WhiteSmoke down 3 weeks, almost had to find a new grammar program

I have written a few times on my blog about using Grammar-checking software. Back in 2012, I found the program WhiteSmoke. It is a cloud-based program that has done a good job of checking grammar for my blog and novels.

At the end of October, I received a notice that my license expired, which is odd since I upgraded two years to a license that doesn’t expire. I tried contacting the company through their support page. No response. I tried e-mail. No response. I called and the phone just rang and rang.

I went to the company’s Facebook page and found out that I was not the only one with this problem. Many customers on their Facebook page reported the same thing. Their life-time license wasn’t working, and they can’t get a hold of anyone in the company by phone, email, Facebook or through the support system.

This went on for almost a month, so I decide the company must no longer exist and began looking for a new grammar-checking program.

Now I know that grammar-checking software is not fool-proof. There is no software out there that will catch every error. Even WhiteSmoke sometimes would suggest things that weren’t correct or at least made no sense. These were typically word choices and not punctuation situations. You do have to review each suggestion to make sure it is correct for what you are writing.

Beyond WhiteSmoke (which was at top pick in 2016 by TopTenReviews.com), the next two most popular programs seem to be Grammerly (number 2 on TopTenReviews) and Ginger (not rated on TopTenReviews). Another site ranks Grammarly as number one – followed by Ginger and WhiteSmoke.

Here is a quick look at the other two.

Grammarly (website

  • It offers a free version but will only give writing suggestions on the paid version.
  • Paid version checks for more errors than free version.
  • More Expensive than WhiteSmoke and Ginger at $139.95 for a year subscription
  • It includes a Plagiarism checker on premium version.
  • No free trial of premium version

Ginger Software (website

  • Works on multiple platforms
  • Free version only analyzes a limited number of words per check and not the whole text.
  • No plagiarism tool
  • Offers two paid versions – basic and premium – The basic version is $61.20 per year.
  • It includes dictionary and translation tools which Grammarly doesn’t.
  • The software will actually read your sentences or the words it suggests be replaced.
  • I found it hard to find anything on the site other than the free version. I figure after you download it, they might “suggest” the upgrade.

Both look like good options, and I was trying to make my decision on which one to go with when all of a sudden I received an email from WhiteSmoke. They reported that their servers had experienced technical difficulties, and they had been working non-stop to fix them. I guess that means they were too busy to update their website (that was still taking orders) or post on their Facebook page or at least have a message on their phone for all of those of us panicking that our program no longer worked.

So as of today, their program is back to working. Now with this last bit of poor customer service, I am not sure I want to recommend them to others, but I am going to continue to use them since I have already bought the non-expiring, free upgrades license from two years ago. But at least now if something does really happen to them, I know I have two other good programs to choose between.

The importance of parent-teacher conferences

As first vice-president of the parent-teacher association (PTA) of my kids’ elementary school, I am in charge of Parent Education. This means I need to find topics that interest the parents of my community and bring them information through speakers, reading material or internet sites.

Every time I do something for the parents in my community, I will do a corresponding post here.

img_5228I did a survey in September and one of the topics that piqued parents’ interest was how to have effective parent-teachers conferences. The flyer we passed out was written by one of our teachers who is on the Texas PTA and gave a speech at the Texas PTA Leadership convention on this topic.

Though this may be too late for anyone’s fall conferences, this information can be used in the Spring or even next year.

parent-connection

  • Like all good conversations, conferences are best when both people talk and listen.
  • Ask to see data about your child’s attendance, grades, behavior, social interactions, and test scores.
  • It is important for you to find out if your child is meeting school expectations and academic standards.
  • This is also a good time for your child’s teacher to learn about what your family home life is like. Does your child have hobbies, chores or other responsibilities?
  • When you tell your teacher about your child’s skills, interests, needs and dreams, the teacher can help your child achieve more.

Now on our flyer we included a section about the electronic grade book that our school district provides so that parents always know their students’ grades. If your school offers something like this, I urge you to sit down with your child and review their scores. Attending a parent-teacher conference should NOT be the first time you know about your child’s grades.

  • You may not always agree with what the teacher recommends. Just because it is recommended does not mean that it has to be done. Be open to ideas and work together.
  • Teachers may see or know a side of your child that you do not always know from home and vice versa.
  • Let this be an open dialogue and a chance to talk.
  • These meetings should be a time to discuss what has been working well and what can be done to help the student thrive to the best of their abilities.

Common Misconceptions

1.) These are not “Gotcha” moments.

2.) This is not a chance to tell your teacher how bad they are.

3.) This is not a chance to tell a parent how bad they are.

The point of a parent-teacher conference is to not only fill the parent in on how well your child is doing but is a way for teachers to find out more information about your child and your child’s family life. It is a time for families and the school to work together for the student’s success because both want the students to thrive, to excel and do their best.

Today’s Featured Author – Nia Arthurs

Please welcome author Nia Arthurs to my blog. Her romance novel, Cece & David, was released on Amazon in May.

Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hi, everyone! My name is Nia Arthurs and I am twenty years old. I love to read; I love to write, and I have a very unhealthy obsession with Oreo cookies.

Where were you born and where do you call home?

I was born in Belize City, Belize. Belize is a tiny country nestled between the Caribbean Sea and Mexico and Guatemala. We’re famous for our Mayan ruins, our living Barrier Reef and our vast acres of virgin forests.

What or who inspired you to start writing?

When I was a toddler, my dad would set me on his lap and point out sentences in storybooks. I couldn’t read for squat, but I soon learned to interpret the words as pictures. Thus a voracious reading habit began. Eventually, my love affair with reading unraveled so I started writing to fill the hole inside.

What is the best thing about being a writer? The worst?

The best thing about being a writer is how much my life has changed through the stories I pen. When my characters are strong on the page, I realize that I can be strong in reality. When my characters find love in the end, it gives me patience and hope for my own love story.

The worst thing about being a writer is … it’s lonely. I love the characters I’ve created. All my heroes and heroines are personal friends.

But they’re also imaginary.

Sometimes, I’m so locked up in my head and my laptop that I don’t have time for living, flesh and blood interactions. Writing is fulfilling, but lonely work.

Please tell us about your current release.

Cece & David is a contemporary novel. The story follows the journey of two best friends who love one another in all the ways that someone can love.

Cece is a black girl and David is Asian, but that doesn’t stop them from caring deeply for each other.

The best friends navigate the troubled waters of junior college, jealous girlfriends, obsessed bullies, and unforeseen tragedies all while fighting for their own personal identities inside and outside of their friendship.

What inspired you to write this book?

That’s a very funny story. Cece & David wasn’t in my plan. I was supposed to be working on a sequel for one of my other novels. Instead, I took a break.

During that time-off, I went to the store where I spotted the most handsome, noble-looking Asian guy behind the cash register. I kept ducking behind the shelves trying to memorize his face… for a future novel, of course. Not for any personal reasons.

I couldn’t get him out of my head. In my heart, in the tiny pocket where dreams are born, I wished that I had a reason to talk to him. You know, apart from paying for my Oreo cookies. So, I drafted eighteen-year-old, multi-cultural best friends to play out that reality for me.

Which of your characters is your favorite? Do you dislike any of them?

Whew! This is a hard one. I love both Cece and David, but I think I’ll give this one to… Cece.

David is awesome. He’s genuine, loyal, and very, very handsome. His personal growth through the course of the novel is astounding. Cece’s only a centimeter above him because she did something that I would never do first.

She confessed her feelings.

Cece’s confession complicates her relationship with David and spins the story out in a way I hadn’t even expected. But she would do it again. In a heartbeat. I admire that strength.

As for characters I dislike, I’d say it’s the bully that calls David ‘chino’. Such ignorance is not only annoying, but deeply disturbing. Differences should be celebrated, not made fun of.

If this book is part of a series, what is the next book? Any details you can share?

The next book that I’ll write is the last in the series. I have a few surprises that I’m going to spring on the couple. If anyone has read (or will read) the Cece & David series, they know that I’m never easy on the pair. David and Cece will have much to overcome before they settle down with their well-earned HEA.

If you could be one of the characters from any of your books, who would it be and why?

I would be Morgan Fraiser from Buffalo Soldier: The Love & Reggae Series. Morgan is a bass player that joins a group of pale-skinned, reggae stars on their world tour. She rocks out on her guitar in front of thousands of fans. She’s strong, stubborn and opinionated, but her intentions are always good. Like Morgan, I would love to travel the world and play the bass for a big event. Someday…

Tell us a random fact about you that we never would have guessed.

Have I mentioned that I love Oreos? Just kidding. You would never guess that… I wanted to be a lawyer. I applied for hundreds of scholarships to study law overseas and all were, thankfully, rejected. While I wigged out over not being able to go to school, I made the best decision in my life.

I started writing.

Book Blurb

cece-davidBeing bullied and teased about his race was an ordinary part of seven-year-old David Kim’s day. Until Cece Walker stepped into the picture and stood up for him. After that, David chased his hero. He plied her with juice boxes and sweets until she finally gave in and became his friend. That friendship would span over ten years.

Now, David and Cece are about to embark on a new journey as young adults. Will their friendship span the test of time? Or will feelings get in the way of their bond?

Discover hope and trust and friendship in this sweet novel exploring the truth of love that comes in many shades.

About the Author 

niaI live in a country where the beaches are always picturesque, the Mayan ruins are always intriguing, and the Blue Hole is just minutes away. Yet I prefer sticking close to home, reading a good novel and then picking up my laptop and trying to write one.

I enjoy penning stories that span across ethnicities, nationalities and skin tones. I am also a firm believer in happily ever afters. The world is full of grim realities. Sometimes we all need a little reminder that things can work out in the end.

You can find out more about Nia on her blog or Amazon or follow her on Twitter.

You can purchase Cece & David on Amazon.

 

 

7 ways to deal with writer’s block

Last week, I wrote about being stuck on a scene. You write and rewrite but the scene doesn’t flow just the way you want. No matter what you try, you can’t seem to get it “just right.”

So I wrote some tips about how to deal with that problematic scene. And as I wrote, I realized that many of the tips were also one that would help authors who suffer from the dreaded WRITER’S BLOCK.

man at a computer desk uid 1053387Yes, there are times when you are sailing along writing your latest masterpiece but sometimes all that stares back at you is that blank screen. You can’t think of what to write next. You don’t feel like you have a creative bone left in your body. You want to throw in the towel. It happens to all of us at some point.

Here are a few ideas to get the juices flowing again. One may work this time and not some other time so be prepared to try a few until you break through your writer’s block.

1.) Take a break – Sometimes taking your mind off of the problem can help. Get up and do something else for about 30 minutes. Get a drink, read the newspaper, take a walk, clean out the closet. Free up your mind and then give it another try.

2.) Change your location/writing method – If you are sitting at your desk and have a laptop, move outside (assuming the weather is nice) or to another room. If you don’t have a laptop or tablet, you can still move to another location and try writing in a journal. I have found that sometime writing long hand frees up my thinking. And I improve the writing when I transcribe it into the computer.

3.) Just write – Open a new file and began typing. Sometimes getting started writing is half the battle so just write whatever comes to mind even if it is unrelated to your story.

4.) Reread yesterday’s work – Perhaps reading what you worked on yesterday (or the day before) will get you back in the groove and spark your creativity to begin writing the next scene.

5.) Work on a different scene – Pick some other scene on your novel to write. No one said you had to write in chronological order. Of course if you pick a scene too far advanced in your story, you may not know exactly what is happening and whatever you write may have to be reworked to fit into your story but at least you are writing.

6.) Brainstorm on future scenes – Assuming you aren’t working from an outline you can use your writing time to plan ahead. Think about where your story will be going and what obstacles your protagonist (or perhaps your antagonist) will encounter. (If you are a planner and already have this novel outlined then perhaps you can brainstorm future story ideas.)

7.) Call it a day – Sometimes you just have to stop trying and come back the next day. If you try too hard, you can make things worse.

No matter what you try, just realize that writer’s block doesn’t last forever. Try not to stress over it because the more anxious and frustrated you become, the worse it will be. Free up your mind and the creative juices will be flowing before you know it.

Making my own Harley Quinn Costume

For the past three years, my family has attended the Alamo City Comic Con. To get in the spirit, we have always dressed in costumes fitting for a comic book convention.

The first year I was Huntress. I bought the costume but replaced the shirt. The next year, I was Poison Ivy. Again, I bought the costume but made even more modifications to make it better. It was also the first time I wore a wig as part of my costume.

img_2070Now my husband has always made his costumes for Comic Con but I have had no desire to make my own. That is until this year. I had been toying with the idea of being Harley Quinn and just buying a costume. Then in April, I saw the trailer for Suicide Squad. I had found the Harley Quinn costume I wanted.

But when I looked online, I didn’t like what I saw. Then I watched a few YouTube videos on making my own Harley Quinn costume. I thought, “I can do that.” And so my adventure in making my own costume began.

Shirt

img_5231The shirt was probably the easiest. I bought a white long sleeve woman’s shirt from Goodwill. I cut the sleeves and bottom to the appropriate lengths and then used red fabric paint to color the top and add the stripes to the sleeves. My only problem with this was that the fabric paint made the fabric stiff.

To get the letters on the shirt, I created the “Daddy’s Little Monster” lettering on my computer and then printed it on transfer paper.

To create the holes in the shirt, I used sandpaper for a more natural look. My husband then sewed some areas to get the look that the shirt had been repaired. Makeup was used to “dirty” up the shirt. In the end, I think it looks pretty authentic. (Total cost $6.54.)

Baseball Bat

img_5229img_5230I spent a lot of time trying to find a cheap wooden bat that we could use to make Harley’s bat. I finally found this one at a used sporting goods store for $10. My husband stripped the paint and then I painted the diamonds and letters on the bat. For the copy on the back, I spent a lot of time looking at what people thought it should say but no one knew as this was before the movie came out. But waiting for the movie didn’t help. I finally found what I think was on the bat and handwrote it with a sharpie. We then coated the bat with varnish and added the sport tape. (Cost – $23 because varnish remover was expensive.)

Necklace, Bracelets and Belt

img_5233Again, I shopped at Goodwill and Salvation Army to find these pieces. The necklace was a white belt that we painted gold. The PUDDIN letters are just foam painted and attached to the necklace.

The bracelets were a black belt that I got for 50 cents because it was damaged. We cut them to the correct length and added Velcro. And the belt is just a belt we found and painted the correct colors. My husband 3D printed a few extra of the raised pieces and while the belt is almost too short, we were able to make it work. (Total cost for all 4 pieces- $5.93)

Wig

img_5236I bought a cheap wig off of Ebay since I didn’t like the fake look of the pink and blue on the store bought Harley Quinn wigs. I watched a few videos on how to dye it but will admit it wasn’t as easy as it looked. My pink side came out too red and even after lightening it, the wig seems much frizzier on that side. Also because I bought a wig that was not already in ponytails, I had to do them myself and anyone who works with a cheap wig knows that this isn’t an easy task. Overall it turned out okay but not my favorite piece that we created. (Cost – $12.15.)

Gun and Holster

img_5232I have to give my husband all the credit for these. He had leather to make the gun holster and on the opposite side he created a little pouch so I could carry my cell phone and ID. img_2011He 3D printed the gun and did all the painted detail work. It looks awesome! (Total cost was $2 for a paint pen.)

Now I did buy a couple of pieces. img_5235Even though there were videos on how to do them, I bought the shorts ($8) and boots ($43) off of Ebay and ordered a set of waterproof tattoos to take care of her arm band and tats on her legs. (We still drew with eyeliner the ones on her face.)

Overall, I did enjoy making this costume. It is way more authentic than one you can buy in the store and I liked searching for the pieces and finding great deals. The whole costume, including make-up, cost about $120.