Thursday, December 31, 2015

I just don't GET IT...

It's the last day of 2015 and the time when so many of us take a moment to look back, before gearing up for the unknown that lies ahead.

2015 was a mixed year for me. Some amazingly wonderful moments (not enough of course), some uncertain, and some not so great. I'm an average person, I guess. But there's one thing I learned this year... in so many areas of life I DON'T GET IT!!! Maybe it's because I'm aging? Old fashioned? I don't know...but whatever the cause, here's my rant. (Please forgive me, those of you who are offended by my convictions. I understand they're mine, not yours. But thankfully I live in a country where I'm allowed to air them.)

Why is it okay to go out on Social Media, lie like a cheap rug and then get offended and vicious when  confronted with the truth? Why is it okay to make promises that are never kept and then not even bother to apologize? And why do people still buy into this bullshit? Seriously?

Encouraging stupidity.
We're faced with unrealistic images of women every day. Those trying to raise daughters fight it, those of us with common sense deplore it. But the advertising world ignores it and continues to present an ideal of beauty that is unattainable. And girls are still being bullied, starved or shamed.

Religious mayhem.
Apparently it has become okay to announce that your god, or your faith, demands you strap twenty pounds of dynamite to your chest, walk into someplace crowded, and detonate it. When did this happen? When did religions start pushing death instead of life? Terror instead of love? Show me the passages that say mass murder, beheadings, beatings and suicide bombing is encouraged. Go ahead. Show me. And when you can't, take a look at who you actually heard it from. I don't believe that person is a god... do you?

Political outrageousness.
This year's crop of presidential candidates has presented an embarrassing display of utter ignorance, bigotry and stupidity. It would take reams of blogs to go into detail, so I'll focus on the one most frightening one. The one who is veering dangerously close to a place none of us should be in. A place where "increased vetting" of immigrants is recommended. Where "screening stations" are supposed to be a good idea and where an entire race is going to be told "No Entry". Can we not see the parallels? Doesn't anyone realized that those statements are probably no more than five steps away from disaster? Do the words "internment camps" ring a bell? How about racial cleansing? Genocide? We're wandering too damn close to that edge, and too many people are ignoring the threat to the very foundations of this civilization that lies on the other side.

Racial hatred.
If California decided to invade Nevada, and destroyed every home in Reno, would we offer shelter to those displaced and homeless? I'd like to think so. But it would seem that the Syrians who find themselves in exactly that position, have been condemned along with their invaders. So no homes for them in all too many European countries. (Shame on you, Hungary. Haven't YOU learned from YOUR past?)

Okay, I'm a Brit, so I'm standing in a slightly different place, but I understand the Constitution. I understand the Bill of Rights. But I don't understand where it says that an automatic weapon capable of firing 300 rounds per second is the same as a Colt 45. Or a musket. I don't understand that I have to  undergo a lot of tests for a driver's license. A blood test for a wedding license. A background check and a drug test for more than a few jobs. But I can buy a gun, get a permit and (if I live in Texas), strap it to my hip and swagger into Nordstroms. Maybe. (Not sure about that, but you get my drift.) That is NOT OKAY. If everyone's gonna walk around like Wyatt Earp, we're going to end up with a 2016 version of the shootout at the OK Corral. In Dallas, for God's sake. That is not okay either.  Somewhere along the line it became okay to go out and shoot someone else. Well, here's the thing. Whether you're wearing a gang color or a badge, it's not okay. Our dedication to our right to bear arms has spiraled out of control. We should know better!!!

And before you deluge me with that NRA crap, think. I don't care about it. It would be better told to the families of those EIGHTY-EIGHT people who, on average, are going to DIE tomorrow due to gun-related violence. That is not okay. Look around you. Do you see people? If you see eighty or a hundred, imagine most of them dead. Because that's where we're at right now with guns in this great land of ours. Tell it to the families of churchgoers killed last summer - or the parents of that one-year-old little girl shot in her own home while playing with her Christmas presents. Yes, bullets go through walls. Everyone's life matters. Why aren't we believing that simple statement?

Maybe the new year will enlighten me. Or perhaps - just perhaps - a miracle will happen and we'll learn to love instead of hate, help instead of hurt, and hold out a hand instead of a gun. I can always hope...

Happy New Year - may yours be safe, loving, healthy and succesful. 


Sunday, September 27, 2015

FREEEEEE....of those crushing cable bills!!!

Hi, my name is Sahara Kelly and I have been clean and cable free since April. [The crowd says "Hi Sahara" and applauds politely.]

I do believe there should probably be some meetings scheduled someplace for those of us who have been cable-tv addicts for so long. Those of us who have been brainwashed into thinking the ONLY way we can ever watch television is via that magic cable and that magic cable box.

Some of us actually remember a time when there was NO cable tv at all. [The crowd gasps] But since that was a couple of generations ago, we won't go into it. Today, I am proud to say that I have cut my cable ties and have not only survived, but thrived. Here's how I did it.

Last April I finally realized that my cable bill was creeping ever upward. I won't name the company, but they're big, powerful and have a shitty reputation. I looked at my channel lineup. There were what seemed like a million or so channels available. Half were sports, which I don't watch. If the Pats are on, it's going to be network tv, and the Red Sox...well. Enough said there. Then I discovered a large number of "music" channels. Seriously? When I actually went through them, channel by channel, the number I watched on any kind of a regular basis (including surfing at odd times)? About 20. And for those twenty channels I was paying through the eyeballs. I could NOT order a la carte.

So the decision was made. Obviously I had to maintain an internet connection, so I shopped around and ended up with the service I'd enjoyed in Massachusetts before I moved. Verizon FIOS was available here in Virginia, so I called them, expecting to have to battle a bit to explain I ONLY wanted internet. Surprisingly? No issues at all. I did have to take voice along with Internet...I guess the landline concept has refused to die just yet. But the bottom line was LESS THAN HALF of what I was paying the other guys. And, to my extreme joy, I tripled my upload/download speeds. God bless fiber optics.

So, you're saying that's all well and good, but what about those tv shows you DO watch? What about Gibbs getting shot and OMG JON SNOW!!!!!  Here's where I had to do a little work. I was already a Netflix subscriber (streaming only. DVD's? How adorable, but no.)

HBO offers a subscription so I was on that like white on rice. Hello Jon, I KNOW you won't die on me.  Showtime, ditto. Three subscriptions, less than $30.00, give or take. All good so far.

Then I started checking out what the networks themselves offered online. NBC and CBS are really good about airing their content the DAY AFTER it debuts. So all I had to do was bump my regular schedule a day and bingo. Regular viewing. Ditto FOX. Gotham and Minority Report (jury is out on the latter) and of course Sleepy Hollow.  ABC needs a good spanking, though. They make you wait a week. They are offering a paid subscription for live streaming, but only in five major markets and DC ain't one of them. Sigh.  I have to wait a WHOLE week to catch the season premiere of Castle.  Grrr.

Pretty good coverage, yes? I like to think so. I will add that I'm lucky enough to live in a metropolitan area, so I actually added some home antennas to the pot. Not the old fashioned roof ones, the flat ones that stick in the window or on the wall. It's called DTV now, and the higher you are from ground level, the better the reception. Damn things actually work and the picture is even better than some of the ones I got on cable. So NBC and CBS I can catch live over the air. For FREE, people. LOL I can watch Tom Selleck on Friday nights or Chuck Todd on Sunday mornings, secure that neither dude is costing me a dime. It's a good feeling.

So if you're saving pennies - and aren't we all? - here's a few tips.  I recommend Apple TV. Yeah, I'm an Apple fan, but this system is simple and REALLY useful. I can watch all my subscriptions through it on my big screen tv. Not Amazon (prime members, you have video privileges!!!), but I can pull those shows up on my iPad and "share" it with the Apple TV, which then shoves it over to my big screen. I understand that Roku and Chrome do much the same thing and I'll bet there will be more units like these on the way soon for every smartphone/tablet out there. So you don't have to lose the capability of watching anything on your 72" pride-and-joy just because you're streaming it from the Internet.

Home antennas? These TOTALLY depend on your location relative to your nearest broadcast stations. If you're interested in knowing more, you can check this FCC Site on TV station broadcast information.  It should tell you what stations are in your area and also the reception relative to where you are. It takes a bit of fiddling and research on-line, but it's worth it in the end.

My results? Now that the new season has begun, I have NO complaints at all. This summer I binge- watched a whole bunch of stuff (Netflix...thanks for LONGMIRE - Where the HELL is the next season? LOL) and got caught up with Mr. Selfridge, Penny Dreadful (scared the shit out of me), and the Paradise, to name just a few. I just finished Hand of God on Amazon. Mixed feelings about that one, but I still LOVE Ron Perlman.

And even with my monthly subscriptions to Showtime, HBO and Netflix, along with my current Verizon bill, I'm at LESS THAN HALF of what I was paying before. So I can finally afford that Jon Snow bobblehead toy and enjoy some TV shows I might otherwise have missed. If you're thinking of taking this step, I say do your due diligence in relation to the stations in your area, do a thorough review on what you actually WATCH, and go for it. I did. I'm a survivor.

And Jon Snow had damn well better be, too. The only problem? I have to wait until next freakin' APRIL to find out!!!!!!!

Happy reading, 

[NO selling intended here, but if you're interested... I'm using the Mohu Leaf antenna, which costs about $60.00 from Amazon. The first month we were cable tv-free, the antennas (2) and the subscriptions brought the cost back up to close to one month's previous cable charge. Now? I'm back to less than half and VERY happy about it. :) ]

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Cons, courtesy and the dangers of social media

In all the years I've been writing, and involved with the digital publishing industry, I have never failed to be aware of the importance of conventions. Terrifying at first, they became sources of pleasure - the vacations I sometimes missed out on personally, but found myself enjoying professionally. I have met and befriended wonderful people and visited places I never imagined ever seeing - thanks to the convention "circuit". For ten years I made sure I was at the biggest and also managed some of the smaller events - touching base and hugging readers in person is a joy indescribable to most of us writers.

However...there are the ugly facts of life to consider. Nowadays, conventions cost BIG bucks. Okay, the rooms are discounted (but even then, fees belt that daily charge back up again),  and there is a registration fee to take into account, most often higher than the year before. Then there is the terrible job of finding a flight. If I have to fly through O'Hare AND Dallas to get where I need to go without busting my budget...well, I'm going to think seriously about whether it's worth spending two days coming and going while enjoying the hospitality of the TSA.

See the picture emerging here? I am not independently wealthy. If I was, I'd be on my private beach while this would be being written by my ghost writer, Dave Barry. (Love that guy. Want to take him out for drinks and dinner. God, it would be fun!!!) Thus hard decisions have to be made about where, and where not, to go, because it's no secret that eBook sales are enjoying one hell of a roller coaster ride at the moment. I try to use my royalties for events, but these days? That would probably get me a cab to the airport. Or possibly the Metro.

Making con choices based on the financial end of things seems callous, but then again there are smaller events rapidly sprouting nationwide. If I'm faced with a $2000.00 bill for a "big" event, versus a $750.00 bill for a smaller event with fewer readers...well, duh, I didn't just fall off the turnip truck. In addition to the cost benefits, I KNOW I will get time to spend with the readers at the smaller con. Will I sell as many books? Actually, yes. Because one-on-one establishes a connection. The chances of one-on-one at a massive con with hundreds of readers scrambling to see their favorite big name author? Slim to none.

This, to me, makes sense. But here's where the second part of this blog enters the room and, sadly, darkens it. It does not make sense to everyone, it seems. This year has seen the unpleasant beginnings of a "whispering" campaign on popular social media aimed directly at smaller events. I saw it, and ignored it, until it hit an event I attended. I was, in fact, at my table at the event, when the whispers began. It was devastating for many reasons, not the least of which was the source - someone I had previously respected, and more than a few authors who should have known better than to jump on a bandwagon that had unverified wheels.

If it is plastered across a certain social site that I'm not selling books and in fact have packed up my table along with everyone else at the event, I would really like someone to tell me that, and also the reader on the other side of the table buying a book of mine at that moment.  I was gobsmacked; astounded and then disgusted. Apparently it is quite acceptable to lie like a cheap rug these days. Which is where the 'courtesy' part of this blog takes a real hit. Not that long ago, we were a community - a family of people who respected each other and were committed to writing the best books we could, then getting the word out by giving one hell of a party for those folks who kindly bought them and read them. We were never perfect, but were brought together by common goals and worked together without rancor, celebrating successes and commiserating at the bar with those of us suffering crappy reviews. Also sharing bottles of Advil the next morning.

What the F**K happened? Where did that environment go? Where is the common courtesy that requires you NOT LIE in such a brass-faced fashion to the many people who have cared enough to  'like' you? (Especially those who soak it up like it was gospel. JEEEEZ, people.) Am I THAT naive to believe it's wrong? It's done now, and over. But the community I thought I belonged to has fractured irreparably into something less. I'm saddened because it's just another in a series of blows our industry has suffered through no fault of its own - this time at the hands of social media, a dangerous weapon when wielded to harm and vilify.  So I ask you, readers and writers, to please remember we're all human. We try to live this life as best we can. We SHOULD NOT be trying to hurt anyone. And rediscovering our courtesy will go a long way toward helping.  Here's a few words from a dude who really nailed it...

Thanks Ralph. Well said.

Monday, January 5, 2015

I confess. I killed my Floofie!!!

There's nothing like starting a new year with the terrible realization that you are, in fact, a Serial Killer!!!  Now truthfully, to look at me, you don't automatically think "Oh God, call the FBI, this woman's a serial killer." At least I hope not, although if I'm not wearing makeup and haven't had my hair done in a couple of months you could be forgiven for the mistake . But the sad fact remains...I discovered this weekend, that I am...without question...a serial killer.


Now in case you're not sure what a floofie is, it's this. I'm not even sure that's the correct name for it,
and I had no idea what to call it, until my writing Partner, the inimitable Scott Carpenter, wrote a scene in one of our stories and referred to the stuff a woman keeps in the shower. (I think his hero was playing with some of it. LOL) Anyway, I asked him what the hell a floofie was. And from that point on, these things were floofies. (Floofii? Not sure what the plural should be...grammar fiends please advise!)

Their construction is somewhat of a mystery to me. They must be fiber. Perhaps they're recycled soda bottles, which would be a good and green thing and I'd feel less embarrassed about the amount of soda I have imbibed over my lifetime. I reckon from here to Alpha Centauri ought to about cover that. Sigh.

Perhaps they are some kind of fabric. The kind that has a half life greater than plutonium and will surely linger on Earth long enough to choke the next iteration of dinosaurs to extinction. Who knows? Well, I guess floofie makers do. Google probably does as well, but thus far I haven't been sufficiently motivated to check it out.

However, this killing thing. Well, I enjoy a good floofie in the shower. (Shut up you pervs. LOL) And I had a favorite floofie that remained a staunch buddy for what seemed like a generation. Then, at the end of last summer, it finally passed on to its reward. It gently disintegrated into small loops, each sadder than the last, drifting in silent farewell to my shower floor.  I admit to a tear or two as I said a sorry goodbye, unable to restore it to anything resembling a floofie.

So, after a suitable period of mourning (about a day and a half) I immediately replaced my beloved with a brand new, breathtakingly pink, enthusiastic new floofie.  We scrubbed happily, and I looked forward to sharing more years with my new cheerful body buddie. Then, to my utter shock, within six weeks... it died!!!

Not only did it just die, it died horribly, becoming in its death throes something more akin to the offspring of an octopus and a band aid, wrapping itself around my slender naked limbs (okay, so I write fiction, live with it!) and attempting to take me with it to the Great Floofie Beyond.

So I did the "lather, rinse, repeat" again, new floofie (white this time) and what happened this weekend? Yep. Attempted Strangulation By Cleansing Accessory. Once again I had succeeded in killing a floofie. It looked something like this. Only white and a bit smaller. Like by a factor of a thousand.

I looked down at the pale lashings of whatever-that-stuff-is, as they firmly gripped whatever part of my body they could. I discovered that there are some parts you don't want floofies lashed to, by the way. The more I struggled to free myself, the more it clung to me...a bittersweet last gasp at the life it had known in my shower. But I, in my furious serial killer frenzy, was having none of it.

The battle was fierce but brief, and shortly thereafter yet another floofie was consigned to Floofie Heaven.  What's next? It would seem that I could risk killing another floofie and try a blue one, accepting that they now have a much shorter lifespan than I'd previously experienced, and ready for the attack-by-floofie whenever it strikes.

Or I could go out and buy the most luxurious spa-approved sea sponge and turn my back on floofies forever.

OR...does anyone know Tom Hiddleston's phone number? Since I'm now a serial killer, I figure a super-villian like Loki in my shower would work just fine! ;)

The "At Least You Know I'm Clean" Sahara