Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Signs of the Times

But first, an update on the Carina Challenge: Carina Press has another special call out, this time for proposals. First three chapters and detailed synopsis. I’m going to sub with the two M/Ms I had planned for the anthology call. I figure this will save me some time: if one or both gets bounced, I can put them aside and write shorter stuff, finishing them at my leisure. Or focus on stories for the other three anthologies. The M/Ms have the best chance of selling to another publisher if Carina doesn’t want them, that’s why they’re going here. I’ll let you know what happens.

For you romance writers out there, here’s the link. Deadline is July 13, so if you don’t have something already finished or underway, better get a move on.

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I’m a bit late jumping on this bandwagon, but the problem I want to talk about has no set time or place. I’m sure we’ve all heard by now about the family vacationing at Disney World, who lost their young son to an alligator. Animal control searched the lagoon and found six gators in the water. I don’t know if Disney has modified the “No Swimming” signs, but I hear they’re putting up fences. Will that work? Maybe. Maybe not. I’ll get to the whys in a minute.

I’m not trying to lay blame on anybody here. Floridians accept gators as part of everyday life, but this family was from the Midwest. They were on a beach that looked like it was designed for swimming (and was, at one time; swimming used to be allowed at that lagoon back when the park first opened). They weren’t swimming; they were wading in ankle-deep water. The kid may have been splashing around, inadvertently acting like a prey animal, but he was a kid. They do that in the water. Apparently his parents were close enough that the father tried to jump on top of the gator to get his son back, so you can’t point fingers at them. And anyway, they were at Disney World, the happiest—and supposedly safest—place on earth. When you’re walking on a white-sand beach at the Magic Kingdom, alligator attacks are the last thing on your mind.

I don’t blame Disney World. The lakes and lagoons are posted “No Swimming.” They have people whose sole job is to spot alligators and notify animal control. There are lifeguards, though maybe not enough. This was the first alligator-related incident in 40 years for them. Could they have done more? Certainly. They could have added “Beware of alligators” to the “No Swimming” signs. I’m not sure that would have helped, though. Unless some people actually see the danger, they may not believe it exists. Especially if you have a young child who wants to go in the water.

I certainly don’t blame the alligator. It was only doing what gators have been doing since the first proto-crocodilian crawled out of the muck alongside the dinosaurs. If anyone’s to blame, it’s the guests who, according to employee reports, were feeding the gators from the hotel. They didn’t even need to feed the gators, just toss food to the ducks and fish. This causes the gators’ favorite meals to congregate in human-inhabited areas. Predators go where the food is. A small child is about the size of alligator chow, and they’re going to splash around in the water like a duck or an injured mammal. Pretty simple math from that point on.

So now the beaches at Disney World are fenced off, and there may be “Warning—Alligators” signs. Will it help? I’m willing to cop to a solid maybe. When, not if, it happens again, I’m laying the blame firmly where it belongs: on the arrogance, entitlement, and sheer stupidity inherent in certain segments of humanity.

Shortly before the Disney World incident we had that report from Cincinnati, of the kid who fell into the gorilla enclosure at the zoo. It was not an accident. That kid was determined to get in and see the gorillas, and got through at least two barriers to do so. He was four. No way he could even conceive of the consequences of his actions. The trouble is, there are alleged grownups out there with that same mentality. They’re dead set on doing something they’ve been warned is dangerous, and no amount of signage is going to stop them.

I talked about this in a previous blog. Some instances are harmless. Some, not so much.

I still get my WiFi from the library. The library is still closed on Friday, although the lobby is open for the post office/passport office. They still have that five-foot sign planted right in front of the doors, announcing in big, bold letters that the library is closed. And people still come in, walk right around the sign, cross the lobby to the library, tug on the locked doors and go, “It’s closed? When’d that happen?” Oh, about a year ago. Some people are slow on the uptake.

Many years ago there was a news report about a kid—a teenager, I believe, certainly old enough to know better—who scaled four fences in order to get to a public pool that had closed for the night. I’m sure at least one of those fences had a “No Trespassing” sign on it. That wasn’t enough to stop our determined hero. He made it to the pool, climbed in under the tarp, got trapped and drowned. Outraged citizens demanded the pool be closed. The pool was forced to hire a security guard to protect the terminally stupid from the consequences of their own ill-advised actions. Bet the pool’s admission went up after that. Bet people complained about that, too.

Granted, some teens aren’t any farther along mentally than that four-year-old in the gorilla enclosure. But, assuming they survive their teen years, they don’t get any smarter, or any less entitled. I’m talking about grown adults who step into traffic without looking, or who look right at you and cross the street anyway. They’re pedestrians; you're supposed to stop for them. Or the people who want to pet the buffalo at Yellowstone. That’s what the buffalo are there for, right? Or who have to be told hot coffee is hot and can burn you. Or simply can’t accept the word “no” under any circumstances, even if there’s a good reason for it.

This is why, within the next three years, I expect to hear another news story out of Disney World, this time about a grownup, possibly drunk, who gets injured or killed by an alligator in that same lagoon. Because there’s a beach and there’s water and he wants to swim, and anyway, they got rid of all the gators three years ago, right? And he’s on vacation, and nobody’s going to tell him he can’t do whatever he wants. So he’s going to ignore the signs and climb over the fences, and the gators are going to go, “Hey, Morrie! Cleanup on aisle 5!”

But that’ll be him, and not any of us. Because we don’t do those things. We know better. Right?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Once Bitten

It took me longer than I figured on, but I finally got my WIP finished and sent it out into the world. We’ll see what happens to it now. Meanwhile, I’ll be moving on to the next thing on my to-do list, which I’ve decided will be the Carina Challenge. That’s write and sub five stories to five different anthologies coming out from Carina Press, as detailed in a previous post. I’d better get a move on, too. Deadline for the first one is August 1. What’s today’s date? Let me look at the calendar. Yikes!

I hope I’m not setting myself up for failure here. I know my limitations. I write slow. It takes me forever to get stories done. That one that just went out should have been done and on its way back in March. And now I want to write five stories in a two to three month period? What the hell am I thinking?

Let me show you what I’ve put myself up against. The anthologies call for novellas, defined by this publisher as 25,000-40,000 words. The one I just finished came out to 28,000 words, or 50+ single-spaced typed pages. That’s what I have to look forward to, times five. There are writers out there who can pull that off. I don’t count myself among them. There’s biting off more than you can chew, and then there’s stuffing your face to the point you can’t breathe and have to barf up something. Then you risk looking like a loser in front of everybody, and feeling like one to boot.

On the other hand, what’s life without a little challenge? Or a big one, for that matter?

So what the hell. Maybe I am taking too big of a bite for my writing speed. In fact, strike the “maybe” off that last sentence. I’m still going for it. I can’t run a marathon either, but I can sure as hell start one. Any amount I get done I’ll consider a victory. Just writing something every day is considered a victory by some. That group I can call myself a part of.

Theoretically, it can be done. Mathematically, it’s possible to write a 30,000-word novella in a month, if you write 1000 words per day. That’s the part where I tend to trip up. I’ll just have to put an hour aside and write a thousand words, then double up on the weekends. That’s just for verbiage. What about plots? Well, I had one of my contenders already started, with my eye on a different publisher, when I heard about the Carina anthologies, so I’m a couple thousand words ahead on that one already. I have bits of something in the closet that, if cleaned up and completed, might do for another. An idea I was toying with will work for a third. I came up blank on the fourth and fifth, but now that my subconscious has had time to chew on the problem, I think I can come up with something.

Will any of these be long enough? Won’t know until I write ’em. Plus I’ve got a break. According to Carina’s submission specs, if you’ve written for other publishers or self-pubbed with regularity (in short, proven you can write to deadline on a regular basis), they will take proposals in place of a finished work. That gives me an extra six weeks after the stated deadline. I should still have at least a first draft done or close to done before I send anything in. Then if they don’t ask for it, I don’t have to finish it. If they do ask for it … well, I’m always at my best with a specific project and a short deadline. I think I’m addicted to the adrenaline rush.

Hey, if I can write a 1000-word blog in an hour, I can write a 1000-word scene. Piece of cake. Times five. That’s a damn big cake, but even sheet cakes can be devoured if you attack them one moderate bite at a time. Just chew carefully. On to the challenge!

Monday, June 6, 2016

How's That Working for Ya?

It’s great to be vindicated.

Given my less-than-stellar experiences in the work force, I’ve come to a number of negative conclusions regarding jobs in America. Last week, I found an article on that echoed my personal sentiments. The writer postulated a theory I’ve held for a while now: hard work doesn’t automatically lead to success. It won’t get you raises, riches or respect. In fact, depending on the circumstances, hard work won’t do you a damn bit of good. Put that in your cig and vape it.

The article even dared to speak a truth I’ve known for some time: if you’re on a fixed salary or, worse yet, paid hourly like most of America, and you’re counting on hard work at the job to lift you into the One Percent, man, are you deluded. If you’re hourly, the only thing hard work will get you is more work. Expecting praise and raises from the boss? Forget it. You’re more likely to hear, “Do even more. And if you don’t, you’re fired.”

I’ve worked secretarial jobs, and I’ve seen this happen. Any office managers out there reading this? Wondering why you just hired a new girl and still can’t get any extra work out of the clerical pool? It’s because after their first job review they looked at their paycheck and saw the minimal cost-of-living raise and realized the truth: all their hard work isn’t going to get them squat. At the end of the year all they’re going to see is a 2% raise, if that, whether they bust their butts or sit on them. So why bust your butt? There’s no incentive. Production falls off, volunteering for extra credit stops. When a new girl comes in, the old-timers slow down accordingly, leaving her to pick up the slack. Depending on how long it takes her to catch on, she soon slows down too. And that’s how you can add a new person to the clerical department and still not get the work out any faster. Why should they knock themselves out? What’s the point?

When I worked at a newspaper, back in the day, the daily paper’s typist asked for a raise. She’d been working there for a couple of years, I believe, was fast and accurate and a—here it comes—hard worker. The company told her sorry, no raise, we don’t have enough in the budget. She might have swallowed that excuse if one of the sales people hadn’t threatened to quit at roughly the same time. The company scrounged up a hefty pay hike to get the ad rep to stay. The typist ended up quitting. I don’t imagine the company even looked for more money to tempt her into sticking around. They just hired another typist, presumably at a lower pay rate.

Because it’s not how hard you work, it’s what you work hard at. Most of us probably work or worked at hourly positions. The “work hard and you’ll get ahead” party line is a scam. If you’re hourly, you’re overhead. Having you there costs the company money. They’re going to pay you as little as they can get away with, keep the raises to a minimum, and squeeze as much production out of you as they can. If your job can be done by somebody cheaper, or by a machine, or in a foreign country, sooner or later it will be.

The road to success is not in hourly jobs. It’s in management or sales, the departments that put money into the company’s pockets. Work hard at making the company money, or making your boss’s life easier, and pretty soon there will be more money in your pockets too.

It worked for my brother. He worked for Campbell’s Soup as a negotiator with labor unions. He decided which branch plants could be closed or culled of hard-working hourly employees. His hard work put money back into the company’s pockets, and he was paid handsomely for it. The ad rep brought revenue to the newspaper, and got a pay hike to keep her there so she could go on doing so. The typist had a vital job, one the paper couldn’t exist without, but it was more a necessary evil. No profit to the company, so no raise for the typist. So much for her hard work.

So what’s the answer? If you’re stuck at an hourly job, what are you supposed to work hard at? The Forbes article wasn’t much help. The writer’s point was, you have to take control of your career. Work for yourself, not a company. That doesn’t mean start your own business, although you can. It means you need to be the captain of your career. You decide what you want to get out of your job, money or knowledge or satisfaction or whatever. That’s what you work hard toward.

The article lost me when the writer cited as its main example a fellow who had it all. He worked where he wanted, when he wanted, for as long as he wanted, at a handsome salary. When he decided he’d gained as much as he was going to from a particular employer, he moved on. And what, pray tell, did this man do to land any job he wanted and to earn those big bucks? I have no idea. The article writer never got that specific. I gathered he had some kind of specialized knowledge that saved corporations money, much like my brother. I’m betting he worked hard to acquire that knowledge, too. It clearly put him in demand with companies willing to throw gobs of money at him for what was, to him, a temp job. Those of us with common hourly-job skills are pretty much shit out of luck.

It doesn’t have to stay that way, though. The hardest work will come with you deciding what you want to do and how much you want to be paid for it. Then you have to figure out how to achieve that. Work hard toward that goal. Maybe it’ll pay off, maybe it won’t.

I recommend you stay out of secretarial work. That’s hell on earth. I still haven’t decided if becoming a writer was a step down or not. I’d better work harder at figuring that out, before I waste any more time.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Broken Windows

What follows is pure personal opinion. I have no facts whatsoever to back any accusations up. But hey, I’m a blogger with Internet access. Since when have I ever let a lack of solid evidence stop me?

Here’s what I do know: I’m happy with Windows 7. It does what I want and lets me complete paid assignments. I’m used to it. If it ain’t broke, and so forth. I still have my ‘90s era desktop system, even though it’s no longer compatible with anything created after 2000. The printer still works, so I type manuscripts on it for the hard copy. I’m not about to throw away something that works in favor of something new, bright and shiny. Unless and until I’m otherwise forced to, I won’t be switching over to Windows 10.

Microsoft appears determined to change that. Aggressively so.

Like everybody else with a computer (that is, like everybody else) I heard about Microsoft offering its new Windows 10 operating system for free. Not just a trial period, and not just for two weeks or a month or something. For a year. Three hundred and sixty-five opportunities for we the computer users of the world to download brand-new, state of the art, pricey software for absolutely nothing. I’m sure a lot of technies did so, and I’m sure a lot of them were happy. I am not a technie. I stick with what I know. Knock yourselves out, I thought to the techies, and went on using Windows 7.

The year passed, as years do, faster and faster, it seems. I started getting pop-up reminders from Windows. Time’s a-wastin’, better download. No thanks. I’d close the ad and go about my business. One of these pop-ups wanted me to schedule a download. Nope. I clicked on the little X in the right-hand corner, as we’ve been trained to do when we want to close a window. Bye-bye, Windows 10. Again. Or so I thought.

About a week or so after that I got another pop-up. My installation of Windows 10 was scheduled for May 29 at 3 in the morning.

What the flaming frack? Since when? I hadn’t scheduled anything. I shut off the damn ad, for Christ’s sake.

And therein lies the problem. That last pop-up had been a trap. Microsoft rigged it so that anybody clicking that little red X in the corner automatically signed themselves up for a scheduled download of Windows 10. Not that we were informed of this. Microsoft conveniently left that part out.

That’s when the shit hit the Internet. Protests arose. Microsoft backpedaled and said we could schedule the download for whenever we wanted. Maybe even cancel it, I’m not sure. But they were going to deliver our free Windows 10 to us holdouts, whether we wanted it or not. Emphasis on the “or not.”

Fortunately this involves computer geeks. No matter what Microsoft’s experts come up with, some high school kid will find a way around it and gleefully share with the world. I found a friendly site that explained in non-tech English how us Luddites can stop Windows 10 from downloading or, failing that, how to get rid of it and go back to Windows 7 or 8 or whatever system you’re using. In my case, the program was delivered automatically as an update. I think it may even have tried to install itself, but failed. I went into my Control Panel, found Windows 10 among the updates, and hid it. Then I fixed my system so it no longer automatically accepts updates from Windows. Virus protection isn’t a problem because I have McAfee. From here on, nothing gets into my computer unless I clear it first.

And I do have Windows 10 available as that hidden update. Maybe someday, if I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll download it and see what it’s about, after I’ve backed up all my files. If I don’t like it, I can uninstall it and go back to Windows 7.

Though now the question has arisen, and even normally non-paranoid folk like me have to be asking: why is Microsoft so determined to inflict this operating system on our computers? After all, they’re a business. These people make a living devising computer programs and selling them to the public. And yet here’s a major upgrade system and they offer it free. For a year. You have to wonder, what’s the catch? A year’s worth of free beta testing to work out all the glitches so they can charge us double for the new and improved Windows 11? That would have been my guess, until they started tricking people into accepting unasked-for upgrades. Microsoft really, really, I mean REALLY wants this operating system installed on every computer in existence. For free. Makes me really, really wonder why.

And that’s why I’m going to resist accepting Windows 10 unless and until I absolutely have to. Because Microsoft resorted to underhanded tricks, and now I don’t trust them. Yeah, the cheese looks tasty, but now I can’t help feeling there’s a steel bar behind it, waiting to whip around and slam me in the neck.

I’m curious to see how Microsoft responds to being called out for their duplicity. This has got to be a PR nightmare. The pity is, it was unnecessary. From what I’m hearing, the system itself isn’t all that bad. Better than Windows 8. They could have offered the freebie for a month or so, taken it back to the shop for fine tuning, then offered it for sale and nobody would have said boo. But they didn’t. They tried to cram it down our throats. We don’t take kindly to that. We’re Americans. Remember when the government tried to get us to switch to the metric system? Or the two-dollar bill? Or the various incarnations of the dollar coin? Back us into a corner, tell us to take it or lump it, and we’re going to lump you. Big time.

Maybe this will motivate me to write faster. I need to flood the market with manuscripts while Windows 7 still lets me connect to the Internet. I don’t want to have to go back to sending manuscripts to publishers by expensive snail mail. Some changes are beneficial, but I want to be the one to decide that and not some corporation. Microsoft can shove its Windows 10. God bless America!