April 17, 2014

Thrifty Thursday tip

After this past winter of record low temperatures, you might be looking for ways to reduce your electric bill.  Here's a suggestion:  Many electronics in use these days still draw power even when not in use (you can tell by looking for red lights on televisions, DVD players, shredders, cable boxes, some vertical fans, cordless phones, stereos, etc.).  If any of these are in a hub, consider plugging them into a power strip and turning the power off when not in use.  This might not work for cable boxes if you have the type that has to re-boot whenever you turn off the power, but if you have a television, DVD, and cordless phone in the same outlet or outlets just a few feet apart, this will cut your electricity usage and subsequently, your bill.  
April 8, 2014

Re-discovering the joy

I started this year by being exhausted. I’d finally finished Secrets and Sins, and I published it on January 3rd. As I always do, I took a little time off from daily writing to let readers, both established with me and potential new folks, know about the book and its free prequel, Sinner Man. Sales were strong, which was most welcome after a sluggish November and an even worse December. I even got into the Top 100 Amazon list of women’s fiction/saga novels—not merely multicultural women’s fiction, but general women’s fiction/saga, with writing heavyweights like Danielle Steel, Debbie Macomber, and Barbara Taylor Bradford. I turned my attention to working on my next release, Love Will Grow, to complete my Love Will series.

Then something strange happened.

I found that writing was starting to feel like a chore. I knew the strong sales of Secrets and Sins would only last for so long, for my sales have been down since last fall…and I felt pressured to get the next book out ASAP, within three or four months. But it didn't feel right. Writing was supposed to be something I enjoyed, but it had turned into something I felt pressured to do.

This year has not been without its stressors, mainly in the form of health issues of aging family members. The extra stress of “gotta write” was only making things worse. 

Another problem was the Internet. It was starting to depress me. Everywhere I looked, people were posting about their books. Between hundreds of new eBooks being released every day at e-tailers and my Facebook feed clogged with dozens of requests from authors practically begging for sales, plus pleas from authors who'd gotten wind of a colleague doing something innovative and wanting to do the same thing (with a little help from their friends) became a real turnoff for me. I sensed desperation closing around me like a blanket thrown over my head. It also told me that maybe I wasn’t the only one with slipping sales numbers (authors love to talk about how well they’re doing, but tend to keep quiet when they’re not doing so well). Another sign of a downturn was that authors who always posted about their book's Amazon rankings or how they'd made a Top 100 list had become conspicuously silent. All these factors contributed to my asking myself if I really wanted to make the strenuous effort of trying to produce a book every three to four months just to try to stay in the game…and the answer was no.

Once I recognized I was going down a path of dissatisfaction, I stopped writing completely while I sorted it out. Eventually I started up again, with one major difference:  This time I wrote only when I wanted to (not because I felt I had to), because I felt compelled to put words down on paper and tell a story. I wanted to reclaim the joy that comes with writing, the simple enjoyment of crafting a story that's been part of my life since adolescence. The result: A scaled-back output, because that urge simply didn't hit me every day. 

I asked myself what else I wanted to accomplish this year.  Getting organized topped the list, with weight loss a close second (I've been trying to lose the same 15 pounds for 10 years, except by now that figure has crept up to 30 pounds). Ideally, I'll have our house organized to the point where—pardon this morbid thought—if my husband and I should get crushed by a semi or something, the kids could simply come in and go through our things, take what they want and donate or sell the rest without having to go through all that stuff that’s been sitting in the garage for years, not to mention all that stuff in three walk-in closets in the extra rooms (the only closet that’s organized is the one in our bedroom).

I’m happy to be able to say I’ve gotten quite a bit done, with several 55-gallon bags of either brand new or still in good condition clothing and housewares donated to Goodwill, plus at least one other bag that size put out for the trash man. I've also ramped up my exercise with near-daily workouts and watching what I eat, and I've lost 6 pounds. I still have much to do, but I can see the progress in both areas, and that alone will help me keep going.

And as for my writing? Even with cutting back, I recently made the happy discovery that Love Will Grow is almost complete. I know I can expect to write some additional bridging scenes as I go over it, maybe insert some paragraphs here and there to give readers more insight into the characters, but at this point a late spring release is feasible. Even with cutting back, I seem to be getting my book completed (although who knows how long it will take me to get my next project done). Best of all, I’ve re-discovered the joy of writing.

I think I’ll keep that joy, write the best story I can, and publish it when it’s ready, at my own pace. I’m my own publisher, so I’m not going to let myself go if I can’t produce enough to meet an ambitious publication schedule. In today’s world you’re only as good as your ratings or most recent accomplishments, but I’m happy to leave the stress of constant performance to mutual fund managers, advertising and television executives, sports team coaches, network news anchors…and other writers.

I might not be as prolific...but I'll definitely be happier.
April 3, 2014

Thrifty Thursday tips

I'm not a coupon cutter for grocery items--the places I shop at the most (no-frills Aldi and Sam's Club) don't take them.  But I do collect restaurant coupons, mostly for fast food like Wendy's and White Castle, which come in handy when I'm out and about and want some lunch, and occasionally for chain restaurants like Applebee's.  Nothing annoys me more than when the coupon expires before I can use them.  Then I started asking the employees if I can use them anyway, and the answer is usually yes, provided it's only been a few days since the expiration.  I got a free sub when I bought two at Cousin's Subs the other day.  So don't toss a recently expired coupon; ask if they will still accept it.

One coupon I always toss is anything that requires you to buy a sandwich, large drink, and fries to get a free sandwich...when you add up the cost of the drink and fries (both low-cost, high-profit items for the restaurant), you are practically paying for that extra sandwich.  It's not worth it to save a quarter.    
April 1, 2014

Dear Hotel Manager

We found ourselves in your city this past weekend, with plans to return home that evening, but as so often happens, we decided at the last minute to stay overnight and make the drive home the next morning. When we called our usual hotels (the Candlewood Suites and the Marriott), we were disappointed to learn that they were both sold out...apparently there was an NCAA game going on.  Our next preferred hotel, the Hampton Inn, was sold out as well.

We were about to lose hope (or settle for lodging 20 miles outside the city) when we tried calling your establishment.  We'd had an unpleasant experience with your chain in Tampa some years ago, when we arrived to find the hotel in the midst of a messy, noisy renovation, with the room itself looking like that of a cheap motel rather than the mid-range accommodations the rate suggested.  We ended up leaving and going to the AmeriSuites down the street.  Still, you were the only hotel left who was charging under $129, as everyone's rates, like roses on Valentine's Day, had shot up for the special event.

There were renovations being done at your hotel as well, specifically the installation of plush new carpet on the steps of the exposed staircase (the hallways had already been re-carpeted, even if the baseboards hadn't yet been replaced).  Our room itself was lovely and comfortable, but when my husband tried to turn on the television he met with a pink screen.  When we tried to call the desk, we couldn't get a dial tone.  I had to go down to the desk myself to inquire and was told that a) if we disconnected the power cord of the TV momentarily and plugged it back in, it should be fine, and b) that she would connect our telephone (I've never heard of a phone in a hotel room having to be turned on). 

When we tried disconnecting and re-connecting the TV, we were not successful in getting it to work, and when we tried to call the desk the phone still didn't work.  I made another trip downstairs, made it clear I wasn't happy with either situation, and the clerk came upstairs, got the TV working, and once more said she would turn on our phone.

I went to work out that evening.  Whoever decided that the workout room should be adjacent to the indoor pool and Jacuzzi, with a partial glass wall that did not extend all the way up to the ceiling, made a serious error in judgment.  Indoor pools require warmer temperatures while cooler temperatures are best when exercising, and the thermostat read 81 degrees.  I lasted for 12 minutes.  The exercise equipment itself was cheap, without any cup holders (and that water fountain with its lukewarm water was a poor substitute for a water cooler putting out cold, refreshing liquid) or book holders.  The weights of the bench press kept falling down.  I had to get someone from the desk to get the TV to come on.  

Before going to bed, I went to place a wake-up call...and the phone still did not work.  Instead I set the in-room alarm clock to the correct time and set the alarm manually. 

While your hotel came through in a crunch, we weren't impressed.  The problems we encountered were not indicative of a room that cost over $100.  The hotel looks quite nice, but I predict all those redecorating dollars wasted when someone either has a heart attack in that sauna of a workout room, or suffers injuries from a slip and fall when walking through the pool and Jacuzzi area to get to the sauna--er, workout room, because water and rubber-soled shoes just don't mix.  
That's my unhappy experience this past weekend. What are some of your hotel stay horror stories?