Archive for April, 2010


Infected!

Vile, slimy, foul, despicable, nasty little bugs!  And I’m currently in good health, so I’m not referring to the kind you sneeze out or cough up.  It’s those pervasive, invasive computer bugs, the Trojans, worms, keyloggers, malware or whatever euphemism you can come up with for what they really are: pure evil.

Two days of my life have wasted away as I cried over my keyboard (friends would say ‘cussed’ over my keyboard) while vigorously scrubbing my laptop.  I’ve mostly got my baby clean, but there’s still this one crazy Trojan that keeps reinstalling itself.  Well, the Navy sent me through Information Systems Maintenance school for a reason, but to be honest, that was eight years ago, and I barely remember Unix and A+ from it, much less anything else.  I’ll solve this the way I solve all of my other problems: Google.

Okay, rant over.  Not to change subjects, but I’m changing the subject.  I am blown away by all these blogolicious contests offered by all you phenomenal bloggers out there:

Anna Staniszewski, YA author represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette at the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, is having a 100 followers contest, offering two soon-to-be-released books.  Click quick.  The deadline is April 22.

Sarah Wylie just published her book, All These Lives, and she’s giving away some amazing prizes for aspiring authors: lunch with agent-extraordinaires Janet Reid and Suzie Townsend, a query critique, a partial manuscript critique, or a writer’s survival package.  Click here to beat the April 25 deadline.

Linda Sandifer is giving away an autographed copy of her latest novel, The Last Rodeo, and a box of chocolates in honor of Mother’s Day.  You’ll need a hankie when you read about her impressions of her mother.  She’ll pick a winner who clicked here by May 2.

Stephanie Boman just signed with Alyssa Reubin of Paradigm Talent Agency and wants to celebrate by giving away a creepy pendant made by an Etsy artist (Ebay for handcrafting artists, if this is new to you).  Just comment here about something that creeps you out.

And one of my personal favs, a revolving contest, is Miss Snark’s First Victim Secret Agent Contest.  This is a monthly contest, but you need to be quick on the draw to get your submission in.  Entries are judged by a panel which includes a mystery agent.

Whew!  Lots more out there, but I need to sleep eventually.  Uber-giant thank you to Bethany Wiggins for awarding me a Blogger BFF Award.  I’m psyched about it because I love her blog.  The Shooting Stars blog and Elana Johnson’s blog were the first blogs I ever followed, and I still always go there first.

Geez, I got a lil link-happy tonight.  Before I go, I’m a bit curious about how people choose their prizes.  What’s the weirdest prize you’ve ever seen offered or that you’ve ever offered in a contest?

Flat Stanley Changed My Mind

Do you know those little moments, little details in your life that inspire an epiphany of some sort?  I’m sure we’ve all had one, whether it’s just a last straw or some tiny action that gives you that “Aha” feeling.  One of those most significant moments happened to me right before I deployed last summer.

My then 6-year-old daughter, Jordyn, mailed me a little guy named Flat Stanley.  He was a colorful, laminated paper cutout based on the popular children’s book FLAT STANLEY by Jeff Brown.  I was supposed to take Flat Stanley around with me, snapping pictures of his travels, and send him back with a brief story describing his adventures.

We, meaning I and a lot of my shipmates, had so much fun with Stanley.  We made little paper outfits for him to wear and took him with us everywhere.  It was so much fun, my coworkers asked if he could go on deployment with us.  I passed the question on to my daughter, who immediately got upset, her small voice wavering over the phone.  I asked her what was wrong.

“I don’t want Flat Stanley to join the Navy and then I’ll never see him again,” she responded.  That was the moment I went from standing on the cusp of ‘Stay’ or ‘Go’ regarding my military career.  Thank you, Stanley, for coming into my life!

Though I’ve had plenty of smaller moments, this was my most epic.  What little things in your lives have led to sudden insight or inspiration?  What Aha moments have you had?

Found Me Some Peeps

…and I’m not talking Easter Peeps! Where do you go to find a crew that will have your back? I was struggling with this question for several days and tried a couple of options. In particular, I needed to find writing buddies.

I joined some online discussion groups. This didn’t seem like such a bad idea at first, and some blogs recommended finding critique groups this way. Uh-uh. This isn’t for me I figured out quickly. A critique does no good if it’s coming from writers who aren’t on your level or readers who don’t give specific enough feedback.

Blogs will give you some really fantastic advice, but they won’t read your writing, slap you when it’s bad, encourage you when it’s good, motivate you when you slump, and guide you when you’re lost.

When I finally found a group, it was where I should’ve looked first. I’ve been using a site for the last two years with phenomenal success,  a social networking site that specializes in face-to-face contact. I finally searched for writers on Meetup and found a group that sounded right for me. Jackpot!

My first meeting was more than I could have hoped for. The group reviewed each other’s work, offered specific and constructive feedback, offered encouragement, and had no problem covering any genre, including poetry and screenwriting. I got nothing but warm fuzzies about all the group members. Yes, I’m pretty sure I found me some peeps. I’m excited now to submit some of my own work to see what I can do to improve.

I wish everyone luck with finding their own peeps. Maybe you’ll have a better experience with online groups, but the face time suits me well. What have you done to find your own support and encouragement?

PS, we met at All American Grill in San Diego, and I had the Salinas salad – Yum!  Highly recommended.

Just Fun for Now

Ah, the sting of rejection riding on the coattails of hope!  So far, my first query resulted in a form rejection, second query resulted in request for partial followed by a form rejection, and queries three through five are still out to sea with the agents.  Well, that’s okay.  I’m bracing myself, doing my research, and settling in for the long haul.

I could get dejected, but I’m not.  I have a job, a family, a life, and a love of writing.  So I’ll keep writing.  I started in the first place because my friends wanted the story and now I’ll continue because they want more and so do I.  I love that feeling of a story unfolding where there wasn’t one before.  I can do this just for fun, for the love of it.

In the meantime, I’m working on the next project, while still working on ways to make the first one better.  Along these lines, I’m having difficulty getting useful feedback on my manuscript.  My friends are great, and they help me gauge whether I’ve got a great story, but they’re not writers.  My husband’s a writer, but doesn’t read or write in my genre, although he’s encouraged me and helped me considerably with it.  I considered joining associations or attending conferences and workshops, but I don’t really have the resources to invest.

Any writers out there have any suggestions?  Where have you turned to get input on your manuscript?

Is technology a bane or a blessing? If you know, you’re smarter than I am because I haven’t figured that out yet.

I was one of the first people I knew to own a laptop, and therefore technologically advanced (or was at the time). I bought it when I started my first year in college. Oops, just dated myself! Crazy, I know. You would assume that since I’m an electronics technician, I should be pretty knowledgeable in the technology arena, but I’m not really up to speed web-wise beyond the basics.

So now that I sporadically have time galore on my hands, I’ve been dabbling to create an online presence through blogging. I did some research on it, surfed blogs, read articles, checked out references, and then dove right in.

Only days later, I’ve discovered this stuff doesn’t just come naturally. There’s some work involved, and I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

What I’ve learned so far:

  • Know your purpose. If you don’t know why you’re writing, you can’t know who’s supposed to be reading it! If you don’t know the viewers, how can you know what you should write or how you should promote your site?
  • Keep it short. Surfing blogs is time-consuming, and when you have to surf fifty million blogs, the average viewer doesn’t want to invest the precious minutes to read your 600-word essay.
  • Keep it simple. Make navigation easy so viewers can find the meat of your blog right away. If you want the “ooh, shiny” distraction effect drawing viewers away from your content, I dare you to put a bunch of clutter and buttons all over your page.
  • Do your homework while you surf. When you read other blogs, pay particular attention to what you like and dislike about the design and content. You’ll soon figure out what to incorporate into your own blog.

There’s definitely a lot more advice to polish a blog, but I’m just putting these out because they’re all very basic things I didn’t do. My blog is still a work in progress, but with the great advice I’ve gleaned from others more experienced than I, it will just get better and better.

Special Thank You to Elana Johnson!

Jason’s Jesus Lemon

I don’t know where the tradition started, and I’m not sure I want to know. All I know is on Easter the kids hunt the eggs and have a shot at finding the “Jesus Lemon.” All of you devout Christians, please read on before feeling offended.

As Jason writes, “sometimes it’s sour; sometimes it’s sweet, as in life.” Yes, lemons are supposed to be sour. Of course they are, but then why are there so many sweet, sweet lemony things? Lemonade, Lemonheads, Lemon Meringue… So the tradition is that whoever finds the lemon can take it or leave it. If they take it, they take the consequence and/or the reward which comes with it. This year, the little lemon-picker had to serve Easter dinner, but then she also got to go on a movie date with Dad.

I bring this story up because I have spent yet another holiday without my husband and children. These occasions are racking up to unpleasantly high numbers of time missing from my life with my family. The happy times are hard enough to be away from, but it feels even worse to be away during the trying times, like I’m not doing my part to support them. To top things off, I was feeling low enough for missing the special occasion when I found out I have a very high possibility of being forced out of my job a year early. My rank isn’t being advanced quickly enough, so Big Navy will force separation in February.

Alright, so it sounds bleak that I’m going through all of this just to lose a job. On the other hand, I get to move back home again, and sooner than I thought. I’ll get a fat separation package plus disability pay. I can get paid to go to school again, if I wish, while living at home with my family, and I’ll have preference points for a federal job to finish out my last six years to retirement at the ripe old age of forty-four. Even if I do get promoted in the next few months and have an extra year away, I have technology on my side. I have video cameras, cell phones, Facebook, Skype and e-mail. My children know me and stay in contact with me as frequently as possible. They haven’t forgotten who their mother is. And Jason keeps me at the front of their thoughts.

I’m not saying to make lemonade when you’re handed lemons. My point is that the lemonade is there whether you intend to make some or not. Like two sides of the same coin, you just get both together. When I start to feel dismal, I just have to remind myself sometimes that it’s my choice to flip it.

I sat slumped in my chair slowly dying.  To be completely honest, it was my laptop battery dying, not actually me, but it felt the same.  The writing bug had bitten me in the rump, and it was not about to be ignored.

I looked around the waiting room at the gate for my next flight.  It was enormous, but amazingly dated.  Even the carpet looked like the ‘70s.  No outlets to be seen anywhere.  In this age of technology and battery-powered everything-in-your-pocket, an airport needs to have outlets for the modern traveler, especially this traveler who was lucky enough to get a three-leg flight with nearly three-hour layovers between each leg of the journey.  Well, there was one outlet at the front overlooking the runway outside, but a couple already sat there with their battery-powered something-or-other happily drinking the electrons.  The room was empty otherwise, except the agents at the end of the room.

I approached the agents, hoping for directions to a wireless section somewhere with plug-ins or some other similar modern amenity.  Too much to hope for.  Apparently, when your layover is in Maui, you should enjoy it and lay off the technology, never mind I never left the airport and have yet to set foot on Maui soil.  They looked about the room as well, noting the lack of electrical outlets.  Finally, the agents noticed a very large unmarked thing plugged into a set of outlets.  The thing looked like a big locker that appeared to be empty.  They made a command decision to unplug the thing so I could use the outlet.  Normally, there’d be a pair of plugs in the outlet, but one of them had a ground broken off in it, thus rendering it unusable.

Yes!  Power.  Good.  As I hit the end of my first paragraph, I heard an angry voice in front of me demanding to know who unplugged the big, unmarked thingy.  Instinctively, I knew by the tone not to throw my new agent-friends under the bus.  They were, after all, only trying to help me out, and they had jobs there to lose.  So I said I did it.  The transportation professional proceeded to berate me and call me names before he stormed away.

Taking my cue, I reluctantly unplugged my laptop and plugged in the thingy.  Very reluctantly.  It crossed my mind (several times) to shrug it off and keep writing.  It’s a shame to get in just one lonely little paragraph, but it’s really a good thing I did unplug because the guy returned about fifteen minutes later with a posse.  Yes, a posse.  He had about six people with him from three different organizations, the Maui Police, Homeland Defense, and Transportation Security Administration.  They all swarmed in to investigate the “tampering” incident.

Apparently, the thingy was a computer with ultra-sensitive secure information on it, and they were concerned I may have gained access to the information.  After nearly an hour of grilling and ID-checking and “investigating,” they indicated I was most likely not a terrorist.  Now here’s the worst part: I’m a 13-year US Navy Electronics Technician with a Secret clearance and was just returning home to my husband and five children from a six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf.  I had three photo IDs and my boarding pass verifying my identity and witnesses telling the investigators that I only plugged into the outlet and no one knew what the heck the thingy was.

Why would a computer bearing sensitive information be sitting in a waiting area in an unsecured space with no markings on it whatsoever anyway?  Wow.  Our tax dollars at work.  I never realized until that incident why so many people say the TSA and Homeland Security were wasting our money.

So, the outcome to date: they decided not to arrest me, but reserved the right to press charges at a later time.  Magnanimous of them.  Whether I go to court over this incident still remains to be seen. I’ll update if they ever contact me with a final disposition (I’ll probably never hear from them again).  In the meantime, I can say that given a chance to change what happened, I would still have unplugged that unmarked locker-looking thingy.  It was a damn good paragraph.

The Prodigal Muse Returns

How I ever truly lived without my Muse is beyond my comprehension, but somehow I went nearly a third of my life without it.  Well, lucky for me, I found it again.  Sometimes things long-dead can reincarnate, as I discovered.

I was one of the blessed ones born and raised with a Muse.  I’ve been a writer all my life, probably since the day I could read and write my first words.  Making up stories and poems came naturally to me, and in my egocentric youth, I assumed everyone indulged in writing for their own personal pleasure.  It was a shocking revelation when I found out otherwise.  Oh, I knew there were those who didn’t like writing assignments and essays for school, but I thought everyone who could write had some kind of hidden diary or journal of some sort.  Then I met those who admitted an aversion to writing in any form beyond their signature, and some said even that was pushing it.  I suppose they never had their own Muse sitting at their shoulder or maybe they had one after all, but it just specialized in something other than writing.

If everyone’s Muse is different, then I suppose mine is like a well.  Sometimes the well is empty, and I’m on my own with my writing.  Other times the well overflows and it becomes a strange ethereal voice that takes over, almost without my direction.  I’m not sure that I’ve ever experienced an in-between.  My Muse is either flooding out or not there at all.

My Muse mysteriously disappeared when I was half-way into my second year of college.  And the worst part is I didn’t even miss it at the time.  I was too busy to notice its absence.  I worked on my college newspaper as the copy editor and then editor-in-chief.  That’s where I burned out.  Not just a little, but burned out big time.  I ended up leaving college.  I stopped reading, and I stopped writing.

Thirteen years later (no kidding; absolutely nothing happened literarily during those years), I picked up a book again.  And then I read it.  It wasn’t for work, but just to pass the time.  Once I finished, I had more time to fill, so I read another book and another and another.  After a few months, I’d reclaimed my book-a-day habit until I’d read everything I could get my hands on.

I began to unconsciously critique the books I read.  And then I talked about some of them at length with my coworkers.  We discussed what they’d want to see in a book.  Soon, I began to write entire novels in the span of a dream.  The stories were in my head when I woke up, but still I didn’t write them down.  Finally, I awoke to write one page, and then the next thing I knew, I’d written a fairly polished, novel-length manuscript in less than a month.  It may not be in the genre I am normally accustomed to writing, but it’s impressive nevertheless.

My Muse brings me joy daily, and I love having it back again.  Now that I do have it back, I realize there was no sneaky vanishing act because it never really left me.  I was the one to abandon the Muse.  Knowing this, I do what will avoid the literary black hole I used to live in.  I write, write, write, and when I’m not doing that, I read, read, read.  But only what makes me happy.  It’s my own personal art fed by my own, ever-present Muse, the well that could raise the dead.