Friday, May 05, 2006

Drivers License Part 2

Well, I know you all are dying to find out how my driver's license crisis turned out. The first thing I did after returning from the DMV was call up our electric company and ask if they could pretty please put my name on the next bill after my husband's. Sure, it's kind of an odd request, but if it would convince the state of Wisconsin that I live here, it would be worth doing. (Strangely, the first person I talked to at the electric company wanted to talk to my husband first to make sure this was okay with him. Like it I couldn't have just gotten the next door neighbor to come make the call instead...)

Next I made a phone call to the state DMV the next day to find out what I could do--I mean, I've lived in the state of Wisconsin for nearly two years and it's illegal for me not to have a Wisconsin driver's license. Yet they wouldn't give me one because I didn't have any of their required proofs of residency.

The first thing the lady on the other end did was laugh. (I am not making this up.) She explained that Wisconsin has been experiencing a lot of residency fraud and they had to tighten their requirements, but she thought it was pretty silly when there were honest residents out there who couldn't qualify. (I agree.) She suggested that I gather up every document and piece of mail I could possibly think of that would have my name and address on it, and she gave me the name of a supervisor at the local DMV I could talk to. "I know these things aren't all on the document list," she said, "but hopefully if you bring the right information, reason will prevail and they'll give you your license."

So I did just that. After our electric bill arrived, I pulled out all kinds of stuff and loaded it into a folder--insurance statements, magazine bills, thank-you-notes--and headed off to the DMV. Theoretically the electric bill is supposed to be thirty days old before it proves residency. So I wasn't quite out of the woods yet. But frankly, I wanted to see if they'd continue to be so ridiculous about the whole thing. Plus I have to send the part of the bill with my name on it in with my payment. So I can't keep it for thirty days.

Well, I got there, and all the personnel there were standing at the little booths helping people who were waiting in line. I didn't see a good way I could just jump in and say, "Excuse me, but could you stop what you're doing and get me in to see Mr. Supervisor? Since I'm more important than all the other customers, of course." So I took a number like everyone else and waited.

Then someone important-looking walked in the door. He was tall and dressed in a suit, and was immediately hounded by several people. This, I guessed, must be Mr. Supervisor.

Then I got a good look at him. He was the same guy who had served me at the window two weeks before and told me he wouldn't give me a license! Somehow I doubted that any kind of reason would prevail with this gentleman. He was clearly a to-the-letter kind of person.

I thought about leaving right then, but I went ahead and waited out the lines. (I abandoned my previous ambitions of getting in to speak with the supervisor, and just hoped I'd get to talk to someone less picky instead.) Sure enough, after a nice DMV wait time, I got up to the window and got to speak with a different gentleman. He looked at my electric bill, said that was all he needed, and--guess what? I now have a Wisconsin driver's license!!!!

I'm not sure that's me in the picture, though. The person in the picture needs to lose some weight.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

How Much Money Writers Make

One of my nieces told me this week that she's writing a book! I was very excited for her, of course. I have lots of happy memories throughout my childhood of writing my own stories...of finding some paper and folding and stapling it into a book, and then grabbing my trusty pencil, turning to the first page, and spinning fabulous tales that would take me anywhere I wanted to go.

Well, some things have changed. My niece tells me she's writing it on the computer. I can't say I blame her; that's what I do myself, now. But there's something charming and inviting about those folded-paper books, and flipping through those blank pages and wondering what will be on them as my story unfolds.

After we discussed her story a little bit, she asked me how much money I made from my book Just the Way You Are that was published last year. Well! Kids these days do know what's most important. I told her "not as much as I wanted to make," but I think that was a little more vague than she was wanting.

OK, Niki, here's the scoop. When someone publishes your book, there are a lot of people involved. There are usually a few people who read it over and help you fix things that need to be fixed. This is their job and they need to be paid for it. Then there are the people who actually put the book together into a book--people who make the pages look nice, people who design the cover, and so forth. They also need to be paid. The company that actually prints the books and puts them together needs to be paid, too. And the publisher who's overseeing all this wants some money, too.

But that's not all. Then someone has to "distribute" the book. That means they get it put into bookstores. If no one distributes it to bookstores, then guess what happens? Your book won't be in any stores! And if it isn't in any stores, it's pretty hard to get people to buy it. Distributors also get your book put in online stores like and (It is kind of fun to bring up these websites and see your book for sale there, and to see comments people have left about your book.)

Then the bookstores buy however many copies of the book that they want. They pay a lower price than people who buy the book at the store will pay. The reason why is because the bookstore needs to make money, too.

If you look at the back of my book, you'll see that it has a price on the cover at the bottom. The price is $16.95. This is how much it will cost you if you buy the book in a store. The store can offer a discount if they want. They might sell more copies of a book if they offer it at a lower price, but then they won't make as much money from selling it.

So, after all of these people get paid from putting together my book and selling it, guess how much money I get for each copy of the book that is sold? $16.95? No way. $15? $14? Not even close.

I get about 74 cents for every copy of my book that is sold. 74 cents! So, if they sell 1000 copies in bookstores, I get $740. But if they sell 100,000 copies, I get $74,000. (That is, if I don't demand that my publisher increase my royalty rates because my book sold so many copies.) So, you can make lots of money IF lots of people buy your book. But the truth of the matter is--and this is the sad part--most books don't sell anywhere near 100,000 copies. (And many of those that do are sold in bulk and the author makes even less per book than I do.)

But there are other ways to make money. I can buy copies of my book from my publisher for a lower price than you can buy them in the stores. Then I can sell them for more money. So, if I sold them for $5 more than I paid for them, and I sell them to 20 people, I'd make $100. Some writers "self-publish" their books--they pay a company some money (instead of the company paying them) and they make the book for them. Then these writers have to take care of distributing the book to bookstores themselves, and advertising, and everything else (unless they pay someone else to do it), but the nice thing is that they get more money for each book they sell. People who are good at selling lots of things by themselves can do really well with this option.

And there's always the chance that a movie producer would want to make a movie from my book and would be willing to pay lots of money for the movie rights. Part of that money would go to my publisher, but I'd get to keep the rest. That would be nice, wouldn't it?

But so far I haven't been approached by any movie producers. I don't think it will be happening any time soon. But I'll let you know when it does.

(Maybe then I can buy an iPod.)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Still iPodless

A few days ago I told my family that I'd invented a new word. When I had their attention, I told them: "iPodless," looking meaningfully into my husband's eyes.

Both husband and son laughed. "You'd better get used to using that word," Husband said. "You'll be using it a long time."

...and all this time I only THOUGHT I lived at my house

True story. After having lived in Wisconsin for nearly two years, yesterday I finally got myself down to the DMV to get my Wisconsin driver's license. I know, I should have done it sooner, but I can give you a million reasons why I had to put it off (or forgot). Anyway, I'd done my homework. I knew what they'd ask for. They wanted a couple of forms of identification, including my old Utah license, and they wanted proof that I actually lived in Wisconsin now. I found a few bills that I expected to do the trick, and I was on my way.

Anyone who's been to the DMV knows that the wait is very, very, very long. So I'll skip that part. Those of you in Oklahoma who can go to tag agents in your neighborhood instead are extremely lucky.

My number was called, and I went up to the window and presented my application and supporting materials. When the nice gentleman got to the part about documenting my residency, I gave him our electric bill. What follows is pretty much exactly how it happened. True story.

Nice Gentleman: We can't accept this. This doesn't have your name on it.

Me: It has my husband's name on it.

Nice Gentleman: It has to have your name on it.

Me: But the utilities are in my husband's name.

Nice Gentleman: It has to have your name on it.

Me: (whipping out my "Plan B" documentation, having anticipated this problem earlier) Well, here's a bill with my name on it.

Nice Gentleman: This is a cell phone bill. We only accept land line telephone bills.

Me: (feeling smug) Ah, but look. This bill with my name on it shows the same address as the electric bill with my husband's name on it.

Nice Gentleman: We only accept land line telephone bills.


Nice Gentleman: I'm sorry, we can't accept that.

Me: (whipping out my "Plan C" documentation, feeling miffed) Okay, here's another bill. This is a cable bill, and it has my name on it and my address.

Nice Gentleman: We can't accept that, either. We only accept electric bills, gas bills, and land line telephone bills.

Me: (feeling desperate) What about a house deed? We own a house in Wisconsin. My name is on the deed to the house.

Gentleman: No, we can't accept that, either. (He pulls out a list that I've already been over many times.) This is the list of what we accept of proof of residency. You clearly need to study this list.

Me: I've already been over this list, and I don't have any of these things.

(He doesn't believe me and goes over the list item by item. I shoot down every single item on the list. I don't have a Wisconsin bank account because we've been happy with our banking in Utah and we like it where it is. The utilities are all in my husband's name. I'm not attending school in Wisconsin, so I don't have official records there. I don't have a paystub from a Wisconsin employer because I work freelance, and so far I haven't worked for anyone in Wisconsin.)

Me: Look. I've lived in Wisconsin for almost two years, and I should have a Wisconsin license.

Gentleman: Yes, you should.

Me: But I can't have one.

Gentleman: Nope.

So, according to the DMV, I don't live in Wisconsin. I fully understand and support their reasons for requiring proof of residency, but when I can live in the state for almost two years and still not meet their requirements, something is wrong with the system.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's iPod...

...or thy son's iPod. Or thy husband's iPod.

You know, up until recently, I thought an iPod would be fun to have, but it wasn't anything I really thought about. Even when my son got a Nano for his birthday last year at his request (demand?) it was way down there on my own list of things I aspired to own. Things like, oh, a house, a car that worked, bathtowels that weren't frayed on all four sides, maybe a blender--things that we needed were much higher.

Not anymore.

My husband's birthday came along not too long ago, and my son decided that what Dad really wanted was an iPod of his own. After thinking about it for about ten seconds, I decided, sure, why not? So I went to the store, picked one up, took it home (well, OK, I paid for it first), and hid it until the magic hour of birthday presents.

He was happy with it, all right. I was glad I'd gotten him a good present for once.

Then he spent several evenings ripping CD's. And he and our son exchanged songs. They've been comparing notes on how many gigs they have filled up with music. My husband can listen to his iPod for 2.4 days straight and never hear the same song twice, he says. And that's only the beginning. We have to buy more CD's now so he can fill up his iPod. Or buy more music online.

I am left out of these discussions and collaborations because I have nothing to contribute.

I watch them walk around connected to their iPods. They can take music with them wherever they go. Meanwhile, I'm still fumbling with the family stereo, and turning up the music too loud so I can hear it in another room. While I have to run and switch CD's out, they can flip instantly to any song they want.

I used to be happy with the family stereo.

The ultimate injustice came last night at the dinner table. Both Husband and Son were hooked up to their music. I could hear bits and pieces drift through their respective earbuds. But I ate my meatballs alone in pitiful silence. Poor, poor iPodless me.

I'm going to have to come up with a way to get even. I'll have to turn up the stereo louder than their iPods so they can't hear. Or I'll have to start talking really quietly while they have their earbuds in their ears. I could say, "Honey, I'm taking all of the money out of your wallet now and putting it in my piggy bank," and if their music's too loud they'd never know. Or maybe I should just get up in the middle of the night and hide their earbuds in, say, the fishtank, and solve the problem altogether. Wah ha ha ha...

Or I could just wait till my own birthday in a million years and hope I get my own iPod. But that's the mature, patient way to deal with things. Maybe that'll happen when I'm patient and mature. Meanwhile, boys, hold onto your earbuds.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Disappearing Money Trick

Now that we're making house payments, we have to come up with some sort of budget to help us manage our money. It's interesting how we were always able to make ends meet years ago on our meager student income in our dinky little student apartment at the University of Utah, but now that we can afford to buy a few luxuries (like, a house) we suddenly feel like we should be able to buy LOTS of luxuries. And we feel rather chagrined that our income and budget won't allow it.

I mean, how many years did we spend in that little student apartment staring at the cinderblock walls and dreaming of the day when we'd have a real house with real walls that we could (dramatic pause) pound nails into? Or when we'd have one of those neat things with big doors called a garage that we could park our car in and keep tools and bikes in? Somehow it always seemed that when that magical day came in the hazy future, we'd have not only that, but everything we ever wanted.

Not only would we have real walls, a garage, and a home to call our own, but we'd be able to eat out at every meal if we wanted. We'd try all the restaurants in town and choose our favorites and come back often. And we'd see the world. We'd travel wherever we wanted without worrying about the cost. And when we wanted to buy clothes, we'd march right into the mall and buy whatever we wanted--not just what was on the clearance rack.

Well, so far that much of it hasn't happened. We may have a real house, with walls and a garage, but somehow we still have more plans for our money than we have actual moolah. We have more space than we used to, but now we need to figure out how to buy some more furniture to put in the space. And we have lots of bare walls. I still gravitate toward the clearance rack and signs that say "SALE!" We still don't eat out every night. Some things never change.

At least I've seen Seattle.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Author Update

Here's what I have currently in the works:

  • An LDS novel, currently titled Almost Everything, about a young woman whose life was shattered by the divorce of her parents several years earlier. Now she is making decisions regarding how she feels about the Church, how she feels about her parents, and how she feels about a young man who is not LDS. The book addresses tough issues and remains completely faithful to LDS beliefs. It's coming together very well, and while its progress has been slowed by things in my life like moving to a new house (ahem) it should be ready to go to the publisher soon.
  • A humorous LDS novel about some missionaries sent to a very challenging mission. My son wanted me to write a "boy book," so I've got him in mind as I write. So far it's been a hoot, but it will be faith-promoting as well.
  • A sequel to Just the Way You Are. Find out what happens to LaNae, Jane, Mandy, Hanna, Emmett, Corey, and the rest of the gang from the University of Oklahoma institute. Some new characters are introduced, and some things have happened that have even surprised me! Personally, I can't wait to see how it ends.
  • I'm still working on a science fiction kids book, but by the time it's finished it might be my grandkids who appreciate it instead of my kid. Seriously, I think maybe I'm trying too hard on this one. Science and accuracy are very important to me, but you can't let these things overwhelm a fictional story. I should take my own advice and get busy writing the story instead of trying to figure out the scientific details.
  • I've also been putting together some Christmas memoirs and hope to have this collection ready for a Christmas release in the near future (I say, dodging any specific commitments to a specific year). It's shaping up to be a fun and heartwarming book.
  • For my editing projects, I'm in the final stages of editing a biography entitled Riding with Miss Lindsey, about the life of a girl who was born with Down syndome and serious heart defects and died at the age of sixteen. The book was written by her father, and even though I've read it zillions of times throughout the editing process, and I've never met Lindsey personally, I am always impressed with her sweet spirit and her determination to exceed her natural limitations and milk every drop of life out that she possibly could. The story is truly moving, and it's amazing to see through this everyday account just how much Lindsey touched the lives of others. The author of the book is James Alexander, and it will be available soon through American Book Publishing at
  • I am also editing a true account of the reunification of Germany entitled My Heart Beats on the Rhythm of United Germany. The author is from France, and was attending school in Germany at the time the Berlin Wall fell. She details the things she saw and experienced, and what it was like to live in the area at the time from a young person's perspective. The things she discusses are fascinating, and I've really learned a lot from this project. The time frame on this one is a little farther out, but it is also being published by American Book.
As you can see, I've got a lot in the works, and more to come! As I always tell aspiring writers, you've got to just do it one thing at a time. Writing one page a day may not seem like much, but at that pace you can have the draft of a book finished in a year. And it sure is a lot more than zero pages a day--that kind of work will get you nowhere.

I'd love to hear your comments on any of these upcoming projects. Feel free to contact me at


Well, you may have noticed that my posts have been slacking off a bit (as in, not happening at all) during the past few months. The first personal journal entry I made after my last post was expressing excitement over a phone interview my husband had with a company out in the Pacific northwest. That's right, we were thinking of moving--again. We weren't too sure how things were going to work out in Wisconsin, and at the time they were looking pretty dismal. We'd even put off buying a house here, and were squished into a little apartment that we'd rented when we first arrived in Eau Claire. The apartment was originally supposed to only be temporary, but we never felt good about buying a house here, and we just stayed in the apartment indefinitely until we found a house we felt good about--or until we found a job someplace else we felt better about.

We did all the things we were supposed to do--fast, pray, do our best, read our scriptures, fulfill our callings, walk our dog, scrub behind our ears, etc. etc., but still didn't feel led in a particular direction...till this house popped up on the market. After only briefly seeing it twice, we were in our agent's office making an offer. (Our poor agent had been so patient with us. We'd been looking at houses for over a year and hadn't bought anything.) We were elated to finally, finally, have a house to live in! It has a yard, it has a garage, it has space for us to work, it has space for us to walk around without tripping over each other.

I guess that means we're living in Wisconsin for a while longer.

Anyone who's moved knows that moving in and of itself is a challenge. And even though our house is really great, and we're delighted to be in it, there are still challenges that come with a new place.

  • Far be it from me to complain about having a bigger living room, but I was a bit daunted the first time I approached it with a vacuum cleaner. How was I supposed to vacuum something this large? I finally went in strips, like you do with a lawnmower. (Maybe this will make up for the first time I mowed the lawn by myself, and I pushed the lawnmower back and forth like a vacuum cleaner.)
  • Strangely, I kind of miss our laundry area in our apartment. The washer and dryer were in a closet in the living room. When we moved in there, I really did not like the idea of standing in the living room doing my laundry. But you know what? It was nice to be able to switch loads around and fold without leaving the family. In our new house we have a separate laundry area. It feels remote.
  • Everything is further apart. In our apartment, everything we owned was crammed into a very small space. But that did make it easier to get to things we wanted; it was all just right there. All you had to do was turn around and walk a couple of steps. In the house, it feels like we're setting off on a long journey just to get something on the other side. Needless to say, we're getting a lot more exercise.
  • Shoveling the driveway! We didn't have to do that at all when we were renting the apartment. There are bonuses to renting.
  • Plus, one of our cars threw a rod the week we closed on our house and needs a new engine. At least we had a garage we could put it in now.

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