Friday, November 29, 2013

Vine Ops Progress Update and an Invitation.

I just finished the first round of editing for Vine Ops:  The Lewis Park Affair.  I've still got some touch ups and validations, probably another round of editing to go through but I'm willing to get volunteers for beta readers.  Let me know if you wish to be part of the creative process and read a work in progress to help provide feedback to the author to make the book better. 
In other news, I'm also now 2000 words into The Fairest Of Them All, my retelling of Snow White.  I'm excited about this project because, frankly, it is going to be awesome!  Also being a contemporary romance instead of science fiction or fantasy, this one will have a broader appeal than my other works, which I don't understand.  Why wouldn't people love a fantastical tale filled with what we wish could be rather then the mundania of the real world?

My only regret is that by writing The Fairest Of Them All next, some of the other books I want to get done have to stay on the back burner a little longer.  Sorry to those of you wanting that third Clouded Skye book, the second Blood On The Vine book (okay the first isn't out yet either but it will be soonish), or some of the others in various stages of planning or progress.  I have a niece dying to have me finish Halfway to Some-Were. 

Just be patient.  I will get to all of your favorite stories that you don't know are your favorites yet because you haven't read them because I haven't written them yet.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Feeding A Starving Artist - YNAB

So here I am again with the final part of my 3 part post on feeding a starving artist.  You Need A Budget.  But not just any budget, you need YNAB.  And if you use the 10% off discount link here, you save $6 and I get $6 for having reffered you to it.

Remember, I'm not normally one to push random products.  Just look at my blog history.  How often have I begged people to buy stuff?  Hardly ever.  So what makes YNAB so special?  Let me explain.

I've budgeted in all kinds of ways over the years, spreadsheets, cash envelopes, notebooks of graph paper.  Some methods worked better than others over the years.  When it was just me handling the money, I did more or less okay.  I didn't bounce checks or go into debt.  But add in a family household and suddenly, I'm sharing the finances with someone else.  None of my previous systems included my wife very much in the organizing.  Also, although I saved for rainy days, because of lack of organization, days  that were infrequent but expected expenses turned into rainy days because I hadn't planned ahead well enough.

I started reading some personal finance blogs and forums and read about a lot of people touting the benefits of YNAB (You Need A Budget).  I looked into it, watched the training videos, and downloaded the trial and gave it a 34 day free spin before deciding whether to plunk down $60 for it or not (one time fee).

YNAB was easier and certainly prettier than my spreadsheets or notebook paper. You can add and remove budgeting categories on the fly.  It also was flexible in the very common case where your expenses don't match what you budgeted for.  Rather than make the whole budget a failure, you just roll with the punches and reallocate from one category to another on the fly.  A minor correction, making you more willing to stick with the budget.

The categories are like a cash envelope system but tracked electronically so it works for everything from cash to debit cards and checking.  And by using the cloud, you can sync and update your earnings and expenses on the fly with the desktop and mobile (iOS or Android) applications.  Now, my wife and I can both have instantly at our finger tips what funds are available for which category.

Every dollar is given a job.  You don't accidentally spend it for A when you needed it for B because now, before you spend it, you put it in B's category.  It makes it easier to save for those long term infrequent expenses without mispending those dollars elsewhere.

YNAB's methodology and software is more forward thinking than Quicken or Mint.  Instead of tracking what you have spent (which YNAB still does very well), it's primary focus is to plan what your going to spend in the future.  It's forward looking approach puts you in control of the money instead of the money being in control of you. 

The average YNAB user saves $200 more than they were before in just their first month and over several months see their savings reach into the thousands of dollars, all through merely budgeting smarter and spending on what matters most instead of "whatever".  My wife and I had our dishwasher and a car battery go out in our first month with YNAB.  Despite both rainy day expenses, in our first six weeks with YNAB, we still came out with that $200 extra that the average YNABer saves.  We socked the savings away for the next rainy day which might be my wife's dying car.

I'm a fan of Dave Ramsey and being debt free. Too many people in America are living paycheck to paycheck, or worse, going into debt to finance lifestyles they cannot afford.  It leads to stress, lost sleep, and anxiety.  Rather than bondage to lenders, the freedom from debt liberates one's soul to pursue the things in life that bring true happiness and live secure against the financial storms that strike.

If you like this post, need a good budgeting program, and want to help a starving artist*, use my referral link to purchase YNAB today.

* Disclaimer: The artist in question is not actually starving.  In fact, he's a little bit overweight.  However, his finances are tight and he does have to keep a roof over the heads of himself, his wife, his children, and his dog.  So if you won't do it for the artist, do it for the children or the dog.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Feeding a Starving Artist -

Okay, here is the promised follow up post on feeding this starving artist.  Normally I don't do product endorsements.  But I'd like you to listen (or read) me plugging the next two products I'm going to talk about because they really are that awesome and worth you clicking on my referral links to buy them. 

Earlier this year, we had another baby and I got a bit crazy in the head (probably sleep deprivation induced) and began coming up with ways to save money for our children's future.  While doing so, I stumbled across the Mr Money Mustache blog, a blog about an average guy who made himself rich through frugal living (good reading but be warned, his language is a bit vulgar sometimes).  On that blog, and through other sites related to that community I came across the following great products.  If you purchase them through the links on my blog here, you'll get a discount and so will I.

The first is this link:
You'll get $25 off the purchase of a phone or plan through and I'll get $25 off my next month's bill too.
We used to be paying about $100 for Verizon wireless service with a pair of dumb phones and no special data plans or anything.  Then we found Ting.  It is a smaller carrier that is pay as you go (no unlimited plans), but their rates are so cheap that for our usage patterns, it doesn't matter!  We pay $42/month after taxes for both of our smart phones. That is $21 per phone per month!  Some people on this plan pay as little as $9-$12 per month (low utilization users or those smart enough to leverage combining Google Voice accounts with VOIP technology and Wi-Fi).

Ting uses the Sprint network with free roaming onto the  Verizon network when there is no sprint signal.  We have found no drop in coverage area or call quality by switching from Verizon to Ting.  The ting website has a calculator in which you can plug in your current minutes, texts, and data from your current plan and see how much it would cost to make the switch.  If you're tech savy as I mentioned above, you can use Wi-Fi to keep your minutes, texts, and data usage to bare minimums while still making calls, messages, and browsing the web on the cheap. 

And there is no contract.  You are month to month from day 1 and can quit at any time with no penalties or fees.  I don't know why you'd want to quit because the service is AWESOME!

Their customer service impressed me greatly when I first ordered my phones.  I accidentally ordered two  of one kind while my wife wanted one kind and I wanted another.  So I called their customer service line, got a live person within two rings, and had the whole matter resolved within 5 minutes.  The person on the line was incredibly friendly and easy to work with.  I had a question about the billing of those phones at first as it took my bank to show the purchase of the two phones and not the pending purchase of 3 phones.  I called again, and again they answered within two rings and had my concern resolved in less than 5 minutes.  They billed me correctly for the two phones we actually purchased and not the one we didn't need when I mis-ordered originally.

Please feed this starving artist by using that referral link above, if you find this service to be right for you.  I am amazed at how good the service is and how much cheaper it is than any of the big cellular carriers.  If you don't want to scroll all the way up, here's that referral link again:

It looks like I'll need to do this in two parts.  I'll talk about some super awesome budgeting software in the next post.  Again I'll include a referral link which gives you 10% off the purchase price and I get $6 for having referred you.  I don't normally believe in marketing crap but not only do I get a kick back from promoting these products, I genuinely love them.  I wouldn't be blabbering about them if I didn't LOVE them or didn't think you would too.

An Apology, a Progress Update, and Feeding A Starving Artist Teaser

First, the apology, then the fun stuff.

I'm sorry.

Now on to the progress update.  What? You want more of an explanation than that?  Okay.  I'm sorry that I haven't blogged in more than half a year, about 3/4ths of a year to be precise.  Why is that?  Back in the beginning of the year, my wife and I had another child and let me tell you, those tiny adorable fountains of cuteness and inspiration are also a lot of work.  Also my day job had several major projects going on and our team temporarily shrunk just when we needed the extra hands most.

But fear not, I have not stopped writing.  Blood On The Vine is now finished and awaiting final editing.  The book after it, Vine Ops: The Lewis Park Affair, is about 90% the way through it's first draft.  At the rate I'm not getting the first vine novel edited and prepped for publishing, the second vine novel might be hot on it's heels.  So after a two year absence of fresh novels out of me, you will get another two right together!

I also have been planning to get the covers redone for the two Skye novels and perhaps even edit out the prologue, intermissions, and epilogue of the first book, in the second edition.  Though I like the characters introduced outside of the main narrative, those segments don't actually add much to that narrative. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know whether you think those parts should stay or go from A Clouded Skye.

In the meantime, my sleep deprived brain has continued cranking out new story ideas and I have several short stories and several novels I hope to write up as soon as the current two projects are finished.  If only I had 36 hours in each day, sigh.  I'd write at a faster pace if I could quit my day job.  That won't happen though till I make more money off my book sales.  So buy my books and feed a starving artist.

There are other ways to feed this starving artist too that you can also greatly benefit from.  Since I'll probably ramble rather long about these methods, I'm going put those into my next blog post rather than talk about them in this post.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Wreck It Ralph and Rise Of The Guardians

Recently I went to a pair of recently released films, one from Disney and one from Dreamworks.  I enjoyed both films greatly but they were certainly different from each other.  Between Wreck It Ralph and Rise Of The Guardians, I liked Wreck It Ralph more.  That being said, I did enjoy both and will explain here momentarily.  But first a spoiler warning.  WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.

I saw Wreck It Ralph first and was drawn by my inner video game nerd to the cameos from real live games and the premise of live video game characters.  I felt connected and sympathetic to Ralph from the get-go. a guy cast as a villain for his game's entire life when really just wanted to be accepted among the game's other citizens.  The story gets even better from there.

To those interested in the hero's journey plot structure and other elements of plot, there is everything there.  In the first act, Ralph is unhappy with the status quo and accepts the call to adventure to try and change his life.  He gets his medal surprisingly easily but rather than having true value, fate strikes out to complicate his goal.  He loses his medal and must partner with the girl who stole the medal from him to get it back.

Some stories have the lead protagonists have a misunderstanding or falling out that feels contrived or out of place.  The emotional low point of Wreck It Ralph is not such a story.  The falling out between Vanelope and Ralph hits you hard.  You know King Candy is manipulating things to keep her out of the race but he sells it to Ralph in such a way that he feels he has to destroy Vanelope's dream for her own protection, because at this point of the story, he has grown to care deeply for her and you can tell it's hurting him as much as it is hurting her.

Pouring salt into the wound, the hero(aka villian's) return to home, supposedly triumphant, turns out to be a bitter victory.  Ralph comes back to his own out-of-order game with the medal and the key to the penthouse to find it all pointless if his game is to be shut down and removed from the arcade.   Things are the worst they can get.  But in that moment of hopelessness and despair, Ralph realizes what has to be done and rises again to become the good guy and propels us into the triumphant third act.

The film has solid defining moments which mark the beginnings and ends of each act.  We see the try fail cycles of the characters involved, and we solid foreshadowing early in the story that doesn't necessary spoil the major revelations later in the story.  Wreck It Ralph is a good story to study to understand plot structure.

The second film I saw, Rise of The Guardians, was a good film too but it didn't hit me emotionally or intellectually on the same levels as the previous film.  Now this is the movie of a book I haven't read.  The take on the various magical characters from our childhood was nice and refreshing.  Jack Frost struggles with being invisible and unbelieved by the children yet gets called to join the exisitng guardians to defend the world against the fear and doubt from the recently returned Pitch Black, aka The Boogyman.

The story has the heroes race from one disaster to another, trying to stop Black's plans for the children, all while Jack struggles internally with the same issues that Black has.  The parallels were quite fascinating.

What didn't hold this film for me was how it seemed each stage in the story was often more of the same.  They find out Black is up to something, they race to stop him, they struggle and have some bit of dialogue between the good guys and the bad guy, then they barely win only to realize that Black had something else planned they now have to stop.

As cute and funny as the tooth fairy was, I've never been a fan of bird people.  I always dreamed of having wings and flying and I think birds are awesome, however, people covered in feathers and being part human part bird always seemed a little bit gross or creepy to me.  It bothered me in the movie.

The visuals for Rise of the Guardians were stunning but so were the ones for Wreck It Ralph.  The music for Guardians was pleasant but not remarkable.  The music for Ralph is a lot more "punchy" as fits the video game theme.  My son and I both love the See You Again song and I find myself humming the Sugar Rush theme sometimes.  "S-U-G-A-R, hop into your racing car, Sugar Rush!  Sugar Rush!"  Yeah, I like it.

Go see both films if you can, but if you can only see one, make it Wreck It Ralph, especially if you're a gaming nerd like me.