Sunday, May 31, 2009

Of Mice and Toyotas

The car saga continues, and has completely usurped my inspirational piece on the Pennwriters conference, which I still intend to post eventually.
So...After walking home from the repair shop a second time, I realized I’d left my cell phone in my car, which was last seen being towed to the repair shop, and since the repair shop usually calls me on my cell phone to let me know the car is ready…

I thought I should go and retrieve my phone. As it turned out, that is exactly what happened—the repair shop had called the cell phone in my car to let me know I could come and get the car—and I didn’t get the message.
So when I stopped by the following day to pick up my cell phone, the mechanic said, “I’m sorry, but we’ve taken it as far as we can, and we can’t find the problem. It appears to be in your computer, and we aren’t equipped to do computer work here.”

He said he’d spent six hours the day before trying to trace the problem and was unable to do so. He told me he would refund my $263 since the problem had not been corrected, and recommended that I take the car to the Toyota dealership, as it appeared the car’s own computer was sending the car signals to misfire and stop without warning.

I called the dealership for an appointment and was able to get in right away. My ex then kindly followed me across town, as I stalled out three times and nearly a fourth, but the good news was now the computer had new information to provide to the dealership, since I had inadvertently wiped out the malfunction information by replacing the battery.

The car was doing the exact same thing it had the week before. It also cooperated by doing it for the people at the dealership when they moved the car into the service bay.

The dealership called four hours later to say that the computer had to be replaced, but it was covered under an extended warranty. A search on the internet comes up with the information that Toyota knows these ECM’s (computers) are defective, but refuses to recall them, instead accepting them on this “extended warranty” basis when they come in for repair. Technical Service Bulletin in reference to 2005-2007 Toyota Corolla & Matrix ECMs, TSB EG042-07, was issued September 20th 2007. They say not enough people have reported problems to warrant a recall.

Could it be possible those people aren’t around any more to report the problem? Think about it—what might have happened had I been moving down the highway at 60 mph (as has happened to many people already) and my car shut off without warning? I was fortunate enough to be in a residential neighborhood and the worst thing that happened to me was I was in my PJs at the time.

So that was the good news, sort of. But then came the bad news. The dealership lady tells me the car has “other issues.” She said it appears that “rodents may have chewed on your engine wire harness assembly and caused the short which shorted out the computer.”** And while she has been gracious enough to “squeak me in” under this extended warranty, if I do not get the wire harness assembly repaired, and the computer goes bad again, it won’t be covered under warranty and I will have to pay for a new computer, which runs at least $1000. (her price quote, not mine)

However, for only $355, I can forestall this potential problem.

I said, “Thank you, but I don’t want you to do any more work right now. I will take your information back to my mechanics and if they agree with you I will be back.” Because I know my mechanics looked that car over and over trying to find the problem, and it was deemed mechanically sound.

“Please, ma’am,” the woman says, “You don’t want anybody but certified Toyota technicians working on your car. If anyone else works on that harness, the warranty will be invalidated.”

“I understand that,” I said. “But I have been going to my guys for twenty years. I just want to consult with them first. I have my annual inspection scheduled for Wednesday. I’ll ask them to look at it and I’ll get back to you if they agree with your assessment.”

“I’m just trying to save you some money down the road,” she insisted, then invoked the fear factor. Something along the lines of God forbid it should happen again and you didn’t get it taken care of here and now.

To which I said, “I appreciate that, but I don’t think the car is going to give out in another week (at least I would hope it wouldn’t, considering they just put a new computer in it), and I need to check with my guys. They’re the ones who sent me to you in the first place, so if they think I should come back, they will have no trouble telling me so.”

“Well.” A disgruntled pause. “Then you’ll have to pay the diagnostic fee of $69.90.”

“I understand that.” Unlike my regular guy, who spent six hours looking for the problem the day before, and didn’t charge me a penny for it, from the dealership I expected no less. “I’ll be by to pick up the car on Monday.”

I then hopped on the internet to see what an engine wire harness assembly is, because it sounded kind of scary the way she was talking. Turns out it’s the hose and cable system that connects everything in the engine. See picture above.

To replace it, one place listed a price of 558.35. Another listed a price of 645.00. Or, the genuine Toyota model for $1156,58.

Since it’s all connected, I’m not sure how one would “repair” it, short of duct tape. Something I will definitely have to ask my mechanics.

When I find out, I will let you know. In the meantime, if you know anybody who owns a 2005-2007 Toyota Corolla, please let them know of this potential ECM computer problem in their cars, and that their car could suddenly shut off without warning.

Thank you and God Bless.

**I do live in the country, but I have three cats. I seriously doubt they are going to let any rodents close enough to my car to feast on the wiring, and I doubt my mechanic would have let that pass unremarked upon, but we will see...

Update, February 2014 (almost five years later)....My car runs just fine, with no problems at all.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How to Write a Kick-Ass Query Letter

Over the weekend, I attended the Pennwriters conference and had an awesome time attending workshops, meeting new people, and re-connecting with writer friends. One of the workshops I attended was called The Career Novelist, presented by Paige Wheeler, co-founder of Folio Literary Management, LLC. As part of her workshop, she included a handout on How To Write a Kick-Ass Query letter, which she has kindly given me permission to share here with you.

How to Write a Kick-Ass Query Letter

By Paige Wheeler, Folio Literary Management


Write What You Know/Know What You Write:

The first step to writing a terrific query letter is to know what it is you’re writing. Are you writing fiction or nonfiction? If you’re writing fiction, what genre and/or subgenre (historical romance; cozy mystery; epic fantasy).

Size Does Matter:

How long is your manuscript? If you are writing fiction, you have probably finished the manuscript and you’re now looking for an agent (or editor), so you know the approximate length (word count) of your material. You should have checked the industry standards of various genres--cozy mysteries, for example, between 60,000 and 85,000 words; thrillers are closer to 100,000 words; contemporary romances (not category) are 95,000 – 100,000; fantasy novels are 90,000 – 140,000.

Complete or Not Complete, That is the Question:

Have you finished your manuscript? Most agents/editors only want to see material if it has been completed. There are some instances in which this is not the case, but it’s generally accepted that you should only query if your material is complete.

What I Like About You:

Now is the time to wow us with your fantastic credentials. Have you published with major publishers in 10 languages and sold over 10 million copies? That’s what we want to know! Okay, maybe you haven’t had such luck. However, have you sold at all? Won any contests? Earned your MFA in Creative Writing? Studied with a major author? Member of any professional organizations? (RWA, MWA, Sisters in Crime, etc.)

Name, Date and Serial Number, Please:

Okay, maybe we don’t need your serial number, but please, PLEASE be sure to give us your details. We need your name, address, phone number and email address. Also, please don’t forget to date your letter. If your material has been in our office for a while, we need to know, so we look to the date on the cover letter.

It’s Like, You Know:

Like or As. Similes. Comparisons. A helpful tool is to compare your work to others of a similar nature. Of course I’m sure yours is much better, but humor that New York Times bestselling author and compare her book to yours.

What’s it All About, Alfie?

Don’t let the agent/editor guess the story line. Put it down in a couple of sentences. This should be a short paragraph that summarizes the whole book. If you have your elevator pitch, this is where you put it. If you don’t know what an elevator pitch is, ask someone. You should be able to boil your story down to just a few lines. However, with those few lines, you need to capture the agent/editor’s attention. So make sure you mention what makes the story SPECIAL.

Let it Flow, Let it Flow, Let it Flow:

Now you need to combine all of these elements together into a cohesive, coherent one page pitch. Pay attention to spelling and grammar. Make sure the letter “reads well” and doesn’t sound disjointed and fragmented. This is where the agent/editor will be checking out your writing style.


3-2-1 Contact:

First, do your homework. Find out how each agent likes to be contacted—some prefer email queries while others loathe them. Then STICK TO THEIR REQUESTED WAY OF CONTACT. Don’t forget a SASE and/or email address. If you love overseas, you can be forgiven the SASE and we will email you, but some agencies still require an international postal coupon. Some agents get picky if you misspell their name, so make sure you get it right.

Paige Wheeler is a founding partner of Folio Literary Management, LLC. Prior to forming Folio Literary Management, Ms. Wheeler founded Creative Media Agency (CMA) in 1997 and served as its President for nine years until she merged the company into Folio in 2006.

Paige has been reading queries for over 15 years, looking for all types of fiction and nonfiction. Her specific interests are listed below:

Fiction: All commercial fiction and upscale (think book club) fiction, as well as women’s fiction, romance (all types), mystery, thrillers, psychological suspense, and some young adult.

Nonfiction: I’m looking for both narrative nonfiction and prescriptive nonfiction. I’m looking for books where the author has a huge platform and something new to say in a particular area. Some of the areas that I like are lifestyle, relationship, business (!), pop culture, popular/trendy reference projects and women’s issues.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Guest Author, Margaret Tanner

Today's guest is Margaret Tanner (whose website was designed by the incomparable Rae Monet, like mine), fellow Rose and author of several historical romances. Margaret lives in Australia, so I am posting this the evening before I usually do--because while I'm getting ready to shut down for the night, her day is just beginning. Margaret was voted the 2008 Australian Author of the Year by, and the novel we are featuring here today finished in the top 30 in the 2007 Preditors and Editors Poll. She also has a brand new story out now, called The Trouble With Playboys, from The Wild Rose Press. Welcome, Margaret, and enjoy your day.

Q: Who are you?

A: I am an author who loves delving into the pages of history as I carry out research for my historical romance novels. I take pride in being historically correct. No history book is too old or tattered for me to trawl through. I have tramped through cemeteries, spent hours in museums. I visited an old jail once and went into the little stone cell, and although it was a hot day, inside the cell it was bone chillingly cold. I wanted to know what it was like to be incarcerated in such a place, as the heroine in my novel, Devil’s Ridge, was thrown in jail for a crime she did not commit.

I would like to think I have suffered form my craft, but I haven’t, except for a few blisters and sneezing fits.

I am a member of the Romance Writers of Australia, the Melbourne Romance Writers Group (MRWG) and EPIC.

Q: What type of stories do you like to write and why?

A. Historical Romance, as I love delving into the pages of history.

Q: When do you write ?

A. I can write anytime, as long as I am on my own. I hate writing when people are around me, I think because I need silence.

Q: When can you read? Where?

A.. I read anywhere, anytime.

Q: How did you come up with your title and main characters’ names?

A. I am not sure, they just seem to come to me and announce their presence. I do get a lot of my ideas when I am lying in bed at night. The darkness seems to help by creativity. I have always had a good imagination.

Q: How long did you write seriously before your first book was published?

A. Several years of serious writing, joining writing groups, entering competitions. Revising. I guess you could say I have been writing most of my life. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write, but I started out with short stories and poetry, before progressing to novels.

Q: Why do you write?

A. I write because I love it. It’s a compulsion, just can’t not write. It would be easier to hack off my leg, (only joking about the leg).

Thank you, Margaret, for taking the time to be here today. To sum up, here's a blurb for
DEVIL’S RIDGE from Whiskey Creek Press.

By the time Ross Calvert discovers Harry Martin is in fact Harriet Martin she has fallen in love with him. Realizing she has failed in her final effort to protect her shell-shocked brother, she puts a desperate proposition to Ross. Marry her and she will give him an heir.

Ross accepts. However, he is tormented by the betrayal of his former fiancée Virginia. On his honeymoon he meets her again and is still infatuated. With the army recalling him to the Western Front in 1917, he faces a terrible dilemma, taste Virginia’s passion before he heads to the trenches of France, or keep his marriage vows to Harry.

With the spectre of war hanging over them, there are even bigger obstacles for Ross and Harry. Ross returns to the trenches, and a man seeking wealth at any cost, endangers Harry’s life in a way she had never imagined possible.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunday's Inspirational Quote

God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers. ~Rudyard Kipling

Happy Mother's Day to all you mothers out there and for a good laugh, check out this video on Why Babies Need Mothers.