Friday, December 31, 2021


Find Your People

It's New Year's Eve and of course I'm spending it at my house. (That's not because of the pandemic. I always spend NYE alone. You think I'm going to a party with a bunch of drunk strangers? Nah.) I just remembered that I need to walk my dog before it gets dark so there will be fewer fireworks during the walk.

(Look, I'm generally a pacifist, and am against the death penalty in principle, but I'd gladly take a broken bottle to the jerks setting off illegal fireworks and scaring dogs.  So... I guess I'm a bad pacifist. It's a work in progress.)

My only goal for next year is to change my Todo List to a Tada List because I think the whole idea is kind of hilarious but also maybe a good brain hack.

In other news, my friend H just made the cake I made earlier and sent me a message asking if mine raised at all. So I had to confess that mine was pretty dense, but part of that was because my oven Just Ain't Right so I had to bake it twice as long and it still wasn't completely done. But then H mentioned that she made it without the vegetable oil or molasses which is exactly the sort of thing I would do, so it makes sense that we are friends.

Anyhow, I hope 2022 brings everyone joy and now it's time to go walk the dog.

Obligatory Dog Picture

Alaskan husky lying in leaves with a lichen covered log in front of him

He really is ruggedly handsome, isn't he?

Thursday, December 30, 2021


Dead White Dudes

Back in the mists of time (aka, when I was in school), I read a lot of books. I mean, I spent nearly all my time reading, but I also read a lot of novels for school. Times and reading lists have changed, but for the most part we only covered of the "classics" which meant a lot of books by dead white dudes (DWDs).

There were two problems: 1) I was mature for my age, but I was still a teenager, and 2) I was not an old white guy who lived in the 1800s (or whenever). Very, very little from those books resonated with me. I think we covered 5-10 books a year during all four years of high school AP English (yes, I read Lord Jim along with four other snoozers over summer break one year) and I can only think of one (Pride and Prejudice) not written by a DWD.

College was not much better. We had a 5-quarter humanities sequence which skimmed parts of the Old Testament, raced through a few Greek Philosophers, and then spent most of the time on Locke, Rousseau, and their buddies. Yep, 4+ more quarters of DWDs.

(I can only remember one book in all of my first 12 years of school not written by a white person — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It did not resonate with me in a whole different way. Aside from the racial themes, I knew nothing about urban settings, the time period, or New York in general. I suspect I would appreciate the book more now.)

I think most school reading lists have moved on from this excessive focus on DWDs, at least a little. But part of what happened in my schooling was I sorta learned about theme and symbols and all that stuff, but since the books were just an exercise in tedium, I didn't really see the point. Yes, I could rattle off the green light at the end of the dock was a symbol for hope (because someone had written that in the margin of my used copy of The Great Gatsby), but I memorized what I needed to know and washed my hands of it afterwards.

Fast forward forty years. As part of treating writing as a career, I work on improving. So I was watching one of the conference presentations on craft, and the speaker pointed out that theme is the difference between watching a movie that's okay but forgettable and watching a movie that you remember weeks later.

And something clicked.

So I guess this is a letter to all those English teachers who were really trying their best but got stuck trying to get me to make connections that I was never going to make purely because of the source material.

I think I finally get it now.

Obligatory Pet Picture

Little tan fluffy dog sticking her tongue out

Ah, Ginger. She was always so dignified.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021



I'd never had a persimmon until a few years ago. I think I got some in my CSA box. They were great!

Then, at some point in the last two years, I realized my neighbors have a gigantic persimmon tree that hangs over the fence into my yard. How did I not notice this in the prior 15 years? I'm not really sure. My dog also discovered persimmons, and now I know it's persimmon season because he wants to go out and look for fruit that has dropped into the ivy.

But today I discovered that not all persimmons are the same. When I went to my sister's house yesterday, I learned she has a persimmon tree. These fruit were were larger and pointier. I brought some home.

I cut one up today and split a slice with my dog. The dog thought it was fine. I thought I had just eaten a slice of baby powder. I'm serious. It sucked all the moisture out of my mouth and left my teeth coated with a powder. Not a great experience. So I decided to google.

Turns out that Fuyu persimmons (like my neighbors have) can be eaten when the fruit is still firm. But you should wait until Hachiya persimmons (such as the ones on my sister's tree) are soft and ripe before eating.

I have done the experiment for you. Follow the internet's advice.

I put the rest of the slices into my air fryer and dehydrated them (uh... if you do this at home, an hour is too long) and the resulting chips were quite tasty. So I can either wait until the other four persimmons are ripe, or make them into persimmon chips.

So there you go. Now you are wiser as well.

Obligatory Pet Picture

tortoiseshell cat sitting on box with a trail of styrofoam bits across the floor

"Styrofoam? No, I haven't seen a box with a block of Styrofoam. Why do you ask?"

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Casting Off

Story of the Day

I met up with my family today and hopefully (fingers crossed!) we did not pass around viruses to each other. I haven't been in the same place with all my siblings for a few years, so it was nice to see everyone even if I did spend 4.5 hours driving today. And I only got on the freeway going the wrong direction once!

Anyhow, of all the catching up stories I heard, the funniest was probably about my youngest nephew. When he was just under a year old, he broke his leg going down a slide and had to have a cast on his leg. They stopped using his high chair during that period because one day his cast got caught on the edge of the tray when they were lifting him out, and the baby came up but the cast fell on the ground. Oops!

(And of course, my family being my family, we all immediately asked if they tried to just... slip it back on. They did. It didn't work. They had to go to urgent care and get another one put on.)

The other high point of the day was showing everyone my finger which I jammed last night and is now a lovely shade of purple. Apparently I will never be too old to try to gross my siblings out with stuff like that.

Obligatory Pet Picture

Alaskan Husky looking straight at the camera with a serious face

So serious!

Monday, December 27, 2021


Sun Tzu Knew Where to Keep Family

I got a text message from an "unknown" number that was just a picture of the "Welcome to Woodland" sign that is at the offramp of the freeway five minutes away from my house.

The number wasn't really unknown — google phone no longer forwards texts to your phone. Instead, the picture was forwarded to my email, but it didn't pick up my phone contacts to give the sender a name. The end result was I got this weird email in the middle of the afternoon from a phone with an unknown area code having just a picture of a nearby landmark attached.

Luckily, my life is pretty threat-free, so I figured out it was from my sister. She flew into the nearby airport with her family, and they were driving to my brother's place to spend a few days. Assuming all goes well, we will all get together tomorrow and hopefully not exchange life-ending viruses.

But there was a fraction of a second there when I thought some weirdo was coming after me...

Obligatory Pet Picture

Alaskan Husky lying in leaves in front of a lichen-covered branch

You would never guess I had food in my hand, would you?

Sunday, December 26, 2021


In The Before Times

I used to have a grocery routine. Every Saturday evening around 9pm, I would either drive or walk the dogs to the store with the cart. One fifteen minute cruise down the aisles later, I'd be done. Boom. It was a regular Saturday evening thing and I knew all the cashiers and we would spend a few minutes talking.

Then COVID-19 hit and suddenly grocery shopping might be a problem. Maybe. Unless it wasn't. Who knows? Luckily, Nugget has had an "everybody will wear a mask" policy for the last 20 months and in all that time I've only seen one person in the store without a mask. But it's still a closed building with a bunch of strangers who may or may not be sick.

For a while I was eating a lot of DoorDash meals, but then I switched to cooking nearly all my meals. I got a CSA box of produce (and certain other stuff I select) delivered every week. With bread and eggs delivered along with my veggies, I don't need stuff at the grocery store.

So now I go to the grocery store once a month, often early in the morning. I don't know any of the cashiers any more (at least not the ones working early morning shifts) and it's not really the social outing it used to be. I keep putting it off. I haven't been since before Thanksgiving.

But I have to make food to take to my sister's house on Tuesday, so I'll be going tomorrow and I'm kind of dreading it. It's amazing how something that was a part of my routine has turned into a chore I've been avoiding for a week.

Obligatory Pet Picture

Alaskan Husky lying on a pillow on top of a couch

He's not spoiled at all...

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Maybe Nobody Has Any Taste

Test, Test, Test

One of the things marketing experts will say over and over again is that you have to test everything.

So I tested the BookBub ads I made last week. I ran four different ads with the same budget and the same author targets at the same time. The only difference between them was the image I used.

It wasn't the cute one that got the best response. Oh no, it was the objectively ugliest of the four. This one:

Ad text: Crime Fighting Gets Better at 50. $0.99. On the right is the cover for Death Walks a Dog by Tess Baytree.

That image/color combination looks like it was stolen from a 1970s K-Mart. And yet... that's what got the most clicks.

Having said that, I should point out that this ad still lost money. It just lost less money than the other three. It's going to take some time and effort (and cash) to figure out the best authors to target, i.e., people who like author X might also like this book, before I even break even.

Obligatory Pet Picture

Close-up view of a grey cat's feet

Guido's toe beans wish you a Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2021

The Cake is a Lie

Adult Test

A few times every year, I test myself to see if I have magically transformed into an adult.

Here are the steps:
  1. Bake a cake
  2. Acknowledge that eating too much cake will make me feel ill.
Did I eat enough cake (chocolate gingerbread bundt cake — without the frosting because I haven't been to the grocery store in over a month) last night to make me feel ill? Yes. Did I still feel sick when I got up this morning? Yes. Did I then eat more cake? Again, yes.

Clearly I am in no danger of becoming an adult this year either. But it's always good to check.

Obligatory Pet Photo

black cat resting in a box

Every day is Boxing Day for some cats. Ripley loved to eat them, too.

Thursday, December 23, 2021


She Sells Seashells? ... How?!

I've mentioned before how terrible I am at selling things. It's coming back to bite me again.

I signed up for an affiliate account at Amazon, because why shouldn't I get a few extra percent when I send people their way? They have a ton of rules about where you can and can't use affiliate links (eg, not in email or on social media!), so it's not too surprising that my entire affiliate income after multiple months is $0.10. And I don't even get that because it's not over the payment threshold.

The real problem is they shut down your affiliate account if you don't have at least three qualifying purchases within 90 days. (And it turns out that one of their rules is you're not allowed to tell your friends to click on your affiliate links and then go buy their Christmas presents. Which... I mean, that would have solved my three qualifying purchases problem, but the rules say I'm not allowed to do that, so I didn't do it.)

Okay, so if there's no money in it, why am I even bothering? The answer: marketing. If I run ads for my books on some platform other than Amazon, I will know how many people click on the ad, but I won't know how many of those people went on to buy the book. Paying 10¢ per click on a $4.99 book is fine as long as more than 1 in 34 of those people buys the book. But if only 1 in 50 people who click on the link buy it, I'm losing money with every click.

Tracking affiliate purchases of the books allows me to figure out that number. Or it would, if I was running ads yet.

Anyhow, I guess I'll just let them shut down the account and then apply again later when I have more traffic going to my website. (Optimism! Next year there will be more traffic going to my website!)

Obligatory Pet Picture

Three buff Orpington chickens looking at the camera suspiciously

From back when my neighbors had chickens...

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Shop Talk

Paid Newsletter Promotions

(I warned you I'd write about the author business if I ran out of topics in December, right?)

One way to market a book is through a paid newsletter promotion, such as BookBub, Robin Reads, Free Booksy, Bargain Booksy, etc. If you've never heard of any of those, they're newsletters that go out to readers who have indicated they'd like to hear about bargains or new releases in specific genres. So you can sign up for BookBub and get email every morning with 5-10 books that are either free or deeply discounted.

Those services are free for the reader, but cost money for the author. The prices vary depending on the list and genre. BookBub featured deals can be over $1000, but they generally do really well. Yesterday I had my first newsletter promotion for my cozy mystery novella through Robin Reads. Total cost to me: $65.

I dropped the price for Death Walks a Dog to 99¢ a few days back (so I could be sure the price had changed on all retailers). Robin Reads only has links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but there's a difference between the two. 

If a book is between $2.99 and $9.99 on Amazon, the author gets 70% of the retail price. If the book is below $2.99 or above $9.99, the author only gets 35%. So for a 99¢ book, I'll receive just under 30¢.

At Barnes & Noble, it's 70%, even for a 99¢ book.

So if you do the math, to break even from just the books sold at 99¢, I would need to sell 217 copies at Amazon, or half that at B&N.

In reality, it looks like I sold about 84 copies on Amazon and 7 copies on B&N (which comes out to 14 Amazon equivalent copies). We'll assume there are a few stragglers who haven't opened their mail yet and call it 100 Amazon copies total. That's less than half of what I need to break even.

So was it a waste of my money?

Well... it depends. Hopefully not. If people read the first book and enjoy it, hopefully they will go on to buy and read the next two books (and possibly the Christmas novella as well). Since those are still full price ($4.99 per full-length book, $2.99 for the novella), that would be an additional $6.99 - $9.08 per reader.

So if at least 5 of those people who bought the first book keep going to buy the other two books, I'll have made back the amount I spent on the promotion.

Let's just keep our fingers crossed, shall we?

Obligatory Pet Picture

Tortie cat on a red plaid cat bed in front of a pink wall

A picture of Crow the cat from three years ago. She was a good cat even if she did end up on rabies quarantine...

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Missed Me!

My History With Dogs

I got email from a friend last night saying his son-in-law had a young German Shepherd that needed to be rehomed.

My first reply was along the lines of "There's a NorCal GSD rescue group. Start there." But then I added a quick "What kind of lemon is this dog?"

I mean, I'm down to one dog. If I move out of the country, it will be much easier with fewer pets, and it's not like I have extra income at this point, so I've been resisting the urge to look, but I've traditionally been a sucker.

Dog #1 was old and blind, and turned out to have some pretty severe separation anxiety. I loved her dearly for five years, but she was definitely a lemon.

Dog #2 was old and deaf and had a tumor that made one leg twice the size of the other. Molly was also the stupidest dog I have ever met, but I don't necessarily consider that a bad thing in a dog. The opposite can be a real problem. Molly boarded for a week over the holidays one time, and she absolutely did not remember who I was until we were halfway home. I could see the exact moment when it clicked. She was a sweet dog, but also a bit of a lemon.

Dog #3 was on her fourth or fifth home by the time she came to me. Am I a little dog person? Absolutely not, but Ginger managed to weasel her way into good dog status in our house. She was only kind of a lemon.

Dog #4 was physically healthy but so traumatized by being in the shelter they couldn't evaluate him for safety. Georgie had all kinds of weird behaviors and fears — doors were a huge issue for months, and he still won't push them open on his own.  He definitely started out as a lemon.

And that's where we are today. It turns out this other dog was found on a solar farm out in the middle of the desert, so he may not inherently be a lemon. But he's not good with cats, so that makes him a non-starter in my house.

Anyhow, if anyone without cats is looking for a ~9-month old GSD, let me know.

Obligatory Pet Picture

Big dog and little dog seated on grass looking at the camera

Dogs 3 & 4. Georgie is wearing his "No longer a lemon" medal.

Monday, December 20, 2021


We're Still Here, Dangit

When the vaccines became available early in the year, I'd hoped we were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. But... Yeah. Too many people are getting rich/powerful off the gullible, so it's December and here we are.

I'm supposed to be going to a family gathering next week. It would be nice to go — I haven't seen my middle sister or her family in a couple of years, and nobody is getting any younger. Everyone who is old enough to be vaccinated will be vaccinated, but that's no guarantee.

Anyhow, I can't control anything other than my own risk tolerance, but I know I'd feel better if everyone planning to spend six hours indoors together had a negative test that day — even if someone is sick, they likely won't be actively shedding much if the test doesn't pick it up.

So I started trying to order rapid test kits for everyone. But they aren't easy to find. I've ordered some, but I'm not sure they will arrive in time.

It's my own fault for not thinking of it earlier, but ugh.

Obligatory Pet Picture
Lovely Alaskan Husky mix running on sand

Action shot! (Back when we used to jog more...)

Sunday, December 19, 2021

The Scrawl

 My Little Purple Book

I have a hardbound Artist's Loft book that I use to take notes about random things. Sometimes I put in story ideas, other times it is snippets of overheard conversations, a sketch of an area, or quotations.

Lately I've been using my current book to take notes in while I'm in workshops. I've always been a kinetic learner — if I write something down by hand, I'm more likely to remember it. But my handwriting is kinda terrible, so my books end up looking like this:

Image shows an open book with tiny, illegible handwriting all over the pages.

The good news is I can still read everything. The bad news is I still don't have an indexing system...

Obligatory Pet Picture

Fluffy little dog with a Christmas hat

(Photo from last year) Ginger always tried to be good, even when I made her wear an elf hat...

Saturday, December 18, 2021

All the Examples Must Be the Same

Two Books

I attended a writing conference (virtually) in November in which most of the presentations were recorded. Since then, I've been slowly catching up on all the presentations I missed. (They had about 5 tracks running concurrently, so there was no way to go to all of them, even if I'd done nothing else.)

As with most conference presentations, some were really helpful, some were probably worth more to people in a different position than I'm in, and some were just useless. Is it entertaining to hear some old dude namedrop during anecdotes about authors who published in the 1980s? Sure. Is it at all useful? Absolutely not.

But one of the things I noticed was how many people based their presentation examples on two books/series. And I get it. It's hard to find books that everyone has read. But I swear 90% of the presenters based their examples on The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, and in most cases they were basing things on the movies, because even in a group of authors, people are more likely to have seen the movies than read the books.*

Here's the problem: Despite reading thousands of science fiction and fantasy books, I've never made it through Tolkein. And I watched The Lord of the Rings in the theater with people from work and was so bored I was counting ceiling tiles and hoping all the characters would just die so we could leave. I read maybe two of the Harry Potter books when they came out and fell asleep during the first movie. (And honestly, JKR has shown herself to be such an asshole that I'd be happy just to see the whole series disappear at this point.)

If someone could tell me the secret to writing like Martha Wells or Ann Leckie? I'd be all over it.

So now I'm watching these presentations, trying to get something out of them and hoping anything I'm learning isn't going to be the kiss of boredom to my manuscript.

* Please note, I'm not saying you can't enjoy The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. You're allowed to have your own opinion. I'm just saying I didn't think they were very good.

Obligatory Pet Picture

Lovely Alaskan Husky mix lying on grass in bright sunshine

Remember when it wasn't gloomy and cold all the time? Georgie remembers!

Friday, December 17, 2021


I'm a Professional!

One of the standard ways to market a book is to drop the price on the first in series (or make it free), pay for advertising, and then hope people buy the next books in the series.

That only really works if you have at least three books in the series, and I'm finally there with the Penelope Standing Mysteries. So it's time to advertise!

Ad for "Death Walks a Dog" with copy: "Crime Fighting Gets Better at 50"
Attempt 1: Meh...

Here's my background: school, electrical engineering degree, UNIX system administration, programming, DVM, veterinarian, back to programming, and writer.

Ad for "Death Walks a Dog" with copy: "A New Leash on Crime"
Attempt 2: Maybe too crime-y?

You'll note that nowhere is there anything to do with visual arts or marketing. I was getting frustrated at how bad I am at creating ad images today when I remembered that people train many years to do this for a living. So maybe I shouldn't feel too bad about my attempts.

Ad for "Death Walks a Dog" with bloody paw prints
Attempt 3: I hate all fonts

(Which isn't to say I don't need to learn and get better. But still.)

Anyhow, I'll probably run all of these for a bit (after I drop the price on the book, of course) and see which one has the best click-through rate.

Ad for "Death Walks a Dog" with bloody footprints and a cartoon dog
Attempt 4: Dogs!

Obligatory Pet Picture

Grey cat in a cat bed with a sweet potato

Guido and Jorts snuggling together...

Thursday, December 16, 2021



Finished the rough draft read-through last night, added the three remaining scenes this morning, and I was about to ship the thing off to my critique partners (hey, it's only a week late...) when I realized I still had to assign chapters. Luckily that's pretty easy, so I finished that and ::dusts hands:: that novel is out of the way for a bit.

(Ugh, I just remembered I still need a title for it.)

Now it's on to the next thing... which should be adding an ending to the first season of the Vella series, but I need a break from endings for a day or two. So I'm going to study some stuff related to writing craft and maybe noodle a bit on a serial I'm writing to practice some things I've learned.

I'm my own boss. I can do this sort of thing.

Obligatory Pet Picture

orange cat on a white towel

This is an old picture of Tonic. He lives in my house. He's lived here for over two years now and I really only see him through the window to the cat porch. Maybe someday he won't be terrified to be in the same room I'm in, but today is not that day...

(His mom, Gin, is behind him. She also lives in my house. She won't let me anywhere near her, either, but as long as there's at least six feet between us, she'll often stay put. I think she may someday learn to like me.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Highs and Lows

Totally Normal

I have reached the point in editing the first draft of the current novel where I'm down to one major note ("bad things need to happen here") and I still need to write the last two scenes. That's down from about 25 notes, most of which read "fix this", and a handful of scenes that said "[FILL IN]".

So this afternoon I will sit down with the book on my kindle, with my laptop by my side, and read through the whole thing in one go. Then I will either be convinced this is the best book ever written, or it's the worst book that has ever had the misfortune of being typed. There's nothing in-between.

The novel will then switch back and forth between these two extremes (even without any changes in the novel itself) until it's published, at which point I will forget all about it and move on.

In case you think this is unhinged, this is a pretty common syndrome for a lot of writers. It took me a few years to accept it. Now when I get to the "this book is so terrible it should be doused in acid" stage, I recognize it for what it is, and just keep moving along.

Obligatory Pet Picture

Black cat on a blue bed with a red handkerchief draped over his chest

A picture of Ripley from a few years ago. He really was one of the best cats ever.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

It's Like Electing the Pope

 Tonight's adventure with the air fryer was a success. Tofu chunks (still have another 1/4 of the package left) and sweet potato, rolled in oil plus salt, pepper, and paprika, then into the air fryer for 10 minutes on "French fries" setting. Very tasty and it was neither burned nor undercooked.

A plate showing spinach, rice, fried tofu and sweet potato chunks.

One part in the instructions made me laugh. In the "how to deal with problems" section, it lists:

White smoke is coming out     This is normal. Don't worry about it.

Black smoke is coming out      Your food is on fire.

Obligatory Pet Picture

Alaskan husky mix on a sand track in front of grass

A photo from last year when we were running more.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Does the Date Count If It Was in the Freezer?

Air Fryer!

I tried out my new air fryer today (a Christmas gift from my mom) with some breaded tofu. I didn't have to worry about burning the house down and it was a lot less messy than frying in oil, so that was good. Plus, now I don't have to strain a bunch of oil back into a container after it cools.

It wasn't quite as good as oil fried, but I think that's because I didn't have any oil to spray on it before I cooked it. It's not a fair comparison. I'm sure when I get everything worked out it will taste just as good and be a lot easier.

The tofu I was using was almost certainly past its use-by date, but it was sitting in the freezer part of that time. (Freezing and thawing tofu changes the texture, which you want for some recipes like this one.)

In any case, I look forward to experimenting with the new air fryer.

breaded tofu over rice

Obligatory Pet Picture

elderly grey cat drinking water out of a white bird bowl

There's nothing quite as refreshing as a leisurely drink of water from the bird's bowl while someone is waiting for you to finish so she can put the bowl into the bird's cage.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Middle Grade Falafel

Pantry Update Continues

In my ongoing quest to use the old emergency food so it can be replaced with newer food, I made the falafel mix last night. (Browned in the skillet with some rice noodles and a small jar of sun dried tomato pesto — it was great!)

According to the box, I was supposed to have used it before 2012. It was still really good, which is important because there's a second box in the meat drawer. I'm guessing it's of the same vintage.

"Best by" dates are for wimps.

Obligatory Pet Photo

A grey cat's tail hanging over the edge of a soft cat bed.

Cat tail or dragon spines? You decide.

Saturday, December 11, 2021


Above Ground

I live in the older part of my town. My house wasn't built until 1958, but the houses on either side are 40 years older. In some areas that wouldn't be too old, but this is California. This year the city has been replacing the water and sewer mains in the streets around my house, but one thing that hasn't been touched is the electricity.

The poles run down the alley behind my yard, and a big ugly cable goes diagonally over my yard to get power to my house. My former boss, H., who was originally from Chile and Venezuela, laughed at the idea of anyone having above-ground power lines. This, coming from a guy who used to stop on his drive home, climb cell towers, and manually adjust the antenna tilt when he wanted to change the coverage.

But that's the way it is. Every time we have a wind storm — something happening with increasing frequency — I check the yard before letting the dog out in case there's a live wire in the back yard. We lose power fairly frequently during storms, and last year the power was off for two days after a fairly minor wind event.

Anyhow, all this is to say I doubt I'll have power on Monday. All the county services are tweeting about changed schedules due to high winds at the beginning of the week, which they've never done before.

Fingers crossed I still have a roof at the end of the week!

Obligatory Pet Picture

Two cats on a sofa

This picture is a few months old, but the tortoiseshell cat on top of the sofa just came into my office a few minutes ago. Gin lives in the house with her bundle-of-nerves orange son, Tonic, but they're both still pretty feral. I can't get near either of them. But every once in a while Gin will come into the room I'm in to check things out. In another few years she might trust me.

Friday, December 10, 2021



I listen to podcasts when I walk the dog (frequent) and clean the house (rare), so I'm always on the lookout for something to listen to. Over time I've realized I'm not a big fan of scripted shows, and true crime drama has never appealed, but there is a lot of great stuff out there.

Without further ado, here are my current favorites:

The Habibis — Their tagline is "Three game developers drinking good Arab tea". They talk about games, the gaming industry, what shows they've watched recently, and usually before they've finished with those topics, they've started telling stories about where they grew up. Full confession: I don't play video games, and I rarely watch television or movies. Yet somehow listening to these three guys talk and laugh together is so interesting and wholesome that I look forward to every episode.

The SPA Girls — In this case, SPA stands for Self-Publishing Authors. I found this one relatively recently. Four women from New Zealand talk about indie publishing and writing in general. Clearly, they know each other well and it's fun to listen to them banter.

Coffee Break Spanish — (They do other languages too!) My Spanish is terrible, but I get a lot out of these episodes. The hosts go over the story of the day multiple times, pointing out grammar oddities, or cultural tips that might not be obvious. Highly recommended!

Writing Excuses — "Fifteen minutes long because you're in a hurry and we're not that smart!" This one is geared more toward the craft of writing than publishing (though they do occasionally cover publishing info as well).

So far I have held off on my threat to start a podcast called "Theresa F*cks Up Publishing", but if the pandemic keeps going another year, I may do it after all...

How about you? Do you have any podcast favorites?

Obligatory Pet Picture

Grey cat curled up in a pet bed with food and water

Everything the well-kept elderly cat needs: a heated bed to sleep in, and food and water two steps away. As a bonus, my desk is just to the left of the frame, so he can wander over and yell at me any time he wants to.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Let's Not Be Exclusive, Okay?

Income Streams

Almost all of my books are available widely. No, you probably won't find them in a physical bookstore (unless you special-order them), but you can buy them online — at Amazon, but also at Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, Google Play*, and places like which sell paperbacks. And libraries through services like Overdrive!

My income might go up if I made them exclusive to Amazon, because then I could put them in Kindle Unlimited (KU), which is Amazon's subscription reading program. For $15/month (or whatever it is now), you can read all the books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited you want to. It's a great deal if you read a lot.** Authors get paid a certain amount per page read (last month it was something like $0.0044/page, but it changes every month).

So why don't I have my books in KU?

As an indie publisher, I can only put my books in KU if they aren't available in ebook form anywhere else. (Note: this isn't true for traditional publishers. They can put their books in KU and all the other ebook retailers and I try not to think about that too often so steam doesn't come out of my ears.)

So if I put my books in KU, I have to depend on Amazon completely. And every once in a while, Amazon will just screw up someone's account. Or find a KU book on a pirate website and remove the actual author's version from the Amazon store for violating the exclusivity clause.

It's rare overall, but if it happens to you, you're basically screwed. You've lost your only source of income, and worse, your readers are now inaccessible when you release the next book — some KU readers will buy individual books, but most will only read books available in KU.

I do have my books in Kobo Plus, which is Kobo's version of Kindle Unlimited, because Kobo Plus doesn't require me to be exclusive. I'm hoping someday somebody sues the bejeezus out of Amazon and they make KU non-exclusive, but I don't see that happening anytime soon.

(But I did put the ridiculous SF/mystery/erotica novella in KU because I didn't want to spend time figuring out which of the other retailers will accept erotica. Some don't. And in two days, it's already made the same amount of money in KU page reads as it made in episode reads in Kindle Vella after two months.)

* After over a year and loading seven books on Google Play, I finally sold one there last week. Yes, there's room for improvement in my sales there.
** Libraries are an even better deal than KU. Support your library!

Obligatory Pet Picture

Black cat sitting in a wreath of leaves and flowers

Ripley was one of the best cats ever. In almost 17 years (? he was a bottle baby I raised, but I can't remember what year he was born), he never met anyone (people, dogs, cats, birds) he didn't want to be friends with.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

A Rose by the Same Name Gets a Lot of Google Alerts

What's in a Name?

My surname (Baumgartner) seems like it should be pretty rare. Since my first name uses a somewhat less common spelling (Theresa), one might assume the combination of the two would lead to a nearly unique name.

One would be wrong.

The problem with that assumption is
  1. The peasant farmers of what is now Switzerland had a bazillion children, because children are currency in your basic farming community. All four of my grandparents came from families with children in the double digits. (Yes, I love potatoes. It's genetic.) The upshot of this is there are about 75,000 Baumgartners running around in the world. And while a significant number are in German-speaking countries, a bunch emigrated to the US.

  2. Many of those 75,000 Baumgartners are Catholic (or were 50+ years ago anyhow), and none of them were very creative about naming their daughters.
Not only are there a ridiculous number of people named Theresa Baumgartner in the world, probably 75% of them share my middle name.

(As a side rant: Why do people combine a long first name with a long last name? Scantron forms were a nightmare when I was in grade school. Everyone else was already halfway through the test when I was still filling in bubbles for my name, which didn't fit in the available columns. My phone number comes up at the vet hospital as "The Baumgartner" which is kind of cool in a Scottish laird sort of way, but not helpful when they are trying to find my account.)

An illustration of the name problem: I moved to the California Bay Area 30 years ago (from southern California) and kept running into people who said they knew my sister, Karen. I do, in fact, have a sister named Karen (see problems 1 & 2 above), but I was pretty sure none of these people knew her, since she was living near Los Angeles at the time.

It turns out that a different Theresa Baumgartner (and her sister Karen!) had gone to the Catholic high school that was literally right across the street from the apartment I'd just moved into. That Theresa is a lawyer. I've never met her, but everyone who knows her (and her sister Karen!) seems to like her. Our online stuff got mingled for a while.

Anyhow, I set up Google alerts on my name a while back. I keep thinking that someday I'll get an alert about my books, but mostly I get to follow the career of the Theresa Baumgartner who is an artist in Berlin. The latest link had a video (tastefully done) of a naked man. 

It could be worse. She could be the one writing ridiculous alien erotica...

Obligatory Pet Photo

Gorgeous Alaskan Husky standing on a path covered by colorful fall leaves

This was taken three years ago, but he's still a lovely dog.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

1000 Words Isn't Always Enough


I've been incorporating more pictures into my blog entries in the last year, especially over on my other blog where I highlight Kindle Vella stories.

As part of that, I've made an effort to remember to add a description to each image in the metadata. I don't know if anyone is reading my blog with a screenreader, but if they are, I want them to have the same experience as everyone else.

The best advice I've heard for describing pictures is "pretend you're talking to someone on the phone". If there's text, that's easy enough to add. And most pictures aren't too hard to describe, even if my descriptions aren't going to win any awards.

But when it comes to some of the book covers... I'm not sure what to put if I can't figure out what the image is.

For example:

Kindle Vella cover for "The String Conspiracy" by Candace Freilich

What is that thing? Maybe if the image hadn't been cropped in a circle, it would be more obvious, but it's hard to describe something if you can't figure out what it is. Thus, my description when I uploaded the image to Twitter was
Kindle Vella cover for "The String Conspiracy" by Candace Freilich. Image shows... I'm not sure. Maybe a spaceship and a building? The colors are green and yellow.

Here's another one:
Kindle Vella cover for "An Undying Throne" by Yomii Super Workshops. Image shows... Sorry, I honestly can't tell. There appear to be borg cubes or at least angular shapes, with predominantly light blue and brown colors.

Again... what is that? Past Theresa decided this was the best way to describe it:
Kindle Vella cover for "An Undying Throne" by Yomii Super Workshops. Image shows... Sorry, I honestly can't tell. There appear to be borg cubes or at least angular shapes, with predominantly light blue and brown colors.

Blind people, I'm sorry. I'm doing my best.

Obligatory Pet Picture

Grey cat curled up on a doormat on a porch. Halloween decorations line the steps up to the porch, including a statue of a cat sitting on a pumpkin.

I took this one a few months ago when I was walking the dog. There's only one cat in the photo. The pumpkin & cat on the step is a statue, but I had to look twice to be sure!

Monday, December 6, 2021

Feral Rice

Out with the old...

As a person who lives alone, I tend to get in a habit of eating the same thing every day for a while, and then I'll switch to something else. It makes shopping easier and fewer fresh ingredients go bad because you just use the rest the next day.

But the other day it was dark and gloomy, so I took a break from my current routine (hummus sandwich + zucchini for lunch, zucchini/egg/fake fish fillet for dinner) to have a can of soup. And I realized the soup had expired in 2019.

So clearly it's time to eat some of the staples I keep around in case of emergency. That's what I've been doing this week. For the most part, my meals have been pretty uninspired — a lot of canned soups are pretty bad, and some of the other mixes are pretty random.

Tip of the day: Sambal oelek (an Indonesian chili paste) is a great ingredient to fix a tasteless meal.

Anyhow, over the weekend I used the last of the container of wild rice that's been in the meat drawer of my refrigerator for a while. (All the dry goods go in the refrigerator meat drawer. What else would I put in there?) And by a while, I mean I don't remember the last time I used it and I have no idea when I opened it in the first place. It tasted fine and only required a little sambal oelek.

Today I went back and looked at the container. Best by August 2013.

If the wild rice has been in my refrigerator for ten years, I don't think it's really wild anymore, merely feral.

Obligatory pet picture

cockatiel in profile

Yes, this is kind of a terrible picture, but in my defense — have you ever tried to take a picture of a bird that flies away every time you bring the phone near? I mean, part of the problem is that I'm a terrible photographer, but my subject was being uncooperative.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Can I Get Any More Ridiculous?

 Run for Cover

I mentioned at the beginning of this Holidailies month that I had added a second serialized story to Kindle Vella under a secret pen name. Yes, the story is absolutely hilarious and ridiculous erotica (which is a category I think absolutely should be hilarious and ridiculous), but if I'd been ashamed of it, I wouldn't have published it. The reason for the secret pen name is so I don't ever have to have a conversation about the specifics with my mom or any other member of my family.

Anyhow, the last episode was published nearly 30 days ago, so I can now bundle it together as a book and make it available for Kindle readers. With my other books I make them widely available to all the bookstores, but some of the retailers have restrictions about erotica, so I'm not going to bother. I'll pop this one into Kindle Unlimited and forget about it.

But in order to do so, I have to write the book description, aka, the back cover copy.

Now the back cover copy for any book is painful to write, even after I took a 6-week workshop on how to do so. But for a book containing aliens having sex? Kill me now.

Worse, I have to make sure I have all the right keywords in the description because it's nearly impossible to advertise anything in the erotica category. So I guess I'll spend the evening boning up (haha, see what I did there?) on erotica descriptions to make sure I get it right.

Obligatory Pet Picture

Adorable elderly grey can in profile

Not a fan of the paparazzi.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

No Comma


Speaking of publishing, — remember, I warned you that would be the topic when I didn't have anything else to talk about — I pass my almost-final book drafts through ProWritingAid as a first level of typo checking. 

PWA is good for some things, like misspelled words and subject-verb disagreements, though it does occasionally decide I should switch the verb tense in the middle of the chapter. Basically, it's not as good as a human editor, but it checks the words that are actually on the page, not the ones I think I put there.

One thing at which PWA is leaps and bounds ahead of me is commas. It turns out there are actually rules about where commas are supposed to go. I used to think I was faking it really well by just adding a comma anywhere I would naturally pause in speech, but nope. Apparently not.

I have some lingering issues from the teacher who was first responsible for teaching me English grammar, so my brain screeches to a halt and hides in a closet whenever things like "dependent clause" are mentioned. (I've been ignoring this for 40 years. I'm guessing the issue will remain until I die. Whatever. PWA is cheaper than therapy.) I absolutely could not tell you what a subordinate clause was even if you put a gun to my head.

Anyhow, PWA has great fun telling me about all the commas I have in the wrong place. To make matters worse, it sends me mail once a week with links to articles it thinks I should read.

Like this:

Screen shot of PWA email including links to 5 articles about commas

Every week...

A different PWA email with links to 5 articles about where to put a comma

I mean... it's definitely funny.

But also a little judgmental...

Obligatory Pet Picture

A lovely orange cat staring in concern at the back half of an unfamiliar dog lying in the living room

My dog and I spent a day working at a friend's house a few months ago. My friend's cat was not amused.

Friday, December 3, 2021


Waiting Rooms

"You're a little early. It might be a bit of a wait." The receptionist at the veterinary hospital seemed truly apologetic this morning when I checked in for Guido's annual exam.

I think I managed to keep the satisfaction out of my voice when I replied. "Oh, that's okay, I brought things to do."

Truth be told, I was hoping they were running late. They have a completely separate large waiting room for people with cats, with two armchairs and two couches. (And a television, but that's easy enough to switch off.) There's hardly ever anyone in there, because far more dogs come in to the practice than cats. It's perfect.

So I pulled out my laptop and wrote for 20 minutes until it was time to go into an exam room. It was great! (For me. Guido, who was less enthusiastic about having his morning nap interrupted by being shoved into a carrier, thought it was a lot less great and told the world about it repeatedly.)

I miss just being in different places, especially now that it's colder and I'm only heating my office. I like my office, but it's still just one room. One of the minor inconveniences of the last 21 months is not being able to just spend time somewhere else. A couple of years ago, I used to go to the local coffee shop and spend a few hours most weeks. Now... not so much. 

I haven't gone back to the coffee house partially because of the pandemic — even now, it still seems kind of stupid to risk getting sick just so I can go sit on someone else's uncomfortable couch. But mostly because I went from having an income to, well, let's just say that my goal was to break even on my writing this year and I'm pretty close. But spending money like that isn't in the budget.

So I showed up a little early for Guido's appointment.

Obligatory Pet Picture

Orange and white cat on top of a fence
If a strange cat walks up to you when you're outdoors, you have to take its picture. Sorry, those are the rules.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

The Game of Peel


Here's my favorite Thanksgiving story. (It's not mine.)

Like many families, my friend Jon and his wife and kids — and now grandkids — make mashed potatoes as part of the Thanksgiving meal. There's a decent sized crowd; there are a fair number of potatoes to peel.

Now Jon has never met something he can't turn into a game and the whole family is pretty competitive, so they have a potato peeling relay: the potatoes are split into two piles, everyone is divided into two teams, and then one person from each team peels a potato and hands the peeler off to the next person. The team who finishes their pile first wins.

At this point you should be thinking: Sharp implements, people hurrying, small children... what could possibly go wrong?

Perhaps you won't be surprised that there is also a rule that people are not allowed to participate while they are actively bleeding.

Anyhow, according to Jon, everyone has a great time, nobody has needed to go to the hospital yet, and they always wash the potatoes really well, so it's all good.

Obligatory Pet Picture

Two dog paw prints dried in mud

Okay, yeah, this one might be stretching it, but there was a pet involved at some point. (They overwater the park where I walk my dog, so the jogging trail is muddy every other day.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

It's Holidailies Time!

Well, lookee here, it's suddenly December and time for Holidailies!

2021 So far

Since I've been kinda terrible about updating my blog lately, here's what I've been doing:

I published a bunch of books. Seriously, though, I did! I currently have five books, two novellas, and a serial available for people to buy. (Plus another serial under a secret pen name because it's hilarious erotica and I don't think I could handle the Thanksgiving meal conversations with my family if it became generally known.) Anyhow, if you want to look at what's available (minus the ridiculous erotica), check it out here.

I quit my job. You're probably having one of two reactions:

1) Heck, if I'd known making a living writing was so easy, I would have quit my job, too!

2) Wow, Theresa's books must be selling way better than I thought!

3) (Bonus Thought) I knew it! Writing erotica is the way to pay the bills!

So... yes, I'm writing full time now, but no, it's not paying the bills, at least not yet. I just couldn't deal with having a day job and I had some money saved up. Will I have to go find another job? Very possibly, but that's a problem for next year or the year after.

Some pets are no longer around. Yes, it's sad, but age gets us all if nothing else happens first. The little dog was 15, my conure was in her 20s. The next year will likely be similar: I have two cats in their late teens, and a cockatiel who is old enough to buy alcohol. You can either spend all your time with your pets lamenting the fact that they don't live very long, or... you can just accept it and enjoy the time you have.

I've been healthy. No COVID-19 for me, thankfully. Go get your vaccinations. We're not going to get out of this until everyone does.

What Will I Talk About This December?

I mean, Holidailies is always a challenge. Sure, the first week is easy because you can find random things to rant about, but after the first five or six, you either need to do something different or accept that you sound unhinged.

So probably you'll end up hearing about more independent publishing stuff, because that's what I spend my days talking to myself about. (Yes, I live alone. It's a good thing.)

I'll try to find other things to talk about (like the stupid kitchen light that takes 60 minutes to come on. Yes, I should probably fix that...), but realistically, you're going to get a lot of indie publishing info. I'm just telling you now so you can avoid the blog if you want. I won't be offended. I promise!

And finally...

Obligatory Pet Photo

The teenagers. They've been good cats!

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Three Days

The World Needs More Blogs, Right?

Because I'm not busy enough already, I decided to create another blog with Kindle Vella reviews. (Kindle Vella is Amazon's new serial platform.) Here's why:

  1. There's no barrier to keep people from publishing stories to Vella. (Uh, other than if they aren't in the USA. That's true for readers as well. It's an odd choice.) In some ways, that's great! There's nobody enforcing weird standards, like "all stories have to be about white male professors who want to sleep with their young female students". See, that would be literary fiction. (I joke, but there's a reason that's funny.)

    However... There's also nobody enforcing any standards at all. What makes a story good is subjective, but there are a lot of unedited stories with four episodes that were abandoned by their authors when they realized that writing can be hard work and doesn't instantly result in a big audience.

  2. The Kindle Vella user interface is -- and I say this as a former professional software developer -- complete crap. Once you find a story you want to read, it's fine. But the search functionality is really limited, and there's no way to sort the results. There's also no way to know if the story is completed. Or limit the results to ones that have had new episodes loaded in the last month. It's really, really bad.

  3. Amazon is "featuring" some stories, but the criteria for that is completely unknown. And readers can like and follow stories once they find them, but in reality, unless you're looking for romance, good luck. There are so many more romance readers out there that anything with romance will rise to the top. And there's no way to search for something that isn't tagged romance. (See reason 2, the interface sucks)
So I decided to create a blog where each day I highlight a story that passes a minimum bar. I've read one or two episodes and the writing doesn't doesn't suck and there's a plot that seems to be going places. That's all I'm promising.

I Had Really Good Intentions!

I lasted a whole three days before I added the snarky section to each review complaining about all the ones I didn't review that day. Part of the problem is I'm making an effort to stay away from the ones that already have a following -- they don't need a boost. But there are times when I go through ten potentials before I find one that is good enough to recommend.

So... Have I sold you on Kindle Vella yet? The good news is there are some great stories out there if you can find them. And the format lends itself well to reading a bit while waiting in line or waiting for your dinner to cook. The first three episodes are always free, and Amazon is still giving each reader 200 free tokens (I think).

Self-promotion Time!

In case you want to check one out to see what the platform is all about, here's mine:

Dragon Freehold by T.M. Baumgartner. Image shows a woman in a mask with swords in front of purple fog
Dragon Freehold

In the shipping port of Harbor Crag, dragon magic protects the city, and the greedy duke controls the dragons.
Lisette climbs the tower with a perfect plan — steal the duke’s money to pay her shop’s taxes. But a second thief complicates everything, plunging her into the dragon’s den.
Bargaining with the dragon could end Lisette’s life, or save them all.
As Lisette races to finish her quest, she gets unexpected help from the mysterious thief. If you love dazzling adventure with a hint of romance, get the next episode of Dragon Freehold.

And Now The Content You've Been Waiting For!

Georgie has no time for badly written serials

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Research, or at Least Have Smart Friends

First, Some Terrible Marketing

Oh, hey, I have a new book out in case you're interested! (The Chaos Connection)

And now, on to the topic!

What Do You Know?

There's an old adage that gets trotted out in writing circles: Write what you know.

That's a crock. Who would want to read about a woman who never leaves her house and used to write software for a living? Nobody, that's who.

(I am planning to rewrite and publish the science fiction series with a veterinarian as a main character next year, so there's that. But let's ignore that for the moment.)

However, some level of research ought to go into things.

Practice Makes Perfect

I write cozy mysteries and science fiction / fantasy / who-the-heck-knows-what-it-is-called-but-boy-I-wish-I-could-target-my-marketing-more-effectively.

Do I administer botulinum toxin to people so I know how that works? No, at least, not yet. But my search history could get me arrested. More importantly, when I had a character who needed to speak knowledgeably about canning vegetables, I ran that section by a friend to make sure I wasn't making laughable mistakes. (Thanks, Jennifer!)

The future veterinary series will have someone checking it over before it gets published, because I haven't practiced in over a decade. For other things, YouTube is not a bad resource if you need to learn how professionals do things, and how they talk about their craft.

Know Your Dough

And all of this is really a complaint about a historical cozy I just read, in which the main character (whose husband is one heartbeat away from being the earl, because of course he is) goes down to the manor kitchen to hang out with the staff and grill them about the recent murder. (Yeah, right...). This character enjoys baking, so she asks to knead the dough while they're talking.

And the cook passes over the bowl of risen dough. Lest you think that was a misplaced word, the character then proceeds to knead all the bubbles out of the dough.

* insert eyeroll gif here *

I didn't notice any typos in the book, which likely means multiple people went over the manuscript before it was published, and yet somehow none of them knew you knead the dough before it rises, not after.

I guess the problem lies in knowing what you don't know. I'm not sure how you get around that problem, other than having really smart beta readers and editors.

Fingers crossed I can avoid those sorts of mistakes...

Obligatory Pet Picture!

Alaskan Husky standing on blue bus bench, mouth open and staring upward
When is the bus coming?

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Small Screen Epiphany

So I was watching Castle episode 1.4 ("Hell Hath No Fury", a title which kinda telegraphs who did the murder, but whatever) and I had a writing epiphany.

[Nobody is allowed to judge me for watching Castle. The first half of the first season is very good. Just pretend it stops after that.]

If you've never seen the show, it pairs a famous writer and a police detective together.

In this episode, the detective finds out the character the writer is basing on her is called Nikki Heat. She wants him to change it. His response? "Think of the titles! Summer Heat, Heat Wave..."

Holy crap! Titles... I could plan my titles in advance and make it all easy on myself!

My current method is to cycle through a bunch of terrible titles based on what I've written, and then have one of my critique partners make a joke title that turns out to be the one I go with. It's a terrible system, and makes planning covers and setting up pre-orders difficult.

Anyhow, expect my next series to have the main character Ali Green. I don't know the genre or the plots, but the Christmas novella is going to be called Green Sees Red.

This is genius.

I'm absolutely counting the time I was watching television as writing research time...

Black cat sprawled on a desk chair.
Ripley really likes the desk chair I bought for him.