Monthly Archives: February 2007

Turned On and Plugged In

I have spent the past 30-some hours without internet service. I know, that’s hardly any time at all. It nearly killed me. I have gotten so used to having it, being able to connect anytime I want, that its absence was like a dark presence.

What was the problem, you ask? I have no idea. My first reaction yesterday morning was to turn everything off, wait a few minutes, then turn it all back on again. This didn’t work. So I did it again. I still got a message that I had failed to connect to the server. Along with a cheerful blinking icon that said my signal strength was very good. Grrrr. Random hurried attempts to “configure an available network” were unsuccessful. Probably because I have no idea what I’m doing there.

I gave up and went to work, priorities being what they are, where the internet connection was just fine; not that I could use it for anything personal, but it was reassuring to know I was the only one having this problem. Really. Very reassuring.

When I got home last night I resumed my efforts by clicking a bunch of options in that “network connections” thing. Probably this was a Bad Idea. I’m convinced I launched three rockets into space from Nebraska and initiated a firing sequence on an aircraft carrier somewhere, but I still could not connect to the server.

It was time for drastic measures. Yes, I called customer service. The first thing they did was turn me over to Tier 2 support. I knew I was in real trouble. They told me to go to the Start menu, click on Control Panel and we then proceeded through several pages until the tech said, “Tell me what is on your screen.”

I told her and she said, “Really? You’re sure? That shouldn’t be there. Are you sure you only clicked what I told you to click?”

I admitted that maybe I had clicked a few more times on a few more things. I was curious. I’d never seen some of these things and I wanted to know what they were.

“Ma’am, please do not make any changes to that page. That page is not where your problem is. Yet. Please click Cancel until you get back to the “whatsis” page.” She called it something else. I don’t remember.

Sigh. It went on like this for 45 minutes. It’s a good thing I had her there to hold [read: slap] my hand and tell me what to do or I’d still be there three days later, lost and wandering, distracted by all the shiny clickable things. If you are very small and ever need a place to hide, I now know some great places to do it.

How did we solve the problem? We didn’t. The efforts came to a screeching halt when she said my modem was fine and suggested I bypass the wireless router and hook the modem’s Ethernet cord directly to the remote hard drive, first disabling the modem and rebooting it by–

I thanked her for her remarkable patience and said it sounded like that would take some time, especially since I had to lug the remote hard drive in from the other room after first crawling under my desk to unplug it, and that I’d go ahead and do all that in the morning when I wasn’t so tired. I promised to call her back if it didn’t work. She was highly skeptical and wanted to stay on the line, but I had written down all her instructions and knew I could do this on my own. Plus I figured she didn’t need to increase her vocabulary by listening while I did. She made me read back to her the instructions. Then strongly suggested I add a few things I’d apparently missed. Sigh.

So about midmorning I was feeling sufficiently brave (I had taken today off work — though not so I could mess with this, thank you) and was all set to unplug and lug and reboot and whatever. But first I decided to try it one more time, just in case. Because sometimes hope just won’t be silenced by cold hard facts.

I reattached the modem and router cords that I’d unplugged last night and turned the computer on. And was immediately connected to the server. Of course, I now also seem to have my choice of five networks. And a rocket launcher.

I have learned an important lesson from all this. It is highly technical. You may want to write it down so you can use it yourself someday. Ready? Here it is:

Sometimes it isn’t enough to simply turn everything off. Sometimes you also have to unplug things.

The rest of today is for writing. In fact, the entire weekend is for writing. I’m thinking I may have to unplug a few things first.


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Doing It in Public

No, not that. I’m talking about blogging.

I recently read an article forwarded to my chapter email loop about the pros and cons of blogging. It was a good article. It listed the obvious pros: blogs are cheap and easy, can be updated more frequently than web sites, provide a sense of conversational familiarity with the writer, are good for interactive things like Q&A forums and contests, and can be used to post [ahem] excerpts promoting a new release.

[NOTE: Conventional wisdom says to wait with that whole excerpt thing until publication of said new release is imminent. Or at least a probability. At any rate, something more definite than a mere wish and a prayer. My bad.]

And the cons: blogs eat up time you should spend on other writing, require daily posting to keep readers interested, are a source of stress, target only online readers, and of course there is the pitfall of blogging while upset or angry, something to avoid unless you really enjoy beating yourself up with regret.

As I said, it was a good article; my summary of it does not do it justice. But I think the author left out some very important points. Maybe she had a word limit. Or maybe she knew that thinking about some of these things will make you crazy. Why yes, I’d love to share them with you, thank you for asking.

1) Pro: There is no one to stop you. No agent or editor or critique partner tediously parsing your every golden word and demanding perfection before you bestow your profound thoughts on your eager and receptive audience.

2) Con: There is no one to stop you. No one to tell you how completely stupid and ill-considered your post is before you put it out there in public for all to see. There is only the after-post barrage of emails from friends, too late, demanding to know, “What the hell was that?”

3) Pro: People who read and comment on your blog always seem to want more. They can’t get enough of your wit and wisdom, showering you with flattery and praise. You love making time to accommodate them by writing more, and more entertaining, posts.

4) Con: People who read and comment on your blog always seem to want more. You want to pull your hair out because you’re working full time at the day job and spending every spare minute trying to finish the damn book. And yet you also have to come up with something to say — at least weekly, forget that “daily” suggestion — that won’t offend anyone or cause your family to disinherit you.

5) Pro: Almost no one who reads your blog makes negative comments. There seems to be an unwritten etiquette forbidding this. You live in fear that might change, but intend to enjoy it while it lasts.

6) Con: Almost no one who reads your blog makes negative comments. But you know there are people out there having negative thoughts, because some of them send you nasty emails. You’ve seen the numbers and suspect that perhaps a couple hundred people have read your blog at least once, yet only a dozen or so have chosen to comment. You just know the rest of them are rolling their eyes and making fun of you.

7) Pro: You have no idea who is reading what you write. This is incredibly liberating, this sense that your audience is whoever you choose to believe they are. It is so easy to believe they are your perfect reader and that they love everything you have ever written or will write.

8) Con: You have no idea who is reading what you write. It could be your mom or your boss, other writers you know or those you will never meet, agents or editors or publishers (oh my), friends or neighbors, your dentist or the librarian’s cat or someone on another continent for whom English is a second or third language. Not only do you not know, you will never know.

9) Pro: If you’re lucky, your commenters are a group of fun and interesting people. You develop a wonderful sense of community and friendship.

10) Con: If you’re lucky, your commenters are a group of fun and interesting people. Your family questions your sanity and considers it a sign of diminished mental capacity that you have imaginary friends.

11) Pro: No one tells you what to write. There is no set topic, no particular agenda other than what you choose on any given day. You can write anything.

12) Con: No one tells you what to write. You have no idea whether what you think is interesting or humorous on any given day will similarly appeal to anyone else. And you can’t ask. It makes you not want to write anything.

13) Pro: There is the thrill of the unknown every time you hit the button to publish a new post. The anticipation of and wondering about what people will say this time, the excited impatience of waiting for the comments, hoping people will like what you wrote or at least give it some thought before they dash off to the next blog in their ever expanding quest for entertainment and enlightenment.

14) Con: There is the thrill of the unknown every time you hit the button to publish a new post. The sick awful dread you feel in your gut that no one is going to even read this one, let alone have reason to comment on it. The depressing certainty that you have condemned your inadequate words to a vast empty void of echoing silence.

I could go on (there’s another pro/con right there), but I won’t. You get the idea. Besides, that second person voice is so annoyingly pretentious.

On paper, the pros and cons seem to balance each other out, don’t they? In practice, maybe not so much. But there is one other “pro” I have discovered about blogging that I think helps to even the scale: hidden way down in the many pages and layers of blog options, there is a little button that says “Delete This Blog” — it actually looks fairly innocuous, considering the power inherent to its function.

Some days, knowing that button is there, knowing I could use it if I chose to do so — not that I would, probably, but knowing that I could — is the only thing that keeps me from losing the often tenuous grip I have on my so-called sanity.

I don’t think any article about the pros and cons of blogging is complete without an acknowledgment of that.


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Not a Prologue. Really.

I have no one to blame but myself. I knew it was a mistake, yet I did it anyway. After all, I read that book “If You Give a Moose a Muffin” to my kids many times, I know what happens next. So now you all want a glass of milk. No, that was the Mouse book. The Moose wanted jam. But it won’t stop there, will it? Next you’ll want an entire meal. And then dessert. And a sequel with brunch the next morning. Sigh.

So I knew better. And now I’m going to make it worse. Because once you give in, it’s a slippery downhill slope. Before you know it, you’ve given the kids the credit card and sent them to the store for groceries with permission to stop off at the mall for a few things first.

But just so you know, there will be no more after this and here is why. The part that comes after this was originally the beginning. Until I realized it wasn’t the right place to start. It is the first part I wrote, a long time ago. Frankly, it sucks– um, no, that’s not true. It needs a lot of work. It will be substantially re-written, maybe even completely deleted, once I finish the book. Which is absolutely normal. Expected. As a matter of fact, I’m convinced that if you don’t go back and re-write the beginning after you finish the story, you have no idea what you’re doing. Either that or you’re so damn good it is beyond my ability to comprehend. Whichever, I am not going to give you that part no matter how loudly or how often you whine about it (yes, OH, I am talking to you). You’re going to have to wait until I finish the story and go back and do clean up.

I’ll get back to working on that just as soon as I copy and paste here. Keep in mind that even this part will change. Probably.

So here it is (why am I doing this?), the part that is not a prologue:

Excerpt from Tangled Webs, by Katherine James

Eugenia Westbrook was more than a little put out, to put it mildly. She stared at her tightly knotted fist and the edges of the crushed note that stuck out from the sides. She didn’t see the wrinkled, age-spotted skin and had she noticed the slight tremor of her hand she would have attributed it to rage rather than age. The note had taken her abruptly back to another time and place, a place she didn’t particularly want to revisit, a time when she had been an entirely different person. It was a life she had deliberately left behind.

She had committed the contents of the note to memory by force of long habit, deciphering the encrypted message with ease. The code was old and deceptively simple, one she’d not seen used in more years than she cared to count. The message had been clear and yet she was confounded by what the sender hoped to accomplish.

She thought of herself as retired — as well she should be at her ripe old age — though she knew it was a business from which one never really retired. Certainly, she was no longer active. In truth, she was no longer sure who was a player these days and who had chosen, or been forced, to take a more passive role.

And yet it seemed someone was trying to drag her back into the game. Or trying to make damn sure she stayed out of it — permanently.

We’ll just see about that, she thought, turning to the desk and picking up the remote control for the fireplace gas logs, clicking it to start the flames. She waited while they flared to a full roar, adding heat to the already stifling early summer afternoon, then walked over to toss in the crumpled note. Waited longer to watch as it was consumed by fire and dissolved into ash. The words, however, remained etched in her mind.

Loyalty ensures silence. So does death.
Your choice.

As she clicked the button to extinguish the flames and turned to leave the room, she couldn’t decide whether she was more offended by the implication than she was enraged by the not-so-subtle threat. It was time to consider her options and plan a course of action.

Whoever had chosen to poke this old, tired bear would do well to remember that she was, after all, still a bear.

Yes, I can already see things that I’ll change. But not yet. First I have to finish the story.

Don’t make me regret doing this.

Never mind. I already do.


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Tagged, but not bagged

When I heard that I’d been “tagged” by Jennifer Talty, my first thought was to check my big toe. I thought maybe I was making a guest appearance as a victim in one of her books. But, no, she was talking about “tag” as in a game. Here are the rules as posted on her blog [ ]:

So what you do is grab the book closest to you, go to page 123, go down 5 sentences and post the next 3 sentences on your blog with name of author and title of book.

Right. Jen, that is way too much work. And you know damn well that I do not follow rules happily.

So you want to play? I can play. Ah, but you used five books instead of just one. How could I do less? I decided to use the last four books I checked out of the library — just today as a matter of fact — and the last one I purchased at the book store. And then I added one more. Just because.

When I opened up these books and checked page 123, sentences 6-8, I discovered several things: a) important plot stuff was given away; b) some of the sentences there were not appropriate for posting on this blog (hey, my mom sometimes reads this); and c) some of it was so out of context I’d have to quote huge chunks to avoid misrepresenting the work.

So I made up my own rules. What a surprise. And since I’ve been thinking about opening hooks lately, this was a good exercise. I decided to quote the first few sentences and the last few sentences of the first chapter. The words that hook you and the words that compel you to read the next chapter.

Here they are, in no particular order (any typos are my fault entirely and I apologize to the authors):

A Marked Man, by Stella Cameron

The moon was a thin white wafer with a big bite missing.

Walking silent streets at night–alone–could be a bad idea. Staying in bed, half awake, half asleep, sweat stinging your eyes, sticking hair to your face, while the monster panic ate you up could be a whole lot worse idea. Nothing bad ever happened around here anyway.


“Don’t jump,” a man said behind her.

Annie screamed. She screamed and shook her head, and staggered backward against him. Sweat stuck her clothes to her body. That woman she had seen in the nightmares was her, Annie. Premonitions, not nightmares. They were coming true. The gagging sounds she heard were her own.

“Annie, it’s me, Father Cyrus. People are lookin’ for you.”

Vicious Circle, by Robert Littell

The setting sun scored the navigator’s line between sky and sea, drawing blood, flinging long shadows inland on the flat Levantine coast. Flecks of last light chipped off the gold leaf of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. Not far away, a panel truck with the hand painted logo “Kosher Pizza” and “We Deliver” written in Hebrew on both sides crawled along a street on the French Hill, a small Jewish neighborhood built on the north-eastern slope of Jerusalem after the Six Day War.


The men in the back seat exchanged looks. “What must we never forget?” Dror asked quietly.

Elihu could have been speaking to himself. “That we live in a corner of the planet where absolutely no one, least of all the hundred million Arabs around us, respects weakness. Which is why, when the last verse of the Pentateuch is read, we chant: Hazak, hazak, ve-nit’-hazak — Be strong, be strong, and we shall be strengthened.”

Mistral’s Kiss, by Laurell K. Hamilton

I dreamt of warm flesh and cookies. The sex I understood, but the cookies . . . Why cookies? Why not cake, or meat? But that’s what my subconscious chose as I dreamt. We were eating in the tiny kitchen of my Los Angeles apartment — an apartment I didn’t live in anymore, outside of dreams.


I drank from the horn and found it full of the sweetest mead I had ever drunk, thick with honey, and warm as if the heat of the summer itself slipped across my tongue, caressed my throat. I swallowed and it was more intoxicating than any mere drink.

Power is the most intoxicating drink of all.

Manhunting, by Jennifer Crusie

“Planning on jumping? I wouldn’t. Blood’s hell to get out of silk.”

“I’m just checking the weather,” Kate Svenson said patiently and continued to stare out her apartment window, knowing that Jessie would lose interest and go back to her newspaper if she ignored her long enough.


The phone rang again.

“Concentrate on getting married and resuming your regularly scheduled life,” Will said on his way back inside. “Who knows? Maybe this is your future bride calling right now.”

“Like hell,” Jake said and went back to the sunrise.

Harbingers, by F. Paul Wilson

“Hey, Jack, can I bother you a minute?”

Jack sat at his table in the rear of Julio’s. He looked up from his coffee and saw Timmy O’Brien, one of Julio’s regulars. A fiftyish guy, thin, hangdog face, watery eyes, and wearing a Hawaiian shirt in Janaury.


“No promises, Timmy, beyond making the calls. It’s a long shot.”

Timmy grabbed his hand and squeezed.

“I know, but you’re all I’ve got right now.”

Jack waved good-bye to Julio and stepped out into the cutting January wind.

Long shot? Who was he kidding? More like hitting a dime at a thousand yards with a Saturday night special.

Tangled Webs, by Katherine James

Eugenia Westbrook was more than a little put out, to put it mildly. She stared at her tightly knotted fist and the edges of the crushed note that stuck out from the sides. She didn’t see the wrinkled, age-spotted skin and had she noticed the slight tremor of her hand she would have attributed it to rage rather than age.


As she turned to leave the room, she couldn’t decide whether she was more offended by the implication than she was enraged by the not-so-subtle threat. It was time to consider her options and plan a course of action.

Whoever had chosen to poke this old, tired bear would do well to remember that she was, after all, still a bear.

So there you have it. That’s what I’ll be reading next. Do I recommend you read them too? Sure, why not? I certainly intend to do so, why shouldn’t you? Will they be any good? Will I recommend them after I read them? Well, I guess I could tell you that after I read them. Or you could read them and tell me what you think.

What have you read lately that you would recommend?

Oh, and Kari? I know a LOT about you, darlin’.


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My Guest Room

I’ve heard the advice that everyone should spend a night in their own guest room, just to experience first-hand how welcoming it is. Or isn’t. Well, my guest room has turned into my office over the years and it’s not much of a guest room these days. But I was feeling lazy today and had hit a snag in the ms, so I decided maybe a nap was a good idea. I turned away from the computer and there it was: a bold inviting splash of sunshine spilling across the bed in the guest room.

But honestly, this room is a pure creative mess, with the bed all but buried. I had to move two large piles of research notes and plot diagrams and marked-up pages of dialog — under which I found the “lost” car charger for my cell phone — then shoo the cat away and shake her hair off the throw blanket I keep folded at the foot of the bed.

It smelled faintly of dust, no one has slept there for several months, but the bed is firm and the pillows are good. As I lay down with my back to the sun, I realized that this is the only bed in my house that is directly in the path of sunshine. Two bedrooms are on the north side of the house and almost never get direct sun. A third is on the south side like this one, but the bed there is on the inside wall. The bed in this room, the guest room, is under the window on the south wall. In the sunlight.

The sun was hot on my back and I could soon smell the heat in my hair where it spread out on the pillow behind me. It felt good on a cold February day, even as it occurred to me the sensation might not be as comforting in July. I rolled over, wanting to feel that intensity on my face, turning toward it as if it were a fervent caress. I stretched into it like a cat, welcoming the embrace of bright heat with languid appreciation.

It was mid-afternoon and the sun’s rays shift quickly this time of year; soon they were angling away from my face and down, spreading heat in their path. Almost too warm now, I kicked off the blanket and noticed the cobweb in the upper corner of the window, shimmering and beautiful in the shaft of light. A cloud moved over the sun, bringing a dark shiver, but the brilliance soon returned with a now familiar heat made more intense by its brief absence. I reached out, curious, pressing three fingertips to the window pane and felt the stark contrast of the smooth frigid glass. Outside it is winter. Inside, boneless and relaxed, I closed my eyes and melted like slow liquid into the simple quiet pleasure of the afternoon sun.

I slept, startled awake some time later when a squirrel jumped from a branch of the maple tree, landing with a thud on the roof above me before scurrying across the shingles, a well-worn path to the oak in the front yard. A very nice dream cut short by the reminder that I still have not called a roofer. Sigh.

So while it would no doubt benefit from a good dusting and the trimming of a few tree branches, I have decided my guest room is the perfect place for a lazy nap on a sunny winter day.


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