous works.

This form letter was more encouraging than many of the scribbled personal notes I've received in rejection letters. Way to go, Orchid, for rejecting the work without rejecting the author!

Monday, December 03, 2007

On this day

While researching an article this evening, I ran across an erie coincidence: Robert Louis Stevenson died on this day — December 3rd — in 1894, exactly 113 years ago.

My blog's anniversary is on the same day that one of my favorite children's authors died. Wild.

Just me, my computer, and a pizza

Michael is visiting with an old friend this evening, so it's one of those rare evenings where I'm on my own. I'm celebrating by having my favorite kind of pizza (Papa John's thin crust with bacon and onion toppings) delivered. I haven't had a Papa John's pizza since before Michael introduced me to organic more than two years ago, so this is a big occasion for me.

As for the night's entertainment... Well, I'm afraid I'll be spending the evening at my computer, catching up on the day's work. It's the first business day of the month, bills are due, and several payments aren't coming in when I expected them to, which means I can't afford a day of slacking just now.

The dogs are sleeping, the house is quiet, and my pizza is on the way. It feels like a perfect night for great productivity.

Happy birthday, Swan's Blog!

Today is my blog's birthday: I started this blog two years ago, on December 3, 2005.

It seems like so long ago; I feel like I've been blogging forever. I actually said in my first post that part of my blog's purpose was to bring additional traffic to my website. I can't believe I even knew that was a benefit of blogging back then.

Since I started this blog, my entire website has seen many changes and improvements, including:

* An updated website template and logo
* An integrated blog (i.e. the blog looking the same as the website)
* An expanded portfolio
* A services page
* A contact form (which has significantly reduced the spam I get)

These are just the cosmetic improvements. Much more important are the many readers I've gained — not to mention the satisfaction of being a part of the online writing community!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The power of (Internet) words

NPR reported Thursday on the Hollywood writers' strike, which hasn't changed very much since the last time I blogged about it. The report is an audio clip from NPR's Morning Edition, so be sure to click the "Listen Now" link.

What was interesting about the NPR report is the discussion of how the writers have used the Internet to get the word out about the strike and what they're asking for. The point was that the writers have done better with the PR work than the producers have, and as a result, only 4 percent of the public supports the producers.

Personally, I'm not at all surprised that the writers have succeeded in rallying the public via the Internet. While these are screenwriters and not PR writers, most writers (of any kind) understand the power of the written word, so it makes sense to me that the striking writers would know how to use words to generate support for their cause.

This situation reminds me a little bit of Laray Carr. (For those who don't know the situation, basically Laray Carr/LCP was hiring writers to write articles for 30-some magazines, which it seems they never had any intention of launching. To my knowledge, no one ever was paid, and at this very moment Quincy Carr is probably running a new scam under a different name.)

Although Laray Carr was obviously on a much smaller scale than the Hollywood writers' strike, it's another example of how writers use the power of words: We discussed LCP on forums and blogs, despite bogus legal threats, and eventually informed enough people that Quincy Carr had to shut LCP down (though he just set up shop under new names).

The message is the same in both instances: Don't mess with the writers.

Watch out for potential Vindale Research scams

Watch out for Vindale Research — the word on the street is that they may be part of a big scam.

Today Michael ran across one of their ads on Craigslist.org (which has since been flagged, thankfully). Basically, they are running one of those operations where you get paid for writing reviews of products.

Thankfully, Michael asked my opinion before completing the application, which — as it turns out — requires credit card information as "verification." Unsurprisingly, there are numerous instances reported online of people's cards being charged without authorization as a result of their "employment" with Vindale Research.

Also, it sounds like reviewers are having to buy the products with their own money up front, and then aren't getting getting paid as agreed by Vindale Research.

Here are some links to forum threads and other pages with information on Vindale Research:

Report with SurveyPolice.com Only 37 percent of users received the promised incentives (read: payment), and 49 percent of users reported being misled by the company when they signed up!

Freesamplesite.com forum thread One user reported an erroneous charge on her credit card, which Vindale Research denied responsibility for. She was able to get the company whose product she was reviewing to reverse the charge, but only after threatening to call the Better Business Bureau!

Hotcouponworld.com forum thread Reveals that Vindale Research charges a membership fee for providing you with survey work.

Volition.com forum thread A myriad of complaints, from membership fees to unauthorized charges to users' credit cards. A couple of people even reported never getting paid ... even though they had paid for their review products out-of-pocket!

I think most of my readers know better than to "write" for a potential scammer like Vindale Research, but I wanted to help spread the word, just in case!

Hope for higher-paying freelance writing jobs

Friday's Writerfind.com newletter contained the following blurb:

Is this just me -- or are people just paying less for freelance writing these days?

An increasing number of people are trying to post poorly paid jobs through Writerfind. Those jobs are now being rejected. When we surveyed Writerfind subscribers, most said they would not be willing to work for under 10 cents per word.

The site is intended to be a site for professionals - people who need to make a living from writing and editing. So, from now on, please note that we will only be accepting work which pays 10 cents or more per word. Nor will we be posting "revenue sharing opportunities", as these too, going by the feedback, tend to lead nowhere pay-wise.

Good for Writerfind.com for taking a stand! I hope some of the other freelance writing job boards will follow suit.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

In Memory of Manny

Manfred "Manny" Hamster (a.k.a. The Manster) died tonight at approximately 10:40 pm. His exact age was unknown.

Manny was rescued from being eaten by the neighbor's cat on July 21, 2006. Despite a cat bite that left a hind foot virtually paralyzed, he showed remarkable courage in dealing with his disability. He enjoyed exploring the top of the bed and rolling around the kitchen in a yellow-colored plastic ball, and never let his bad experience with the neighbor's cat affect his relationships with his new family's cats and dogs.

A defining moment in Manny's life was when the vet used a dental X-ray machine to check his gimpy leg for broken bones. His favorite foods were peanuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkins seeds, and Krunch-A-Rounds (sesame seed-covered peanuts).

Manny will be buried this weekend under the lilac bushes in our backyard, very near to where he was snatched from the jaws of death (literally) 16 months ago.



Manny's days are numbered

Almost a year and a half ago, Michael and I rescued a hamster out of our backyard. Although I don't believe I ever mentioned him again on my blog, we have had the little guy ever since.

Unfortunately, hamsters don't live very long, and it seems that Manny's days are numbered. He has been aging noticeably for months, losing hair and developing age spots (which I didn't even know hamsters got!). For several weeks, he's had an eye infection in one of his eyes; I've gotten a less linty type of bedding, and tried putting a warm, moist compress on it to loosen the gunk, but it has sealed shut anyway. In the last week or so, we've noticed that he seems to have had a stroke, because he is suddenly quite unsteady and stiff, and his legs on one side don't seem to work very well.

Manny has gone downhill quickly, and now I'm not sure he'll even last through the weekend. Tonight, as I was getting ready to write this, I opened up his cage to check on him. At first I thought he was dead, he was breathing so slowly; and when I picked him up, he felt cold. I held him cupped in my hands until he warmed up (and perked up) a little, but his low body temperature still seems ominous. We've set his cage up in front of a space heater for now, and made plans to pick up my dad's heat lamp tomorrow, but I honestly think this is probably the end of the road for our gimpy little rescue hamster.

My second ride on Panama...and my first experience getting kicked!

I rode Panama again today. We did a little steering with the reins today, and moved up to a trot. As promised, my trainer took a few pictures. Here's one:



Panama was quite frisky and affectionate when I arrived. When I turned him out into the arena so that he could run and get rid of his energy, he was acting pretty goofy, running and bucking a lot. I'm pretty sure he's been playing with me lately, just as if I were another horse, and today proves it: He kicked me a little (I'm assuming accidentally) when he bucked.

Honestly, I don't think he did it on purpose. When I chase him in the arena, he will often buck as he runs away. I just happened to be a little closer than usual this time. I saw it coming and turned away, so one of this feet just barely caught me on the butt. It wasn't a hard kick at all, which makes me think he just misjudged how close I was.

After being ridden for an hour, Panama was not nearly so frisky, but since the other Paint's owner was there, we put our horses in the arena together. This time I didn't get pictures, more's the pity, because she put her other horse out with them as well. All three of them ran around the arena together, usually with Panama in the lead, and sometimes in a perfect line — as though they were playing follow-the-leader.

Mornings like this make it really difficult to work afterward — especially when I don't get home from the stables until 2:00 pm!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Snowball the dancing cockatoo

I found this video thanks to Kristen King's meow/bark/blog: Snowball the dancing cockatoo. Check out his moves — he keeps time as well as any dancer!

The oldest book I own

The weekend before Thanksgiving, my mom and I went to an estate sale in my neighborhood. The sale had a lot of old books for sale — some of them quite old, others only 50 or 60 years old.

It was from this sale that I bought what is now the oldest book in my collection. I had never heard of the book before — Junius's Letters — but as soon as I saw the title page I knew I was buying it:



I don't know if you can translate the Roman numerals or read the faint penciled date underneath, but this book was printed in 1795, well over 200 years ago. In comparison, the oldest book previously in my collection was a book of Moore's poetry from the 1870s.



I love really old books like this, and I especially love owning one. As a reader and a writer of historical fiction, it gives a sense of authenticity to actually have held a book from the era in my hands. I am especially tickled by the old style of using "f" instead of "s" in some places, such as in the word "English" on this page:



The book is in surprisingly good condition. There is some writing on the front and rear endpapers and on the title page, and as you can see, there is a small chunk of leather missing from the very top of the spine. The boards (front and rear covers) are dry with some surface cracks, but are not warped. Although the pages are lightly discolored with age, the binding is original and tight.



Overall, the condition is amazing considering the age of this book. However, I am going to look into how to better preserve the old leather cover. The book has clearly been stored in a box for a very long time, which has made the leather dry out. I want to try to reverse some of that damage, as I think the leather can easily be returned to its original luster (though the surface cracks, of course, are permanent).

As it turns out, this book was an excellent find. I bought this and three others — a 1901 miniature book of Lincoln's writings that is in excellent condition, an 1813 book in only fair condition, and a beautiful gift version of an illustrated poetry book that probably dates to about 1880 — for only $12. I researched the books, and found that the cheapest of the four — the tiny Lincoln book — is worth $30 to $40. Junius's Letters is worth the most: Copies in comparable condition sell on Abebooks.com for $150 and $175.

It is finds like these that make collecting so satisfying.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I rode Panama for the first time today!

Today was a big day for me and Panama: I rode Panama for the first time ever this morning.

Realistically, about all I did is sit in the saddle and practice walking him and asking him to "whoa." The idea was to get him used to having someone on his back. Next time the trainer comes, we're going to start using the reins to direct him a little more.

The really exciting thing is how well Panama took the whole thing. He hardly seemed fazed when the trainer and I took turns climbing up onto his back, and he was responsive to our commands, even in a dramatically different situation.

It amazes me how different Panama is now. He clearly thrives on the attention and affection, which he didn't get much of before. What is really noticeable is how responsive he is to training: The more challenged he is, the better behaved he also is. I guess it's because he is so smart.

I didn't get any pictures of the big moment, unfortunately, but my trainer said she'll take pictures of me riding Panama during our next session. In the meantime, here is a picture of my handsome little horse wearing his new winter blanket:



That should keep him nice and cozy on cold nights!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Billboard marketing

On the highway during our trip last week, I spotted a billboard with this logo:



My first thought was that the sign said, "Fiddler's Fridge." It took a second look before I realized what it really said: "Fiddler's Ridge." Then I glanced at Michael, who was driving, and realized he was staring at it too.

I think this sign is easy to misread. The oversized "F" in "Fiddler's" and the strangely sinuous "R" in "Ridge" create the illusion that the sign, in fact, says "Fiddler's Fridge." All I can say is, I can't believe that this company missed this rather important problem: You can't sell your product if people can't read the billboards correctly, no matter how clever the logo is. Personally, I would think that making the letters in a name look like a fiddle is nowhere near as important as the name itself.

And anyway, if your target audience risks having an accident on the highway while trying to figure out what your sign says, I'd say your marketing campaign is rather counter productive. Hospitalization generally doesn't make for good conversation rates.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Vacation inspiration

I've noticed a trend: Every time I go on vacation and get away from my regular freelance work for a little while, I come up with at least one (and usually two or three) good story or novel ideas. It's like taking a break from the less interesting work I do — and the stress that comes with it — opens my mind to more creative thought processes. As a result, I am returning from this vacation with as strong a desire to concentrate more on fiction as I've ever had.

This particular visit, I came up with three good novel ideas. All of them were triggered by something we saw or talked about while driving, and each blossomed into a full-fledged novel idea within a moments of the thought entering my mind. Being a good little writer, of course I jotted all of them down (I keep a notepad and pen in my purse for that purpose, among others). However, I can't help but think that I would really like to actually write the novels, rather than a few notes about my idea.

Inspired partly by my creative inclinations during this trip, and partly by my failure to even start my NaNo novel this year, I have decided to shift my focus somewhat. Although I can't afford to give up my freelance work entirely (and, anyway, I have several clients I wouldn't want to give up), I am going to change up my schedule a little to allow for an hour a day of writing fiction.

I've long thought that "whenever I have time" I'll work on some fiction at the end of the day. Something about that plan doesn't work, though, because I haven't written fiction since NaNoWriMo ended last year. So instead of placing my fiction hour at the end of the day, I'm going to do it first thing (well, after I get back from the stables). That schedule will ensure that I am forced to squeeze a little fiction into every day — not to mention it'll be a good way to warm up for my freelance work, since I'll start my workday with a little more enthusiasm.

At any rate, that's how I envision it working out. I'll let you know if it really works out that way.

Our Thanksgiving

Although I ended up having some work to do over Thanksgiving week, Michael and I had a pretty good holiday. We started out our week by going back to the bed and breakfast we stayed at when we got married — not the honeymoon, but our wedding night and the couple of night leading up to it. We also went back to the winery where we had our wedding, and bought several bottles to bring home with us.

Besides celebrating a mini-anniversary, we also browsed local book stores and antique stores. We found a nice period hanging lamp for our breakfast nook, and I got some cool old coins and an old photo, all of which I'll blog about in a future post.

After our little side trip, we stayed the rest of the week with Michael's parents. Everything from there on out was the typical family visit activities: visiting Michael's brother and his family, spending time with all of the horses (including my mother-in-law's 7-month-old colt), etc.

Well, almost everything was typical. Michael caught a 24-hour flu while we were there — Thanksgiving night, in fact. He was out of commission Thursday evening through Friday afternoon, and still wasn't feeling up to having a belated Thanksgiving meal Friday evening. As a result, we stayed one extra day — so that we could see the family a little more on Saturday, but also so that Michael was also recovered enough to sit through a long drive.

So today — Sunday — we finally made the trip back. The week has inspired a lot of blog posts, some of which I have already started writing, and which I will post over the next few days.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

So much for NaNoWriMo...

I had great plans for NaNoWriMo this year. Having "won" NaNoWriMo last year, I decided to aim for 80,000 words this year, rather than the minimum 50,000.

Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Panama not only creates a demand on my time that I didn't have last year, but he also adds several hundred dollars (minimum) to the income I need to make each month. The end result is that I have more of a need to maintain my income during November, and less time to dedicate to something like novel-writing.

However, I've decided that I'm not going to give up on this novel: I'm going to write it anyway, even if I don't get to it until after NaNoWriMo ends. My plan is to get my current work to the point where I have an hour or two to spend on noveling every day. I probably won't finish the novel in one month, but that's fine. The point is to get it written, whether it takes one month or one year.

I'll let you know when I get started, and keep track of my progress here on my blog!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanksgiving: A reminder

People take things for granted -- it's just human nature. That's why I'm okay with Thanksgiving as a holiday, no matter how politically incorrect it is. I know that there was never any happy little Thanksgiving feast where the pilgrims and the Indians sat down together, held hands, and sang "Kumbaya." For one thing, the much-lauded pilgrims were actually self-righteous, priggish jerkoffs who were responsible for massacring the local natives. By another account, the first Thanksgiving in actuality marked the failure of William Bradford's attempts at a communist community. (I wonder if Joseph McCarthy knew that his "one nation, under God" had its roots in communism?)

But wait, I'm getting sidetracked. I'm not okay with the myth of Thanksgiving, but I am okay with the holiday itself. I think it is good to remind people to appreciate what they have in their lives.

So without further ado, this is what I am thankful for this year:

* A wonderful husband... whom I married in a beautiful 1920s-themed wedding earlier this year

* The career I've always wanted... for which I don't have to dress up, drive in rush hour, or deal with office politics

* A happy, healthy horse... who is learning more every day

* A beautiful home... that we own

* ...And pretty much everything else in our lives. We have wonderful families, pets, and lives. What more can I say?

The perfect meme for bookworms

Although I wasn't formally tagged, I'm doing a book meme that I saw on Kathy Kehrli's blog.

1. How many books do you own?

Honestly, I have no idea. Hundreds, I'm sure. The sad thing is how many I have had to get rid of for lack of space. If I weren't constantly under pressure to weed my book collection, I would probably have a thousand or more.

As it is, when I weed my collection, I'll usually give up newer books — even ones I really liked — in favor of vintage or antique books (such as my Brontë collection or my newest oldest book).

2. What was the last book you read?

I just recently finished Principled Profit, by Shel Horowitz. Although I usually read about half fiction, half nonfiction, I realized recently that I'd been on a rather long fiction streak. I'd heard about Shel's book when I attended his chat during the Muse Online Writers Conference, and it was pretty short and unintimidating, so I decided it would be good for reinitiating myself into the world of nonfiction, work-related pleasure reading.

3. What was the last book you purchased?

Olivia, Pajama Time, and Barnyard Dance (for Michael's nephews) and the special illustrated edition of 1776 (for Michael).

I hardly ever buy books for myself anymore. I usually only read them once, so I've started checking them out from the library instead. It saves me lots of money, not to mention the agony of having to decide which ones to get rid of when I run out of space yet again. Besides, having them for a limited amount of time (usually) forces me to get to them a little sooner.

4. What five books are most meaningful to you?

I can't believe someone expects me to know which books, out of the many thousands I've no doubt read, are the most meaningful to me!

The thing that hangs me up is the word meaningful. Not necessarily my favorites, in other words. That's part of why this is so hard.

I can think of one — or actually, seven: C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. These are meaningful to be because I practically grew up on them. I've read each of them a handful of times at least. They are so engraved into my imagination that I actually cried in parts when I saw the recent movie version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in the theater.

5. What is your most obscure favorite book? Or, favorite most obscure book… [Added by Lisa]

This one is easy: Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Although Anne's work gets much less attention than that of her sisters, I think it is actually better in many ways. For instance, I think her way of addressing social issues is much more ingenious than Charlotte's monologues and narrative tangents in Jane Eyre, and her narrative techniques are at least as effective as Emily's cyclical plot in Wuthering Heights.

Your turn. Like Kathy, I'm not tagging anyone specific. Anyone who reads this is invited to participate. Just leave a link to your post in the comments.

Rabbit romp

When I took these pictures several weeks ago, I meant to post some of them, but totally forgot in my unexpected rush of work (and failure to start NaNoWriMo).

There are at least a dozen rabbits running around at the stables. One afternoon, when I had just walked out of the shed where we store our saddles, I heard a rustle nearby. I looked, and was startled to find two rabbits facing off less than six feet away from me! This was one of those rare occasions when I just happened to have my camera handy — I always bring my camera to the stables, and still had it on me from photographing Panama moments earlier.

I pulled out my camera and set it to take pictures consecutively when I held down the button. After a few shots of them facing off, the rabbits lunged at one another. I don't know if they were playing or fighting, but it was funny to watch them hopping all around:











They also sometimes stood upright, hitting each other with their front feet like little boxers:











Oh, how I wish I knew how to Photoshop a couple of little rapiers into this one!



Ninja rabbit!



And the winner is:





The stresses of horse ownership

Friday morning's events also contributed to me not getting my work done.

I went to the stables Friday morning with every intention of only being there a short while before returning home to work. I cleaned Panama's stall, brushed him, and turned him out to run a bit.

Then another of the owners showed up, and we chatted a bit. She only recently brought her horse to the stables, and we share some concerns about the way the place is run.

I've probably mentioned that I clean Panama's stall every day because I don't think the owner cleans it frequently enough. I don't mind cleaning it, really; I would be there anyway, regardless, and it gives Panama time to graze. Also, there is something satisfying and comforting about doing it myself.

However, there is a point where the infrequent cleanings become rather disturbing. On Friday, one of the horses was walking around in nearly six inches of manure, spread across the floor of his stall. Another horse, who likes to poop in the same place every time, had a veritable mountain of manure in his stall.

The real concern came when the other owner and I both decided to give our horses a flake of hay as a treat before we left. We cracked into a bale that had not yet had any hay taken off of it, and found that the inside of quite damp. (The owner stores some of his hay outside under tarps, which you are not supposed to do.) Sure enough, there was mold in the hay, too. Panama found it, but thankfully tossed it aside and didn't eat it; however, I worry that he would have gone back later and eaten it when he got hungry again between meals, had I not noticed.

Later that afternoon, yet another one of the owners sent me a text message stating that she had found mold, too.

When my main issue with the stables was the infrequent stall cleaning, I wasn't worried about it so much; the price is cheap enough to make cleaning his stall myself worthwhile. However, I won't keep Panama where his safety and health is a concern, no matter how cheap the price. I'll see how the winter goes, but if the problems continue I will find Panama a new home in the spring.

Unfortunately, I have not yet gotten good at working when I have something troubling on my mind. When I am upset, I just can't focus on work, so I didn't get much done on Friday, either.

Panama's cabin fever

As promised, here is Thursday's stable story.

Thursday morning, Panama and I had an appointment with his trainer. It was our only session for the week, because I'd been too busy earlier in the week. Unfortunately, I had not worked with Panama all week, either; because it was always dark when I visited, poor Panama hadn't even been turned out to run since Sunday. (Usually, I turn him out into the arena every day and chase him around, so that he gets enough exercise and gets rid of any extra energy.)

The effects of being cooped up for three days straight was quite clear from the beginning. Panama was restless and downright ornery. When he was first set loose in the arena, Panama cantered and bucked more than I've ever seen him do when I turn him out. And even after running hard for several minutes, he was a royal pain in the butt for the trainer. When she had me work him (she's teaching me, too), he kept getting himself all wrapped up in the lines; once he got himself tangled up so badly that he panicked and reared.

Well, after a morning like that, it's hard to settle down enough to actually work. It also didn't help that I had a lot to do after not being there much for three days. Although I'd been picking out his stall each evening, the light in the barn is dim, and it turned out I wasn't doing a very good job of it. It took much longer on Thursday to clean out his stall than it usually does.

On top of all of that, I also had a few errands to run. As a result, by the time I got home my day was more than half over, and anyway all I wanted to do was talk about my horse.

Lessons learned: Don't try to skimp on visits to the stables when I'm busy. It just creates a need for a longer visit when I return to my regular schedule, compliments of Panama's cabin fever — and my withdrawals.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Podcasts and supporting strikes

Thanks to a MySpace friend request (one of the few useful friend requests I've received), I discovered a new podcast for writers: Will Write for Wine. It's recorded by two romance authors, Samantha Graves and Lani Diane Rich. You can download it on their site (maybe — I've been having trouble with it) or subscribe to it on iTunes.

Michael and I listened to last week's episode — "Unscripted" — today. (I'm a writer, and Michael loves wine, so I figured it would be of interest to both of us.) In the episode, Lani gave the best explanation of the screenwriters' strike in Hollywood that I've heard yet. Basically, writers are getting the same royalties for VHS and DVD sales that they negotiated almost 20 years ago: 4 cents per $20 DVD. They were promised at the time that their percentage would go up, but the conglomerates apparently have conveniently forgotten their promise.

The writers, who are now striking, want a raise to 8 cents per DVD — not unreasonable, considering it's been two decades, and the conglomerates' excuse then was that they didn't know how well VHS (a new technology at the time) would sell. In fact, they are parroting that excuse now in their refusal to pay writers for online sales, such as downloads through iTunes and other virtual stores. The fact remains, though, that digital sales are pure profit — whether digital media takes off or not (which it will, of course, just as VHS did 20 years ago), they can certainly afford to give writers their cut.

To put this into perspective, this would be like you contracting a book to a major publisher, and having them turn around and start selling an ebook version without paying you any royalties for those sales. The ebook version competes with the hardcopy version, and since it is cheaper and easier to get, many readers might opt to go digital — which deprives you of the royalties you would usually get, at the same time as it saves the publisher considerable money on printing, storage, and shipping.

You'd be pretty pissed, I imagine.

In the podcast, Lani asks listeners to support the strike. She specifically asks us not to buy or download TV shows and movies online, since the writers are — as of this writing — not getting paid for them. I checked out the official site, and you can also support the strike by buying pencils: The pencils get sent to the conglomerate, and the money goes into a fund to help the striking writers.

I'm joining Lani on this one. Although I'm not buying pencils as of right now, I am pledging to not buy or watch TV shows or movies online until the writers start getting their cut. As of right now, negotiations are to resume, but the strike is not over. The writers still need our help!

Not like I planned

When I blogged last week, I was in a frenzy to get all of my work finished before the end of the week so I could take this week off. Unsurprisingly, it didn't quite work out like I planned. In fact, the whole thing fell apart on Thursday and Friday.

I think part of it is that I went to the stables like normal on Thursday and Friday, whereas during the first half of the week I was limiting my visits. Even though I slept in those days, more or less canceling out the extra time, the transition between stables and work is usually pretty difficult for me.

It is particularly difficult when something happens at the stables that gets me all excited, whether good or bad. And unfortunately, something along those lines happened both Thursday and Friday, which kept me so fired up that I got virtually nothing done either day.

I'll write about what actually happened in future posts. For now, suffice it to say that I have tons of work to do still, and I still haven't started my novel.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Too Much Information

Another of Amy Derby's Freelanceaholic posts inspired me: a meme where she (literally!) tells all. Read the comments, too! I can totally relate to Amy's not-caring-what-people-think thing, but sometimes I still wonder later if I should have posted something. Case in point: my belly button post.

Amy's post contains lots of things that are normally taboo to reveal. But you know what? Most of it applies to me, too.

1. Like Amy, I have allergies, though not as severe. When I was a baby, I could only wear one brand of diapers — all the rest gave me a rash. I've had bouts with perfumed lotion, too, where I get red, scaly patches that won't go away until I switch to something else. I can't wear any jewelry except gold, sterling silver, and stainless steel — and then only high-quality stuff, or I develop a nasty rash that takes weeks to go away. And I'm allergic to my darn cats — though don't tell them that!

2. Until I started getting all horsey on a daily basis, I wasn't bathing every day, either. Now I do, but mainly because my hobby is playing with animals that sleep in their poo. I figure writing is not very active, nor very dirty — so if that's all I'm doing, then why bother? (Though my beautiful antique claw foot tub is a really good reason why!)

3. I don't shave every day either. I'll go as long as I can without shaving during fall, winter, and spring (when I never wear shorts, and rarely wear sundresses).

4. I stopped wearing commercial deodorant more than a year ago. D#mn stuff makes me itch; I only put up with it that long because I felt I had to. When I went freelance, I found I didn't really need it: I wasn't very active, and I was never in stressful social situations. However, with all my horse-related activity, I started needing it again, so I'm now experimenting with a natural product (some type of mineral water).

5. I'm not particularly opposed to bras, but like Amy I tend not to wear one all that often. When I was at home all day every day, I just wore those bra top tank tops (with yoga pants) while I worked. However, when I'm active I actually find that wearing a bra is more comfortable, so this is another aspect of my life that has changed since I moved Panama to town.

And two more, just for fun:

6. I don't think I am actually OCD, but I definitely have some OCD tendencies. I have to be "even," for one thing: If I accidentally kick one ankle when I'm walking, I'll literally kick the other so that they both feel the same. It's usually subconscious. Also, I make lists like crazy (though I never follow most of them), and I have things that I have to do a certain way — like folding towels and washcloths, for example. Michael doesn't dare touch the laundry, even when I'm behind on it!

7. I "rescue" spiders when I find them inside (which I do frequently, our house being 87 years old). I catch them in a glass and take them outside. Lately, though, I've gotten lazy — but I still won't kill them, because it makes me feel bad. As a result, we have several spiders that we allow to live with us, just as long as they promise not to go anywhere near the bed.

Stay tuned for the next TMI post: All about my bodily functions.

(Just kidding.)

My freelance island

Amy Derby posted over at her new blog The Freelanceaholic Life about her freelance survival kit: all the stuff she'd need if she were stranded on a desert island with only her work. (Funny how that sounds like fun to us, but would be considered a form of torture by many non-writers.)

My freelance island tends to move around a bit. I'm like a cat: I change my favorite spot periodically. Right now, I'm spending a lot of time working at my desk, but my other favorite places include my rocker, the porch (when the weather is nice), and the kitchen table.









I used to work in bed sometimes, like Amy does, but I haven't done that in a while now.

I'm one of those people who can work wherever, so I'd probably be fine on a desert island. In fact, I often find that I get more done if I work someplace else — although I prefer the library or a coffee shop to a desert island! However, next spring and summer (and maybe this winter, too, as warm as it has been) I want to try taking my computer to the stables and working there while Panama grazes. It's nice and quiet — a perfect creative setting!

Wherever I decide to work, I always take these things with me:

* Laptop - At a little over 3 pounds, my Averatec has assumed security blanket status.

* Pen and scratch paper - Just like Amy, I find that being able to write things down is still a necessity, no matter how pro-computer I am.

* Time sheet - A little over a year ago, I started keeping track of the time I spend on each project. It allows me to determine my hourly rate for each project, and also will make the IRS happy if I ever get audited, as it proves that I really do use my laptop for work 75 percent of the time (well, more actually).

* Timer - I recently started using a kitchen timer to try to motivate me to keep my focus and not get distracted when I'm working. It works — sometimes.

* iPod and speakers/headphones - I go through phases (like right now) where listening to music helps me focus.

Also like Amy, often I have one or more of our fur-children with me. My black cat, Cleo, is my porch buddy. Either one of the cats might hang out in the office window while I work, and Prince (my white cat) likes to steal my seat in the rocker. Periodically, one or both of the dogs hang out with me, too.





So that's it — my freelance island! What does yours look like?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Elance: Changes in the air, and not all good

Apparently Elance -- a freelance bidding site that I don't happen to subscribe to -- is changing the way they do things. Kathy Kehrli has written a nice little Screw You! in their honor.

If you are a member of Elance or are considering joining, I highly recommend reading Kathy's comments. Although Elance is claiming the changes will improve the site for everyone, it's quite obvious that only Elance itself will be benefitted.

Basically, the gist of Kathy's analysis is that Elance is effectively charging more and offering less... A lot less.

I'm not crazy about the idea of paying for work opportunities, myself. Some writers find that the work they get through Elance makes the membership fees worthwhile, but from what it sounds like, that may not be the case any longer.

...Back to feast again

Just a week and a half ago, I posted about the slump in my workload (and, more importantly, my income). Now, suddenly, I'm back to feasting again... Which is, incidentally, why I haven't posted very much this week.

Within 24 hours of posting about my little famine, I had two rush projects (which, incidentally, caused me to institute a rush order policy). Then I had a brand-new client contact me completely out of the blue — having found me via my website, which demonstrates the value of a good writer's site and online portfolio. I've gotten several more projects since, one of which was another rush fee (which I quite happily charged an extra 25 percent for).

The timing of this feast is making things rather hectic. I am determined to take Thanksgiving week off completely, so I've been telling clients I'm unable to work next week. Some have been okay with that, but another wasn't — which is where my more recent rush order came from. I've been working most evenings — Tuesday night until 3am! — to make sure I get all this work done this week.

Of course, there are two payoffs to make up for the long hours this week: The income, obviously, but also the sheer relief of having an entire week off. It will be only the second one in my two years of freelancing, as I usually only get a few days in a row at most, and even tend to bring work on my vacations.

Monday, November 12, 2007

NaNoWriMo progress compared to last year

Almost exactly one year ago, I had nearly 24,000 words on my NaNo novel.

This year, all I have so far is an outline.

I'm going to blame it on the holidays, on Panama, and on an increased need for income this year. I have lots of work that I'm doing to try to maintain the luxury that Panama is accustomed to (i.e. having a roof over his head, shavings on his stall floor, and a trainer to teach him to be a nice horsey). At the same time, I'm planning to take off the entire week of Thanksgiving, so I'm scrambling to get everything done in time. All that billable work just doesn't leave much time for noveling.

With any luck I'll at least get started on my novel before the month is out...

Friday, November 09, 2007

Panama's got a new look

Panama's old halter was getting a touch too snug, so I got him a new one. If you know anything about horses, this will give you an idea of how small Panama is: The new halter is a cob size halter.

While I was at the tack store, I decided to treat Panama (well, okay, treat me) to a new lead rope, as well.



Yup. We're color coordinating now.