Thursday, January 31, 2013

Searching, Searching

I'm talking discoverability today, but not book discoverability, although that's a sizzling-hot topic among writers. 

We accept that book-buying behavior has changed because we only have to look at our own habits to know it's true. Ten years ago, most of us would have balked at the thought of browsing for books online. We wanted to hold books in our hands, sniff them, skim the contents, and study the cover art. Today, we still want to do all of those things, but we're also hooked on the convenience of online buying and have learned to appreciate algorithms that suggest new titles based on past purchases. Speaking of suggesting new titles, in-person personal recommendations, presumably from friends, co-workers, bookstore personnel, librarians and others continue to be the top driver of book sales.

But we're not discussing book discoverability today. I've got a burning question and need answers.

How do you find clothes that fit well and make you look good?

Once upon a time, I'd have trekked to the mall and whiled away a Saturday afternoon trying on clothes. These days, I lack the desire and free hours for an afternoon of clothes shopping. When I do venture to the mall, it's to buy something on an as-needed basis, which rachets up the stress level and almost guarantees failure.

To complicate matters, I'm a woman of "a certain age" and cuts, lengths, and colors that once flattered no longer do. I'm also losing weight and reluctant to pay big bucks for clothes that may (I hope!) not fit in six months.

The Internet is a shopping mecca, but it's hard to determine fit, the feel of a fabric, and its color and drape. A book buyer who shops online may be disappointed with the actual rendering of a book cover, but that disappointment won't propel her to return the book. A red shirt that skews orange when the buyer hoped for true red will go back.

Catalogue shopping is convenient but presents the same roadblocks as Internet shopping. With both, it can be a hassle to repackage and ship back garments that don't fit.

If we’re lucky, sisters/friends/coworkers/exercise buddies will offer store names, the names of favorite saleswomen, and will urge us to try on their recent purchases. "Just try it, and I promise I'll shut up." If we admire garments worn by our most forthcoming pals, they'll tell us where they got them. Helpful!

Just as publishers and authors experiment with ways to get books into the hands of readers who will appreciate them, clothing manufacturers, Internet companies, and retailers are looking to match garments with the appropriate wearers. 

Gwynnie Bee is one such matching service. It bills itself as the Netflix of clothes. Instead of sending subscribers two DVD's at a time, it sends out two items of clothing. When a piece is returned, the next in the customer's virtual closet or queue is sent out. (Disclosure: I am not compensated by Gwynnie Bee for this post. Indeed, I've paid the company's subscription fees for three months and may subscribe for a fourth.) The company's concept fascinates me because it introduces subscribers to clothing manufacturers who may be new to them and encourages the trying of different styles while minimizing financial risk. (The subscription isn't cheap, but neither are the mistakes in my real closet.) 

Three days ago, I received a Gwynnie Bee item that surprised me in a good way. It looked great on me. I'm not bragging; I'm saying, Maybe it's not all downhill from here. Would I have picked the garment out of a catalogue or an online site? Nope. I put it in my queue/virtual closet only because a dress from the same manufacturer had fit well. The looks-good-on-me garment spurred me to go to the manufacturer's website where I found the item on sale and ordered it in two colors. Score! Score!

I'd like to tell you every garment I've received from Gwynnie Bee looked at least okay on me, but some were duds. Then again, I've taken clothes into fitting rooms and discovered they looked better on hangers than on me. Also, although the company says its clothes are for women size ten on up, I'd say it suits size twelve and up. Petite women and very tall women may not find enough garments to make a subscription worthwhile. 

The Gwynnie Bee concept excels at assisting with/enabling discoverability. In addition to the one manufacturer whose clothes I ordered, I've bookmarked the websites of two others. Once I've crawled out of my clothing rut, however, I plan to cancel my subscription. In other words, Gwynnie Bee will do a good job and subsequently lose my business. 

Life is so unfair.

Answer my burning question, please: How do you find clothes that fit well and make you look good?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why I Walk

I could tell you I walk to lose weight, keep my blood pressure in check, and reduce stress, but I'd be lying. I do it for the scenery, and by "scenery" I don't mean the guys who run bare-chested.

A bayou flows alongside the path in my local park, and the sight of its muddy water lifts my spirits. In some places the stream's banks are high and it's easy to see how water carved a path through the forest. In other places, the water trickles by or slips and slides over rock.

One day I might spot a turtle sunning on a fallen tree limb, and the next I'll see a blue heron. Or a possum. Or an owl.

The water's a constant. So is the path and my inherent laziness. After I've clocked the first quarter-mile, though, the going gets easier. Somewhere around the one-mile mark, my head clears and worries disappear. The next mile puts me in the zone, the zen moment, the delicious present.

I've tried mall-walking and walking in my neighborhood but failed at both because they lacked the extra something that prompts me to put on shoes and head out the door: the ever moving, ever-changing bayou.

If you've had trouble sticking to a fitness resolution, consider taking it to a place that's easy on the eyes. The work-out won't be easier, but the scenery will distract you from your aching muscles or the work you've left behind. If you're lucky, it will raise your spirits.

If you've kept to a fitness schedule, what's your secret? Do you listen to music while on the treadmill, catch up on recorded TV while stair-stepping, or run against a mountain backdrop? What's the extra something that gets you started?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Links for Writers, Cake for Everyone

Writing's on my mind, and I read how-to articles and pieces about publishing when my work is finished for the day.  Five articles or blog posts recently caught my attention, so I'm sharing them.  (If you're not a writer, scroll to the end of this post for a cake recipe. You won't be sorry.)

First up is an article from The Virginia Quarterly Review. Kathleen Schmidt offers insights into and predictions for book publishing in 2013. Don't skip over the book buyer/reader statistics from Bowker that were presented at the recent Digital Book World conference.

Digital Book World and Writer's Digest surveyed authors and found one-third of traditionally published authors are interested in self publishing

Writer Chuck Wendig delivers 25 hard truths about writing and publishing. Read them all, but pay special attention to the last one: "You can’t control publishing. You can’t control the audience’s reaction to your book. Control what you can control, which means: write the best book that lives inside you."

Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Last Runaway, applies "less is more" to her writing.

Bonus: For a great round-up of articles for and about writers and writing, bookmark The Author Chronicles' Top Picks Thursday

In unrelated news, my France-inspired dinner party last Sunday proved a success. The Barefoot Contessa's (Ina Garten's) recipe for boeuf Bourguignon rocked, and I turned to an old friend dessert that wouldn't be out of place in France

Sometimes my absorption with all things French crowds out my absorption with writing. Early this morning, I turned on my bitty laptop and saw a list of articles to read, including: Your Personal France. I clicked tout de suite, only to discover wishful thinking (and poor eyesight) had swapped France for Finance.  A personal finance article at half-past dawn? That would be a non.

Your turn: share your favorite source for writerly information, name your favorite dessert, or both. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Thank You, Dear Abby

In the sixties, like every decade before and since, young girls who worried about a peeping-tom neighbor, fretted their parents' arguments would lead to divorce, or despaired of ever developing breasts could discuss their fears with a trusted adult. But what if the topic made both girl and adult tongue-tied? What if there were no trusted adults around? Where did that young girl turn for help?
Forget about advice-show television because it didn't exist. The Phil Donahue Show entered syndication in 1970. Sally Jesse Raphael made her TV debut in 1983, and The Oprah Winfrey Show aired in 1986. 
Forget about Googling a question. The World Wide Web didn't come online until 1993.
Luckily, young girls in the sixties, me included, learned lessons in the school of life from the Friedman sisters: Eppie and Pauline, better known as Ann Landers and Dear Abby.
The sisters were in their thirties, married, and parents when they started their newspaper advice columns in the mid 1950's. In other words, they brought motherly instinct and experience to straight talk about subjects considered taboo in many families: sex, money, religion, and race.
They were conservative yet open-minded, tolerant but proper, compassionate but quick to pounce on the willfully clueless.
In most newspapers, advice columns ran in the same section as the comics, so generations of kids kept up with Archie and devoured letters from or about jilted brides, betrayed husbands, jealous co-workers, and nosy mothers-in-law. 
Thanks to the Friedman sisters, a sheltered girl like me understood grown-up life could be complicated, unfair, and heart-breaking.
Last week, Dear Abby's Pauline Phillips died, a little more than a decade after her sister, Eppie Lederer/Ann Landers. Jeanne Phillips, Pauline's daughter, has written the Dear Abby columns since 2002 and will continue. Ann Landers' columns ended with Lederer's death in 2002. 
One of my daughters claims Maury (Povich), Ricki Lake, and Montel Williams helped her develop street smarts. I thank Dear Abby and Ann Landers for mine.
Dear Abby's often repeated New Year's resolutions are here. In addition, readers of the New York Times share the most helpful advice they received from Dear Abby's columns. 
Your turn: Who is your most reliable source of relationship advice? 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

There's a Saying for That

My father is a man of few words and preserves them for life's big moments. For the small-to-medium sized ones, he relies on a dozen or so sayings to convey his reactions and opinions.

When a third-grade bully, high school frenemy, or crankyboots boss does something that baffles or hurts his children or grandchildren, my father gathers the confused one close and says, "They're out there." He doesn't mean aliens. "They" refers to those who don't have his sense of honor and justice. He set the bar high for both.

He executes an eye roll and says "There goes another flock of them" every time a rabid  but incoherent group asserts its rights but pooh poohs the rights of others. Recently, though, he's used the saying for the Canadian geese that dine on his just-sown grass seed.

For decades, my father has done the food shopping and is always willing to try new convenience foods. He's also a fan of labor-saving household appliances. His saying, "less work for mother," is popular with my mom, his three daughters, and one daughter-in-law. When he and my mother used to visit Houston, he'd want to take my little family out to dinner every night. I'd protest. "But, Dad, I made a turkey." My father couldn't understand why I'd do such a thing. "We'll go out. Less work for mother."

My husband adopted "less work for mother" and won't bat an eye when I ask him to pick up a pizza on Friday night. Thanks, Dad.

Does anyone in your family using sayings as verbal shorthand? What expressions would your family trademark if they could?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How the Internet Saved My Dinner Party

This is the ideal. My version's yet to come.

I'm planning a dinner party for friends visiting from out of state. The party part is easy because they're the kind of people who bring the celebration with them. It's dinner that's tricky. Know the feeling?

Are you wondering why I don't pull out one of my three tried-and-true menus for company? Alas, these friends know the first names and nicknames of my old standards. It's possible they left Texas to get away from my Artichoke 'n' Chicken Alfredo over Wilted Spinach. (It's an easy yet impressive recipe from Southern Living, but I've lost count of the number of times I prepared it.) 

Because my pals spent ten weeks in France last summer, I decided on French food but not as a theme. Instead, I want to pay homage to their grand adventure. 

I rifled through my cookbooks, but nothing looked right AND easy. What to do? I called on Monsieur Google, who came to my aide with the Barefoot Contessa's recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon

Who doesn't like Ina Garten, aka the Barefoot Contessa? On her cooking show, she exudes calm and friendliness. Alas, I am a worrier and a big believer in Murphy's Law, so I asked Monsieur Google for examples of real people who had made the Barefoot Contessa's Boeuf Bourguignon. He did not disappoint. Indeed, he ushered me into the world of food bloggers.

Mon dieu! I've long been a fan of The Pioneer Woman and appreciate the photos that accompany her step-by-step recipes. I've seen Julie and Julia and read the memoir by Julie Powell that inspired the movie. Yet, did I know there are thousands of camera-wielding food bloggers out there? I did not. Nevertheless, they exist and form America's test kitchen.

These food bloggers tweak and modify recipes--just as I do. Of course, I tweak in the privacy of my own kitchen and hate to admit I left out a certain ingredient because my kids won't eat it or went without something else because it cost the earth. Food bloggers, bless 'em, tell all. And because they do, I am going to use The Amateur Gourmet's trick for lighting cognac and Confessions of a Chocoholic's tweak of tossing in the onions earlier in the process. (Confessions of a Chocoholic wanted to make sure the onions cooked. I want to be able to talk to my guests without the distraction of running into the kitchen to add an ingredient late in the cooking.)

Whew! With an appetizer, salad, and some crusty French bread, I'm home free. Wait! I forgot the best part.

Monsieur Google, s'il vous plait, find me a fast and easy French dessert.

Your turn: Who or what saves your bacon when you plan a meal for company? Recommend a food blogger to me, won't you? I need kitchen inspiration.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

With a Little Help from My Friend

Tuesday marked Lark Howard's last blog post for Reading, Writing, and Rambling. I'm grieving, but she has a demanding (and important!) day job and a manuscript to deliver to her agent. Something had to give, and she'd already banished her television set to gain fiction-writing time. 

I'm grateful to Lark, who has inspired me in half-a-dozen ways. Let me explain.
  • Remember the cool girl in high school? You know, the one who talked to everybody but had an edge and was interested in, say, alternative music while everyone else was bopping to a boy band? That's how I see Lark. I count myself lucky she invited me to sit at her table in the cafeteria.  (That's not to say I've become cool by osmosis. I'm still uncool, but my horizon's wider.)
  • Many jobs ago, my horror of team projects was triggered by a couple of individuals who flat-out refused to pull their weight. Slackers lurk everywhere, and more than one group blog has failed because members claimed they couldn't think of anything to say, didn't support one another, or muffled one another with topics to avoid and stances to uphold. Lark has had my back from day one. She's easy to work with and reliable. (Yes, publishers, consider this a letter of recommendation. Snap her up.)
  • Even when writing's a slog and the frustrations mount, Lark doesn't whine.
  • All work and no play leave writers without a thing to say. Even though she has a lot on her plate, Lark feeds the muse with movies, books, day trips, longer journeys, and the occasional adventure. I think I'm daring when I buy a Groupon for a tapas restaurant. She buys one for a flight lesson over Houston. 
  • Lark's love of all things French reawakened my inner Francophile—the one that had been slumbering since I had children and put away chunks of myself as too many moms do.
  • Writing is, by its nature, solitary. While writers share work and gab face to face or via email with critique partners and beta readers, lonely stretches are part of the gig. Through this blog, I've gotten to know Lark and count her as a friend. Best gift ever!
I'm going to keep reading, writing, and rambling. Thanks to everyone who's stopped by and commented over the past year and a half. I hope you'll continue to visit as I struggle to discover enlightenment, publication, the perfect vacation spot, good health, cheap and delicious red wine, and an exercise plan that whittles away inches but doesn't require me to break a sweat. 

Godspeed, Lark! 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Paris, November 2012
About two years and 231 posts ago I started this blog with the intention of posting about books, movies, writing and travel. A few months later, Pat O'Dea Rosen agreed to join me and since then has enhanced my modest endeavor with her wit and insight, and in the process has become a dear friend.

As happens, my life took an unexpected turn last summer--a good turn, but one that added a great deal of complexity to my world. I've had to make some hard choices and one of those was to bow out of the blog. Pat will carry on and I'll certainly stop by and say hi. This, however, will be my last post so I thought I'd go back to the beginning and talk about my favorite subjects.

Three books stood out for me in 2012--two were part of Amanda Stevens' Graveyard Queen series. I loved 2011's THE RESTORER and was thrilled the next two, THE KINGDOM and THE PROPHET, were released this year. Amanda is a master of the Southern Gothic genre who never disappoints. I'm eager to read her new YA series.

The third book has been at the top of the New York Times Hardcover list and for good reason. Gillian Flynn's GONE GIRL had me on the edge of my seat with all its twists and turns and the ending totally blew me away. This book proved to me that conventional wisdom--characters need to be likable in this case--can be reinterpreted with great success.

Of all the movies I saw this year, my favorites were THE AVENGERS  and SKYFALL. Both were action flicks but of a very different tone and nature. Superhero flicks haven't always appealed to me, but who could resist Robert Downey Jr as Ironman and Chris Hemsworth as Thor? And both in the same movie? Yes!! RDJ was the glue that held the cast together and CH was just hot and cool. If there's an AVENGERS 2, I'm totally on board.

I was never a Bond fan until the Daniel Craig era. As much as I've liked Sean Connery in other movies, I just never got Bond. The pretenders, we ignore. DC's dark, tortured Bond has hooked me with his all too human  flaws. In SKYFALL we're taken on a wild action ride that also addresses the demons within Bond, M and the deliciously evil villain. It's still in the theatre. Go. Now.

Carving out time for writing this fall was a challenge but I had the chance to see James Scott Bell at the Northwest Houston RWA's Lone Star Conference in October. I highly recommend his workshop for anyone who struggles with story structure like I do. He uses movie structure to illustrate how to write a novel that will grab and hold the reader. An added bonus--this structure is also very helpful in writing the dreaded synopsis.

Last year my rambling took me to Paris over Thanksgiving. Although my husband and I have been to the City of Lights together many times, this was one of the best of our visits. For anyone planning to spend more than a couple of nights there, I want to give you a piece of advice I wish I'd had years ago: rent an apartment in a part of the city close to things that interest you and become Parisian for a short while. There are many websites with offerings from modest to luxurious and some now take credit cards. These places are generally comparable in price to a decent hotel room and you'll have a kitchen enjoy some meals in and a sitting room to rest and recoup after a day sightseeing.

That wraps up my final thoughts but I'd love to hear from everyone about the highlights of your 2012...or just say good-bye. All my best wishes to everyone for a wonderful 2013!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Out with the Toxic, In with the True

I vowed to skip New Year's resolutions this year and planned to carry on with my good intentions of 2012: write and exercise more, eat right, spend more time with friends, blah, blah, blah. As it turns out, resolutions not to make resolutions fall by the wayside as fast as the real thing.

A post from Kristin Espinasse, whose French Word a Day blog is one of my favorites, made me sit up and pay attention.

Even if you break out in a cold sweat when you recall high school French class, read Espinasse's post, s'il vous plait.

Her description of herself as she struggles to recall her neighbor's dental woes could be me and, I'm pretty sure, you.

We're swimming in work and household chores, and it's hard to eke out time for those closest to us, yet one or two of our entitled acquaintances won't think twice before demanding our help with something they could do themselves. If they're not after help, they want attention. Or an audience. Or a yes-person.

Here's Espinasse: "I thought about some of the squeaky wheels, or, as Mom calls them "toxic relationships" that have derailed my focus. Whether pushy or manipulating or narcissistic—they are caustic! These are individuals who make me feel I should do this or I should do that (most often for them!). They say, in so many veiled words, "you owe me!" 

As our energy flows to the squeaky wheels, we overlook the quiet non-complainers, like Espinasse's neighbor with the toothache. We ignore those who soldier on and wouldn't think of asking for a little encouragement, a shoulder to lean on for a few minutes, or someone to listen for half an hour, tops.

Espinasse plan for 2013 is to muffle the demands from toxic individuals by picking out seven people who truly need her time and attention. Here she is again: "It is time to reclaim needed energy and to get attention back on track and focused on toothless angels. I have chosen 7 people to pay more attention to in the coming year. Far from 'squeaky wheels' you wouldn't even know it if they cried themselves to sleep last night, and sadly, they may have."

I, too, will distance myself from toxic (to me) people this year and focus on those who really need me. I've picked out my seven. How about you?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Pins and Posts of 2012

New Year's Day. Hmmm. This is probably a good time to reflect on the lessons of 2012 and make resolutions for a happy, healthy, prosperous 2013. Instead, here are some of my favorite posts on Facebook and Pinterest.

Writers get this.

Someone also wrote: "Writer's block is when our imaginary friends stop talking to us." Hate it when that happens.

I thought this inspiring and hereby resolve to step outside my comfort zone more often in 2013, to go places I've never been and try new things. Zip lining, anyone?

A 86 year old woman once told me she felt 35 inside. She wore stylish clothes, traveled, had lots of friends of all ages. This made me think of her and what I learned from the way she lived her life.
Mystery solved:

 Another great one for writers and readers. This week I spent many hours in Paris, the British Virgin Islands and Wyoming without ever getting on a plane.

And this was just so delightful, I had to share. Anyone who has ever had a Lab or known one, knows it is just dead on!!!

Wishing everyone a wonderful 2013! Anyone have resolutions, thoughts or humor to share?