Greeting Cards, Ground Meat, and Good Books

five dollar in the pocketGoing shopping with a five dollar bill? It may not buy as much as it used to but you can still get something for your money, right?

Suppose you want a valentine card for your love. According to an Atlantic article by Derek Thompson, Americans will spend $860 million on 150 million Valentine’s Day cards. That’s roughly $5 per card. Why have greeting cards gone up in price so much?

greeting card for Valentine's Day

  •    Lack of competition – Hallmark and American Greetings control the market with some sales by PRGCO
  •    Marketing costs
  •    Price of workers in China – What? Yes, up to 30 Chinese workers do tasks like applying glitter, ribbons, or sound  chips in musical cards. Almost all “sound cards” are produced in China
  •    People don’t want to look cheap, especially when the card recipient can turn it over and see the price. After buying an expensive card, wrapping paper, and ribbon, many gift-givers end up spending $100 for  a $75 gift.

Still, for a piece of paper with a picture and some words, you might be better off having a child make one.

Maybe a good way to spend that money burning a hole in your pocket is to buy something practical – food to make dinner. But here’s another item that used to cost a lot less. It seems odd to pay $5 for a pound of ground meat when you can get steak for $9,99 a pound or chicken for $1.99.

A tray of fresh lean ground beef from supermarket isolated on whThough the world’s largest supplier of ground meat, family-owned Cargill, assures us that they minimize animal stress, and take every precaution to make the beef safe, some people are still troubled by buying it. And the lasagna, spaghetti, or chili you make with it could add to your waistline.

As a writer, I can’t help but suggest a book to buy with the money that took 2/3 of an hour to earn if you make minimum wage ($725/hr). Whether you prefer to hold a book in your hand as you lay on the couch and read, or enjoy e-books on a reader device, books are more entertaining than a card or meat. (My last book, Mystery at Pima Point was reviewed as “easy, fast and enjoyable” on Amazon for only $2.99 for the ebook with the print version only slightly more.) Anyway, there’s something special about buying a reasonably priced book that doesn’t happen when you buy over-priced cards or meat, I think. And you can bet the author put much more time into producing it than Chinese workers dabbing glitter on or machines grinding beef.

How to help Indie Authors – A Primer

Help other authors and yourself as well.

P.C. Zick

Help an IndieHow to help Indie Authors – A Primer for family, friends, fans, and other Indie Writers

It’s not easy taking the route of Indie Author or any route as an author. The field is crowded, and it’s hard for readers to sift through it all. So in addition to writing, most of us Indies spend a great deal of time promoting our work. Most of us try not to annoy our friends and family, but it’s inevitable that many of them will see our promotional stuff. So as we move into the holiday season, I’d like to give some advice to anyone associated with an author. Also, there’s a little bit of advice for other authors as well. I wish you peace and relaxation during the coming season. Take the time to read a book, maybe even from an Indie Author in your life.

Besides buying the books of your…

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On Writing, Sports, and Money – Getting from Lack to Knack

JBCfootball     Multi-musings by Jeanie Clemmens 6/4/14

Loud clapping and shouts of “Give me a W-R-I-T-E” woke me very early this morning. My inner cheerleader wouldn’t stop and continued, S-H-A-R-E. You can see what she looked like at 6 a.m.

 

beauty cheerleader

I said I can’t (and don’t want to) jump as high as you do, but I’ll put you in my blog, if you go away.

Here’s the result:

SUGGESTION FOR WRITERS

So your well-written and meticulously edited book hasn’t captured the attention of an agent or sales are not as good as you’d hoped – FORGET ABOUT IT and WRITE ANOTHER BOOK.

“What,” you say, “how can that work? Wouldn’t I just end up with even more books that don’t sell? What about the money for producing, publishing, and marketing additional books?”

You can find reasons (ad nauseum) to not move on and you can question why your book is not a best-seller when you know it’s good, but who hits a home run their first time at bat?

Well, to be fair, 28 major league baseball players have hit a home run in their first appearance in the big league. See who  First time writers have produced best-sellers, granted, but what are the odds? (I don’t know and it’s shameful that I do know the odds of hitting a hole-in-one in golf  are 1 in 12,000 or 1 in 3756, if you’re in the PGA.)

The point is: the players don’t stop swinging when they miss. Now, you could argue that some of them  get paid a lot of money  to keep trying , but if it’s only money you’re interested in when you write, this blog won’t help. (Advice giving is not my specialty and I only share what’s written here because my inner cheerleader threatened to land on me if I didn’t).  Others have advocated the “Write More” philosophy and I didn’t really get it until I tried it.  The main problem with writing more books seemed to be:

LACK OF MONEY 

In between paychecks or after a budget killing expense is the worst time for a lot of people. “I need to get this” or “We can’t even go to…” are statements you don’t want to hear from your family, or even yourself. Some say finding things to do that don’t require money is “fun” but deep down you’d have more fun if you had more money, right?

Reading books and magazines (I already have) over again, baking the stale brownie mix from the back shelf of the pantry, or hitting practice golf balls in the backyard help me to pass the time until money arrives, but everybody has their own distraction and you should use what works for you.

Girl from support group, cheerleader with flag, silhouette

It helps if you put a LOCK on negative thoughts, adjust, and get through it. Forget what you consider lack of success with your first book, take what you’ve learned and write another. If you can’t afford to edit/publish/market the second one, write a third one while you’re waiting for (or working for) extra money. LOCK on a destination and head for it.*

LACK       LOCK       KNOCK      KNACK *

* Note for word puzzle fanatics, I know of no way of going from “LOCK” to “KNACK” by only changing one letter. Therefore, I bent the rules and changed “l” to “n” and added a “k”).

KNOCK yourself out, figuratively, and work harder at improving little things in your writing. While you should forget about the voices in your head that say “I’ll never get an agent”, “I was foolish to think I could write” or “I  LACK” such and such”, pay extra attention to the ones that say “I should expand my characters” or “Maybe I could edit better”.

Whatever honest criticism you give yourself has to be transformed into a better writing experience the more you write. (I won’t even address the issue of writers who have such a high opinion of themselves that they don’t see that they need to improve, let alone know how to do it. The ones who continually put out trash or keep trying to write the “perfect” bestseller are also excluded. They are the extremes; not the mean).

While you’re at it, KNOCK on doors (query agents, use promotion sites that are free, and ask for reviews). You don’t have to completely ignore your previous books to focus on the new one.

I’m far from a seasoned writer, but the more I write, the more I believe I might someday acquire the KNACK (I wasn’t born with) to write. I don’t ever expect to get the KNACK of doing splits and waving pom-poms, however. I will leave that to my cheerleading muse – but if she wakes me before 7 a.m.on a Saturday ever again, I’m going to take those pom-poms and _______ well, I’ve said enough.

A soccer field with an energetic cheerdancer Have a good write! Jeanie

Photo credit: All images here were purchased from fotolia.com. Golf statistics are from kidzworld.

Seafood Comes From the Sea, Right?

If you’re not lucky enough to live on a coast and have to buy your seafood inland, your choices are limited to supermarkets and maybe a fish market in a downtown strip district. I’m a writer, so why aren’t I writing my book like I did Something Fishy in Manhattan? Because sometimes I get stuck writing and my mind strays to what kind of FISH or SEAFOOD I’m going to make for dinner.  I started my research  by searching our supermarket’s weekly ad. A number of specials were IQF Salmon, fresh farm raised tilapia, and Alaska Sockeye Salmon: wild, natural, and sustainable; previously frozen.

I pictured dinner like this:Grilled salmon and vegetables Photo: Fotolia

What I didn’t know until I looked it up was that IQF wasn’t the company that provided the salmon but stood for Individually Quick Frozen instead. I had a lot to learn about fish, especially where it comes from. I’d finally gotten used to swai being sold at Walmart – it’s a “river-farmed catfish” of the Pangasius family – but according to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium in California (an authority on seafood and supplier to Whole Foods) the swai could be from the Mekong Delta or the Mississippi Delta which could make a difference in whether I bought it or not. Clearly I needed to research some more and find out the difference between farm raised and wild caught seafood.

50% of seafood worldwide is farm raised, according to NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration), by aquaculture.

Opponents of this type of breeding claim substances like antibiotics and chemical polutants can be added and prove as harmful as mercury levels which can be higher in wild caught seafood. Fortunately in the U.S., companies like Whole Foods practice responsible aquaculture as do their suppliers, Blue Ocean Institute and Monterrey Bay Aquarium. But the U.S. imports 91% of the seafood that Americans eat and only inspects about 2% of it. It seems best to buy farm raised seafood from Whole Foods or at least look to see where it was raised. That is not to say that farm raised seafood from other countries is necessarily bad. You have to trust that your local supermarket is careful, that’s all. One of ours had an ad for Snow crab from the icy Bering Sea. I would have no problem buying that. Here’s an aquaculture farm:???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? Photo: Dreamstime

The water looks clear and on the right, aerators add oxygen and provide flow.

50% of the world’s seafood, of course, is wild caught. I sometimes hesitate to buy it because you hear about higher mercury levels but the truth is that the health benefits (omega-3 acids) far outweigh the risks, and because the fish are not confined and swim freely they are less fatty than most farm-raised ones. That Organic Girl recommends wild caught seafood even though it can be 3 to 4 times more expensive. Incidently, there is not yet a standard for organic seafood so it is an incorrect usage if you see fish labelled “organic”.

The most enticing ads I saw were these two:

Wild Japanese Hokkaido Sea Scallops

Previously Frozen Wild Caught Fresh Scallops

I love sea scallops. I’m leaning toward getting the Hokkaido ones because we were just in Japan a few months ago. We ate all kinds of fish, cooked and raw, and had no idea where they came from. Everything was delicious including the green caterpillar (avocado and fish sushi) and ayu fish pictured below. Although Lent is over, the U.S. Department of Health suggests that we should eat more seafood – at least 3-6 oz per week or more – and that seafood on shelves at local supermarkets is safe to eat. In 2009, Americans ate 4.833 billions pound of it. Happy seafood shopping.

DSCN0121_118DSCN0108_105

I almost forgot one more fish thing: Don’t eat fugu (blowfish) unless you have death wish or you could end up like the villian in my book, Something Fishy in Manhattan (It’s less expensive on Smashwords, here, than Amazon above).

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What type of books do you like to read?

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Do you usually read only one genre of books? Maybe, like me, you read a lot of different types of books, but still have a favorite variety. I’ve included children’s books, but since most people read to their children or grandchildren (at least I hope so), only choose that categaory if you actually read them yourself. I’m interested in what books are the most popular, but I also wonder if there is a correlation between WordPress readers and readers of a particular genre. Vote below and see the results here.

COLD? Japan has heated toilet seats

An added bonus of getting to see my son (who has lived in Japan for three years) was the surprising abundance of warm toilet seats everywhere we went on our twelve day trip there this holiday. Why don’t we have these in America?  It was unexpected but not surprising that The Narita Airport Radisoon had them, but was a welcome “touch” in restrooms all across Tokyo.

We left the Radisson and took the shuttle (stuck in downtown traffic over an hour) to Tokyo train station. Hungry, I used the Japanese that I had learned (to please my son) to get us a table at a small restaurant. I knew enought to do that but when the waiter spoke back in Japanese, I had to say, Watashi wa Nihonga wakari masen -(I don’t understand Japanese). He told me “Two minutes” and gestured for us to stow our luggage near the cashier’s desk. I didn’t see my husband and son-in-law point to pizza and try to hand gesture that he and I and my daughter and son-in-law would share 2 pizzas, but I wasn’t surprised when he placed 4 on the table. We laughed and ate, retrieved our luggage and bought tickets to Tachikawa. Again I used my Japanese to find out which platform we needed to be at for the train (densha) to Tachikawa. The ticket agent understood and said  “1 and 2” right away. We took the correct one on platform 1 instead of the local on 2. Our son met us in Tachikawa. A seven minute walk took us to the Toyoko Inn and we checked in for five nights.

Mornings at the inn included free breakfast which consisted of rice with seaweed, lettuce salad, curry rice, sometimes pork balls, eggs scrambled with mayonaise, rice with vegetables, cabbage. miso soup, and more rice. It was a basic workingman’s breakfast and we ate with chopsticks as there were no other utensils provided.

New Year display's in Ginza

New Year display’s in Ginza

Yokohama Port

Yokohama Port

Anime districtAnime district

Day trips during our stay there included Yokohama Port, Chinatown, The Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, the Taiko (drum) museum, Ginza (like Beverly Hills) and The Anime District in Akiba. The temples and shrines get crowded on New Years as the Japanese flock to them on that day to pray. Although the massive Kaminari-mon (gate) was swarming with people taking pictures it was not the most crowded we had been. On an early train ride the next day, we were forced to stand and hold on. We watched in horror, though, as more and more people got on at every stop until the doors wouldn’t close anymore. We were totally squished for three more stops until a lot of people got off at Shinjuku, the busiest train station in the world.

Avocado caterpillar sushi

Avocado caterpillar sushi

This sushi was a highlight for me because two of my characters in my book, Something Fishy in Manhattan, shared one on a date. They made it with no extra effort at the Sushi restaurant, although it took a little longer than the other orders. Stupid good.

Mt. Fuji from lake Kawaguchi

Mt. Fuji from lake Kawaguchi

You can’t miss magnificent Mt. Fuji but I declined the cable car the others took up the side to get a better view. I shopped at the chalet village. Another great trek is to Nikko where the national treasure “real” shrines and temples are. We completed our meditation started there with an hour at an onesin (hot spring bath) – warm and clothes-free but gender separated. We are a close family, but not quite that much. Sorry, no pictures.

Tokyo Hilton at Shinjuku

Tokyo Hilton at Shinjuku

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Shibuya

Shibuya

A little karaoke, some great restaurants found with the help of the hotel concierge, a trip to Shibuya to see the Hachi dog statue ( heart-melting movie with Richard Gere) and numerous sumptuous buffets and our trip was almost over. We spent the last day viewing our son’s acting accomplishments on Japanese TV and had steaks at Cowboy Family (sort of a Japanese Hoss’s). It was a memorable trip. but I don’t think anyone will forget the warm toilet seats. Again, why don’t we have these in America? This recent cold snap begs for them.

Just don't use the functions if you're not  seated

Just don’t use the functions if you’re not seated

Something Fishy in Manhattan by JB Clemmens is available at Amazon. I wrote it before I went to Japan, but I found the customs to be as written.