Help me name the characters in my current novel in progress!

In mid-November, 2012, I began writing my current novel in progress, tentatively titled Thanksgivings.

I’m thrilled to report that I’ve been making great strides, having written more than 60 pages so far. That exceeds my goal of writing a page every day and puts me on track for a completion date of October 15, 2013.

In addition to my writing goal, I’m also researching and developing a marketing plan for the book. You might think that publishers take charge of marketing the books they print, but that is not the case (unless, perhaps, you are a big name author such as my favorites, Barbara Kingsolver and Maya Angelou). Authors are expected to present a workable promotion strategy to encourage and maximize sales of their book. This might include appearances on talk shows such as Late Show With David Letterman, radio interviews on stations carrying NPR, book signings at stores such as Barnes and Noble, Social Media ads, etc.  Current wisdom from marketing “experts” is that the time to start promoting your book is BEFORE it is finished and published. In other words, I need to start creating interest and buzz about Thanksgivings, now, and I’m asking for your help. Here’s what I have in mind.

I am going to give you the opportunity to influence some of the content of my current novel.

In the next few weeks and months, I am going to run a contest. I will describe a character in my book and let you help me name him or her. You can propose made-up names, your own name, the names of current or past loved ones, etc. Think how cool it would be to have (for example) your great grandparents names used for characters in a best-selling novel! (Of course, it’s going to be a best seller.)

In addition to suggesting names, you will get to propose travel destinations and work places for my characters. I will give you the parameters such as “a small city in the continental United States” and you can take it from there. Maybe you want to promote the city where you grew up or a place you’d like to live?

If you choose to join me, we will be wandering together in AliceLand… a truly magical place created in our imaginations.

Are you ready? Here is your first opportunity.

The main character in Thanksgivings is a 43 year old woman who hails from Mt. Vernon, Washington, and is of Italian descent. What should I name her?

Send me your suggestion(s) via the comment box below, or if you don’t want your suggestion made public just yet, send me an e-mail via the “Contact Me” tab above.

current novels

Have you spotted new home design trends for 2013?

home design trends

Home design trends come and go — that’s why they’re called trends — and it can be fun to see how quickly you recognize their arrival.

Here are a few home design trends that author, Barbara Ballinger, believes will be coming into vogue this year.

  1. Automated control systems for the various electronics in your home. Systems are becoming easier to use and more affordable all the time. You can remotely turn on your furnace, security system, lights, media, etc. with a press of a button or two.
  2. Outdoor living spaces such as kitchens and living rooms. In days gone by, screened porches were quite common. Then they went out of style in favor of decks and patios. Now they are having a come-back and are much more comfortable and versatile. The outdoor bbq grill is getting an upgrade, too, often under cover or screened in with comfortable tables and seating.
  3. While not exactly a home design trend (more like a backyard design trend), home farming gives new accessibility to organic foods. Small, raised backyard garden beds require less stooping and bending, are more manageable with limited time, and are often more attractive than traditional gardens. Watch for the emergence of backyard ponds, as well, for raising fish fit for the dinner table. (I’m not sure what animal rights activists will have to say about this, however.)
  4. As fewer homebuyers see a need for formal living rooms, “TV rooms” are re-emerging. Less dark and less stark than the media rooms of recent years, this newer style of “family room” provides comfortable, casual space for a variety of activities.
  5. Tinted neutral paint shades are replacing whites and beiges. Accent walls are more muted, while still providing a pop of color.
  6. Dual-purpose furnishings are becoming popular both for economic and space reasons. As MacMansions become less common and baby boomers start downsizing, use of living space becomes a bigger priority. Sofa beds, ottomans that double as storage space, tables with drop leaves and kitchen islands on wheels can all save space and money. Clunky, chunky, overstuffed furnishings are likely to be disappearing as well.
  7. Remodeling has become more common than room additions since the economic downturn of the past few years. Kitchens and bathrooms remain the favorite spaces for updates and face lifts. When planning the remodel, homeowners are more likely than ever to favor the use of sustainable products and materials for countertops and flooring. Low VOC paint products are also in demand, as they emit fewer harmful fumes and are considered less harmful to the environment. The website http://HealthyHomePlans.com can be a helpful resource in this regard.
  8. Efficient systems for managing water and energy are also on the top of many lists as a means of stretching the household budget. Low-flow shower heads, dual-flush toilets, solar panels and gray-water systems can all translate into worthy investments.
  9. Lastly, architectural designs are beginning to take into account a wider age-range of homeowners. Forward-thinking home designs incorporate wider doorways for wheelchairs and walkers, low counter heights in some bathrooms and higher counter tops in others, grab bars that double as towel racks, and even elevators in multi-level homes. All are features that will help homes remain suitable for occupants of varying generations.

How many of these home design trends appeal to you? Have you spotted some we’ve missed?

Do West Seattle restaurants welcome single diners?

single dinersI am a single adult, living alone in West Seattle (not counting my awesome canine companion, Tess).

First, let me say that being alone and being lonely are not at all the same in my book. In fact, they’re not even on the same page. But that is not what this post is about. It is about my frustration at being excluded from the benefits of most “dining out” coupons.

I recently received yet another coupon book in the mail filled with money-saving offers from local businesses. Six West Seattle restaurants offered discount coupons. Guess how many of them would benefit me if I chose to dine solo? None. Zippo. Zilch. Zero.

Every single offer (pun intended) required that I buy one full-priced meal in order to get a second one free or at a discount.  (Note: I am singling out West Seattle restaurants only because I live in West Seattle right now. Restaurants everywhere are guilty of this oversight.)

I don’t know whether I am the exception or the norm, but as a single person living by myself, I long ago abandoned any self-consciousness over eating alone in a restaurant or going solo to a movie theater.

Even so, there are definitely restaurants where I feel welcomed and others where I feel my business is undervalued and underappreciated.

Why should restaurant owners care about catering to singles? Don’t they make much more profit from tables of multiple diners? Consider this:

  • Singles tend to eat out more frequently.
  • Singles often take guests out to dinner and choose the restaurant based on their previous experiences there, whether dining alone or in tandem.
  • Singles talk; we recommend (or don’t) restaurants to friends and family both online and in person.

Here are a few of the things that contribute to the likelihood that I will frequent a particular eating establishment. (Only a few are specific to dining alone.)

  • I am welcomed promptly and politely
  • I am able to look over the menu before being seated
  • The menu includes “small plate” options
  • There is comfortable seating available at the bar or small tables
  • The eatery is clean and aesthetically pleasing
  • The food is good
  • The prices represent a good value
  • The server is prompt, knowledgeable and gracious
  • Neither the server nor management makes me feel rushed
  • Plenty of available parking or transit-friendly options

Am I missing anything that you look for? If so, I hope you will take a moment to comment below.

In the coming weeks, I plan to survey a number of the West Seattle restaurants listed on the award-winning, West Seattle Blog to find out what they do, if anything, to welcome single diners? I will publish the results here.

If you are a restaurant owner, particularly a West Seattle restaurant owner, I invite you to beat me to the punch. Comment on this post to let singles know what you do to accommodate us and show you value our patronage.

One final note. Although the coupon book I mentioned above did not contain any dining discounts suitable to singles, I have since seen one that did. One West Seattle restaurant, and one West Seattle restaurant only, included a coupon good for 15% off the entire bill. No stipulations that you must spend a minimum amount or purchase more than one entree. That restaurant is…drumroll, please! Bang Bar Thai Restaurant and Lounge located at 4750 California Ave. SW in West Seattle’s Alaska Junction. I have eaten there (sans coupon) and had a very good experience.

You see? We do talk! Restaurant owners would be wise to listen.

Single diners

 

 

Low inventory still a problem in West Seattle real estate market

Yes, you’ve heard me say this before, but it bears repeating. The single biggest challenge in the Seattle-area real estate market continues to be the dearth of quality homes for sale. I have many qualified buyers who would like to purchase homes, but cannot find anything suitable. • If you are considering selling your home, or know someone who is, please give me a call to discuss the possibilities. 206-708-9800. I will prepare a free market analysis of your home. No pressure, no strings attached.

New homes rising in West Seattle’s Westwood neighborhood

Reprinted from my December newsletter:

Another sign that we are easing out of the housing crisis is the spate of new homes being offered by Seattle-area builders. As lenders make more money available to builders, builders are more willing to speculate.  • You may have noticed that many older homes in Westwood are being purchased by developers who “scrape” the dilapidated structures and replace them with new construction. Most of the new homes are much larger than the older homes. As a result, we are seeing sale prices in the $400K-$500k range in our neighborhood. The average existing-home sale price in Westwood (homes built before 1950) is closer to $320K. Over time, this is likely to change the demographics of our neighborhood. It is also an indication that West Seattle’s  “east of 35th” vs. “west of 35th” mindset may be diminishing. Whether or not that has a positive impact on Westwood, remains to be seen. • Do you have an opinion about this? If so, please comment below.

I recently created a new Pinterest Board dedicated to home sales in the Westwood Neighborhood. Each month I will post info about the latest sales. You can access the board here: http://pinterest.com/aakuder/  The board is titled (not surprisingly) Westwood Home Sales.

This home at 7541 31st Ave SW sold for $535K on 10/30/12

This home at 7541 31st Ave SW sold for $535K on 10/30/12

 

Appliance rebates and home energy audits available from City of Seattle

Did you know that Seattle City Light offers home energy audits for $95 to City Light customers living in single family homes? The City contracts with certified independent auditors who will visit your home and conduct a thorough assessment of its insulation level, leakiness and heating system efficiency. The auditor will leave you a report, specific to your home, with suggestions for energy-efficient upgrades, their estimated costs and the potential benefits to you and the environment.

Appliances make up about 20 percent of your home’s electricity use. Seattle City Light’s appliance rebates can help you upgrade to more efficient models – saving you money and electricity for years to come.

If you plan on buying new appliances (e.g. refrigerator, clothes dryer, water heater) any time soon, be sure to check the City of Seattle’s rebate program. You may qualify to get money back on selected models and even free pick-up and removal of your old appliances.

Rebate amounts vary, but here are the maximums:

Refrigerators: $50

Clothes Washers: $100

Heat Pump Water Heater: $500

Ductless Heat Pump: $1500

Refrigerator/Freezer Recycling: $30 plus free pick-up and removal of your old unit

You can download rebate forms and instructions from the Seattle City Light website.

Open House at 5661 Beach Dr., Jan. 5 and 6, noon-3P

My latest Open House.

Here’s another top-notch event to add to the weekend planner in my previous post.

I will be holding open a wonderful beachfront home on Saturday and Sunday (Jan. 5 & 6, 2013) from noon-3pm both days. The address is 5661 Beach Dr. SW, 98136. This comfortable, rambler-style home has 1,980 square feet of living space, with 4 bedrooms, 2.75 baths, a formal dining room plus eating space in the kitchen. The deck overlooks the accompanying 40 feet of waterfront with 180 degree view of Puget Sound.

My Prudential Northwest Realty colleagues, Shari Kruse and Brian Bailey, are the listing agents for this charming home. List price is $895,000. MLS# 433553.

Here is a link to a video showcasing the home: Open House 5661 Beach Dr – YouTube.

Open house event

Beautifully maintained beach home

Open house event

Stunning views of sunsets, over the Olympics

Steel, Blood and Fire: a new Science-Fiction novel by Allan Batchelder

A new novel by Allan Batchelder

A new novel by Allan Batchelder

I am excited to help promote this new science fiction/fantasy novel by my friend, Allan Batchelder.

I want to congratulate him on this tremendous accomplishment!

Announcing the publication of Steel, Blood and Fire: Immortal Treachery, a new Sci-Fi/Fantasy novel by first-time author, Allan Batchelder!

On the march, around the campfire, and in the taverns, they tell incredible stories about Tarmun Vykers – how he’s never been cut in battle, how he once defeated hundreds of men by himself, how he exterminated an entire people over an insult. These stories make Vykers seem like a god; he is a man, an arrogant, ruthless and bloodthirsty man. And he may be the only thing standing between the human race and utter annihilation at the hands of the mad sorcerer whose name is also his only goal: the End of All Things. Against this backdrop, smaller, lesser folks struggle to fulfill their own destinies, folks like Long Pete, the former gigolo and jack-of-all trades, and Spirk Nessno, the enigmatic, over enthusiastic simpleton. Struggling, too, is the Mender, Aoife, burdened with a secret so dark she is driven to do the unimaginable. Can Tarmun Vykers save them all, or will he simply hasten their demise?

The author does not recommend this book for anyone under the age of seventeen, due to violence and mature language and themes.

You can purchase and download this e-book on Amazon.com for $3.99.

My first novel is a new adventure in AliceLand

I’m excited to announce that I have started writing my first novel! I will be even more excited when I can announce that I have finished my first novel, but that is probably about a year down the road.

This is new ground for me, as I have never attempted to write fiction before. Fiction always felt more intimidating than non-fiction, perhaps because I feel that it reveals more about the author and requires (in my opinion) a higher degree of creativity. In short, there seems to be more room for criticism and failure in writing a novel, which kept me at bay.

Nevertheless, once the idea for this novel came to me I got more and more energized and it just started to flow. Well, “flow” might be a bit of an exaggeration. It takes me an average of about 2 hours to write each page. But so far, I am on track with my goal of writing at least a page a day.

Tentatively titled, Thanksgivings, here is the first page.

Chapter One

Ali sat looking out the window at the driving rain, one hand propping up her chin and the other absent-mindedly stroking the cracked leather upholstery of the well-worn couch. She loved this little hideaway where she could be alone without being lonely.

Ali and Isaac stumbled upon the cabin when they were hiking the backwoods of Mt. Baker. How many years ago was that? 10? 15? No, it must have been 14 years ago, because it was the year they got engaged. It was about this time of year – late November – but the weather then was dry and crisp. The trees were dropping the last of their leaves, carpeting the ground with a mosaic of gold and red and orange. It was a magical autumn.

Today, Mother Nature was showing her more dramatic side. The wind and rain had already been pummeling the area for hours and the weather forecast was for more of the same throughout the night; possibly all weekend.

 If Ali were less familiar with this place, she might have been more concerned about being alone on a mountaintop during such a violent storm. But she had arrived a few hours earlier in her ancient-yet-dependable Jeep Cherokee, fully intending to stay put for several days. Despite her family’s protestations, this is where she wanted to spend her first Thanksgiving since the death of her husband and daughter 10 months earlier.

What do you think? Does this leave you wanting to read more?