Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The World We Live In

This isn’t the blog I was thinking of posting this week. I’ve been putting my thoughts together on my theories about alien visitation and I’ll get around to writing that at some point. But something happened this week that I need to report, because I may have dodged a bullet. Literally.

This happened at the cable TV office. I stopped in to pay my cable bill. I think I may have mentioned this in a blog a couple of years ago as one of the Things That Cheese Me Off. In a perfect world I’d hand over my check and be in and out in less than a minute. What usually happens is there’s one other customer in there, and they’ve got some kind of problem that takes forever to resolve. (This happens in bank lines a lot, too. I dare you to tell me it doesn’t.) I’m left standing there for five to ten minutes or longer for a thirty-second transaction. Yeah, it cheeses me off.

To make matters worse, I usually see the person who winds up holding up the line go in ahead of me, usually just by seconds. Which is what happened. I almost ran the woman down in the parking lot because she wasn’t paying attention. While I parked, she went inside. I knew what was going to happen before I even got in there.

I was partially right. They’d remodeled the office over the summer. Now you walk right in and they’ve got two service windows. Sadly, both were busy with people who had problems. The lady who’d gone in ahead of me was at the head of the line. I stepped up behind her.

During remodeling, the Payment window had put up a box labeled “Put payments here if you don’t need a receipt.” That box saved me a lot of waiting on more than one occasion. Pity I didn’t see it out in the new office. There’s supposed to be a drive-up window, but they’d parked a truck there, blocking it. Guess the window’s closed.

Well, I was there. Might as well wait.

Over the next five-ten minutes about four other people came in. One of the customers wrapped up her business and the woman in front of me took her place. Sure enough, she had a problem too. (The guy at the other window was there before, during and after my visit. He may still be there now, for all I know.) “How long have you been here?” the guy behind me asked me at one point. “About five minutes,” I replied.

We resumed our waiting. Two people behind me struck up a conversation. The woman who’d beaten me into the office got one question settled but then asked another one. “These people are so old they’re liable to die if they’re here much longer,” the guy behind me said (or words to that effect). I thought about giving a smartass response but didn’t bother. I just shrugged.

“C’mon, hurry up,” the guy starts growling. “Quit socializing. Wrap it up!” He’s not talking to me, or to himself. He’s getting quite belligerent, and he’s getting louder.

Fortunately the woman did wrap up her business and left. I went to the window, handed over my check and payment slip, suggested they put the box back out for people like me who just want to pay their bill, and left. I smiled and nodded at the guy behind me on my way out. Your turn, pal. Knock yourself out.

I kept an eye out while I got into the car and as I was pulling away. He didn’t come out. Guess he had a problem too. Sounds like he had several.

It didn’t occur to me until I was out of there and well down the road that he might have been armed.

# # #

We live in a strange and dangerous world today. A lot of people seem to be on edge, for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reason at all. I’ve had people go off on me for reasons I can’t determine. I’ve done the same to others. In one case I was overheated (it was summer and humid); in another I hadn’t had sufficient sleep for a couple days. The people I snapped at wouldn’t have known that, though. Want some celebrity examples? Check YouTube. You should be able to find the video of singer Bjork attacking a woman in an airport, because the woman had called out, “Welcome to England” (or whatever the country was) to her. Or Tyra Banks having a Chernobyl-level meltdown and reaming out a contestant on America’s Next Top Model. Somebody says or does something—or nothing—that just hits these people the wrong way at the wrong time and they snap.

Sometimes it’s just loud and harmless. And sometimes it isn’t. More and more these incidents happen while somebody’s holding a gun. And there’s no telling who, when, or where.

The guy behind me didn’t look like a nutjob. He didn’t fit any of the usual profiles. He was a white guy, tall, maybe in his 50s, either retired, off work, or out of work. How else could he be in a cable TV office on an early Monday afternoon? I don’t know why he was there. Maybe to pay his bill, like me. Maybe he lost access to ESPN. Maybe he had to be somewhere else and was pissed at the thought he might be late.

All I know for sure was that he was working himself up into a nice little tantrum. Getting to the service window probably defused him. Or not. Some people need the explosion. He could have been looking for an excuse to go off on somebody. Relieve whatever stresses were building up in his head. We can’t tell how people’s brains are wired, or miswired, just by looking.

Or maybe he was just an entitled, impatient a-hole with the emotional control of a spoiled-brat five-year-old. In which case, get over yourself. I was ticked at the long wait too, and I’ll bet so were the others in line. You didn’t see any of us getting obnoxious over it.

I haven’t heard any reports of violence at the cable TV office, so he probably just reamed out the customer service girl, stomped out the door and went home. This time. Next time it could be different. He could have a knife or a gun on him when something pushes him, or someone like him, that last inch over the edge.

The Vegas shooter didn’t fit any profiles either. He was white, older, rich. No criminal record. Nothing at all to suggest he’d smuggle a bunch of firearms into a hotel suite and open fire on concertgoers below. His own family was stunned by his actions. He suicided before the cops could get him, so we’ll never know what sent him over the brink.

Anyone. Anywhere. Any time.

I need to start paying more attention to the people around me. Just in case I have to hit the floor and roll under a desk or something. Maybe I should start mailing in my cable bill. It’s probably safer. And faster.

Thursday, October 26, 2017


Yeah, I know. Don't say it.

Last month I swore, on here, in public, that I was going to write a minimum of 1000 words of fiction per day, every day, for 30 days. Wellllll ... I didn't. I did okay for two weeks. During that time I hit my quota twice, and got damn close to the edge at least twice more. I was writing every day and making progress. I call that a win.

Then my old bad habits reasserted themselves. I got caught up in the paid freelance work and started to let the writing slide. Then I relapsed into my computer game addiction two weekends in a row. I should probably get professional help for that.

Anyway, I'm in remission again now, so I decided to get back into the groove by joining NaNoWriMo. That's 50,000 words committed to paper and/or screen during the month of November. I've got a project in mind, a couple scenes written, a few things plotted out...

...And then I got a massive editing assignment from the publisher. Close to 400 pages with a two-week deadline. And that's just Part I. There's a Part II looming on the horizon as soon as the first one's finished. A good chunk of November just got spoken for and it hasn't even started yet.

Ever heard that old expression, "It never rains but it pours?"

Well, pour over this: I'm tackling NaNoWriMo anyway. I'm alotting myself one hour of personal writing time in the morning, with the rest of the day reserved for the work that pays for my rent and groceries. If I have any gas still left in the tank at the end of the day, I can write longhand during commercials while I've got the TV on. Or maybe even during the show. So far my favorite is Hell's Kitchen, also known as Gordon Ramsay Angles for a Class-Action Hostile Workplace Lawsuit. That's the most entertaining show I've found on TV this season, which doesn't say much for the current crop of offerings. Though RuPaul's Drag Race is coming back, so I'll reserve judgment till then.

And you folks may get a reprieve. The stats tell me somebody actually looked at this blog of mine, so maybe I won't have to resort to clickbait in order to get attention. Although I just might anyway. Let's see how I feel once November starts next week. I can always use blogging as an excuse not to write. Especially if my topic is, "The Earth has been overrun by outer-space alien hybrids, and the real Earth people have every right to be pissed about it." What am I talking about? Here's your homework: watch some of those alien/UFO shows (my personal favorite is Ancient Aliens on the History Channel) and see if you spot the same common threads and reach the same conclusion I did. And if that's not enough, you should hear my theory on the secret of Christianity. Getting page views is totally worth going to Hell for. See you soon!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Oops. Now What?

Once upon a time there were two girls. One was named Sarah and one was named Susan. They were the bestest friends, closer than sisters. They posted selfies and praised each other on social media. They had whatever the female equivalent of a bromance is.

They were also writers. Sarah Maas created the Throne of Glass series of YA fantasy adventure books, among others. Susan Dennard wrote Truthwitch. The gushing mutual admiration continued in the Acknowledgements sections, where they sang each other’s praises in support of each other’s books. Susan even said the heroines of her book were based on Sarah and herself, and the series was inspired by their friendship.

And then, apparently, something went very, very wrong.

I learned about the mutual admiration society these two had going when I started binge reading the Throne of Glass series. It was all Susan this and Susan that and Ours Is An Epic Friendship That Will Last Beyond The End Of Time. Well, the end of time must have arrived, because around the fourth or fifth book Susan’s name vanished from the “thank you” pages. I even went back and checked over it again. Nope, she’s gone. Curious, I found a copy of Truthwitch and turned to the Acknowledgements. Plenty of mention of Sarah. That was Book 1. When Book 2 came out, Sarah’s name had likewise been scrubbed clean from the copy. Something was clearly afoot.

Bolstered by the firm belief that fans are fully entitled to be told everything about their heroes, even when it’s none of their business, I turned to that unimpeachable source, the Internetz. Social media confirmed my theory. There were rumors of a falling-out between the duo. A story they’d been writing together online ended abruptly in the middle. A fan who saw them on a writers’ panel at a con reported they made a point of completely ignoring each other.

Details were skimpy. Sarah didn’t say anything. Susan posted a vaguely-worded Tweet referring to “toxic friendships” and “standing up to bullies.” They just don’t make epic friendships like they used to.

My first thought was: Susan’s book was inspired by their relationship. Now that the friendship’s gone bust, what’s going to happen to her series?

Because these aren’t ebooks, where (at least in my experience) each book is an individual item, even if it’s part of a series, and each one gets its own separate contract. This is Big Time Publishing, in print and in bookstores. I’m betting they signed multi-book contracts. It’s not uncommon for traditional publishers to sign an author for two or three or even more books on one contract, even if the first book was meant as a standalone. The author agrees to deliver Book 1 by a certain date, Book 2 by a later date, and so on. Which means if your inspiration dries up, or you get sick, or have a religious conversion and only want to write sonnets praising Buddha now, too bad. You’re still on the hook to produce those books you agreed to write when you signed on the dotted line. Otherwise you have to give back the advance. Dunno if interest is included.

I hope Susan didn’t lock herself in for too many books on her contract. I don’t imagine it’s fun for her writing about those characters at this point, what with all the bad feelings it must be stirring up. The character based on her former bestie might do an about-face and suddenly become the bad guy. Or die. Horribly. That’s one way to get closure.

Hey, we’re writers. It happens. Sometimes the well runs dry, with or without loss of a friendship. Conan Doyle got so sick of writing about Sherlock Holmes he killed off his most famous character. Then had to bring him back due to popular demand. Ditto for J. K. Rowling. She didn’t kill off Harry Potter, but by now I’ll bet she wishes she had that luxury. She said all she had to say on the subject, wrapped up the series, and attempted to write other things. The public, or maybe her publisher, said, “Write more Harry Potter.” So she’s back to writing about wizards and such, and no doubt grumbling under her breath all the way to the bank.

I’ve had series die out on me, for one reason or another. You get distracted by having to earn a living. Or interest fades. Or you get bored. Inspiration dies out and there’s no magic left. I was writing a long-term serial story over on the old Shapeshifter Seductions blog when a writer’s block hit. I ended up abandoning it in the middle. Maybe someday I’ll finish it; I know where the story’s going, and I’ve already written the ending. For those of you familiar with my vampire series (Belonging, Legacy, and the YA spinoff Slayer for Hire), know this: there was supposed to be a third book, about the Preacher. Then there’s a fourth book set in the future that wraps everything up. I just never got around to writing them. Dunno if I ever will.

In cases where a contract, and the publisher’s legal department, isn’t involved, I don’t know how one goes about boosting flagging interest in your own series long enough to write it, or even if you should. The boredom might be temporary, or you could be finished for good. I recall Stephen King saying something about how he was dragging his heels over continuing his Dark Tower series, until he got hit by that van. Confronted suddenly and dramatically with proof of his own mortality, he whipped out the final three books in short order. I do not recommend arranging a near-death experience to rekindle interest in your story. There’s such a thing as overkill, y’know?'

Anyway, I’ll be keeping an eye on the YA shelves to find out what happens in the next book of Susan Dennard’s series, assuming it even gets written. If she’s lucky, she only signed up for a trilogy. Two down, one to go. Then she can move on to other things without being haunted by the ghosts of friendships past. Mostly I’m curious to see if her ex’s character meets a really nasty end. Never piss off a writer.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

New from J. J. Collins

Sometimes love comes at you fast. Answering an old friend’s call for help, hunter Dillon Royce comes to Arizona to stop a shapeshifter who’s targeting gay men. He finds himself falling for the prime suspect, cheetah shifter Kaz Genovese. Kaz insists they’re fated mates. Or is he just trying to get close to his latest victim? Dillon needs to solve this one fast, before he totally loses his heart … or his life.


“Sorry, speedy. I can’t take any chances. You’re going into a holding cell until we get this resolved. If you want to call a lawyer—”
“That won’t be necessary.” Kaz shifted. The bonds meant to restrain a human fell loose on the cheetah’s form. He slid his paws free and bit through what he couldn’t slip out of.
Then he leaped at Dillon.
They fell backward, onto the narrow bed. Kaz shifted back. His teeth grazed Dillon’s throat, just a tease, before he crashed his mouth against Dillon’s in another of those soul-blasting kisses.
Dillon had his knife. One thrust and it would be over.
Instead, he accepted the kiss. How had he gone his entire life without being kissed like this? Like Kaz intended to swallow his soul. As if he already had.
His hands moved as if with minds of their own, exploring, groping Kaz. Not an inch of him was still. Every speck of Kaz’s naked body seemed in constant frantic motion. Holding him was like holding on to a primal life force. His body was the desert, spare and barren at first glance but harboring unexpected bursts of color and flavor and life. An entire ecosystem of fiery desire, all of it focused on Dillon.
So long. Too long since he’d had any relief, or so desperately wanted it.
Only when he realized Kaz was tearing at his fly did Dillon come back to his senses. This was all happening too fast.
Somehow, he got his eyes to focus. “Don’t I even get dinner first?”
“What? Oh.” Kaz slumped, all over. Even then his body still vibrated with speed. “You humans and your stupid rituals. What a waste of time. You’re my mate. We were born for each other. Isn’t that enough for you?”
“Sorry, no. I don’t have the luxury of instinct. Right now, I’ve got a set of murders to solve. That’s my first priority. You and your mating urges—” Our mating urges, he couldn’t help thinking. “—Are going to have to wait.”
“Go slow?” Kaz tested the concept and, from the lift of his lip, clearly found it distasteful. “I don’t know if I can do that. Though it would be an interesting test.”
“You’re going to have to. And you’re going to have to sit in a cell for a while. You’re the prime suspect. Can’t be helped.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Kaz said firmly. “Tell you what. I’ll go do some investigating on my own. I’ll catch up with you tomorrow night and we’ll have that dinner. And then I’m claiming you. That’s as slow as I can go.” He palmed Dillon’s cheek. “We’re going to be spending our lives together. I suppose I should ask you your name.”
“It’s Dillon. Dillon Royce.”
“Dillon.” His name sighed off Kaz’s tongue. “Until tomorrow night, my love.” He captured Dillon’s mouth again and sent his senses spinning. When Dillon opened his eyes, those delightful lips were gone, the hand at the back of his neck was gone, the scent of cat was a fading memory, and the door to his room stood open.
He went to the open doorway, although he knew it was pointless. Of course, Kaz was nowhere in sight. The ache in his groin was now joined by a more poignant ache in his soul, its one true mate discovered and abruptly torn away. Maybe there was something to the mate bond after all, even where humans were concerned.
Or maybe that was guilt he felt, that in spite of everything he was falling hard for his number-one suspect. That he’d let a possible killer go free.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Take That, You Skeptics!

Last Wednesday I started a new writing program, with a plan to write 1000 words a day for a month. Here’s my first week update: I did it! Twice, yet, one of which was yesterday. Putting in a thousand words is harder than I thought. If you’re in the groove, sure, you can turn out 1000 words and then some within an hour or two, no sweat. When you’re fumbling your way through a story because you’re a pantser and didn’t make an outline beforehand, it gets a little more difficult.

The important thing is, I wrote every one of the last seven days. Some days I got close to the target, other days I just clipped the edges. But all of it was new words, progressing my current WIP. I didn’t even need to switch to another project. If I keep this up, I’ll have the first draft of a story done well before my 30-day deadline, with time left over to start a new one, or get back to the one that got stalled. Or work on both, at 500 words per day apiece. That should help keep things fresh and interesting.

Best of all, I haven’t touched the games in a week, either. The urge has faded, and I intend to stay busy enough so it’ll stay that way. I’ve got a story coming out in another week. If I can make that happen more often, I might be able to make a living at this.


Now the big question: is anybody listening? Is anyone even looking at this blog?

Apparently not. I had a tiny following when I left Title Magic, and they moved on when I went dark for the last six or seven months. I need to get some attention here. Bring the readers in.

It might be time for some clickbait.

As any spoiled brat and/or teenager knows, the best way to get attention is to scream, rant, break stuff and do outrageous things. I can do outrageous. I’m a writer. I’ve got some ideas that are sure to offend some people, maybe even get me lynched in certain parts of the South. The Internet is a breeding ground for wackadoo, and our current political climate has made it even easier to be outrageous, insulting and even hateful and get away with it. As long as you’re a rich white male, that is.

Well, I’ve got the white part down. Maybe that’ll help.

So now it’s up to you folks. Visit my blog and I’ll stay semi-sweet and only mildly insulting.  Next week I’ll be pimping a book, and the week after that I have a pre-written blog that I plan to post. If the stats haven’t changed by then, it’ll be time to get up on the soapbox and scream at the top of my lungs. Remember, I grew up on science fiction. My perceptions of reality have been warped.

I’m still waiting to see some 15-year-old kid lure the Prez into a flame war on Twitter. C’mon, you trolls. You know you’re dying to do it. Don’t let me down.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Not So Simple Math

(Note: I meant to post this yesterday. There will be an update at the end.)

The other week, while browsing the Reference section at the local Barnes and Noble, I came across a tome entitled Write a Book in a Month. I flipped through it briefly and put it back. I already know how to write a book in a month. An e-book, yeah, those only run about 30K-50K words on average, but it’s labeled a book so it counts.

Besides, I’m betting the book I put back relies heavily on the plotting aspects. If you spend the first two weeks thoroughly developing your characters and plotting out your story, then all you have to do for the second two weeks is write. Everything’s already been taken care of.

Unfortunately, I’m a pantser. Plotting doesn’t always work for me. I’ll start a story with no idea what’s going to happen or who the characters are. I fill all that in as I go. Finding it out is what makes writing fun, as well as a pain in the ass.

Whichever plan you use, there’s a mathematical formula for writing a book in a month. 1000w X 30d = 30,000b. One thousand words a day written every day for thirty days equals a complete 30,000-word story. That amounts to a book, if you stretch the definition a bit. Your book will be longer or shorter if you write more or less per day, but 1000 words makes a good standard. It only takes about an hour or two, depending on how fast you type. It helps if you know what you want to write, but that’s a pantser problem.

In theory, it should work. I’m sure it does work, for most people. The reason it doesn’t work for me is because I don’t do it. I screw off. I procrastinate. Life keeps throwing distractions at me. I sit down to type and the words dry up. I have to stop and make dinner. I just don’t have time. Well, that excuse I can shoot down pretty quick. I was (and probably still am; just had a little setback over the weekend) addicted to video games. I can sit and play games nonstop for anywhere from five to ten hours at a shot. I most certainly do have time, so we can strike that from the list.

What I don’t appear to have is discipline or motivation. I’m the fly in my own ointment.

I did take a shot at it recently. About halfway through August I resolved to write a minimum of 1000 words a day for 30 days in a row. Didn’t work out. No idea why. I couldn’t sit down and write for an hour, and I’ve got three to four things I know I could work on. I just didn’t. I’d end up doing other things.

I decided to hit the reset button and make September my 30 days. I wrote about 700 words on September 1, pretty good for me. On September 2 I discovered I had freelance work, a paying assignment with a short deadline. This was after I’d already planned on mowing the lawn and getting the ironing out of the way. That plus the paid work ate up my time. I spent the Labor Day weekend … well, laboring.

All that was out of the way by Wednesday, though. Did I write? ‘Fraid not. All of a sudden I’m blogging again. That’s what I’ve been writing instead of my thousand words. My subconscious mind is a bugger when it comes to doubling down.

The formula does work. You can write a book in a month. The key word is “write.” If you don’t write those thousand words, or any words at all, that book just ain’t gonna happen. Maybe I should have bought that book at B&N and paid attention to it. There may be more to this plotting stuff than I thought.

So I’m going public. I’m going to try it again. Write 1000 words a day and see where I am after 30 days. I’m putting that intention right here in the open for everyone to see and sneer at. I’m hoping the fear of failure and public humiliation will provide the kick in the ass I need to get said ass in gear.

To the basic formula I’m adding a couple of twists to help me along. Like I said, I’ve got maybe three or four stories already started, that I could be working on. Ideally, I should pick one project to concentrate on so it’ll get done in a month. That doesn’t seem to be working. Let’s try something else: pick one main project and use the other three as backups. If the main one fizzles, or I go on a block or something, I’ll hop over to one of the others. If the 1000 words ends up getting split between three stories on a given day, so what? It’s still 1000 words. Sooner or later something will get finished. Math’s absolute like that.

It also gives me blogging topics, as I report my ongoing success and/or failure. I could even use the 1000 words as a post. This is my page and I can do what I want with it. I’ve thought about returning to Shapeshifter Seductions, which has lain fallow of late, and finally finishing that serial story I abandoned when the writer’s block hit. Those chapters run roughly 1000 words and they’re fiction, so it counts. That’ll be my emergency plan.

As I sit here typing this, it’s Wednesday, September 20. That’s my start date, regardless of when this gets posted. Today and for the 29 days that follow, I will be writing a minimum of 1000 words of fiction, come hell, high water (been a lot of that lately, especially in the south), house- and yardwork, or writer’s block. Or even paid assignments. I used to put even those aside while caught up in the gaming addiction. If I can waste an hour or ten playing Spider Solitaire, I can damn well find the time to write 1000 words.

If nothing else, it’ll be excellent training for the upcoming NaNoWriMo, something else I’ve attempted several times in the past, only to crash and burn within a week. This year when I aim, I might just hit the target. Let’s find out together, shall we?

UPDATE: I got a late start yesterday due to lawn mowing, grocery shopping, and a set of edits that had to go out. And I still wrote 700 words. So there. I might have got all 1000 down, but Supernatural came on. Today should be easier: I wrote about 200-300 words this morning, and Project: Runway has long commercial breaks. Time to whip out the pen and notebook. To be continued ...

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Same Shoes, Different World

In our last episode, I talked about YA novel The Black Witch, and the accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other non-PC themes that launched an outpouring of vitriol from people who judged it before reading it. Having read a portion of it and skimmed the rest, I personally concluded it suffered from a plot that would have been radical back in the 1960s but felt trite and worn out in the 21st century. At least it did until the GOP took over. Now that we appear to be fighting those civil rights battles all over again, the book’s right in step with the times.

I’m okay with that. What got my hackles up was another hoary theme, one I’ve been seeing in the current YA bestsellers gracing bookstore shelves.

Thanks to the success of Game of Thrones, we’re seeing a lot of court intrigue plots set in fantasy worlds, with elves and magic and the usual irredeemable bad guys lifted from Lord of the Rings. Thanks to the success of The Hunger Games, the heroic leads in these books are primarily young women. A plucky girl rises from the underclass, defeats the evil king/government/invading army and frees the people from oppression. It’s a tale as old as time, Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, the classic Hero’s Journey. The last time this plot swept through the collective consciousness, it was called Star Wars and a dude was in the lead. After Hunger Games made a ton of money, the Chosen One underwent a sex change.

So did the way the hero (now the heroine) is treated by the story.

For some reason, no matter how alien these fantasy worlds are, no matter what or how many magical races populate it, women in general remain second-class citizens, there to support the men, get married and pop out (preferably male) children. In The Black Witch, women are forbidden from holding high positions in government. Girls are expected to be betrothed to promising young men while in their early teens. During the course of the story the law changes and these betrothals become mandatory. No heroics for you, missy. You’re gonna get married whether you like it or not. You can save the world after you cook dinner. Our Heroine’s grandmother, the Black Witch of the title and the strongest sorceress ever, is revealed to have been a genocidal maniac. See what happens when a woman gets too powerful? That’s why we can’t give ‘em any responsibility. PMS hits and they go off the deep end. Best to leave the important work to men.

Oh yeah. This civilization, like almost every other alien/fantasy culture I’ve encountered in recent YA literature, has independently discovered the concept of high heels. For women only, natch.

There was so much more in The Black Witch that I felt like I was reading for the thousandth time. Our Heroine has special powers but she’s never been taught how to use them. She’s been raised to believe she has no magic. She ends up in a school setting where of course she runs afoul of the resident mean girl, because OH’s caught the eye of the boy the mean girl wants. OH goes to a party where she wears a pretty gown that’s described in great detail, and the aforementioned heels. And she finds a cute boy among the oppressed classes. After 600 pages of story she still hasn’t discovered her power, let alone been taught how to use it. Maybe in the next book.

These are the books being marketed to teenage girls, and these are the messages they’re sending: sure, you can have adventures, but you still have to go to school and put up with girl bullies and jerk boys who treat you like crap and still expect you to fall in love with them. Good luck finding someone to teach you how to use those special powers you’ll be needing to save the world. Be sure to go to fancy parties and wear really pretty dresses and too-tight shoes with heels. And you will find a boy. That’s the important thing. It’s the Disney Princess version of the Hero’s Journey.

It’s like the Women’s Movement never happened. Well, maybe parts of it did. Girls can aspire to save the world, as long as they remember what really matters: being pretty, being popular, wearing nice clothing, and pairing up with a boy, despite him acting like an abusive a-hole and even if he tries to kill you. He’ll change once you marry him, promise.

Might as well get used to it. You’re going to find it wherever you go throughout the multiverse, elves or no elves. Promoting outdated sexist views in worlds and societies not even remotely connected to Earth is apparently still acceptable. I’ll bet if there was a queen in these books, she’d either be the evil type, or shown vacuuming the throne room in an evening gown and a strand of pearls. And heels.

I don’t recall Luke Skywalker attending fancy balls, or lots of time devoted to what he was wearing. He was too busy getting trained in the Force so he could save the galaxy. Yeah, there was a girl, a Princess, even, but she turned out to be his sister. Good thing he wasn’t being pressured to get married so he could sire a line of new Jedis. And what about Leia? She was Vader’s offspring too. Was she ever trained, or even tested for the Force? Apparently not. She did what was expected of her: married Han Solo and had a son. He got trained as a Jedi, which didn’t turn out very well.

That was over 30 years ago. Here we are in the 21st century, and girls, even heroes, are still expected to do what’s expected of them. Maybe Rey will buck the trend. We’ll see if she gets a boyfriend in the next installment.

In short, when it comes to current YA literature, the worldview for women has barely budged beyond the image of the 1950s housewife. We’ve just dressed it up in Middle Earth trappings. This is what we’re selling to our daughters. That was my takeaway from The Black Witch. Maybe the world will change for Our Heroine, once she saves it with those powers nobody’s taught her how to use. I suspect the story’s going to end with her happily married to her boyfriend, and living in a mansion surrounded by children in a world that now has racial equality. Gender inequality will still be subtly enforced, especially for the readers.

Dammit, times like these I really miss Buffy. And Xena. They took the world by the throat and had adventures and weren't defined by their boyfriends and didn’t give a damn what anyone said. And Xena, at least, wore sensible shoes.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

A Case of Really Bad Timing

Aaaaaaaand I’m back. Yeah, I know, it’s been a while. Between a time-sucking job and personal issues, things kind of got away from me. I can’t quit the job because I need the income, but I’ve finally got a handle on the other stuff. So here I am again. Dunno how long it’ll last. Long enough to promo the book I’ve got coming out some time in the next couple of months, I hope. Other books will follow, again, I hope. Writer’s block, procrastination and time management were among those personal issues.

Today I’m going to talk about someone else’s book—specifically, The Black Witch by Laurie Forest, a young adult novel published back in May. I mention the date because it may be significant to what this poor book went through. I’ll tell the story, you be the judge.

I wasn’t going to read this book, probably wouldn’t even have heard of it if I hadn’t come across a discussion about it on a writers’ site. Seems the book, even before publication, stirred up quite a brouhaha on Twitter among readers for what one reviewer claimed was blatant overtones of racism, sexism, homophobia, and all sorts of other mean, nasty things unfit for human consumption. Scathing, one-star reviews began popping up on Goodreads and Amazon. Remember, this was before the book actually came out. Either people with advance copies were passing them around, or the bulk of those bad reviews were coming from people who hadn’t even read the book.

Well, I did read the book, because I like to make up my own mind about things. Rather, I read about half of it, and had to skim the rest because I got it from the library and had to return it before I could finish its 600 pages. Time management issues, remember? I got the gist of the plot and the characters, and read the end to see where it was headed. That’s still probably more than what some of those reviewers who blasted it did.

Plot synopsis: Elloren, a quiet country girl from this thinly-disguised Earth substitute’s ruling class, goes off to University and starts mingling with all the magical races—elves, werewolves, demons, the usual fantasy suspects—she’s been taught are inferior and the enemy. Of course, as she gets to know them as individuals she discovers they’re just people like she is, in spite of the fangs and wings and claws and different-colored skin. (We’re talking mostly blue and purple here. I have no idea what color Elloren is. The book never really says. The only designated white people are elves.) Elloren comes down with a case of Privileged People’s Guilt and becomes a student activist for civil rights against her people’s repressive—and genocidal—government.

Oh yeah, and Elloren’s grandma was the Black Witch who years ago won the war that set all this in motion, and it’s strongly suggested Elloren has her powers but isn’t aware of it. We can see this ending coming from a mile away, can’t we, folks?

That was my real beef with the book. Is it racist? Sure, if that’s how you want to read it. There’s definitely a ton of “othering” going on, and Our Heroine, a member of the privileged class, is destined to become the champion of the oppressed, since the oppressed “lesser” races never seem able to produce a champion of their own and have to rely on their oppressors to cough out a leader for them. At least, that’s how it goes in books like this. I’ve been around for awhile, and I’ve seen this plot before. Many, many times before.

Don’t believe me? Go read Dune. Privileged outsider gets stranded in the desert, becomes the prophesied leader of the native people, and leads his army of the oppressed to victory over the corrupt ruling class. It was written in the ‘60s, and the tale was ancient then.

In fact, that was my take on this book. To me, it read like a fantasy version of a sheltered middle-class girl experiencing college life at Berkeley in 1968. The school has an ROTC program, the protesters take out a military base, and their country’s about to go to war. I guess the elves are supposed to be hippies. Power to the people! Right on!

So how did a book with a plot and characters this hoary get slammed with the racist label even before it debuted? I don’t think it was the book itself. I think it was a case of bad timing.

This isn’t an ebook, it’s print. It hit the shelves in the spring. That means the publisher bought it at least two years ago. It would have been conceived and written well before that. While this book was being written, sold, edited, rewritten and prepped for publication, Obama was in the White House. We had a black President, a liberal outlook, and social change. Gay marriage was legalized. So was pot. Yeah, baby!

Had this book come out in that political climate, I doubt it would have gotten much attention. Maybe some eye-rolls and comments of, “Not this dead horse again.” But right before The Black Witch hit the shelves, the administration changed, and so did our national atmosphere. All of a sudden we have deportations, Black Lives Matter, transgender people barred from military service and the KKK publicly praising the Prez. A book that, last year, would have seemed trite and dated is suddenly scarily relevant.

As for the book itself, now that it’s available to the general public, it’s getting good reviews from people who’ve actually taken the time to read the thing. Praise for its world-building seem to top the list. Okay, I can’t fault it for that, or for the writing itself. It’s not a badly-written book, just, in my opinion, saddled with an ancient plot. A case of been there, done that, read this same story before. Had I read this when I was a teenager, the book’s target age group, I probably would have enjoyed it. Though I would have thought Dune was way better.

I have other bones to pick with The Black Witch, and I’ll get to them at some point in the future. Don’t know when. Time management issues, y’know.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

It's Working

But first, some bird news. I saw my first robin of the season this Sunday. I expected to see one long before this, as we’ve had a mild winter so far. I’m talking temps in the 60s and clear up to the 70s mild. The snow geese, whose annual migration route takes them through my area, usually show up around the beginning or middle of March. They’ve been and gone already. Why not? There was open water and food, so they passed through early.

That was also the weekend Lititz had its annual ice sculpture festival. They hold it outdoors in mid-February so the ice doesn’t melt. Wishful thinking this year, since weekend temperatures hovered in the mid-60s, with plenty of direct sunlight. I didn’t get much chance to look around, because Lititz was wall-to-wall people on Saturday and there was no parking, so I was restricted to whatever I could glimpse from the car. I didn’t go back on Sunday; I figured the sculptures would be shapeless lumps by then. Besides, I was working on paid stuff and didn’t get out of the house.

Which segues nicely into my topic for today. Last time I stopped here I detailed my plan to fight my computer game addiction (aka my procrastination problem) by reprogramming my brain not to play games in certain areas—in this case, the “office” where I have my old computer. In recent months I’ve had an increasing problem with game-playing interfering with my freelance paying stuff, and by extension my ability to pay the rent. By establishing the office as a “work only” zone, with no games allowed, I hoped to be able to set up the laptop in there and actually get stuff done.

And son of a Klingon, it worked.

Most of last week, from Tuesday until Friday morning, I set up in the office and wrote. Or at least I did until I got an assignment. Then I switched off between the paid project and the writing. Get tired of one, hop over to the other. Get tired of both, get up and do housework or something. I took a lot of bathroom breaks, but I managed to be productive rather than procrastinate. I was lucky in that the freelance work was an easy one this time around, in that the proofread pages just flew by.

And the writing. Holy guacamole. Most days I struggle to write a couple hundred words. My first day (before I went up to the library and discovered I’d be legitimately working that week) I typed at least 4000 words. The other couple of days I averaged around 2000, because I needed to allot time to get the paycheck-generating work out. I really felt no urge to switch to the games. My brain accepted the dictate of “no games in the office” and actually followed through.

That’s not to say I didn’t screw off. There were bathroom breaks, and food breaks, and breaks to check what was on cable, and breaks just to get up and move around. But for the most part, I worked. I averaged about 5-6 hours per day, which is more than a lot of people put in during an 8-hour work day. (I’ve worked in offices. I’ve seen masters of the art of slacking in action, people who put me to shame. When I worked at the newspaper, one of my fellow editors routinely put in 9-hour days. Literally half of that was spent standing around schmoozing with her coworkers. I kid you not.)

Clearly I’m on the right track here. Once the brain makes up its mind about something, it tends to stick to it. My years in the work force taught it to equate an office with worktime. Telling it I’m going to the “office” puts me into productive mode. Another couple of weeks and I may be able to get the habit to stick.

There are still a couple of speed bumps. I did set up on the couch and in bed a few times after dinner. I went right into the games. Not as bad as previously, but still. I need to reserve that for after the “work day,” when getting seized by gaming impulses doesn’t really matter. Maybe that’s why I was able to break off early. I’m not putting things off now. When I go for the games, the work’s already done for the day. It pretty much defeats the purpose of procrastination.

The next step is to stop getting the laptop out in bed and on the couch. I can write longhand there, or practice drawing or something. I haven’t decided what to designate the kitchen table as yet. I can see the TV from there, so it’s kind of a combination work desk/couch part 2. I should accept right now that I’m not going to get anything done while the TV’s on and plan accordingly.

# # #

One last note on the writing: I still have a ways to go. I was typing like mad last week because I wanted to sub to an anthology and Friday was the deadline. Even with all the work I got done, I didn’t make it. On Thursday night I considered the time frame and where the manuscript was at and decided to skip it. I might have gotten the story done, but it would have been a rush job. Better to miss out, take my time, and give it the time and effort it deserves. I can still send it in to the publisher as an independent story. I still showed myself what I can do when my brain and I work together, and it was a definite win.

That means no more writing in bed. Save bed for reading and sleeping. And, oh yeah, other stuff. Which reminds me, I’d better change the sheets.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Turning Tricks

Let’s be straight from the outset: writing is hard work. Hard work and I have never gotten along. This is why, over the years, I’ve become a master procrastinator.

Take this morning. Yeah, I got a couple hundred words in. Then I looked out the window. One of the posts in my deck railing had come loose, the load-bearing one holding up the drain spout, leaving the pipe to hang at an angle. So of course I had to go out right then and nail it back into place. Then I had to make sure the tarp on the air conditioner was secure. Then, as long as I was dressed, I went out to the dollar store because I’d been planning to get light bulbs and paper towels anyway. When I got home, I did the dishes. Instead of finally getting back to my story, I’m now writing this blog. See how one thing leads to another?

Writing is the only time I feel an urge to do housework. Those women who publish a book a month either trained their kids as housekeeping staff, or have the best damn husbands on the planet.

And then there’s my more insidious method, the computer game addiction.

Since I posted my confession in January, I’ve had off-and-on success. I was “clean” for three weeks. I slipped up at the end of January, but vowed to kick the habit for February. That lasted three days, and culminated in an obsessive all-day marathon that kept me up until 3 in the morning. The only bright spot is that once I get sufficient sleep I wake up energetic and with no urge to play. Even so, I’ve had minor setbacks here and there.

Other people with different addiction problems have said this, and I’m adding my voice to the mix: will power does not work. It doesn’t make you weak or a loser. It’s just that determination alone isn’t sufficient. If you’re a food addict, clearing all the junk food out of the house might help, but you have to leave the house eventually. What’s to stop you from grabbing a box of Funny Bones while you’re out picking up the light bulbs and paper towels? Will power only goes so far.

In my case, the addiction is just another symptom. The underlying problem, the real problem, is procrastination. However, the addiction has become a threat to both my physical health and my chances of maintaining financial stability. I have to deal with the symptom directly while trying to root out the cause.

If will power won’t cut it, then I’ll have to resort to trickery.

One thing I’ve heard that does work, more or less, is replacing bad habits with better ones. This is why ex-smokers get fat. They substitute putting gum or something in their mouths instead of a cigarette. Is sugar better or worse for you than nicotine? You be the judge.

In my case, I’m trying a bit of re-programming. I’ve fallen into the unfortunate habit of playing wherever I set up the laptop, including out in public. The foremost danger zones are in bed and on the couch in front of the TV. If I stay off those, I’m halfway home.

This week I’ve designated my “office” (the second bedroom) as a no-game zone. When I sit at the desk in there, it’s work-related activities only. No games in the office from here on.

I know I can establish positive habits. I’ve already trained myself to do the dishes every night. The reward is waking up to a clean, empty sink in the morning. The office is where I keep my ancient desktop, the ‘90s-era Troglodyte 1000. That doesn’t have any games on it, so my brain’s already programmed to expect a game-free experience when I sit down at the keyboard. I just need to extend that mindset to include the laptop and I might be back in business.

As for the bed and the couch, well … I’m on the couch right now, and I’ve already jumped around several times between this blog and the games. I suspect aversion therapy—no more setting up in bed or in front of the TV—may be the only solution.

Next on the list will be training myself to avoid playing in public. Since I only set up outside the house to use public WiFi, I can distract myself with the Internet. Sugar or nicotine, pick your poison.

As for whatever it is that’s generating my procrastination in the first place, that’s going to take some digging. Maybe I’ll put that off for the time being, and just write instead. Replace bad habits with better, more productive ones. Isn’t that the point?

Sunday, January 29, 2017

How Times Have Changed

Yeah, I’m getting old. One of the telltale signs is when you start dwelling on the past. The other day, for no real reason, I got thinking about something that happened in grade school, and how reactions were far different then than they would be now.

This didn’t happen to me. It happened to some kid whose name I don’t remember. I don’t think I even knew him personally. He was one of those “other” kids you pass in the halls at school, or who sits in class with you, but isn’t part of your immediate friend-or-acquaintance circle. He might even have been in a grade above or behind me. This was in New Jersey, back in the ‘60s—the Precambrian Era, to you folks today.

Short version: some adult in the neighborhood had a cement statue on their lawn of a Mexican dude with a burro. The burro was just big enough that a little kid could sit on it. This kid did. The statue fell over and the kid hurt his leg. I think he may have gone to the hospital.

The overall consensus, among grown-ups and his peers alike, was, “What a stupid kid.” If the statue was damaged, I’ll bet his parents had to pay for it. I’ll also bet he got an ass-whuppin’ when they got home from the doctor’s. I don’t know what happened to the kid because we moved to Pennsylvania when I was eight, but something tells me he never trespassed in anyone’s yard again, or sat on any statues. Unless he went to college and got drunk at a frat party, but that’s extenuating circumstances.

That was the 1960s. How different that story would be if it were told today.

For starters, it wouldn’t be a statue of a Mexican and he wouldn’t have a burro to sit on, because those are hurtful racial stereotypes. Luckily for stupid kids everywhere, there’s still plenty of yard art around, dogs and horses and deer, things like that, that are big enough and look sturdy enough for some kid to want to climb aboard. And they fall over just as easily as they did fifty years ago.

The response today, though, is way different. The kid would be rushed to the hospital, and the parents would rush to a lawyer, to sue the homeowner for having that statue on his lawn to tempt their precious child into hurting himself in the first place. Then Child Protective Services would come after the parents for allowing that kid to wander the streets alone and unsupervised, where any pervert could snatch him. I’m not sure what lesson the kid himself would take away from all this. Don’t fall over?

Y’see, somewhere between 1960 and now, society (or maybe some personal injury lawyer) came up with the concept of the “attractive nuisance.” This is something you’ve got in your yard—a pool, a trampoline, a statue of Juan Valdez—that’s just so overwhelmingly tempting to a child that they’ll ignore any and all lessons they’ve been taught about respect for others and rush into your yard and play on it, and probably either damage your property or hurt themselves in the process. Or both.

And guess what? If the kid gets hurt, they’re not responsible. You are. The law assumes that children (and this extends to older kids) are impulsive, have no concept of the possible consequences of their own actions, have no respect for others’ rights (this includes adults) and are really, really dumb. If you park your Harley in your driveway and some teenager wandering by sees it and decides to climb aboard and the bike falls on him, it’s your fault. You should have known better than to park your own cycle in your own driveway where some innocent child could see it. If some kid climbs your ten-foot privacy fence in the middle of the night to get into your swimming pool and then drowns, you’re to blame, not him. You know how kids are about pools, especially in the summer. You should have known better, you thoughtless person, you.

Oh, and while you’re at it, don’t leave your keys in your car. If somebody steals your car and runs someone over with it, you as the owner of the car can be charged as an accessory. They wouldn’t have been able to take your car if you hadn’t made it easy for them by leaving the keys in. It’s like you handed them a gun and they used it to shoot somebody. And for God’s sake don’t park it anywhere except inside a locked garage. Otherwise some kid might decide to climb on it, and if he hurts himself you could be going to jail.

A couple of years back, while living elsewhere, I had a front yard with some plants in it. One day I looked out the window and saw some kid, maybe around 10 or so, with a stick pounding my plants into pulp. I went outside and yelled at him. The kid went on pounding. Only when he’d destroyed the plants to his satisfaction did he walk away. Not run, which we would have done back in the ‘60s had a grownup caught us vandalizing their property. This kid just strolled off.

I couldn’t do a damn thing. Had I physically tried to stop him, I could have been charged with assault. Or worse, depending on the kid’s imagination. I didn’t know his parents, and talking to them wouldn’t help anyway. It wasn’t their yard that got trashed, so what’s the problem? They’re not going to replace the plants. I could force an apology out of the kid, but so what? He wouldn’t care. He got what he wanted. He probably wouldn’t even remember attacking the plants, if it happened longer than five minutes ago. It’s already ancient history. I’m the crazy stranger lady who’s harshing his buzz right now. Move on with your life already, you old bitch.

I don’t live in that neighborhood any more. Wonder what, or who, that kid took a stick to when he reached his teens? It’s not as if there’d be any repercussions. He learned that a long time ago. Let’s hope he didn’t find a car with the keys left in it. Or a swimming pool.

Somewhere along the way society as a whole lost its common sense, and any hope of passing any helpful knowledge or wisdom on to the next generation. It’s left us with a nation of emotional infants who feel they have the right to sit on your donkey statue, and will blame you if they fall off and hurt themselves. You probably know them. They voted for Trump.

Ah, progress.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Simple Ways to Amuse Yourself

Bored? Nothing on TV? Bored with what’s on TV? Looking for a way to kill time rather than do something productive? (That’s the one I always vote for, which is why I don’t have more books on the market.) There are all sorts of fun things you can do that don’t involve self-abuse, or abusing others. That’s what today’s blog is about. Here are a few of my favorites:

If you know you’re going to be stuck in a car for a significant length of time, there are all sorts of games you can play, by yourself or with others. I’ve mentioned the speed game before. If I’m on a major highway, I’ll hold the car steady at the speed limit and see how many people pass me. Usually, it’s everybody. I can say this with certainty: whatever the posted speed limit is, the real-life speed limit is at least ten to twenty MPH above it. It's rare in this game to find someone going slower than I am.

For a variation on this game, hang back at or below the speed limit and watch the other drivers. It’s more fun than watching Nascar because you’re part of the action. Massachusetts is a great place for this. I suspect Dale Earnhardt learned how to drive on Massachusetts highways. If you’re driving through Ohio, sticking to the speed limit is your best bet anyway. They’ve got tough cops in that state.

If you find yourself stuck in traffic, try the Distance Game. That’s where you check out the license plates of the cars around you. The car with a plate farthest from your current location is the winner. For instance, I’m in Pennsylvania, so a plate from Texas wins, unless I spot a car from California. Border states like Maryland or New Jersey don’t count.

This game can get tricky if you don’t know your geography. Suppose you’ve got a plate from Ontario on one side and a plate from Wyoming on the other. Canada’s a different country so they win automatically, right? Not in PA, they don’t. Geographically, Wyoming is farther away, so they take the prize. Maine vs. Ontario, I’m not sure. I’d have to measure on a map.

National parks are a great place to play this one. Wandering through parking lots at Gettysburg, I’ve seen plates from all over the US, including Hawaii (now there’s a helluva drive for you). The all-time champ (to date) was the car from Guam. I spotted that one right here on Rt. 30 in Lancaster. I’m not quite sure why anyone would ship a car from Guam. It must get fantastic mileage.

Once you’ve parked and gotten out of the car, there are other fun things you can do in public to safely mess with other people’s heads. I spend a lot of time at my local library because that’s where I get my free Internet. I’ve also decided it’s time I cleaned out a percentage of my book collection. We’re talking over forty years of accumulated comic books, magazines and paperbacks. Yeah, I could just donate the paperbacks, but where’s the fun in that? It’s more fun to take a book I don’t want any more and just leave it in a random place—a bus stop, a doctor’s office, a hospital waiting room. If you leave them in a public place, like the bus stop, you can go back periodically and see if it’s been picked up. I recommend you don’t try this in a grocery store or any other place that sells books. You could get somebody charged with shoplifting.

When I go to my local comic store, I always pick up the freebies, even if it isn’t something I’d ordinarily read. Marvel especially puts out free “samplers” of their latest offerings, mini-magazines with a couple teaser pages of a dozen stories or so. And, of course, there’s Free Comic Book Day in May, when I’ll pick up my one freebie and three-four others for cheap. When I’m done, I drop them off in the children’s section of the library. These tend to disappear rather quickly; it does say “free” on the cover.

I don’t think the staff’s throwing them out. One time I left two samplers, one featuring upcoming Marvel comics and the other focusing on Star Wars. The Marvel book sat there for months, and was pretty tattered by the time it finally disappeared. The Star Wars book vanished within three hours. There was a boy sitting there when I dropped both of them off, and I suspect he’s the one who took it home. It’s hard to resist the lure of the Dark Side.

Besides books, I’ve been pulling another little mind game on library patrons. I start my day with a cup of tea to get that caffeine jolt. I like Red Rose, partly for the taste, partly for the little porcelain figurines they offer free in every box. I’ve amassed a large collection over the decades, some of them duplicates. I’ve never gotten a complete collection of any given set. I’ll have six of one figure and never get even one of others. Maybe they’re distributed by region or something.

Anyway, I decided to have a little fun with librarygoers and started leaving my duplicate figurines in places around the building. Out of reach of little kids, unfortunately. They’re the ones most likely to enjoy the fun of this, but I can’t guarantee some little darling won’t find the figurine, pop it into their mouth (they’re small, some about the size of a quarter), swallow and choke. Next thing you know, the library’s going to court. See what society has come to?

So the first two I put out in plain sight (one on the thermostat, the other on a shelf) but out of reach of children. Every couple of days I checked on them. The one on the thermostat vanished fairly quickly, but the other sat out there for weeks. I recently set out two more. The one was right out in the open, in a place kids could see. It vanished overnight. The other is sitting placidly in a potted plant on a windowsill. Kids don’t look at potted plants, so that one could be there for a while.

Yeah, I know. It doesn’t take much to amuse me. This is long-term humor.

Another thing you can do for fun, and to avoid work, is to write a blog instead of working. Kill two birds with one stone. Can’t beat that with a stick.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Crash and Burn

It’s all Larry’s fault.

Like I didn’t have enough problems (see last week’s post). Back in December my six-year-old laptop finally gave up the ghost, with incredibly bad timing. But then, a computer’s hard drive crash never comes at a good time, does it?

It was Saturday. I was at the library. So was my buddy Larry, so I was sharing a table in the lobby with him. I’d gotten a freelance assignment and downloaded the file. Then it was off to a number of sites I like for some serious time-wasting. I’m not sure what Larry was doing. Working on his own paid work or writing a chapter of his book or something. Larry’s also a writer, but he actually goes to the library to work. He’s more conscientious than me.

The real reason he was there was his wife (also a friend of mine) was volunteering in the book store that morning. Her shift was up, so Larry got up to pack up his stuff and be on his way. Both of us had our respective laptops plugged in to the same outlet. Larry unplugged his, and in the process yanked my cord out of my machine, abruptly cutting the power. Good thing I wasn’t working on anything.

So I plugged back in, restarted the laptop, and … could not get back onto the Internet. In fact, I couldn’t do too much of anything. I shut down and tried again. Same lack of results.

I’ve knocked my power cord loose on my own on more than one occasion and never had a problem. Not this time. I kept getting that damn little circle, just spinning and spinning and spinning. I told Larry he’d crashed my laptop. He just shrugged and left. Thanks loads.

Fortunately there’s a computer repair place in my home town, and they’re open until 2 on Saturdays. I just had time to get over there and explain the problem. The guy figured it was my hard drive. However, he was all by himself in the shop and didn’t have time to look at it and they were closing in an hour. I opted to take it home for the weekend and bring it back on Monday. I had a paid assignment due in less than a week, and no working computer. Now what?

Again, luck was with me. I discovered I could get the thing up and running in Safety Mode, and started work on the assignment from there. Sunday was experimentation day. I couldn’t get to my files through normal start-up due to lack of memory, or so the computer told me. I plugged in a flash drive to copy my files. That put me over the memory top. I spent the rest of my weekend finishing the assignment and saving it to the flash drive. Monday I took the laptop into the shop.

Yeah, it was the hard drive. I’ve had this machine for six years, and I’ve been using it heavily. You know, 10-12 hours straight of game-playing, things like that. Like with all of us, sooner or later the parts just plain wear out. There’s a good chance I would have gotten it home that Saturday, or maybe Sunday or at some other point and it would have crashed on me then. It just happened to go down when Larry inadvertently cut the power. I’m blaming him because he’s convenient. And a guy. Women are always blaming guys for everything.

As for the assignment, I got it done over the weekend (thank God it was short) and emailed it back using the library system. I’m glad I didn’t have to use the library computer to actually do the work. I used to do that back before I got the laptop, back in the days of three-inch disks. Remember those? I was always limited by library hours and the amount of time I could stay on a machine, assuming a machine was available. I love my laptop and won’t give it up. Though if I could just block the damn games, it would make my life a whole lot easier.

Best of all, I didn’t lose any files. The guys at the shop were able to save all my stuff and added it to the new hard drive they installed. I don’t have as much memory as the old hard drive did, but for what I use this for, I don’t really need a lot. It’s not like I’m downloading movies or anything. I got the assignment done and out well before deadline, and got the laptop back in time to accept a new assignment. That helped pay for repairs. I lost my virus protection, which was on the old hard drive, but the guys replaced it for free. We’re good to go.

Well, not quite. My word processing program is now acting up. I’ll be typing along when all of a sudden the cursor jumps and I’ll find myself typing on a different line. There’s no rhyme, reason or warning. It’s a major pain in the ass. When I told Larry about it, he said his does the same thing. I asked him how to fix it. He doesn’t know. I think I’ll keep my laptop away from Larry for, oh, the rest of our lives.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Clean Slate

Aaaannnnd we’re back. I took a few weeks off mostly out of laziness. It’s not so easy coming up with new topics week after week. I don’t know how newspaper columnists do it. Oh, right, they get a paycheck.

I’ve decided to kick off the new year with a confession. In fact, the topic is why it took me all week to write and post this, when I’d intended to post on Monday. Deep breath and here we go:

I am an addict. I’m addicted to video games.

This is not a joke. It’s not the start of a rant. For me, it’s a serious problem. Moreso in recent months, because it’s started to interfere with the paying work. I almost missed a couple of deadlines because I got playing games when I should have been doing the freelance stuff that pays my bills. I did miss a couple of postings on this and my other blog last year, because I played games instead of writing. It’s one of the reasons I don’t get stories out faster. Again, that’s money I need that I’m missing out on because I’m playing computer solitaire. Not exactly the best use of my time.

How bad has it gotten? Well, ever heard those stories about people playing games well into the early morning hours? Or around the clock? They’re true. I’ve averaged eight to twelve hour marathons just on one game alone. I think the longest I ever went was over sixteen hours. I’ve started playing during the morning and gone on to two or three a.m. Then sleep for maybe three-four hours and get up. And sometimes start over.

During those hours I don’t eat or move around or go to the bathroom. For some reason I don’t feel tired. I get the feeling the game activity is messing with my brain chemistry. It’s certainly messing with my physical well-being. I haven’t gained weight, but I’ve definitely lost endurance. I can tell that just by walking around the house.

I once followed this pattern for roughly a week. Little food, less sleep, no exercise. Then I woke from a nap light-headed and unable to focus my eyes. I didn’t know if it was me or a gas leak (I have no sense of smell). I ended up calling the local volunteer fire department and had them come out to check my furnace and propane tanks and scan for carbon monoxide. Turns out everything was fine, except for me. The firemen checked my blood pressure and asked if I wanted them to call an ambulance. I turned them down because I knew what the problem was. I’d done it to myself. After some food and a decent night’s sleep I was okay.

That should have been my rock bottom, my turning point. It wasn’t. I think I quit for a while after that, but pretty soon I was back at it. Not continuously, but days here and there, for longer and longer stretches. The kind that interfere with life and the paying work, as noted above.

I’m not talking about World of Warcraft or any of the other games found on the Internet. These are the simple games that came with my laptop: Freecell, Solitaire, Spider Solitaire, Mah Jong. Those are the dangerous ones. I found others on the Net, before Yahoo discontinued their Games program. I once played Jewel Quest in the library lobby for nine hours. That was well after the incident with the fire department.

I’ve known for years I have a problem with OCDish behavior. I learned decades ago I don’t dare keep a deck of cards in the house. I used to buy those Sudoku magazines and compulsively work the puzzles until I ended up ripping up the magazine and throwing it out. That was the only way I could stop.

I don’t know what to do about these games. I don’t have home Internet, so in that respect I’m restricted by the library’s hours. The ones I’m having trouble with are on the laptop’s hard drive. I can’t block them (I tried). I can’t delete them. I asked the guys at the computer repair place to do that and they said they couldn’t without wrecking the hard drive. I can’t get rid of the laptop because I need it for writing and work. It’s not like keeping booze or drugs or junk food out of the house. As far as removing temptation goes, I’m pretty much up the creek.

Even worse, I don’t think this addiction is itself the real problem. I suspect it’s a symptom of some deeper problem, namely procrastination/work avoidance. I’ve stopped in the past. I was “clean” for nearly all of 2016. During my gameless phase I noticed I tended to watch mindless stuff on TV or read excessively or even do housework. Anything rather than write. I’d also just started the freelance job back then, so I was motivated by bills and a paycheck to stay productive.

Then one day I clicked on the Games program and decided to play “just one game.” That was my downfall. That was when I started getting into the longer-than-eight-hour sessions, usually when I was supposed to be working on paid stuff.

That’s the part that finally scared me. I don’t have a regular job, and at my age in this economy I’m not likely to find one that pays a living wage. If I screw up this freelance gig, I’ll be down to just my savings for financial resources, and that won’t last forever. At this rate, that won’t even last two years.

So I need to work, and I need to be more productive. Instead I turn to the games, then beat myself up afterward. And downward the spiral goes.

Before anyone asks, I haven’t worked a “traditional” job for about five years now, so I’m not doing this in the workplace. There’s no family involved, so no one else is affected by my slacker ways. That means there’s no support system, either. Most of the time I’m pretty isolated, which may be part of the problem. Does FaceBook have a page for gaming addicts? Is it helpful? Because I haven’t been doing so well on my own.

I was going to call it quits at Christmas. Go cold turkey. Didn’t work. I stopped “for good this time, I mean it” New Year’s Eve. I fell back into the habit three days later. I was playing as recently as last night. I put off paid work because the urge to play games was just that strong.

And yet … this morning I woke up with no compulsion at all. That’s happened to me before. I’ll go through a phase where I can’t stay away from the games, and then it just … goes away. It’s like a switch gets thrown in my head. The switch must have clicked overnight because I’m okay now. I’ve been working on the laptop all morning with no inclinations to play at all. This could last for today, or a week, or maybe a couple of months. I’m taking advantage of the break to confess to the world in this blog.

What I should be doing is using this time to root around in my head and figure out what the real problem is, why I play in the first place. Dr. Phil says, “People do what works,” but how is repetitively playing the same game for twelve or more hours giving me a positive payoff? I’m sure it has to do with self-sabotage. This is the point where a normal person would seek professional help, but video game addiction isn’t considered a real problem by the medical community so my health insurance won’t pay for it. Fair enough. If I don’t work because I’m playing games all the time, soon I won’t have money to pay for the health insurance. That’ll teach ‘em.

So instead of playing games, or working, or writing, I can lie down somewhere and stare into space and examine my motivations, or lack thereof. People who do this call it “meditation.” Sounds like a prime time-waster to me, marginally healthier than what I’ve been doing. Maybe I’ll give it a go.