Wednesday, April 30, 2014

April 30, 2014

I’m reasonably proud of myself, because I am an almost 60 year old woman who makes her living through this modern technology of computers and the Internet. Some women my age, whom I know personally, can’t tell a tweet from blog. They’re afraid to join Face Book because they don’t want anyone to know their business—or where they are or who they are.

They don’t care about keeping up or being in the loop, and that’s fine. That’s their choice, and they’re all happy—well, as happy as they can be, considering the fact that they are out of the loop.

However, I have to be careful not to become too proud of myself, because the moment I do...I get set down on my ass again. Case in point happened last Friday. I’d gotten up, begun my morning routine, and was minding my own business working away on my work in progress, when all of a sudden my monitor went black.

Now I should digress to tell you that this has happened as a burp three or four times in the last six months—the monitor has gone out and then come right back on again. These few glitches have been immediately followed by an error message that tells me the device driver quit, but recovered successfully.

So when this happened last Friday, I waited, confident that this was just another glitch. And I waited. Finally, I checked the connections—sort of—and even got down on the floor to ensure the darned thing was plugged in, under my desk, because the monitor light wasn’t even blinking. It was. Getting down on the floor is not something I do lightly, or easily. Getting up again is even more difficult.

There I was, with work to do, but no monitor, so I did what any reasonably-minded almost 60 year old professional author would do. I called my thirty-six year old daughter. Unfortunately, it was going to be an hour or more before she could come over and see what was wrong.

I turned off my computer, and went over to my husband’s computer. It didn’t take me long to install Dropbox on his machine. For those of you who don’t know, Dropbox is an online storage device. I use this back-up and have all my Lusty, Texas writing files in it (thank you for twisting my arm, Heather Rainier), and before my daughter could even arrive, I was working again. Boy, was I glad I could be working again!

My daughter arrived, and switched the monitors between our two computers. This would tell us if it was the monitor that was having the problem, or the tower. And...both monitors came on. Both of them. Came on. Like nothing had ever happened.

Me: Great! Ok, switch them back, please.
Daughter: I can’t right now, Mom. I’ll come back sometime tonight and do it.
Me:’s not my monitor on my computer. It’s your dad’s.
Daughter: Oh, well. At least you have a monitor. Deal with it.

Actually my beloved had a very nice monitor, but it wasn’t my brighter, bigger professional author monitor.

While I had been working on my husband’s computer, I remembered all the things that I had not yet saved into Dropbox, files that I had put off uploading into it. There was my excel spreadsheet that I use to keep track of the words I’ve written, and all my picture files—the ones I use for my street team, and the ones I have of my heroes and heroines. So I proceeded to save everything else in that handy little online storage system. And then I went back to work, on my computer with my husband’s monitor. I multi-tasked as I do most days, bouncing between writing and housework. When it was time to nap, I napped. When it was time to make dinner, I did that.

Then my beloved came home—I’d been hopeful daughter would come in right then and restore my monitor, but no, she had to go right back to work. Imagine that! We ate, and then I went back to work, and my husband came in to use his computer. After a while, we actually spoke to each other.

Me: No offense, dear, but I hate your monitor.
Husband: So do I, now that I’m using yours. You can’t have it back, by the way.
Me: What do you mean, I can’t have it back? It’s my monitor!
Husband: I thought writers could understand simple sentences. I’m keeping this monitor.
Me: But I hate your monitor.
Husband: Oh well, at least it’s a monitor. Deal with it.

So I did what any reasonable almost sixty year old professional author would do. I went to the electronics store the very next day and bought myself a brand new, 27 inch professional author’s monitor. Daughter was very prompt in arriving to install it.

If they’ve learned anything, those two, it’s that I do, in the final analysis, have my bottom line.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

April 23, 2014

In about two and a half weeks, Mr. Ashbury and I will be leaving, destination New Orleans and the RT Booklovers’ Convention. This will be my 7th, and my final, attendance at this event.

The first time I went to RT, I was an aspiring author, with an appointment to pitch my novel—the first I had written specifically to sell, but in fact the 10th novel I had written—to the publisher of Siren Publishing. I was by turns excited and nervous. I had never pitched a novel before. My husband and my daughter made the trip with me, and once there in Daytona Beach, I was in the company of good friends, including Kelley Armstrong.

This was at the ‘dawn’—or within a few years of it—of e-publishing. E-books hadn’t yet taken off. But I thought, here was an opportunity for me to realize my life-long dream of becoming a published author.

Of course, after getting home, sending my manuscript, receiving it back and fixing something known as “head hopping”, and then returning it again, Siren offered to publish it.

A lot has happened since that first RT. The publishing industry continues to evolve and change, and those involved in the industry—either directly or on the periphery—must change with it.

When I first attended this convention as a published author I had only that first book and I felt on top of the world (that feeling lingers). With every subsequent convention, my backlist has grown, as has my readership. And as an author, I began to notice subtle differences between my career in e-publishing, and what I could see of the careers of the traditional “print published” authors that I knew.

I think the biggest difference would have to be the readers we attract, themselves. My books are published on line, as it were—and are available not only through my publisher but also through Amazon and Barnes & Noble and other e-book sellers. One can read my novels on their PCs, kindles, nooks, kobos, ipads, and tablets and even on their phones!. They are also available in trade paperback, and I do have some loyal readers who prefer the printed book. But even those wonderful souls found me on line. I have a Face Book page for me, and my “alter ego” Cara Covington has a “fan page”. I have a street team, which is a “secret” Face Book group.

I am blessed to be able to tell you that I have an active, and caring relationship with many of my readers, and that happens on line. They ask me questions, and I answer them. We chat, and while I don’t spend a lot of time doing that, it’s a vital part of being an author of e-books— and a vital part of my program.

In the beginning, I attended RT in order to make contact with readers. This convention was in fact major “promotional” effort of the year. Attending this convention is not for the faint of wallet. And while I can write the expenses off my taxes, it is still a considerable amount of money to come up with. Those first few years, we traveled there on my husband’s vacation pay. It’s not just the cost of registration, which is about mid-range for a convention of it’s kind. There’s also the cost of the hotel room, our meals, and my scooter which I rent so that I can get to where I need to be during the event.

This year, in New Orleans, we’ll finally be meeting face to face with some of my fabulous readers who are on my street team. We’ll have dinner, and hang out, and I will cherish every moment of that. These are people who are coming to RT so that they can meet me. How incredibly cool is that?

But this will be my last time to attend RT as a function, because it no longer, on its own, accomplishes the purpose of bringing me to my readers. The average attendee still tends to read only, or primarily print books.

I have a global online presence and it is there—in the hallowed halls of cyberspace, where my readers and I connect. There may be other conferences and conventions for me down the road at some point. There will most definitely be more trips to Texas, and more writing retreats. I am open to new experiences.

I’m grateful to the organizers of the RT convention, because it was attending that first one that brought me to my publisher.

But the time has come to say good bye to traditions that are no longer working for me.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

April 16, 2014

In last week’s Wednesday’s Words, I made a casual reference to our cat window and racoons that I’ve been asked about. Despite the fact that this represents something I’m not very proud of, I decided that I should satisfy people’s curiosity about the matter.

I consider myself a fairly intelligent woman. I went to university, and I never got a grade under a B plus. I exercise my brain regularly – not only through my profession which requires me to research, and then construct plots that work and characters that enchant. But I also do various hand to eye co-ordination, puzzle, and strategy games.

My motto is use it or lose it, and while my body seems determined to be on a downward slope, I’ll be damned if my brain will be.

But every once in a while, and usually about the time I’m feeling rather proud of myself and my abilities and accomplishments, I demonstrate that mentally speaking, it’s possible I’m not all that high up on the food chain after all.

We have a cat window. When we purchased this cat window, my beloved installed it into a piece of finished pine, and cut that piece of pine to fit our small kitchen window—the one beside the back door, and adjacent to the kitchen counter. He then further installed another piece of that finished pine as a “shelf”, so that the cat could have a place to stand going out, or coming in, that was quite a bit wider than the window sill it covered.

You know how real estate sales people are known for saying, “location, location, location”? Well, that kitchen counter close to the cat window—that is where we have always had the cat’s kibble dish. It’s an out of the way place, and it’s off the floor—because as we’ve always had cats, so too, we’ve always had dogs.

Word had apparently gotten around the animal neighborhood that there was a twenty-four seven restaurant, with easy access and reasonable prices—free. From time to time, when we had our last cat—Boots, and my daughter’s cat, Crash, we would also find ourselves entertaining “interloper kitties”. I don’t mean the one we have one on a regular basis. His name is MoJo and he used to be my daughter’s cat, too. He would come from time to time for food and cream and treats. Still does, in fact.

But there were other “interloper” kitties, some I’d never seen before. I’d hear the cat window, know my cats were indoors and asleep, and look into the kitchen to see an unfamiliar cat chowing down on Meow Mix. I never really minded that too much. Our old dog, Rochie, would sometimes object most vociferously. Sometimes the cats would too. But when they did, or the instant either my beloved or I came into the kitchen, the guest cat would leave, post-haste.

Then we lost our old kitties, who are waiting at the rainbow bridge for us, became inheritors of our new kitty who chose us to live with, and of course, we got Mr. Tuffy.

Mr. Tuffy takes great exception to other animals coming into the house. When MoJo pops in, we have to keep the dog in arms until the kitty is finished with his tuna, cream, and treats. Not a problem really, and it’s been a long time since there has been any other cats dining at Chez Ashbury.

But cats aren’t the only feral night creatures looking for an easy meal. One night, I got out of bed—the dog hadn’t even awakened—and headed to the bathroom. I heard the sound of the cat window swing wide and loud—and I thought, oh, a kitty! I went to the door to look out the window, and it wasn’t a kitty that glared back at me for so rudely interrupting it’s feast. It was a racoon!

After I made sure the cat was in, I “blocked” that cat window. And did so the next night. I used a seven kilogram tub of cat litter, and felt secure. Until the next morning, when I discovered the litter on the floor, the cat food dish empty—and the lid pried of the plastic container containing the dog’s kibble bag, the bag taken out, slashed, and emptied, too.

I frantically looked for and tried out other methods to “block” the cat window—there was no latch, of course. That had broken off years before. What to do, what to do? I didn’t want a racoon coming into my house!

And then it suddenly occurred to me. I went over to the window where the cat window had been installed, lifted it...and pulled out the insert.

Friends, I stood there, window closed, insert in hand, and thought of all the stormy cold winter days over the last decade or so, when I’d tried to block the wind with one method or another, and wished I could do so much more effectively.

Nope, I’m afraid I’m not very high up on the food chain at all.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

April 9, 2014

It’s beginning to feel like spring here in Southern Ontario. But I’m not taking anything for granted just yet. Not one blessed thing.

Yesterday my beloved asked me if I wanted him to remove the “claw” from the bottom of my cane. It was a new addition this year, and boy was I glad of it. Basically the device which I bought at the local Walmart is like an ice pick. You attach it near the bottom of the cane. It’s on a spring-like hinge, so you can release it from its resting position on the side, claws up, and lock it down, so those sharp metal teeth “cover” the rubber cane tip, effectively biting into the ice with each step.

That five dollar doo-hickey prevented me from slipping all winter.

I nearly said yes, because while it is clinging to the side of the cane that’s away from my body, I still have to be careful not to catch it on anything—or anyone. But in the end I said no. I think I’ll wait a while yet, as I don’t completely believe that bitch, Mother Nature, is quite done yanking our chains for this year.

Even so, it’s good to see the signs that spring is beginning to take hold. All that’s left here at our place of the white kaka is a bit of ice and snow in our back yard, remnants of the piles that my husband made each time he cleared a path for the dog. Poor Mr. Tuffy, for most of the winter his beloved yard was inaccessible to him, except for that path. Seeing him out there and watching him looking up, up, up and the big wall of snow that ran either side of his path reminded me of some of the wire service photos I saw this winter. You know the ones I mean, where the snow walls on either side of the highway were impossibly high—several feet above even taller vehicles, like busses and trucks.

I imagine the dog felt it was just that high.

For the most part, the weather is above freezing now. The air has smelled incredibly fresh a few days this week, and there has been the best sign of spring yet – the sound of birdsong.

I’m an author, but I can’t describe to you the specific birdsong I hear. Nor do I (sadly) know the kinds of birds that are making those songs. But I do know I hear them every spring. This morning I stood by the open back door and as I listened, I closed my eyes and could see myself as a child, hearing that very same melody, my heart uplifted and eager for the warm weather I knew, by that song, was just around the corner.

There are other ‘natural’ signs of spring, too. We have to be vigilant now to keep our garbage can lids secured, and have to pull the cat window insert out of our small kitchen window every evening, so as to frustrate the racoons. I’m not against these furry creatures foraging for food. I just want them to do it elsewhere.

The squirrels have been active too, although I don’t have any fear of them coming into the house. No, the only thing they do is sit on the branch outside our living room window and make faces at the dog. I think they like the sound of him barking like crazy when they do.

The other sure-fired sign of spring hasn’t happened yet, and this one I’m never happy about: the invasion of the ants. Every spring, we get ants coming into our kitchen, which is surrounded on two sides by outside walls. This is an old house and has a lot of gaps and holes and such. I’ve tried bay leaves and I’ve tried cinnamon at the sites of their incursion, hoping to stem the flood. If anyone has any other suggestions, I’d love to hear them. And yes, I have tried sealing the holes I see, but there are so many more that I don’t.

I think the ants are just the not-so-funny way Mother Nature has of keeping her finger on our “buttons” when she has no choice but to finally put away her winter clothes and let the sunshine in.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

April 2, 2014

I don’t know if the problem is with us, or with them.

 Every day, I’m at my computer writing. And every day, I need to go on-line. There’s mail to check, and readers to contact. I try to work in a methodical way, so as to make the most of the time that I have. I try to limit my time on line because the Internet is many things to many people but to us all it is a huge time-suck.

I’m wondering if the problem is that it’s so big, and so vast with so many users that the people who create those “home pages” need so much stuff to fill them with, that they’ll grab anything.

Anything at all.

Here is one recent headline from AOL. I have changed the name of the person in the headline, to prevent “hits” to increase their popularity: Jane Doe Eats French Fries In A Bikini.

At first, I thought, whoa, french fries in bikinis? What’s that all about? (Yes I am a total and unrepentant smart ass). I’ll confess. I clicked. I wanted to know about this new fast food trend.

Of course, it was Jane Doe who was in the bikini and she was eating fries. And, not only was there a photo that depicted this earth-shattering event; there was a little write-up about it, too, as if this truly was a newsworthy item—or we were too dumb to get the gist of things from the picture. Allow me to regurgitate the first paragraph of that write up: “Jane Doe is taking a much needed break in the Bahamas. Clad in a strapless black bikini, the former (blank blank) model was spotted with her kids on the beach Sunday, March 23, munching on some golden fries.”

I’m wondering about something and would be delighted if any of you could help me with it. In what plane of existence is this news? Are there actually people out there who care about this? Really? If the answer is yes, my only reaction is: those poor, poor, people. Imagine being so bereft of purpose and activities in life, that stories like this are important.

My broader question is, are these ridiculous stories there because there are so many people to whom this is news and they want to read them? Or are they there to appeal to the basest parts of our personalities, so that we click on these that the publishers of these pages can report “views” to their advertisers?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. Am I the only one sick of all the blatant, byte-consuming advertising on the Internet these days? AOL seems to be the worst for this. One time their advertising on their “sign in” page was so bad and took up so much space that my stored sign-in details wouldn’t come up, and I had to key them in. No, I’m not lazy but my memory isn’t always what it once was. After that incident, I had to make a file that contains all of my passwords—just in case.

I’m not naive. I understand that in these modern times, advertising dollars pay for many of the entertainment and informational resources available to us. I’m nearly 60 and I grew up in the age of black and white television that was “free” – all you needed was the TV, an antenna, and electricity. There were commercials, yes, but most of them weren’t stupid—and there were no commercials whatsoever during the evening news. Networks were expected to provide that public service without commercial interruption—and thereby without using that time to garner ratings.

So I understand the need for some ads. But does there have to be so many of them? On home pages and chat groups and even on Face Book itself. They are everywhere, clogging up cyber-space, and adding not only to our frustration, but providing more senseless drivel for minds that are already overloaded with completely useless information.

And actually, I’m afraid that isn’t the worst of it.

If ET is out there, and he’s receiving a chunk of our cyber space, what in the name of all that’s Holy does he think about us?