Agents and Editors: Do Your Due Diligence

 Do Your Due Diligence

My husband and I have been investigating local contractors prior to doing an update on our three bathrooms. Here are the results of our search. Stay with me, and I’ll relate this process to your writing career.

Contractor #1 has a modest showroom that offers a variety of product choices and designs. Their rep came to our house, took measurements, and made knowledgeable suggestions. He pointed out the electrical outlets that he said needed to be updated to code, and that would cost $150 for an electrician. He gave us a written estimate, and the pricing seemed reasonable.

We got the name of this company through ads in the unsolicited home circulars we receive. I looked the company up online. Bad reviews. Then I called an electrician as one of those outlets he’d mentioned failed. The electrician found the fault in the overhead light wiring, fixed it, put in a new dimmer switch at my request and charged only $85. He said the other outlet was fine and neither needed to be changed to be brought up to code. Uh-oh. If Contractor #1 wasn’t telling the truth about one item, what else might he suggest that would inflate the price? My husband was turned off by the negative reviews.

Here is what we have:

FamilyBR Cabinet  Shower Wall

Contractor #2 has a ritzy showroom with high-end sinks, cabinets, toilets and accessories. A receptionist greeted us upon our entry and asked if we’d like coffee or a soda. Then a salesman came to guide us around and ask about our needs. Right up front, without viewing our measurements, he quoted a remodeled shower at $10-15,000. This wasn’t for anything else we needed and seemed extraordinarily high, nearly double what the first guy had quoted. We weren’t changing the configuration, just redoing the walls and fixtures. Glancing at our casual clothes, he didn’t bother to have us fill out a customer form but gave us his card.

How did we learn about this company? It was recommended by a friend, who knew another friend who’d used them and was happy. They lived in a waterfront condo on the Intracoastal and no doubt had funds to spare. Clearly this company, with its high overhead, catered to wealthy customers. My husband didn’t care for their arrogant attitude.

Here is what I want:

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Contractor #3 has a showroom in a quiet back street downtown but not in a great area. The office is tiny with a few choice cabinetry samples as well as a narrow choice of hardware and sinks. You have to order your own tile but they would install it. We were referred to the owner by a friend who’d used her services and was pleased with the results. The lady in charge wouldn’t give us a quote until we gave her our measurements and picked samples of styles we might like. Her base quote was within range of what we’d like to spend. When I looked them up online, I found a basic website but not much else.

Contractor #4 we discovered by viewing their name on a truck in the neighborhood and seeing their workmen in action. I found their website and got the address. Where was it? It turned out to be a mail box in the local UPS store. No physical presence. As I walk around the block, I see their logo trucks in front of the neighbor’s home. They’re obviously working there. But no physical office or showroom? That’s always a warning sign for me.

So what’s our choice? We’ve asked Contractor #3 to come out with her installer and see our layout before giving us a more accurate quote, and that won’t include the cost of the tile. But so far, she’s the best of the bunch.

Which one, if any, would you choose?

So how does this lengthy dissertation relate to writing? You need to be just as careful when researching agents and editors. Do they work for a reputable firm? What can you find out about them online? Can your fellow authors provide recommendations? Who’s worked with this person or publishing house, and were they happy? Check over at Editors and Predators for warnings about unscrupulous persons to avoid. Google them online and see what pops up. Look for them on Linked In, Twitter, Facebook and other sites. In other words, do your due diligence. Don’t accept someone who looks good, like that company with the ritzy showroom. They might be perfect for certain clients but not for you. Check the approved publisher list of a professional writing organization in your genre. And determine your criteria before starting your search. If you get any negative vibes, listen to them. Here are some additional resources:

http://aaronline.org/
http://www.agentresearch.com
http://www.agentquery.com
http://pred-ed.com/
http://www.publishersmarketplace.com
http://www.querytracker.net
http://www.savvyauthors.com
http://www.sfwa.org/Beware


Tomorrow I’m at the Kill Zone speaking about “Avoiding Info Dumps.” Be sure to visit!

 

 

Hurricane Season

Hurricane Season officially began on June 1st. Are you prepared? It’s supposed to be a mild season, but you never know. So here’s a list of what to do if you see the orange cone of concern coming your way.

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HURRICANE PREP LIST

1. Buy bags of ice. Put on lower shelves in freezer, and later in fridge if power is out, so melting ice doesn’t flood the interior. Or freeze water in plastic containers ahead of time to help keep food cool. Turn fridge to colder setting ahead of storm.

2. Buy bottled water and fruit juices; sports drinks if you like them. Fill unused plastic pitchers at home with tap water and refrigerate for drinking.

3. Have enough snack foods in stock. Fruits that keeps well: grapes, apples, bananas. Buy bread for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

4. Cook and eat perishable foods. Hard boil your eggs, and make sure you cook dinner early in case the power goes out.

5. Consider boarding your pet at a kennel or make plans to have a secure place for the pooch and enough supplies.

6. Backup important computer files. Send an email to yourself at another online address or to an out of state relative or friend with your important data files attached.

7. Bring in all loose objects from outside.

8. Do the laundry.

9. Perform personal grooming essentials. It’s hard to shave and wash hair with no lights, and the water might get contaminated.

10. Fill gas tank in car.

11. Get extra cash to have on hand. ATM’s won’t work in a power failure.

12. Pay bills.

13. Charge cell phone and other portable electronic gadgets.

14. Prepare list of repairmen and tree trimmers who might be needed.

16. Buy hand sanitizer and moist wipes in case the water is contaminated.

17. Have paper plates and cups on hand along with plastic utensils and paper towels.

18. Stock up on trash bags to clear away debris.

19. Place a flashlight or battery-run lantern in each room. Buy extra batteries, cooking fuel if necessary, duct tape, and a roll of plastic sheeting. Candles can be a fire hazard and they don’t provide enough light to read by in the dark.

20. Put insurance papers and other important documents into a plastic bag for quick departure or store copies in a separate location.

21. Eat all the ice cream in your freezer!

hurricane

Watch the weather reports at:

National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/

National Weather Service, Miami: http://www.srh.noaa.gov/mfl/?n=tropical

The Weather Channel: http://www.weather.com/

 

Maryland and D.C.

Besides attending Malice Domestic, we visited relatives in Maryland and got to see some new sites. My husband and I toured the National Building Museum in downtown D.C. We rode the Metro, which is easy to figure out and still a thrill for us tourists. The National Building Museum is a majestic building, with a Great Hall filled with tall (75 feet high) marbelized columns and high ceilings. Constructed in the late 1800’s, it has served as the seat of eighteen inaugural balls including Barack Obama. A small café and a fun gift shop reside here as well.

National Building Museum  National Building Museum in D.C.

Columns in Museum   Gallery in Museum

We saw an interesting exhibit called House & Home which explained the difference between the two terms and showed replicas of housing construction from the early days to now. Objects on display recalled simpler living and took us through various eras. Museum admission is free but the exhibits have a fee.

We ate lunch one day at Spices Asian Restaurant with my cousin. This was one of our best meals.

Spice Restaurant

We visited Brookside Gardens at the conclusion of Malice. What a delight! Behold the colorful blooms. It was perfect weather to stroll among the flowers.

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Flowers  White Flowers

Flowers  Flowers

We walked into the rear section by a tranquil lake where you can sit and watch the ducks. I’ll remember the peace and tranquility with fond memories.

Lake  Lake

Turtles  Duck

Our trip took us back to Orlando, where we spent a couple of days at Disney’s Epcot and Hollywood Studios. We noticed the Norway pavilion’s museum now has scenes relevant to Frozen. We saw an extended preview in 3D for the upcoming film, Maleficent. Angelina Jolie looks evil in the role of the nasty witch. This live-active film is a sure winner.

And finally, I spoke on a panel and at an MWA-sponsored breakfast at the Florida Library Association Convention. Here I am with fellow panelists Miriam Auerbach, S.L. Menear, H. Terrell Griffin and Joanna Campbell Slan.

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This trip was a perfect combination of business and pleasure. And now it’s back to work. I hope you enjoyed journeying with me on my latest travel adventure!

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Have you been following my blog tour? Here are the sites if you want to catch up:

May 13, Tuesday, Socrates’ Book Reviews – Guest Post “Plotter, Pantser, or Prepper?”
May 14, Wednesday, Melissa’s Eclectic Bookshelf – Interview
May 15, Thursday, Thoughts in Progress – Review, Interview
May 16, Friday, Author Expressions – Interview
May 16, Friday, Read Your Writes Book Reviews – Review
May 17, Saturday, Chloe Gets A Clue – Interview and Giveaway
May 19, Monday, Queen of All She Reads – Guest Post “The Mystique of Bones”
May 20, Tuesday, Books-n-Kisses – Review
May 21, Wednesday, The Kill Zone – Post on “Discovering Story”
June 3, Tuesday, Cats, Books…and More Cats! – Interview

 

 

And check out my Contest page for ways to prizes!

Changing Seasons in Florida

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Florida’s Change of Seasons by Nancy J. Cohen

How can you tell it’s Spring in Florida? Bougainvillea burst forth in vibrant colors. Coconuts ripen on the trees. The last cold fronts of the year sweep down from the north. Then suddenly, the humidity rises and winter is over.

Flowers ElDorado Bromeliads

Yes, we have changing seasons in Florida. You have to live here to notice the subtle changes.

Trees do shed their leaves, but only certain varieties and at different times of the year. Vegetables grow in winter, not summer. Ducks and birds visit in the winter, escaping the arctic temperatures up north.

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The most distinctive changes are the wet and dry seasons. From November to May, we experience low humidity and temperate climate. Sometimes it can drop into the 40’s in South Florida, but that’s as cold as it gets. Winds bring cold fronts and chilly air down from the north.

Sunny skies, temperatures in the seventies, and cool mornings bring tourists to our coasts. Orange trees produce fruit during the winter while farmers grow tomatoes, squash, eggplants, and more. Alligators sun themselves so if you’re a gator watcher, you have a better chance in the winter to spy the creatures than the summer when water levels rise.

But everything changes in May. The humidity returns along with the heat. And then the winds change again, bringing stormy skies from the Caribbean and the Gulf northward into Florida. June to November is our hurricane season, and afternoon thunderstorms are frequent. You learn to bring an umbrella because you never know when a quick tempest will sweep by. This is the season when our lychee tree bears fruit and our banana plants thrive on the extra rainwater. Flooding is a hazard as the canal systems get overwhelmed and the groundwater table rises.

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Regardless of which way the wind blows, you can play outside nearly any day in Florida or luxuriate in air-conditioned comfort. You can see flowers bloom year round and watch palm fronds sway in a balmy breeze. If we give up snow and ice or daffodils and dogwoods for this privilege, it’s worth the sacrifice. Florida has its own change of seasons that must be appreciated accordingly.

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Nancy is the author of 20 romance and mystery novels. She writes the humorous Bad Hair Day mystery series and the paranormal Drift Lords series and is a HOLT Medallion winner. Many of her stories are centered in Florida. https://nancyjcohen.com

Leave a comment to be entered into a drawing for an ebook copy of Keeper of the Rings.

What do you like best about Florida?

 

Jambalaya

The original inspiration for this recipe came from a cooking class I’d attended in New Orleans. Over the years, I’ve modified the recipe, preferring easy ingredients and preparation. So here is the Lazy Cook’s Jambalaya.

The Lazy Cook’s Jambalaya

2 Tbsp. oil
9 oz. package Perdue Short Cuts Original Roasted Chicken Breast
2-11 oz. packages Hebrew National reduced-fat beef franks
2-8 oz. containers fresh diced onions
2-8 oz. containers Trinity Mix (chopped fresh green pepper, celery, onions)
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups uncooked jasmine rice
1 bunch green onions, chopped
8 oz. diced fresh tomatoes
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Cut up the chicken and hot dogs into bite-sized pieces. Set aside in different bowls. Assemble the other ingredients.

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In a soup pot, sauté the franks in oil for flavor and then remove to bowl.

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Next add diced onions, Trinity Mix, basil and garlic to pot and sauté until tender.

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Return franks to pot along with chicken, tomatoes and green onions. Add broth and bring to a boil. Add rice, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes or until most liquid is absorbed.

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Mix in parsley and serve. Makes 6 servings.

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Add a fancy garnish if you wish. Serve with a side salad.

Tombstone, Part 2

A visit to Tombstone, AZ isn’t complete without a stop at the Bird Cage Theater, which is supposed to be haunted. It’s fascinating to explore the varied sections of this old establishment and view the artifacts stored there.

Opened in 1881, this one-and-a-half story structure held a saloon, theater, and balcony seating. It closed due to diminishing business in 1889. Subsequent owners renovated and reopened the theater for various purposes. Ghost stories kept guests coming back.

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One of the supposed ghostly residents was a jealous woman who lived next store and frequented the theater. She died by overdosing on rat poison. Another tale involved two ladies who liked the same man. One woman stabbed the other while the man watched from his poker game. Some guests have reported seeing a stage hand walking across the stage. Others report seeing a woman’s apparition on the catwalk, smells of perfume or cigars, objects moving on their own, and other phenomenon.

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Since the fictional ghost town in Peril by Ponytail, my WIP, has an old theater like this, you can guess what I used as a model. Here’s brief excerpt where Dalton’s cousin is giving him and Marla a tour of his renovation project:

“The only thing we have to fear here is other people.” Dalton’s statement put them firmly back on the ground. “So you’re saying what the man saw on the hill might have been a real person, and he went to investigate, never to return?”

“That’s not what my workforce believes. They think he saw La Catrina summoning him to glory. I took a look around there myself and came up empty. These stories about spooks are hogwash, if you ask me.”

Marla wasn’t so sure. She glanced up as a shadow flickered in her peripheral vision. Was someone up there in the rafters?

A rattling noise sounded right before a chandelier came crashing down from above.

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So what do you think? Did a ghost loosen that heavy chandelier or a human culprit?

We couldn’t resist touring the Epitaph Museum that housed the old printing press where they put out an early newspaper. How far we’ve come from this cavernous hall to the newsrooms of today.

Tombstone is a great place to visit. It’ll make you appreciate our country’s history, the early pioneering days, and how rough life must have been for the settlers. You can pay homage to them at Boothill Graveyard on your way out of town. Note the Jewish monument below.

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See all the trip photos here: http://fw.to/SB2DmEH

Year-End Splash Party at The Romance Reviews; November 1-30. Register and win up to 400 prizes! Look for mine, a Kindle copy of Shear Murder, on Monday, November 25. http://www.theromancereviews.com/event.php

Tombstone, Part 1

If you’re a history buff or a fan of historical recreations, you’ll want to visit Tombstone, Arizona. This site of the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral has been remade into a tourist town with quaint shops and restaurants, museums, and a reenactment of the gun battle that resonated throughout history.

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We stayed at the Landmark Lookout Lodge, an easy ten minute drive from the heart of town. The oldest house dates back to 1879. The town started when a cavalry scout discovered silver. When he proposed exploring the hills, he was told, “The only thing you’ll find out there is your tombstone.” Hence the town name.

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The Good Enough Mine is open today but we didn’t have time to go. This one has a vertical shaft and is located off Toughnut Street, so-called because if you could walk outside without being shot or stabbed, you were a tough nut. The mine went down 600 feet where it hit the aquifer, so water had to be pumped out. It closed operations when silver prices dropped.

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Along this street worked the attorneys who served the courthouse, now a museum. There’s still a gallows in the backyard where seven men were hanged. The white fenced house a little further down used to be a pleasure palace, if you know what I mean.

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We took a trolley tour, and our friendly guide wearing a brown cowboy hat explained the sights along the way. There was Doc Goodfellow’s house. He signed an outlaw’s death certificate and lived on Toughnut Street. The sheriff’s house was here, too. A couple of thousand Chinese used to live in Tombstone. They worked as merchants and miners. Their women ran prostitution and opium rings. The guide pointed out many of the historic buildings, telling stories that went along with them.

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Back on the main street, we shopped in the interesting gift shops, ate in the saloons, attended a historical diorama in a little theater, and bought tickets for the infamous gunfight reinactment. If I got the info correct, 30 shots were fired that day and 3 men were killed. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday are the featured heros. Here is my first attempt at a video.

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How does this relate to the story I’m writing? In Peril by Ponytail, Marla and Dalton visit a dude ranch run by his cousin, Wayne. Wayne’s father is renovating a nearby ghost town. Guess what I used as a model? My fictional town is loosely based on a combination of Tombstone and Jerome (Oct. 30 post).

Coming next: Tombstone, Part 2—The haunted Bird Cage Theater and Boothill Cemetery.

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See all the trip photos here: http://fw.to/SB2DmEH

Year-End Splash Party at The Romance Reviews; November 1-30. Register and win up to 400 prizes! Look for mine, a Kindle copy of Shear Murder, on Monday, November 25. http://www.theromancereviews.com/event.php

Bisbee Copper Queen Mine

Entering a copper mine deep inside a mountain was one of the more awesome things we did on our trip to Arizona. Gathering inside the main building at the Bisbee Copper Queen Mine, we explored the rocks for sale inside the gift shop until our group was called.

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We were each given a brass tag with a number, like a real miner. These would survive in case of an explosion or cave-in to identify the bodies. This was called “brassing in” when miners reported for duty. At the end of his shift, the miner would turn his tag back in to the timekeeper. Here’s a replica from the Bisbee historical museum of the timekeeper’s station.

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Then we each went along an assembly line to get outfitted. With assistance from a seasoned miner, we donned yellow slickers, lights around our necks, belts and helmets. From here, we boarded a tram for our ride into the mountain. We sat astride like on a horse. A bell clanged, and the tram jerked forward. A gap yawned in front of us as we moved ahead. Wheels creaked as we entered a dark tunnel with chiseled rock walls.

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We glimpsed other passages leading off into pitch blackness as we rattled deeper into the interior. Rocks glistened in places from crystals. Dust-covered ore carts and discarded tools lay about. The only way we could see in the dark was with our lights. Wood supports shored up the walls at intervals. Loose rock was “barred” or secured behind metal bars.

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This mine, unlike others, was cool with a temperature in the fifties. That’s because air flows in from outside. We rode horizontally into the mountain. Other mines go straight down. Those mines are hotter and need air pumped in. This one evolved from a natural hole and was discovered by army scouts in 1877. Because methane gas wasn’t a danger here, miners could smoke in these tunnels. However, the men had to hand roll their cigarettes so they would go out if dropped.

Riding on the tram, I felt someone tap my head. I twisted around. My husband hadn’t done it. Who, then? A ghost? Mines were rife with accidents: explosions, cave-ins, tumbles down the shaft, falling rock. Who knew how many workers had died there? Unexpectedly, lots of orbs showed on some of my photos. Spiritual entities or dust motes? More scenes from the museum.

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Eventually we came to a stop and got off at a big dug-out chamber where our guide explained about mining methods. Miners worked by candlelight and swung a pickax to break off rock from the walls. If the rock was too hard, they drilled holes in the rock using a steel drill bit and a sledgehammer. They’d put in a stick of dynamite and light the fuse. This broke up the rock and expanded the tunnel. They’d transport the ore to chutes. It went down into ore carts which were pulled by mules. The mules lived in the mines. When their time was up, they were taken to the surface with blinders on and their vision gradually restored so they didn’t go blind from the brightness.

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We saw the metal toilets where early miners did their business as they toiled for 12 hour shifts underground. Those seats must have been chilly!

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If a miner needed to reach the surface, he’d tug a rope pull by a cage. The cage operator would send down the open wood platform. We saw the boss’s tricycle (or similar conveyance) by which he checked on his men twice a day.

They pumped in air and water. The water cut down on dust, which could damage the lungs. The compressed air was used in machinery-operated drills once they became available. Today, the mines are tested for radon gas. Other types of mines have to be tested for air and methane gas. You can light a candle to see if there’s air flow. Parakeets were used to detect dangerous gases. Miners would equip themselves with a helmet, candles and matches, lunch pail, and sometimes a survival kit or gas mask.

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Copper doesn’t deposit in veins like gold. It’s mixed in the ore, so processing techniques are needed to separate it from other substances. It would have been sent to a stamp mill for crushing and refining. Side products could be gold, silver, zinc, lead, and other minerals.

I learned a lot more when we went to the history museum in Bisbee, after a pleasant lunch in town. Bisbee is built among the hills and has some interesting shops and restaurants as well as a historic hotel.

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I won’t bore you with further details about mining, but they were fascinating. The method used today is called the open pit technique. You can see the results at the Lavender Pit. It’s not a pretty sight.

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Disclaimer: Any inaccuracies are due to my note taking and not the information presented.

You can see more photos here: http://fw.to/SB2DmEH

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How does this relate to my story? In Peril by Ponytail, Marla and Dalton are staying at an Arizona dude ranch owned by his uncle. Raymond is also renovating a ghost town that used to be a former copper mining camp. Marla’s exploration of a hillside where a worker vanished leads to an astounding discovery. Consider the information above and use your imagination to determine where Marla and Dalton find themselves next.

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November Booklover’s Bench Contest Nov. 4 – Nov. 18
Enter to win a $25 Amazon or BN gift card or one of six runner-up ebook prizes, including a pdf copy of Warrior Rogue. http://bookloversbench.com/contest/

Year-End Splash Party at The Romance Reviews; November 1-30 (Look for my prize, a Kindle copy of Shear Murder, on Nov. 25!) http://www.theromancereviews.com/event.php

Taking Time Out

Since Saturday was a religious holiday, and that meant we couldn’t conduct business, I took the day off from social networking and working on my book projects. Other than saying prayers and reflecting on life, what else did I do? I got caught up on reading newsletters. I read magazines for pleasure, learning about such diverse topics as a camel trek across the African desert, the latest medical research findings for certain diseases, the dangers of plastics to one’s health, and exclusive adult hideaways on cruise ships.

It was luxurious to lie on my couch and read. I took a nap. I peeked at my email but didn’t answer messages. And I did a bit of household filing, nothing too taxing.

It was easier than expected to liberate myself from the social networks. In fact, I lost all ambition until the evening when I sat and wrote the entire blurb for one of my upcoming projects.

So you see, it pays to take a break even if it’s a morning off. Your brain cells rejuvenate. Newly refreshed, you’ll return to work primed and ready to pump out the creativity.

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How did you spend the weekend?

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***This Tuesday all day, I’ll be answering questions over at Goodreads in the Romance Readers Reading Challenges group under “Ask an Author.” I’ll put up a link when I get one.

 

 

Crime Victim

Although I write mysteries, my only connection to the real world of crime has been through seminars with specialists in the field. Now I can finally claim a true crime experience of my own.

Our Orlando condo had a break-in and all jewelry plus portable electronics were stolen. The thieves tossed our clothing onto the floor, knocked over a lamp, riffled through the master bedroom dresser and nightstand, and took two pillowcases plus two entire drawers from our lovely dresser.

We felt violated, insecure, and sad for our daughter whose lifelong collection of jewelry had been taken. These included graduation and birthday gifts, heirlooms from her grandmother, gifts from her friends, and designer pieces we’d bought for her on our Caribbean cruises. The sentimental value is greater than the actual value.

Insurance doesn’t nearly cover the cost of everything. Her company was easy, listing her losses over the phone. Mine requires receipts or appraisals, photos and replacement values. Doing all of this paperwork has consumed my attention in recent weeks, which is why I haven’t posted here until lately. Fortunately my blog tour picked up the slack, since I’d already written and submitted those pieces. This experience has been an education. I’d advise you to check your insurance policies. Coverage on valuables is very limited. You might want to itemize certain items of value. Make sure you have everything you own well documented.

Our bedroom dresser has to be replaced. Right now it has two gaping spots from the missing drawers. Really? The burglars had to ruin my piece of furniture?

I am angry at the crooks who have no respect for anyone’s property. I am dismayed by the delay in replacing our damaged front door. The thieves used a crowbar to gain entry and damaged both the door and the frame. It’s taking our homeowner’s association weeks to get a new door that fits the code. Meanwhile, we’ve instituted a monitored alarm system and additional security measures.

The fallout from a theft takes a toll. We haven’t even begun to shop for replacement items, but the dresser will be a priority. We’ve made two unexpected four-hour trips to Orlando to deal with these issues. This means two weeks of work lost and other chores gone undone, not to mention the cost in gas and meals.

I cannot imagine what it must be like for someone who loses their home and all their possessions in a fire or other natural disaster. How horribly sad and unsettling. In the case of a break-in, though, you feel more paranoid. You realize your home isn’t sacrosanct. No more do you feel safe from invasion.

One bright spot in all of this: Our kids discovered the Beck Brothers blueberry farm and they picked a bunch of sweet berries. So I made blueberry bread and blueberry coffee cake.

Blueberry Cake