Posted in Writing

Not Quite DNF

Dear Author,

I took a couple of days off from work, only to come down with some virus.  I’ve never been too sick to read, however, so at least I had the opportunity to plow through some of my considerable book backlog.  Your series was part of this fiction binge, but it had some problems that would have stopped me from continuing if the books hadn’t otherwise been such a great read.  You truly have action and timing down to a science, and I was on the edge of my seat through most of the chapters.  Your stories were absolutely riveting, which makes me much more forgiving of any flaws.  Since I enjoyed your books so much and only want to see them get better, please note the following:

1.  Gunshot wounds.  Your description of the gun fight was good, very good.  You plunged me into the chaos and confusion, the adrenaline, the white noise buzzing through the ears, the alienating sense of being there but not being there.  You accurately depicted the shock and reaction to injury, something a lot of authors overlook.  Your scene at the hospital leads me to believe you have a nursing background, or that you did some extensive research.

So what happened between this chapter and the next, when your character engaged in a very athletic round of what I’ll just refer to as ‘Hide the Button’?  This scene took place within two days of the injury, with no mention of any physical accommodations made for that shoulder wound.  I understand that romance is all about the fantasy, so instead of laying in bed and whining about how his mom always put an ice cube in his chicken soup to cool it down, he’s up and back in action.  Still, I would think he’d at least have his partner do some more of the, um, heavy lifting.

2.  More gunshot wounds.  In another book in the series, your hero was grazed by a bullet.  You didn’t fall prey to the ‘it’s just a flesh wound’ nonsense, and while the injury was not serious, it did require some cleaning and a few stitches.  Good on you.

Then you were hit by a bus or had a year-long break from writing that story, because you absolutely forgot anything ever happened to this guy.  There was no mention of it again for the rest of the book, but the next day, your protagonist did several things that would have resulted in a twinge of pain, if not considerable discomfort to that stitched up area.  Yes, he’s macho enough to have done those things anyway, but I would have liked to see some sort of hesitation in his movements.  He’s also dating a nurse, and I can’t believe she didn’t bust his chops for not keeping that wound clean.

3.  Kissy-face in the women’s bathroom.  This one almost killed me.  On top of the ‘ewww, this is really unsanitary’ reaction, this is the women’s restroom.  The only women’s restroom.  Your hero just locked himself in with his fair lady, which means no one else has access to this room.  In a crowded bar full of bikers, someone’s old lady is going to be enraged when she can’t take care of business and things are going to get ugly.  When you have your couple ‘get a room’, perhaps it shouldn’t be that room.

4.  Style and naming inconsistency.  The side character was ‘Mark’ in one book, then five books later he had the leading role and was named ‘Marco’.  In one book the biker was wearing a leather ‘kutte’, in another, he was wearing a leather ‘cut’.  This can happen quite easily when writing a series, and sometimes it comes about as a result of switching editors or publishers.  Your mistakes weren’t serious, and if I wasn’t reading all five books in a row, I might not have noticed.  Since I did notice, I recommend you ask Santa to put a character bible in your stocking this year.

In spite of the above-mentioned problems, you are definitely going on my ‘follow this author’ list at Amazon.  I’d totally volunteer to beta-read for you, except I have no spare time to offer.  I’m too busy criticizing people who have accomplished what I have not, such as writing a book.




I was fortunate in this round, as only one of the books in my reading pile landed in the DNF category.  I’ve written a list of some of the reasons for this, but this was something new – failure to convince.  This is quite a feat, because I read mysteries, fantasy, romance, and various combinations of all three.  Like most avid readers, I dive into these genres with reality already suspended.

Dead body in the conservatory?  Hey, it happens.  Aliens?  Sure.  I’ve never believed we’re the only planet in this huge universe to have sentient beings on it.  Werewolves/Shifters?  Sounds like some fun magic, particularly if they’re well-muscled.

But this author’s scenario?  The reclusive, billionaire hero pulls a beautiful woman out of an ocean during a storm, and takes her to his mansion to recover.  Okay, not an uncommon trope, so I’m still in.  Then, because he’s considerate and doesn’t want her to catch a cold, he removes her wet clothing and wraps her in a nice warm blanket.  So far, so good.

Then, because she’s still resting, he goes out to the store and buys her some replacement clothing.  He takes it back to her, she puts it on, and they are on to the next step in the story.

Meanwhile, my eyes have rolled to the back of my head.  There are a lot of things I can believe, but there is absolutely no way anyone can convince me those replacement clothes actually fit the woman.  No freaking way.

I understand the implication of this – he could guess her size because he’s very familiar with women’s bodies.  Reformed Playboy is another common romance trope, although not one I particularly care to read.  But I can’t walk into a store and pull something off the rack with any guarantee that it will fit my own body, and you’re telling me he can dress a stranger?  He might get lucky and guess correctly on the t-shirt, but her bra?  More than cup size goes into the sizing of a bra, and as any fitting assistant at Soma will tell you, three completely different shapes of women might all correctly wear a 36-C.

Maybe if he took her wet clothing with him and bought the exact same items, but at least one of those items is probably no longer made, so…nope, can’t go any further.  Come back to me later with a different scenario, and I might finish your book.  Meanwhile, I’ll be reading something far more realistic, such as Arrested by the Alien Vampire.  Book ‘em, Zhyrg.

Posted in Defense Contract Accounting

Your Money is Touching My Money

October and half of November got away from me without a post, which isn’t surprising.  As is often the case at this time of year, I have been swamped at work.  Government contract accounting isn’t quite as seasonal as public accounting, but there are certain points when everything is more than a little crazy.  September 30th is the fiscal year end for the federal government, so October is spent in pursuit of the following:

1) Figuring out where the money was spent

2) Figuring out how to spend money in the upcoming year

3) Making sure you were the only one spending last year’s money

4) Trying to spend any leftover money from last year

Yes, it’s all the taxpayers’ money, but one of the things that sets government accounting apart from private industry is the use of fund accounting.  You are given a pot of gold for a specific program or purpose, and this pot is surrounded by cherubim with flaming swords, leprechaun optional.  Only those holding the holy password get to spend this money, and they certainly don’t want you touching their Foreign Military Sales money with your icky old F-35 expenditures.  (Should you wish to sell those same F-35’s to a foreign government, well, that’s a completely different program.)  If you fail to spend the pot of gold in a specified amount of time, it disappears.

Think I’m exaggerating?  Talk to an active duty Air Force doctor who spends a third of his day trying to convince the powers-that-be to authorize the use of prescriptions not carried in the base pharmacy.  The funds that pay for prescriptions filled through non-military pharmacies come from a different pot of money than the funds that stock the base pharmacy.  One set of funds is controlled by Godzilla, and the other is managed by King Kong, leaving the doctor scrambling to avoid getting trampled during the fight.

On second thought, that might not be the best example, because civilian physicians encounter much the same when dealing with the insurance companies.  A better explanation might be found on the runway, where the aircraft and the weapons it carries belong to separate programs.  One program is flush with cash because it resides in a district that just happens to belong to a prominent member of the House Armed Services Committee, and the other program is underfunded because it just isn’t sexy enough to attract attention.  The end result is the [REDACTED], with the losers being the pilot who has to fly the un-friendly skies and, of course, the taxpayer.  The winner is the accounting profession, because tracking all of these millions of pots of gold will keep us bean-counters employed for a very long time.

Creative types are also the winners, since all of this provides an endless source of plot material:


    1. Executive Hotshot at Defense contractor Ginormous Aerospace, Inc. plays a round of golf with soon-to-be-retired General Armchair.  Executive casually mentions likelihood of a possible impending disaster, and wonders aloud if there shouldn’t be some sort of disaster preparedness measures taken, complete with an ARK (Agile Rescue Kayak).
    2. General Armchair has dinner with Representative Bringhomethebacon, currently serving on the House Armed Services Committee.
    3. Congress passes the Impending Disaster Act, which calls for the building of a fleet of 20,000 National Defense ARKs.  Buried in the Impending Disaster Act is an unfunded mandate demanding state and local government agencies also purchase ARKs, as well as a pig-feed subsidy.
    4. Funding appropriations are granted for a contract to design and build the ARKs.  The contract is written to precise specifications, which happen to utilize a process used only by Ginormous Aerospace.
    5. Contract is awarded to Ginormous Aerospace, but the competing defense contractors immediately file a protest against the award.
    6. Three years later, the protests are discontinued and the contract award stands as is.
    7. Retired General Armchair is hired as a consultant by Ginormous Aerospace.
    8. Within a year of the actual contract production start date, seventeen contract modifications have been issued.  One of the mods increases the number of ARKs to be delivered from 20,000 to 50,000.  Twelve of the mods are to add functional variations to accommodate the differing needs of the Army and Marine Corps.  The Navy is happy with the design, but wants to add Individual Collection Units, or ICUs, built specifically to attach to the ARK and deploy in the event of someone falling overboard.  This additional work becomes a direct award/non-competitive set-aside to a small/disabled veteran/woman-owned/minority business from Representative Bringhomethebacon’s district.  The business is on record as being owned by Jojo Attagirl, but her husband financed the business and makes all operational decisions.
    9. Significant design flaws are uncovered when the prototype ARK sinks during its maiden voyage.  The contractor blames the Navy, claiming the last-minute modifications have altered the stability of the craft.  The Navy claims Ginormous Aerospace used faulty parts in the construction.  Both sides lawyer-up while work continues.
    10. The Air Force decides they need their own ARKs, so further modifications are made to the design.  In the interim, the ICU contract has received seven contract mods, each increasing the size and capabilities of the individual craft.  The two companies neglect to inform each other of the design changes.  The first manufactured ICU, which is now almost as large as the ARK, falls off during testing, claiming the lives of three engineers and causing an electrician to stub his left toe.  The United Brotherhood of Defense Contract Electricians promptly calls a strike, citing unsafe working conditions.  The deceased engineers are replaced by foreign nationals, who used to work for their country’s Department of Military Acquisitions.
    11. Ten years, 302 modifications and 878 million dollars later, the first 200 ARKs are delivered to the military.  The Air Force decides they want their model ready for outer-space deployment, and the contract is extended another five years.
    12. The troops in the field quickly discover the ICU is more useful than the ARK.  The military cancels their remaining orders, but the state and local governments are still required to purchase the units.  The military passes their existing units down to the National Guard and Reserve.
    13. The foreign workers return to their country’s Department of Military Acquisitions.  They’ve found no military or trade secrets worth stealing, but they did take the opportunity to visit Disney World.  One of the workers stays in America, because he’s already committed to coaching his daughter’s soccer team.
    14. Both the ARK and the ICU programs are cancelled in the next round of budget cuts.  The engineers are hired for other contracts, and the accountants spend the next twelve years untangling the money.  Both groups continue to pay their taxes, some of which go to fund the new Orbiting Strategic Naval Armed Paddleboard, or O-SNAP.
    15. Rinse and repeat.

    I’d write more, but I have to come up with some kind of a cover story in case my boss reads this.  I think I’ll use the ‘aliens invaded and took over all of the accountants’ brains’ excuse, which makes sense if you think about it.  We don’t have a world leader, so why not go after the ones who handle the money?


Posted in Goals, Life


Not long after we started dating, I noted MFB’s desire to hit the gym for an hour every day.  This surprised me, because I tend to view exercise as a physical torture.  Why do it on the weekend, when you’re supposed to be relaxing?

“It helps me keep my center,” he explained.

The concept of finding a point inside yourself that gives you focus wasn’t entirely new to me, but I’d never heard it phrased quite like that.  An image came to mind of a plank with a fulcrum at it’s center, giving it perfect balance.  That picture has remained with me over the years, a visible reminder of two parts that must both be in the correct place in order to work.  If you add unequal weight to the ends of the plank, you have to move the fulcrum in order to keep it balanced.  If you move the fulcrum, you must add weight toward the other end of the plank to keep it balanced.

A couple of years ago, I started working for a company experiencing explosive growth.  It’s exciting to be in the middle of that, but my work hours rapidly expanded, and why not?  I was an empty-nester with a deployed spouse, so there was nothing to pull me home at a decent hour.  And look how much I was accomplishing!

What I ignored was the toll the long hours were taking outside of work.  Regular exercise (did I mention I view it as torture?) was the first thing to be jettisoned, because it’s really easy to talk yourself out of taking a walk at 10 pm.  Eating habits?  My spouse is the primary cook in our family, and in his absence I was too tired to prepare meals for myself.  Sleep?  It’s hard to rest when your mind is constantly reviewing the events of the day and dreading the stack waiting on your desk for tomorrow.  The things I enjoy doing, such as writing, kayaking or scrapbooking?  Hah!  I was too busy to indulge.

I didn’t just lose my center; I smashed that plank into a million pieces and buried the fulcrum under a mountain of pig slops.


If I were to write a list of decisions that have changed my life, attending that writers’ conference would be on it.  I spent an entire week doing nothing but writing, sleeping, eating, making new friends, and learning more about writing.  All of that was beneficial, but the greatest gift was one I didn’t expect — time.  Time to reflect, time to ponder, time to take a hard look at my life and see what needed to change.

Time to put my life back in balance.

It began with a statement from one of the conference presenters, something along the lines of ‘To be successful, you must first know what success looks like.’  I wish I could remember who said it, but I lost track of everything else in the session because suddenly I wanted to envision what my success looked like.  I started slamming notes into my laptop, and when I stopped, I realized I had written a detailed description of a destination.  What was missing was the path to get there.

Laying out that path was rough, and I knew walking it would be even harder.  The direction I needed to go was clear, but the sheer number of steps involved seemed overwhelming.  Time and again my finger drifted to the ‘delete’ button, tempted to eighty-six my dreams as I had so many times before.

But this time felt different. Something had changed; I had changed.  I was older, and if not wiser, more experienced.  I had completed large projects over the course of my career, and those opportunities had taught me how to eat an elephant.  You simply carve off one slice at a time.


When my plane touched down in Florida on Sunday, it carried more than people and luggage.  Inside my laptop was a detailed list of SMART goals I needed to accomplish in order to achieve what I defined as success.  There are many steps involved, but the first is the most important:

  1. I will get my life back in balance by working no more than 9 hours a day and 1 Saturday per month.  I will no longer bring work home, even mentally.  I will rely on my team to perform to the best of their abilities and remember there is always tomorrow and the work will still be there.

In order to be specific (the ’S’ part of a SMART goal), I had to include that bit about not bringing my work home with me, wrapped inside my head.  I didn’t realize the extent of the problem until I caught myself thinking about work-related matters no less than seventeen times, and that was just on the drive home from the airport.  I had to forcibly remind myself that I wasn’t allowed to think of work unless I was driving to my office or sitting at my desk, and that doing so would keep me from quitting my job because of burn-out.  I also refrained from opening my email, which I hadn’t checked at all while I was in Arizona.  The temptation to view it on Sunday night was strong, but every time I wavered, I recited Step Number One.

It was no surprise when I sat at my desk on Monday morning and logged in to find 223 emails waiting for me.  I did what I could, and left the office when I’d hit my ninth hour.  Then, because I wasn’t exhausted, I came home and worked on the outline for my book.  The world felt right because I could create, and I could create because I found my center.

And that is what success looks like.

Posted in Writing

All In a Day’s Work

I’m currently staying in Arizona, anticipating attendance at a writers’ conference later this week.  I have been having a great time, and the Catfish-I-Haven’t-Met is now the Friend-Who-Really-Exists.  My travel was uneventful, the hurricane stayed out of my pocket of Florida in my absence, and I am so relaxed right now I can’t even get worked up over the Saints loss to the Vikings.  In short, life is good.

Which is why it’s time for another Reader Rant.

My reading preferences cross a lot of genres, but I really enjoy romance, fantasy, supernatural and mysteries.  Bonus points if they are combined (I’m envisioning Arrested by the Alien Vampire right now, and it’s amazing.  Someone should totally write this.  Or just design the cover, which would be filled with blue muscles and a look of utter adoration on the face of the alien as he gazes at the woman he’s hauling down to the station.)

Ahem.  Anyway, one of my chief complaints over the years has been a lack of variety in the protagonists’ careers, and while all of the genres are guilty of this transgression, I’m looking right at you, Contemporary Romance.  Why, in this day and age, are the men still magazine publishing tycoons and the women working as executive assistants?  And why is ‘bada$$ ninja sniper’ the only alternative to this?

Too many authors treat the protagonists’ means of making a living as an afterthought.  They choose to focus on the story and the action, and relegate the job to the background.  I get this, but it’s lazy.  Most people spend an awful lot of their time at their job, and the standard work week in the USA is considered to be 40 hours a week minimum.  Many of us work more hours than that, so how does that not impact the story itself?  And is the CEO/Admin pairing really the only possible way you can imagine them spending time together?

I took my rant to a friend last year, where I commented that I was so thrilled to read something the other day where the heroine worked in a grocery store AND THE HERO DIDN’T ‘SAVE’ HER from this terrible job.  The author treated her protagonist’s work situation as perfectly acceptable, because people who stock produce need love, too.  The author also understood that ‘success’ is not defined by your job.  A Fortune 500 CEO is no more ‘successful’ than an electrician.

Somewhere in this discussion arose the need for a ‘what career should my novel’s heroine have?’ flow-chart.  The bean-counter in me prefers a matrix over a flow-chart (nice, orderly boxes!), so I’m offering up some employment suggestions to get you started.  Please note that since men are stereotyped as much as women, most of these careers would be a refreshing change for either one.

A brief preview is listed down below; the expanded version is available here: All in a Day’s Work

Location Overdone Ambitious Blue-Collar Bad A$$
Office Secretary, CEO Director of Business Development Facilities Maintenance Collections Agent
Airport Flight Attendant, Pilot CEO, Airport Authority Procurement Board Baggage Handler Federal Air Marshal
Newspaper & Magazines Journalist, Photographer Production Manager Distribution Press Operator
Places with Food Chef, Bakery Owner Franchise Owner Inventory Stocker Food Safety Inspector
Places with Drinks Bartender, Barista Brewer Beverage Delivery Bouncer

You’re welcome.

Posted in Vacation, Writing

Cat-Fishing Vacation

“So how’s the software conversion going?” my friend asked.

“About like you’d expect,” I sighed.

She oughta know.  Of the three major financial software conversions I’ve done over my career, two of them were done while I was working for her.  Software conversions follow the same Rule of 3 as home construction projects:  no matter how well you plan, it will take 3 times as long and cost 3 times as much as your original estimate.

The comparison is particularly appropriate at this time, since I also happen to be in the middle of a kitchen remodel that should have finished last month.

“It’s a good thing you’re taking this vacation.  You really need it.”

Truth.  She’s my best friend, so she knows that in addition to the remodeling and the conversion, I’m also dealing with some extremely stressful personal issues.  She really should be asking me if I intend to come back, and if not, do I still want my Amazon history erased before MFB can see it?

I put my vacation plans into motion last spring.  A lunchtime conversation with this same friend wound up on the topic of doing things just for ourselves, and not our family, our friends, or our jobs.  Right at the top of my list was this enduring fantasy I’ve had of taking a vacation by myself.

Totally selfish, I know.  It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with my loved ones; it’s just that the notion of spending a week doing things that only I enjoy is incredibly appealing.  When I’m traveling with others, I can’t stay holed up in the hotel room vegging out.  I have to participate in activities, and I have to socialize.  I have to do things.

Don’t get me wrong, I always have a good time.  We aren’t doing things that I hate, it’s just that we’re not doing anything I would love.  My introverted self loves things like spending the entire day in my pajamas reading a book, which my extroverted family members view as a violation of the Geneva Convention protocols.

Thoughts of fantasy-fulfillment usually remain just that – thoughts – but this one wouldn’t leave me alone.  A casual lunchtime conversation with ‘hey, maybe you should check out a writing cruise,’ instead morphed into a week in Arizona, where my chances of getting seasick are considerably lessened.

My fantasy came to life in two phases.  The first was when I looked at my various travel rewards statements and realized I had enough points to pay for a flight and hotel, which eliminated any lingering guilt over doing something fun without my spouse.  The second happened a week later, when I stumbled across the announcement for a writers’ conference.

Arizona is a place I have wanted to visit for years.  You wouldn’t think it would be a tourist destination in September’s brutal heat, but this is where my Friend-I’ve-Never-Met lives.  Talking about her always sounds like an online dating testimonial:

“Oh, we met about thirteen years ago, when she commented on something I wrote.  I answered back, she replied, and I don’t know, we just clicked!”

Today’s version would involve pulling up the Nerds United app and swiping right to meet a fellow introverted, book-loving, language nerd who happens to enjoy writing.  (Does this app exist?  It should.)

We’ve wanted to meet up in person for a long time.  The stars aligned, so I booked my flight.  I also told my staff that if they contacted me during that time period, they had better start that conversation with “I’m only calling you because _______ is dead and if I don’t resolve _______, the United States will be forced to surrender to Liechtenstein’s invading forces.”

Having related the above, I do have to acknowledge the small possibility that I am being cat-fished.  Since we’ve never met in person before, ‘she’ might be an overly-large balding man with hairy knuckles and nefarious intentions.  The odds of her being fake are pretty slim, though, since she is listed as one of the convention’s instructors.

In addition, there are the relatives.  Her sister knows my aunt.  Her aunt knows my cousin.  I’ve personally met one of her cousins, not a distant cousin, but a ‘your parent is my parent’s sibling’ cousin.  We both could hold a family reunion, and the same people would show up.

The whole ‘published author’ thing tips the scales further in favor of her being who she says she is, but what if Amazon is involved in the scheme?  They’d be the perfect partner in crime since they already know everything about me, right down to my fondness for brazil nuts and love of old Barbara Cartland novels.  (Don’t judge.)

But in order to orchestrate an evil scheme on this level, she would have to be an absolute genius.  It would be the Greatest Cat-Fish Ever.  “They found your grandma’s body in a ditch, clutching an empty Diet Coke can,” my kids would tell their children, “and they never did catch the guy.”

Which really makes this all the more reason that I have to go.  I am morally obligated by the Rules of Literary Engagement to carry this through to the end.  *Reference Rule 172, Section 6, Penalties for Early Plot Cancellation.

Even if – especially if – Amazon is involved.

Besides, the prospect of impending doom still sounds more appealing than another week at the office.

Posted in Life, Organizing

Calendar Crisis

Hi, everyone.  My name is [REDACTED], and I have a terrible addiction.

My habit started early.  I was thirteen, at the mall with a group of friends.  They were checking out the clothing stores; I was wondering how soon we could leave and if my friend’s cute older brother would be the one picking us up.  Bored, I wandered to the darker part of the mall, the place where more questionable items were sold in dens of iniquity like Buster Brown Shoes and the Lechter housewares shops.

I can’t remember the name of the place, but it sold stationery and office supplies.  It was small, nowhere near the scale of the ubiquitous Hallmark shops.  I hesitated before crossing the threshold of the dimly-lit store.  I was a good kid, raised by godly parents – what was I doing in such a place?  But what I found in a dusty corner proved to be too much temptation for my young soul to resist.

Two hours later, my friends finally found me, stretched out on the bench near the arcade.  I tried to hide the evidence, but they were too quick.  The bag was taken from my hands, and the contents were spilled for all to see my shame.

“What is it?”

“A planner,” I mumbled, peeling back the velcro clasp.  “You know, for keeping track of appointments and stuff?”

“You’re thirteen.  What appointments do you have?” my friend’s older brother scoffed.  Suddenly, he wasn’t quite so cute anymore.

“It’s more than a calendar.  Look, there’s a schedule at the back for my homework, and an address book…there’s even some stickers and a matching lilac pen!”

From that moment on I was hooked, and I’ve been a user ever since.  At thirteen, I mostly just used the address book for my friends’ phone numbers and the mostly-empty calendar to track birthdays.  The homework schedule remained empty, as I was a fan of the three-day method.  (If the assignment is due in three days, spend one day vaguely considering the effort it will take to do it, one day to forget about it entirely, and the third day to complete the assignment in a state of panic.)

The obsession continued well into adulthood.  I’ve always been an early adopter when it comes to technology, but my paper planner still ruled.  Sure, I could keep my address book on the computer, but how would I access it?  My planner fit in my purse, and there were so many varieties!  I did have my favorites – my kids thought Franklin Covey was the name of Mommy’s boyfriend and GTD was a car I wanted.

The day I discovered the Palm Pilot, my planner hit the trash.  Who needs to lug a heavy brick around when I could fit this tiny thing in my purse pocket?  And yes, I use the same rationale to upgrade my cell phones.

Little did I realize that tossing my paper planner would send me on an eternal quest for something better.  Technology continued to advance, rendering devices and software obsolescent in a pace where even I couldn’t keep up.  I also didn’t foresee that the day would come when I would have multiple email addresses and calendars, all of which needed to talk to each other.  The perfect solution is just around the corner!

It’s still just around the corner, laughing at my failing attempts to catch it.  All I want is software that will contain the information from ALL of my calendars, ALL of my contacts, ALL of my emails, AND has project-based tasking.  Is this too much to ask?

Apparently, it is.  I have tried a lot of products, all in the effort to stay on top of my schedule, my projects, and my life.  My workplace uses Microsoft Outlook, which I dislike because it only has tasks, not projects.  (Hint:  If it takes more than three unique actions to accomplish a goal, you have a project, not a task.)  Microsoft would happily sell me the Project software, for a not-so-nominal fee, and it would still reside outside my other software.

Google’s Gmail is my preference for calendars and email, and it allegedly can be interfaced with Outlook 365, but my workplace uses a much older version of Outlook that doesn’t support this feature.  Outlook has a better Contacts section, but trying to merge it with my Google contacts creates duplications I can’t seem to unravel.  My calendars?  They’re nothing but constant event duplications, except when they overwrite themselves.

IQTELL was supposed to be the game changer, offering a resting place for the information produced by native apps.  I loved it and used it a lot, but I must have been in the minority because the company folded last month.  I also used Pocket Informant for about a year before that, but the app was full of bugs.  Both apps seemed to be the only ones to address my need to integrate projects into the mix.

So many apps, and so little satisfaction.  My frustration mounted, but I believe I’ve found a wonderful solution.  At the recommendation of an author whose page I follow on Facebook, I found a lovely little place online called

That’s right, I got a paper planner.  And a lilac pen.  And stickers.  And more colored pens because how boring is just one color, and also some matching sticky notes, because you can never have enough of those and they snapped in right next to the extra dividers and the zip pouch and oh my, I really am an addict, aren’t I?

So is it truly the perfect planner?  Well, no.

The best planning system in the world can make me very productive and allow me to accomplish amazing things, but it still can’t give me what I don’t seem to have enough of right now – time.  At the end of the day, there are still only 24 hours in it, and the week has only 7 days.  I can use those hours wisely (or not), but I get no more than the given allotment, and no planner in the world can alter that.  The stickers and colored pens are just there to make me feel better about it.

Posted in Defense Contract Accounting, Writing

The Accidental Accountant

Ever since I was a little girl, I always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Every morning, I’d take out my 10-key calculator, sharpen my pencils, and start filling in ledger entries.  I’d spend hours reading books about revenue standards and the best method of inventory valuations, and then I’d review the tax code for possible loopholes.  And just when I reached a new discovery –

I’d wake up from my nightmare because I had to get ready for work.

OF COURSE I never thought I’d become an accountant.  Who does?  Are there seriously kids out there who fantasize about debits and credits?

After numerous discussions with others in my profession, I’ve come to the conclusion that we all sort of fell into it by accident.  There’s no shortage of business schools or bankers, so I can only guess that at some point in our early adulthood, something led us over to the Dark Side.  We ventured into a world where everything must be sorted and matched to its proper time frame, and we discovered we were really, really good at playing ‘one of these things is not like the other’.

Since the Dark Side has snacks in the break room, most of us stayed.

Non-accountants usually say they could never do our job because they aren’t good at math, which shows how little outsiders know about the profession.  Accountants don’t do math; we organize piles of numbers and tell the CEO whether or not she can afford that new Lexus.  In fact, a lot of us can’t do simple addition without a calculator.

CEO:  “What’s 1 and 1?”

Intern:  “2”

Accounting Dept:  “11”

IT Dept:  “3”

Proposals Dept:  “What do you want it to be?”


I personally wound up in the accounting profession because I wanted to be an engineer.  Allow me to connect the dots:

  • Enters college eight years after graduating high school.
  • Decides it would be fun to be an engineer.
  • Secretly wants to be a writer, but doesn’t think it’s possible.
  • Learns most engineering degrees take five years to complete.
  • Decides to work as an accounts-payable clerk to help put food on the table while pursuing engineering degree.
  • Decides to pick up a two-year degree in accounting in order to get promoted at company while pursuing engineering degree.
  • After a fifteen-year absence, rediscovers joy in writing fiction.
  • Fails chemistry class three times.
  • Wonders why engineering seemed like a good idea.
  • Really wants to be a writer.
  • Keeps getting promoted in accounting.
  • Stops and starts college multiple times over the next two decades, because several other degrees seem way more interesting than accounting.
  • Sucks it up and finishes four-year degree in accounting in order to find a new job.
  • Gets promoted into management.
  • Still dreams of being a writer.


As a child, you are asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  As an adult, you discover the question really should have been, “How do you plan on paying your bills?”  You find that your dreams are replaced with practicalities, and you trade youth and passion for responsibility and security.  Your dreams fall into a dark corner, and after a few years, you start to believe you should just give up on them because it’s frustrating to want something that seems so far out of reach.

After a while you decide to give up your dream and it seems like the right decision; especially when you come home after a 10-hour work day and you can’t sit down to write because you’re exhausted and your vision is blurry and you need to go to the grocery store or you’ll be eating cold cereal for the third night in a row.  But while you’re grabbing a frozen pizza, you notice everyone around you is in swimsuits and shorts and you’re standing there in a skirt and heels, so you wonder what all these tourists do when they go back home.  By the time you get to the check-out, you decide that the couple behind you came down here from Ohio in order to murder his rich great-uncle, and you load your groceries into the car while contemplating ways to kill someone at the beach.  “Death By Sand Spurs” seems like a good working title, and the first chapter is written in your head by the time you fall asleep that night.

Then in the morning, you get back up, dust off your dreams, and throw your personal laptop in your work bag.  You’re going to write during your lunch hour, because you can no more quit dreaming than you can quit accounting.  And maybe by the time you finish the first page, the break room will have more snacks.

Posted in Writing

DNF Romance

Dear Author,

I wanted to finish reading your book.  I always want to finish.  In fact, there was once a time in my life when, no matter how difficult, I would slog through to the bitter end.

I had more free time on my hands in those days, and a far greater tolerance for pain.

You might not think this is a big deal, but I read a LOT of books, and so do my friends.  We’re always looking for a ‘new’ author, and when we find one we really like, we go and purchase everything the author has written.  You’re not just losing sales on your future books, you’re also losing them on your back catalog.

On the off-chance that you are looking to improve, here are some of the reasons your book landed in the dreaded DNF (did not finish) pile:

You bored me.  Life is too darn short to spend it reading something that puts me to sleep.  Textbooks are the primary culprit in this category, but your fiction committed this cardinal sin as well.  Please get a beta reader/editor to help you tighten up the narrative.

I can’t stand being inside your character’s head.  You wrote from the first-person point-of-view, but your character wasn’t capable of holding the entire narrative on her frail shoulders.  I felt like I was listening to a coworker talk about her divorce, wondering if it all really happened just like she said, and curious as to the other side of the story.

I hate your protagonist, Part I.  The greatest risk of first-person POV is that it can make a merely annoying character truly unbearable, because now I’m locked in her head.  Please tell your whining-and-making one-poor-choice-after-another drama queen to shut up.  I shouldn’t be rooting for the bad guys to win, or worse, wishing for a ‘rocks fall, everyone dies’ ending.

Your mistakes killed me.  The advice is to ‘write now, research later,’ but you forgot to come back and do the research part.  I’m not referring to the sort of error that would only be noticeable to a subject matter expert, but your romantic lead is in the military and there’s no excuse in the age of wiki for not knowing what rank is appropriate for the age of your character.  A 24 year-old Lieutenant?  Sure.  A 24 year-old Colonel, not so much.

Your lack of personal experience shows.  Not everything can be gathered through research, and the sad truth is that some things require first-hand experience if you choose to focus on them.  In your case, you chose to be rather explicit describing something that I’ll just refer to as peeling potatoes, but it was obvious you had never peeled potatoes.  In fact, it was clear that not only had you not peeled potatoes, you had never so much as held a spud.  In this instance, it would have been best if you had left the couple to peel potatoes behind closed doors.

I hate your Protagonist, Part II.  If your romantic lead spent the first half of the book being a jerk, why should I believe he won’t start mistreating his One True Love later on, once the honeymoon is over?  And why would she want to hook up with him in the first place?  If this guy’s going to have a mighty change of heart by the middle of the book (and I wouldn’t recommend waiting until later), please don’t try to base the transformation solely on the love of a good woman.

You grossed me out.  We all have different tolerance points, which is why sub-genres exist and M18+ books have warnings.  Your graphic description of a sucking chest wound would have been fine in a war thriller, but it wasn’t appropriate for your target audience in a contemporary romance.  I know your character was a nurse, but most readers don’t want to stumble across the dirty details while they’re eating lunch.

Your protagonist is a fashion plate.  Descriptions of the physical world are necessary to good fiction, but your character’s clothing took center stage.  I don’t need to know that she chose to wear a black pencil skirt with a sheer, soft coral blouse and silver hoop earrings.  I might need to know what her love interest thinks of her appearance, but I doubt he’s looking at her earrings.

You have an obvious author tic.  By the third chapter, your protagonist had rolled her eyes seventeen times.  Your romantic lead blinked twelve times.  You referenced his deep blue eyes in six different places.  I should never be able to play drinking games with your prose.

The worst part of all of this is that it didn’t have to be this way.  A good beta cures most of these ills, and a great beta has the courage to tell you that your character is unlikable.  I started reading your book because it looked interesting, so there was something there to draw me in.  You just didn’t close the deal, which is a shame.  The world needs more good books, and I was hoping one of them would be yours.



Posted in Business Travel, Defense Contract Accounting

Business Trippin’ – Denver, CO

Like many professionals, I maintain my certification status with continuing education.  I’ve made a habit of trying to attend one or two conferences a year, which, along with a couple of lunch seminars, usually covers the necessary credit hours.  As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve found it easier to convince my boss to send me to national conferences.  As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve also found that it’s a lot harder to arrange the time to leave the office.

This year, I planned to attend the Institute of Management Accountants’ annual conference in Denver.  Lovely time of year to travel to Colorado, but a few things were going on in the background.

1 – Two of my key staff members are out of the office on vacation.

2 – The colleague who was supposed to attend with me dropped out at the last minute.

3 – We are in the middle stages of a major financial software conversion, and I’m the project lead.

4 – We just instituted new banking protocols, and all of the company members who could access the accounts were going to be out of the office, including me.

5 – My ICE is due by June 30th, and it isn’t finished.

For those who don’t recognize the acronym, the ICE (or ICS) is the Incurred Cost Exhibit/Submission.  This is a multi-tab spreadsheet monster designed by masochists in order to train defense contractors to submit to the coming reign of the alien overlords.

Just kidding.  It really demonstrates to the government auditors exactly how you spent $500 making a hammer:  $2 for parts, $3 for the administrative burden, $245 in overhead costs from the secure facility that was built to protect the secret hammer, and $250 for the government’s requested design changes.

Most of my professional colleagues would look at the above list and immediately see the biggest problem.  Numbers 1 and 3 will survive a temporary absence, and someone else might surprise you by doing some work for a change.  Numbers 4 and 5 can be worked from the road; because we all love doing office work after hours.

Number 2, however, was almost enough to make me stay home.  Who wants to go to a place full of strangers without a wingman?  I went anyway, because even though I’m terminally shy, the class sessions looked interesting.  The previously unmentioned fact that my son and his wife live 45 minutes from Denver and had a Taekwondo tournament in the city that weekend had no influence on my decisions whatsoever.

No travelogue, just a few notes from the trip:

  • The speakers at the conference were incredible and inspiring. Some would suggest a direction connection between the speakers’ engaging, informative dialogue and the fact that they aren’t accountants.
  • Altitude sickness is real. I grew up in a mountain valley at 3300 feet altitude, but I’ve lived on the Gulf Coast of Florida for a couple of decades, where the biggest drop in altitude comes from stepping off the front porch.  This wasn’t my first case of altitude sickness, but it was by far the worst.  After a few days and several gallons of water, I recovered – right about the time my plane touched down in Florida.
  • Weed.  It’s legal in Colorado, but not if you’re a DoD government contractor.  Denver is jam-packed with people who don’t fall under these restrictions, and there were times when I was getting a pretty good contact buzz out on the 16th Street mall.
  • This is not a good food city when you have a pepper allergy. The local cuisine has chili pepper in places you’d never expect.  After finding it in my quiche, my mashed potatoes, and my blue cheese dressing, I decided Denver was trying to kill me.
  • A tropical storm was zeroing in on the Gulf Coast while I was at the conference. I wasn’t worried about my house – we don’t even bring in the lawn chairs for anything less than a Category 2 hurricane – but I was worried about getting stuck in the Atlanta airport.  I have spent so many nights in that airport that I’m surprised they don’t charge me a bed tax when I buy a ticket.

There was a lot of talk at the conference about setting goals and doing what you love, but I went back to the office and my overflowing inbox anyway.  I haven’t given up on my dreams, but I’ve also committed to a five-year plan for my employer.

And yeah, I’m also committed to making money.  Let’s not even pretend.

Posted in Fitness

Boot Camp vs Basic Training

“Orientation for the Boot Camp fitness training is on Thursday.”

“What’s the dress code?”

“Just wear something loose.”

Right, buddy.  If my clothing was loose, I wouldn’t need to sign up for a Boot Camp fitness program.

My dress size has always been up and down the scale, partially from the stress of long work hours and continued spouse deployments, but mostly because my Spirit Animal is the Noble Slug.  I’d be perfectly happy at my current weight, but my doctor and my blood pressure say otherwise.

The classes are led by a guy whose accent tells you his nickname before he does, but to preserve anonymity, we’re gonna refer to the cadre as Delaware and His Gang of Really Fit Women.  The orientation was packed with people just like me (fat), and when Delaware mentioned the average age was 49, it was the first time I was ever happy to be below average.  I spent most of my time during orientation estimating who was in worse shape than me, because that’s the person you want to stand next to during class.

The first day of class began with a lot of crying and groaning, and that was just when the alarm went off at 4:45.  The class requires a minimum commitment of 3 sessions a week for six weeks, so I told myself I could do anything 18 times.  I reminded myself that I’d survived Army Basic Training, and ignored the voice in my head telling me that was three decades ago.

Boot Camp classes involve a lot of circuit training, which has the advantage of making a 1-hour workout feel like it’s only 60 minutes.  Since my primary exercise in the last two years has been climbing the corporate ladder, I was a beet-red, sweaty, gasping mess by the end of it.  The 72 year-old by my side did her best not to laugh as she passed me on the circuit, but I could hear her telling her friends she was going to stand next to me every time.

During my attempts to breathe, I couldn’t help some of the comparisons rolling through my head – Civilian Boot Camp vs. Army Basic Training:

Civilian Boot Camp Army Basic Training Advantage
Instructor someone yelling someone yelling push
Work-out attire spandex reflective safety belt push
Commitment 6 weeks 10 weeks, but OSUT is 14-16 Civilian Boot Camp
Who’s paying for this? you US taxpayer Army Basic Training
Equipment water bottle & towel weapon and tactical gear Army Basic Training – the gear is heavy, but you get to shoot something
Location air-conditioned gym around the corner Fort Jackson in August or Fort Leonard Wood in January Civilian Boot Camp
Commute rush-hour traffic marching Army Basic Training
Can I quit before my time is up? yes not really Civilian Boot Camp
Where do I go when I’m finished? work overseas There’s an equal chance they both suck
Feeling when it’s over runner’s high unimaginable euphoria Army Basic Training

I’m a week in, which means 15 more classes to go.  My stamina and strength are improving, so at the current rate I can expect to actually complete one of the circuits by the time six weeks is up.  In the meantime, I’ll keep my chin up, my water bottle handy, and my alarm set on ‘scare’ mode.

And I’m telling that 72 year-old to stand somewhere else.