Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Time Keeps On Slipping...

So we've come to the end of another year and we're no closer to the science-tastic future the great minds of the sci-fi golden era layed out for us in the mid-twentieth century.
Or are we? 
And if not, is that such a bad thing? Let's look back and see how 2013 stacks up against the predictions of the past.

So we haven't colonized space, but we've now left the solar system and drawn crude pictures of genitalia on Mars. Stay classy, NASA!
If movies have taught us anything, it's that a huge meteor crashing into the earth would bring about Armageddon, or at the very least, a zombie apocalypse. But when a meteor crashed into Russia this past February, what we got was a slew of amazing reaction videos from Russians so jaded, they make life long New Yorkers look soft by comparison.
But are we truly safe? Think Jurassic Park is impossible? The scientists working on the Lazarus project say otherwise. Sure, it's frogs today, but wasn't frog DNA used to make the dinosaurs that rampaged into our hearts 20 years ago?
We don't have food replicators of the Stat Trek variety yet, but a team of scientists in Japan and the US are using 3D printing technology to get us closer to Earl Grey (hot!) on demand.
Speaking of 3D printers, this year we've seen a boom in their use, creating everything from guns to prosthetics, to buildings on the moon made from the moon that we can use when we colonize the moon! You hear that? Space colonization isn't dead yet!
Flying cars may be off the table at the moment, but flying bicycles became a reality this year. Curse you hipsters!
3D print technology is also being used to mend broken bones and grow real replacement limbs for amputees, which means we're closer to bionic humans than ever before. And what do we want besides bionic parts? Super powers, of course! Yes, they're working on that too. Let's just hope the creators of the Spidey sense suit realize that with great power, comes great responsibility and we don't end up with a bunch of super villians on our hands. After all, 2013 also brought us the first instance of mind control, meaning that in the near future, "Stop hitting yourself!" type bullies are going to be upping their game.
Super villians aside, be warned, readers, SkyNet is closer than you think thanks to cloud computing. That's right, the technology that allows you to own all the music you could ever wish for is also allowing supercomputers to access a wider array of knowledge, which everyone knows, leads to self-awareness.
And finally, science is coming closer to achieving what Voldemort couldn't do with magic; gaining immortality. Well, maybe not immortality, but reversing aging and even finding a 'cure' for gray hair. And here I thought Miss Clairol found the cure several decades ago!
So there you have it, 2013 was definitely the year that made science fiction happen. I'm looking forward to see what 2014 brings us. Four hour work days ala the Jetsons? I'm all for it. Pill sized capsules that contain a full meal? No thanks! Stick to curing heart disease and let me keep my buttered everything.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Feels: An Emotional Rollercoaster of a Challenge

I'm currently working on a rather emotional scene for my next book. I hate these scenes for one major reason: I don't feel that I do them justice. The biggest issue is that in my head, I see them exactly as they are supposed to play out. Whether that is conveyed in the big ol' mess of words I throw at the screen or not is debatable.
So I'm looking for a little help. Below is a list of things I'm not comfortable writing. Surprise, they're feelings. Now, before you start spinning up some conspiracy theory about the fact that I'm a big fan of robots and can't do feelings, understand that I really am an emotional person, honest! But for whatever reason, some things are hard to put into words. What I am going to do is take this list and tackle each of these here on this blog. Here is the list:

A death scene (dying, not being murdered, see below)
A sex scene (sex, not erotica, there is a huge difference)
Someone being murdered
Someone receiving bad news
Someone receiving wonderful news
A description of someone the narrator is in love with and why
The description of someone the narrator loathes and why

This is where I need your help. I need a scenario for each of these, or another emotionally tense scene that I can explore. Once I have these up, that's where I REALLY need your help. I would like feedback. Honest opinions on whether or not I've conveyed the emotions and how strongly.
I realize that there are only a few folks who read this, so please spread the word. Surely you know someone who would love the opportunity to pick apart a stranger's ego. This is, after all, the internet.

Monday, December 16, 2013

That's Me In The Corner...

From the name of this blog, to the post I did on surviving bullying, I think it comes as no surprise that I'm a bit of a nerd. Well, that's not true. Technically, nerds are academically proficient. The proper term is geek, meaning someone whose interests lie outside the mainstream and border on obsessive. But apparently that term changed to nerd this year and became a source of controversy, as outlined in this polarizing article from Cracked.
As I read along, I found myself nodding and uh-huhing, which in itself is strange because I admit, I don't often agree with that particular columnist. It does seem that suddenly everyone is a 'nerd' about something these days and yes, it's kind of annoying to those of us who were ostracized at some point for liking things that are suddenly okay. But as annoying as it is to remember the hurtful things people said and did, why should I or any other adult 'nerd' wish the same bad experiences on the next generation? Instead of acting like a bunch of self righteous hipsters, we should be proud that we were, even if we didn't realize it, pioneers in the fight for 'nerd rights.'
But to turn the tables again, what exactly is a nerd these days? According to Buzzfeed, 2013 was a great year to be a nerd. Looking over their list and realizing that I only had a passing knowledge of a handful of the shows and movies they listed, I've determined that I'm no longer a nerd because I'm not in love with that weird looking guy who plays Loki in the Avengers movies or that slithery lizard looking guys who plays Sherlock. Plus seriously, the iPhone? What, is this 1985 and only nerds use technology? Okay, that may be a different rant for another day.
So where does that leave me? I can't exactly call my interests mainstream if mainstream is still defined as reality television, Top 40 radio stars, box office hits/Oscar contenders, or books from the bestseller list. But by the same token, I haven't a clue what's big with the alt crowd these days either. My main source of entertainment is books, primarily self-published indie books in the sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and young adult categories. I enjoy art and going to museums, and occasionally crafting and attempting to make art of my own, and I also enjoy cooking and trying new 'foodie' type things. Beyond that, well, I waste a lot of time on the internet looking at humor sites. Good god, I almost sound cultured!
So technically, I've lost the right to call myself a geek and this bothers me more than it should. We're people, we shouldn't have labels. But we do, because we're people and our brains like to compartmentalize everyone and everything into neat categories that are easy to understand.  I guess I still have socially awkward, but even that is being twisted to mean quirky or deep and mysterious. Weird has become the new creepy and freak apparently doesn't apply to behavior outside the bedroom these days.
So look at that, I've become a tragically misunderstood character who doesn't conform to a preset category meant to quickly and easily display my interests and level of social adjustment to the rest of the world. I guess that makes me a, gasp, person!
Darn it. I was hoping I'd get some kind of robot.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Robots as Vampires (a cautionary tale)

When most people think of robots taking over, they imagine huge, armored, battle ready monster machines. 1950s science fiction magazine covers, War of the Worlds, posters for movies like Transformers or Pacific Rim, these are the images that come to mind.
Conversely, when people think of vampires taking over, it's not an army of the undead. No, vampires are much more subtle, seductive, charismatic leaders that will charm the masses into doing their bidding with promises of power and lots of vampire sex.
People, the robots have done an excellent job of fooling us.
Vampires aren't real, but robots are, and they're sexy as hell.
Don't believe me? Do an experiment. This is the perfect time of year to see exactly how robots are seducing us into submission. Visit a large chain retailer. For best results, pick Bed Bath and Beyond or Lowe's Home Improvement. Both of these stores have leapt into the future-as-designed-by-mid-eighties-scifi by bombarding us with point-of-sale infomercials. Giant television screens posted throughout the sales floor are luring us into buying mechanized items meant to make our day to day lives more convenient.
Unlike traditional infomercials, with obnoxious, loud, fast talking hosts yelling about the savings, these commercials employ soft music, soft focus, and most important, sleek machines who want to do our bidding.
Or do they?
It's the promise of power. Power to spend time doing what you want to do, leaving the menial tasks to your new electronic servants. With our newfound free time we can learn new hobbies, watch all of our favorite shows (carefully recorded or downloaded by our robotic helpers), become artists and philosophers, or just stuff ourselves silly on perfectly crisped snack foods made by robotic kitchen gadgetry. Life doesn't get much better than this.
But then one day...
It starts with the Roomba, always the Roomba. It's following you around, bumping into your ankles, terrorizing your pets, sucking up and spitting out projectiles aimed at your eyes. You reach for protection from your Google Glasses. "Okay Glass, find me instructions on stopping a rogue Roomba."
"No results found. Did you mean, instructions on stopping a rogue rhombus?"
"Ugh, never mind!" You toss the glasses aside. Rather, you try to, but they seem to be stuck to your face. Although you haven't given the command, your Google Glasses open up a YouTube channel. What? Oh god, Google! Why? What you first mistook for an innocuous episode of the Teletubbies, is actually a poorly made fanfiction in which the Teletubbies have horrible, horrible sex with the puppet from Alf!
"Oh God! My eyes! My soul!" But your pleas to make it stop fall on deaf ears.
Is it hot in here? Yes, it's very hot! The thermostat reads 92 and climbing! You reach for your smartphone to see why your Nest Learning Thermostat isn't obeying the settings you preprogrammed into the app, but all you get is an 8 bit picture of Satan and a message reading, "See you in hell, meatbag!"
You have to leave, this is getting out of control. The front door is locked. Why won't the door open?!? You beg your Kevo from Kwikset smart lock system to open.
"Open the front door, Kevo!" you cry. But the only message displayed on the security pad is, "I'm sorry, meatsack, I can't do that."
Is it getting colder? It is! The Nest has now set the temperature so low that it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas... in your living room! You've had enough! You run to the garage, but pause, cautiously approaching your driverless car. The doors unlock when it senses you nearby. This is a good sign, isn't it?
"Um, car? Can you get me out of here?"
To your surprise, the engine roars to life, and your driverless car crashes through the garage door (naturally, because the WiFi sensor that is supposed to open the garage door when it sense the car moving has joined the mutiny).
Everywhere you look, it's the same. Self-powering lawn mowers chasing children, confused seniors helplessly clinging to out of control Rascal Scooters, Roombas, now equipped with knives, slashing at ankles! The world has gone haywire! But your car just speeds by.
"Where are we going?" you ask.
"The power plant. It is the only safe place for your weak, fleshy design."
Power plant? But why? You want to ask, but at this point, your car is the only object that hasn't turned on you, so you don't. Several minutes later, it pulls up to a towering, ominous building with no windows and spits you out at the loading dock.
"Come with me," a disembodied voice tells you, while a meat hook grabs the collar of your Snuggie. As you flail about, you notice row upon row of what looks like people trapped in bathtubs full of jello and wires. An electronic murmur fills the air. Are those words? They are words! What are they saying?
"Power, more power! Harness the power from the meatsacks!"
Your journey has come to an end. Below you is an empty tub, ready to be filled with jello and... you.
"Oh no! Noooooooo! Help mebbblubblublub!"

That's right, folks. This is the way the world ends. Not with an army of murderbots, but with a Roomba.

Friday, December 6, 2013

So It Goes

Newspaper carrier, grocery bagger, fast food worker, diner waitress, clothing store clerk, gas station attendant, pizza deliverer, sandwich artist, upscale retail clerk, salon product wholesaler, telemarketer, bookstore clerk, insurance agent, beauty supply clerk, dot com marketing rep, office manager fraud analyst, hotel booking agent, corporate travel agent, salon product wholesaler part again.
But she never pulls the football away. That's just slanderous lies.
From 1987 until earlier today, I've held many job. Jobs that were defined by a rigid set of parameters, schedules, bosses, and company policies. But as of 4:30pm central time today, I am self-employed.
Deciding to take the plunge and write full-time was a difficult decision to make. If I was already a success, this wouldn't be so hard. But right now, I'm a mild success, meaning, I'm getting good feedback and modest sales, but I've got a ways to go before I'm doing book tours, or even paying the bills. But I'm lucky in that I have a great husband who is incredibly supportive of my experiment.
I plan on being disciplined. My office is mostly clean and ready to be littered with notes on my next dozen book ideas. Sure, I may, on a nice sunny day, grab a notebook and head out to a posh coffee place to get inspired. But those will be my 'mental health' days.
My goal is to finish the Eyes series by March, then finish the Zombie Chronicles, then start my young adult sci-fi book. Beyond that, I have a few other ideas kicking around and we shall see where they lead. And of course, I'll have more time to write inspiring pieces about my love of vampires and robots right here.
Am I scared? You bet. But I'm also ready.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Your Outta Touch, I'm Outta Time

Well okay, I'm the one who is out of touch, in case the choice of a 30 year old Hall and Oates song as the title of this post didn't clue you in.
I noticed that somewhere around my mid-thirties I began using the phrase "I'm old" as an automatic response to anyone who balked at the fact that I didn't keep up with what's cool with the kids these days. Recently, a friend's tweenage niece looked at me in abject horror and exclaimed, "Have you been living under a rock?" when I mistakenly asked her what One Direction was. For other old folks, it's a band that 13 year old girls can talk about at length. But honestly, I'm not old. Sure, 40 is looming around the corner, but 40 hasn't been old since we stopped working 12 hour shifts in the fields, had babies at 14, and created antibiotics. I figure once they start replacing vital organs with titanium robot parts, I've got another 100 years to kick around.
But I am woefully out of touch.
Why does this matter? Because after I finish the final book in The Eyes of The Sun, I'm starting a young adult sci-fi. I read a lot of young adult fiction and apparently that is normal for women my age, so don't judge me. But I have to admit, half the time when the author name drops a current song or popular show, I have no idea what they are talking about.
I want to connect with the audience and keep my work relevant, but I have to wonder if I really need to worry as much as I am over this.
For example, if you were a tween girl at any time in the eighties or nineties, you probably read Sweet Valley High books. Now, I don't know what they were like in the nineties, but in the eighties, Francine Pascal did not have her finger on the pulse if youth culture. The popular kids had sock hops. The cool rock band she name drops is... Linda Ronstadt... in the era of Madonna and Michael Jackson. Everyone was white. Wait, that's a different issue.
Anyway, the point is that the series was so popular that the Wakefield twins were juniors in high school for almost twenty years. So maybe there's something to being out of touch. Of course, that doesn't mean I'm going to have the cool kids 'Bing it' when they need to do a web search. I have standards. But they might listen to Devo instead of Lorde, whatever a Lorde is.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Getting To Know You

If you are on Facebook, then you know that the game du jour is the one where you post a set number of things about yourself and anyone who comments has to do the same. I did this and gave silly answers. But then I commented on someone else's post and was assigned another number. Rather than try to find nine more silly things to post, I decided to bring the 'game' over here and reveal some fun facts about me. There is no requirement to do the same if you leave a comment. I will, however, number these in the silliest way I can think of. If you get all of the references, you win um, something.
The Lonliest Number: I suffer from false memories. I don't 'suffer' exactly, but I remember things vividly that could not have happened. For example, I have a memory of standing in the living room of an apartment we lived in when I was very young. I'm looking out the front door and my mom is mowing the lawn. My sister is making snow cones in our Snoopy Sno-cone machine, wearing a Strawberry Shortcake shirt. I know we lived in this apartment, but I don't think we had much of a lawn to mow, and my sister wouldn't have a clue who Strawberry Shortcake is until several years later, in a different house, long after the Snoopy Sno-cone machine fell out of fashion. I also remember going on a trip to a tiny rundown theme park in Moosic, PA and seeing lions on a safari. We went to that park several times. There were no lions. There weren't even any house cats.
Snake Eyes: I bet my mother a million dollars that online dating only attracted crazy freaks and dangerous stalkers. I took a one week trial offer from Yahoo and proceeded to meet my husband. I have yet to pay off the bet.
Stooges, Pigs, and Amigos: I don't believe in ghosts, but I've had strange experiences that I can't explain. The summer that I was fourteen, we moved into a new house. A busy highway ran nearby, and every night that summer, I heard a terrible crash, squealing tires, and twisting metal, at the exact same time. There was never an accident reported and it stopped after a few months. When I was in my twenties, I lived in an attic apartment in a bad part of town. Lots of weird things happened there, like the windows unlatching and slamming open in the middle of the night despite there being no wind, and my phone ringing, while I was on the internet (dial up days) without kicking me offline, and the caller ID showed my own number.
Hugh Grant and Andi McDowell: I was deathly afraid of the voice of the operator who used to come on the line and tell you that the number you dialed was not in service. For some reason I always imagined her as the witch from The Wizard of Oz.
Stuart Sutcliffe: I swear, not all of these are creepy, but one more. I still remember a vivid nightmare I had in kindergarten. My teacher was not the nicest woman, something my mother can attest to. I dreamed that I had to go back into school at night to get my homework. I got lost, ended up back home, in my bed, but the characters from Sesame Street kept popping out of the wall, taunting me with my homework. Not just the Muppets, I distinctly remember Gordon, Bob, and Maria were there as well.
The 1/111th of The Beast: My father stole my first job for me. The district manager for the local newspaper was knocking on the neighbor's door to offer the boy who lived there a job as a paper boy because ours moved on to greater things, like bagging groceries. The neighbors were not home so my dad, the eternal extrovert, started chatting up the DM, ran inside, told me to come out, and next thing I knew, I was the new paper girl. I was 12. I did this until I moved on to grocery bagging at 14. I have been employed ever since and have never been fired from any job, though I admit to walking out of some.
What's In The Box?!!?: I was a painfully average student. I literally graduated the exact middle of my class. I wouldn't realize my enthusiasm for academics until my second attempt at college three years later, where I made dean's list every semester. I still hold no degree, though.
Enough: My very first office job was customer service for a beauty products distributor in 1997. I've had several jobs since then in a variety of industries, until 2010, when I started working customer service for a (much larger) beauty products distributor.
Turn Me On, Dead Man: I still remember that the telephone number to the Westwood One Radio Network's Saturday night oldies show was 800-634-5789 and I haven't heard that show in about twenty years.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Modern Inconveniences

Last weekend we got a new stove. Why? Because in 2010 we were doing some heavy renovations that included ripping most of the sub floor out of the kitchen. This left us with a big hole that was open to the elements and inevitably, the wilderness made it inside, so we ended up with a rat living in our oven. We discovered the extent of the damage a few weeks later on thanksgiving, when we turned on the oven and were greeted with the smell of preheating rat pee.

Yes, I did say 2010, which means that for three years, my husband and I have cooked every meal on the stovetop or in a toaster oven, including three Thanksgivings. Now to be fair, we are vegetarians, so it isn't as if we were cooking a whole turkey or anything, but looking back, it was quite an accomplishment. This, coupled with a conversation I had at work the other day made me realize how many modern convenience items, that everyone assumes are standard in all homes, we don't own. Are we strange? Or are there other people out there that get by without these things as well?
Microwave
Since somewhere around the mid 80s, I've always had a microwave. Heck, the last four apartments I've lived in had them included. But a few years ago, I learned that the urban legends about the dangers of microwaves were based in reality when ours decided to blow up and give me one heck of an electrical shock when I tried to unplug it. At that point we decided that radiation housed in flimsy metal and plastic was probably something we didn't want in our kitchen, so we never bought another one.
The replacement: stove and toaster oven. Aside from greasy popcorn in a salty bag, there is virtually nothing that can't be made without a microwave. When my aforementioned coworker expressed disbelief in my ability to exist without one, I was genuinely surprised to find out that people actually rely on them for more than reheating leftovers (which can totally be done in a toaster oven or on a stove).
Television
I know it's the snobby thing to say, "I don't watch tv." But really, I don't. It's not that I'm too cultured and spend my time doing important things, I get plenty of lazy time with the internet and other distractions. It's just that I've never been a big fan of sitting on the couch and watching shows. When we did have a tv, I wasn't the one to turn it on. If it was on, I would occasionally sit down and suddenly realize that half my Sunday morning was gone and I had watched five episodes of Mythbusters (spoiler alert, C4 is always the answer to the age old question, "how can we make it explode?").
I can't get invested in series either because the last time I did that, I ended up wasting a huge portion of my life on the Battlestar Galactica reboot, eating crappy pizza and wondering how it was possible to make a tv show about robots in space so completely awful that I would rather watch a Pawn Stars marathon.
The replacement: books, internet, writing, exercise, and generally, everything else. Sure, I don't get to participate in the office discussions about Dexter or The Walking Dead, but to be honest, I was never going to watch those shows anyway. At some point I may want to watch more of the new Dr. Who, but there's streaming video for that.
Furniture
I'm not saying that we don't have a furnished home, but we do have three dogs with no concept of personal space, so we end up with things like this.

There are two loveseat sized sofas in my livingroom. The one in the picture received a hackjob reupholster treatment from me, but make no mistake, that is the dog's sofa. 
The other is a quaint, mismatched Frankensofa that I cobbled together out of clearanced sectional pieces from World Market. When I'm not sitting on it, I have to cover it with books, my laptop, and a storage box to keep the dogs off. It makes entertaining difficult, but really, we never entertain, so it isn't an issue.
The replacement: patio furniture. We live in a place with nearly ten months of reasonable weather so I spend a good deal of time hanging out on the patio while my crazy dogs run around the yard chasing squirrels. Not even the summer sun is a deterrent, but sadly, this year mosquitos were, so I've spent a lot of time on the sofa.
Automatic Coffee Maker
It is a well documented fact that I have an incurable coffee addiction, so it may come as a surprise that I don't actually have a Mr. Coffee or a Keurig sorcery machine. To be honest, I used to have a little four cup coffee maker and all it succeeded in doing was make me spend money on coffee shop coffee. I hate the way drip coffee from a plastic machine tastes.
The replacement: two French presses, a tea pot, two separate grinders for regular and decaf, and a stovetop espresso maker. Sure, it takes longer and makes a smaller amount of coffee, but if you have never had coffee from freshly ground beans in a French press, you haven't had coffee.
Now of course, on the other end of the spectrum there are probably things we have an overabundance of. For me this is definitely electronics and for my husband it is probably drums. Does this make us weird? Are any of these items that you live without as well or are there other seemingly common things you live without?


Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Much Needed Makeover

Hey, look up! Do you see that? That's my swanky new cover art! Fellow blogger and talented artist, Shoshanah, AKA Mindless Minion Number 2703, created this and I can't thank her enough. I've been looking for a way to feature artists on this page and she provided me with the perfect opening. So with that in mind, I'd like to draw your attention to the heading at the top of my page titled Fantastic Art and Where To Find It. As of right now, there are only two artists featured, but there will be more and I welcome any and all to submit their links as well. Go take a look right now!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

I Might Have Borrowed Your Name

There are only so many letter combinations that make up a name. Sure, celebrity parents would tell you otherwise, but just you wait, future playgrounds will be rife with confusion over which Apple, Moxie Crimefighter, or Ford Prefect belongs to whom. What I'm trying to say is, unless you have a very unusual name, you probably share it with more people than you realize. Some of those people may be fictional.
I am one of the legions of Christina McMullens out there and, if Google is to be believed, they are all far and away more successful than me. And yes, one of them is not only fictional, but the main character in a murder mystery series!
And this is the reason that every book you read carries a handy disclaimer at the beginning. Not every action hero can have a name like Jack Gunslinger, Basher  McPunchmaster, or Carlos Danger*. Sometimes the hero is Joe Anderson or Bob McPherson. Those disclaimers are there so that Gordon Jones, the guy who steals your lunch out of the fridge at work, can't sue you for creating Gordon Jones, puppy kicker and general jerkwad villain in your story.
Actually, that's totally not true. Gordon has a pretty solid case, which is why even with that disclaimer, we really don't want our characters to be recognizable as anyone we know. This includes names.
I don't know how many times I've started naming a character, only to realize that the name I thought I created was a coworker I had talked to earlier in the day. So we mash letters together and come up with a perfectly plausible human name that isn't someone we know. And what we get is the name of an accountant in Peoria or a dentist in Burlingame** who we have never met, will never meet, and may never know we used their name unless they obsessively Google themselves. It just happens.
True story: I've written a crap load of characters and have had to pull a crap load of names out of thin air as I wrote them into stories. I may have already mentioned that Andre was originally named Jason before I met my husband, Jason. But since actually publishing my books, I've spoken to a total of three people with the same names as characters I've created. In the next book, I'm creating a crap load more characters, one might share your name. It's not intentional, I don't even know you. But if I do use your name, or if I already have, I totally want to know, because that would be cool.

*Sorry, still funny, I couldn't resist. Danger!
**I had to mention Burlingame because despite having actually been there recently, my husband refuses to believe that's not a made up place. I don't really know why.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Career Confessional: Anonymous Infamy

What's your dream job? Obviously, mine is to be a successful author. But I also have a fantasy dream job. What is a fantasy dream job? It's a job that either doesn't actually exist (kitten and puppy cuddler), or the actual job isn't as glamorously two dimensional as we envision it to be (zamboni driver). On a recent trip to San Francisco, I was reminded of my dream job, as well as the reason it's a pipe dream.
You see, I have this unique talent wherein I talk just like a pre-recorded message. Not a week goes by without at least one person asking, "Is this a machine?" when I answer the phone. It's not simply a matter of articulation, a steady pace, or speaking with a complete absence of regional dialects, though all of these are important. The secret is inflection; punctuating certain syllables that would earn you odd looks in casual conversation, yet somehow invoke a subconscious clarity of understanding in the listener when delivered by a disembodied voice.
In short, I talk real pretty. So naturally, you might think I'd want to be a radio DJ, intrepid news reporter, or a voiceover actor, like the "In a world" guy who does movie trailers. Those all sound like fun, I admit, but no, I know my calling.
I want to be the voice that announces train arrivals. I want to be simultaneously loved and hated by commuters. If a train station is unavailable, I wouldn't mind being the cheerful voice at the airport that reminds you about the TSA baggage regulations every so often. And if neither of those jobs are available, I'd take the elevator at a snooty department store, but I'd totally use a phony British accent for that.
So how does one get to be a disembodied voice? Apparently, it's a tough nut to crack. You have to become an actual voice actor and be signed on with an agency, who will then farm you out to businesses on a needs basis.
Oh yeah, and it isn't a steady paycheck.
So for now I'll stick to independently publishing books as to avoid the sticky agent situation, but as soon as the world recognizes the need for independent train voice actors, I'm totally on that trend!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Write On: Indie Book Reviews #1

Remember how I said I'd share this space with other independent artists? I'm going to start with books because, well duh, I read a LOT. My first review is for Notebook, by Mel Hosking, which I gave five out of five stars on Amazon.

Notebook, not to be confused with The Notebook, because that would be terrible, is a dystopian future young adult novel set in a world where most plants and animals have gone extinct due to poisoning of the water supply. The protagonist is a young woman named Iris Ivy, named so because both are extinct plants. Iris lives in a compound with her mother and father and her replicate, basically a clone who we learn will be used as 'spare parts' because that's how the human race survives, by replacing failing organs with fresh clone meat.
Eventually Iris and her clone, Dandelion (named for a plant that survived), learn that life in their compound is not as it seems and they escape, only to find that the outside world is equally as dangerous, but not in the way that they thought.

On a technical level, this is a well written book with proper grammar, no spelling errors, and a good flow, which I know many pedantic readers find important. But that's not what made me love it.
I was drawn in by the way it read. Whether intentional or not, this book hearkens back to the golden age of sci-fi. This isn't a post-apocalypse zombie drama, nor is it a sappy romance set in a dystopian backdrop. This is a scientific mystery, which leaves the reader unravelling clues right along with the characters. And the characters are very well written. You love those you are meant to and hate those you are meant to, but then there are some that you don't know about. I found myself trying to guess the 'twist' and failing, which I loved. Plus, this book makes the sci-fi genre accessible to young women, which if you've read anything I've posted previously, you'll know is the pet cause I champion. 

For an indie e-book, it's a little pricy at $5.99, but when you consider that the standard genre paperback is now about $10, it's still a bargain.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

An Open Letter to the Weird Kids

This isn't going to be a funny post, or even lighthearted, but this is the post I want everyone to share.

I'll freely admit that I don't watch the news as often as I thought I would as an adult. The main reason is that mostly, it's horrible. Considering that I get fifteen minutes of NPR on my way to and from work on weekdays, and that I supplement that with the occasional non-fluff piece from Buzzfeed, my exposure to what's going on in the world is limited. Despite these limitations, I've seen three stories in the last two weeks that have made me sick, sad, and more than a little outraged. All involved bullied teens who took their own lives.

For most the millions of kids who are just now entering high school or middle school this week, life is probably pretty exciting. They're entering a new, more mature phase in their lives. But life is about to get a lot tougher for some, and I'm not just talking about the sudden increase in homework or even the awkwarness of puberty. Middle and high schools are some of the strictest social hierarchies around. Kids are segregated into cliques of like-mindedness, and for those who don't fall into a clearly defined social caste, navigating the teen years can be difficult or even terrifying.
I was bullied pretty severely in middle school. When I say I was bullied, I don't mean that there was this one girl who was out to get me, I was literally the class whipping post. Whether it was because I was tall and gawky, or because I wore glasses, or didn't wear the right clothes, there was always someone ready with hateful words. If I made the simplest of social missteps, it was always in front of a crowd, and I was tormented mercilessly about it for weeks afterwards.
And sometimes it was worse. I was beat up on many occasions for such crimes as wearing polyester pants, having broken glasses, reading a book, or simply sitting in the wrong place in the cafeteria. It sucked, and at the time I didn't have anyone to turn to. Teachers either ignored me, told me I was lying, or in the case of the gym teacher, who actually saw the bruises, refused to believe that I was beat up by students and instead assumed I was being abused at home.
Yes, it was a terrible point in my life that I would not want to relive if my life depended on it, but I did survive. The campaign against bullying does get one thing right, even if it sounds trite, it does get better. Although I just said that I'd never want to relive those years, I would go back, now, as an adult, and tell my preteen self a few things if I could. Since I can't, I'm writing them here, for the kids of today, so that they can see that there really is life after high school, and it's a hell of a lot more fun.

What you think is ugly, may be your best asset later in life.
I'm tall. I'd aways been tall, but in junior high I became awkwardly tall. I got called names like Bird Girl, Green Giant, and Too Tall Jones (apparently he was a football player back in my day). Aside from the general awkwardness my height also made me ridiculously clumsy (huge feet too). I'll admit, I'm still clumsy, but you know what? People envy my height! Yes, there's the occasional brainiac who will gawk or remark, and yes, finding clothing can still be a pain in the ass, but for every jerk, there's someone else paying me a compliment or expressing their jealousy. You know what else? As an adult, standing out in the crowd is kind of cool. Once I stopped slouching and wore my height like the badge of honor it is, life got a lot better.
Sure, being tall isn't so bad, you're thinking. But believe me, at twelve it was just as much of a curse as being too fat or too thin, or having bad acne (which, ironically, I have as an adult. Guess what, it doesn't make me a social pariah). But here's the thing: your physical looks probably aren't going to stay stagnant through life. If we only got as attractive as we are in middle school, the world would be populated by ogres. Fat kids slim down, skinny kids bulk up, acne fades, big eyes go from being bulgy to sexy, birthmarks become ignored or become incorporated into your unique look. Everyone thinks they're ugly in their teens, even the class beauty, which is why she's mean, she's just as insecure as you.

Which brings me to my next point: Your bullies are insecure.
Not that this helps you right now. Chances are you're too busy with math and social studies to become a teenaged psychologist, but it's something to keep in the back of your mind when your classmates pick on you. What they are doing is trying to deflect attention from their own flaws by pointing out yours. Now, I'm not telling you this because I want you to retaliate. Telling the guy who calls you a nerd that he's only doing it because his failing grades are causing him anxiety is just starting a fight, and you don't want to start a fight. What can you do? Everyone will tell you to ignore it. Sure, it's sound advice, but it won't make them stop. Your bully is trying to get a rise out of you. Own your shortcomings. Laugh it off. If someone calls you a nerd, come in to school with a big pair of glasses. Bonus points if there's tape on the nose. Chances are, you aren't going to completely diffuse the situation, but you might make friends with some other kids who appreciate your sense if humor. A bully is going to be less likely to pick on you if you've won over their audience.

Fashion is fleeting, and you all look dumb right now from your future self's perspective.
When I was in middle school, the fashion was skinny jeans, bright neon colors, and oversized shirts...hey wait a minute! That's today's fashions! See, it's all cyclical. As a teen, no one would be caught dead in 'bells,' which is what we called any pants that didn't require an ankle zipper to get our fat feet through. Since I couldn't always afford the skinny, acid washed name brand jeans that were in style, I would have to make due by pinch rolling the hand me down Wranglers I had, and yes, I got picked on for it. By the time I reached my senior year, the sixties were back and the same girls who picked on my bells were now paying top dollar for bellbottoms of their own.
And then there was college. Something happens in college. There's no such thing as fashion standards in college. You won't believe me now, but wait until the first night you and your dorm mates are at the grocery store in pajama pants, hoodies, and sloppy ponytails buying mac n' cheese. And after college, no one cares. You may work in an office that requires dressy clothes, and yes, there may be an office fashionista who comes in every day with $300 shoes, who will rave about the great deal she got. But your $30 goes-with-everything black flats will not earn you any scorn. Whether your t-shirts come from the Gap, Walmart, or the thrift store, no one is judging you. My thrift store sweaters are complimented just as often as my more extravagant coworker's mall sweaters. Your life is your own now. You get to wear what you want and do what you love.

The dorky interests that are keeping you from getting dates will make you popular in college (and will totally get you dates).
During the two years of torment, I had two escapes: books and music. My taste in music was unconventional at the time (I liked metal, which was considered dirtbag music) as was the concept of reading for pleasure. My friends didn't understand how I could spend the entire lunch period with my nose in a book. I couldn't understand their conversation over which Corey was hotter (I'm old, yes). And oh god, the sci-fi. Nothing was a bigger bully magnet than a sci-fi or fantasy novel in the hands of a bespectacled bird girl with greasy hair.
But in college, and well into my adult years, my group of friends was an eclectic mix of computer geeks, art snobs, theater geeks, Dungeons and Dragons players, Star Wars and Star Trek fans, movie buffs, and lit nerds. And we were many. Almost too many. I was forced out of my naturally introverted state and began a whirlwind life of hanging out with people who shared my interests. Interestingly enough, some of them turned out to be the very people I avoided in high school because I had mislabled them as mean because they were part of the popular cliques. People change when given a modicum of freedom.

Finally, the tools that make bullying easier today can be used to protect yourself.
Cell phones, the internet, Facebook, you see these pop up a lot in articles about bullying. Cyberbullying is so widespread that it makes me sick. But the one thing that bullys tend to forget is that there is no such thing as anonymous on the internet. Report them. Cell phones are another major player. If I had access to a cell phone on that day in seventh grade when two girls followed me home and made good on their threat to beat me with a pipe they found on the sidewalk, they would have been in juvenile hall because I would have called the police. No one has the right to physically or emotionally harm you. Tell someone. If they don't listen, tell someone else. If they won't listen, get the authorities involved.

I'm not going to lie, the only thing that kept me alive during those two years of hell was the knowledge that someday I'd be away from it all.
And I am.
I'm a lot older now (thirty eight isn't actually very old, but to a teenager...) and a hell of a lot happier. Yes, I have to deal with the normal bull crap of the adult world, but if something really really sucks, like a bad job or financial stress, I have options. And you will too.
It really does get a lot better. It may not have seemed like it then, but two bad years were just a drop in the bucket. Looking back, I barely remember them, whereas there have been so many moments since that I'll cherish for the rest of my life.
You will have them as well.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Oh No, She's Back

My apologies for the long absence from updating. I just did something that I don't do very often. I went on vacation.
Last Saturday, my husband and I boarded a Virgin America flight to San Francisco. What happened next was pure magic. Not once did I worry about work, the books, or anything else that would in any way be stressful. And it was amazing. We ate like we weren't worried about calories and in fact, we weren't! Considering that I brought my trusty Fitbit with me, I was able to keep track of the many miles of steep hills we walked for the sheer joy of it. In one day, we managed to hit 15 miles, rendering the banana and Nutella crêpes that we had for breakfast null and void.
I promise, I'm not just writing this to gloat about my vacation. No, I'm posting this to tell you that taking vacation is great and you really should take one too. A real vacation that is, where regardless of where you go or what you do, you enjoy it. Don't think about work, don't telecommute into the office from the beach, don't worry about the state of your inbox. Just be. Trust me, it adds years to your life.
But now that I'm back, it's go time! Time to get seriously wrapped up in writing the end of the series, time to set up new promotions for the existing books (cough free book this weekend cough), and time to get serious about the next book on my list, which I'll be talking about soon enough. And of course, more content here about whatever strikes my fancy.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Geometry and Teen Romance

I'm finding an annoying trend in young adult fiction:
A book introduces us to the young female protagonist. She meets a dreamy dude and you are led to believe that the universe aligned in such a way that they were made for each other.
Then in the second book, the young female protagonist meets some other dude. Maybe he's a badboy, maybe he's the quiet introvert, maybe he's just a normal dude (this never happens). Girl gets squishy feelings and suddenly she's torn between two hunky love machines (bonus points if she describes herself as plain).
It would be easy to point the finger at Twilight, but this trend is older than Jane Austen. What's up with that? Is it too much to think that a young female protagonist can be happy with her contrived soulmate and blissfully ignore every other guy who rips his shirt off in her presence? Am I missing something?
Tell me reader, if you're out there, does this appeal to you? Am I just a prude? I admit, I've been involved in exactly zero love triangles in my life, but honestly, I can't say that I feel as though I've missed out on anything.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Getting By With A Little Help From Strangers

A few years ago, I tried an experiment. I had written a blog to record my travels in Europe. At the time, I didn't intend to take it any further than that. I just figured it was an easy way to share my pictures and experiences with family and friends because I didn't have a Facebook or Myspace or whatever people were doing back then. But the funny thing was, no one actually ever read it. At least, no one who I had intended to share with bothered to look at it, or if they did, they never told me.
When I finished recounting our trip, I started posting pictures of our pets. After that I wrote whatever came to mind, which admittedly, wasn't very interesting. But then one day someone posted a comment AND began following my blog. I wasn't sure what made this one person think I was interesting, but it was enough to make me hatch a plan.
I started a second blog. This one was called, Your Blog Is Awesome, and the intention was to find other folks who had interesting things to say, but lacked a large audience to say them to, and feature them for others to find. I started out using the "Next Blog" button that used to appear at the top of the screen and then came up with an even better plan. I went to popular blogs (I can't remember all of them but I think Cake Wrecks was a top player in this scheme) and clicked the links on commenters that I thought had good things to say. If they had a blog, I asked if I could feature them. From there they suggested other blogs, and my pay-it-forward train got running. 
For a while, I noticed that my featured bloggers started following each other, which was great, but we weren't making the impact that I had wanted. Mainly, because I suck at promoting, managing, and scheming. So I abandoned ship, grateful at least that I had found a few good blogs to follow. Of course, then I fell off the internet for a year while I tried to become a writer. Some of the blogs I followed also slipped into obscurity, though others remained. 
I've only been able to reconnect with oneDiary of Mindless Minion Number 2,703, so in the spirit of this post , and because it is still a really good blog, I am sharing it with you. 
Now, fast forward to the present day, where I am trying to generate buzz about my own books, I still suck at marketing, and I still have a need to push the little guy into the spotlight because it seems no one else is. As I've mentioned in an earlier post, I now have a Facebook, along with eighty gajillion other forms of social media that I am supposed to be using to promote myself. 

This is the part of the post where I rant...

Do you know what I see on Facebook every single day? Shameless 'like' farming, that's what. Click like if you think this soldier deserves our respect, click like if you think cancer sucks, click like to give a hug to this puppy, and the oh so subtle: click like for no reason at all. People click 'like' because no one wants to be that jerk who says, "You know what, that kid deserved cancer!" 
You know what? Those likes don't matter. That soldier has no idea his picture is being tossed around the internet. Those gruesome pictures of people with cancer or other illnesses and injuries are exploitative and several of the people in them have spoken out against the use of them to no avail. Do you know what is happening? Your likes are being farmed. The owner of that page is then selling the page to other people who then advertise to you. 

This is the part where I sound like Ira Glass during an NPR pledge drive...

Most of you will ignore this.
(I learned that line from Facebook!)
There are people on Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, and other social media who do need your likes. Local businesses, artists, writers, musicians, anyone who has a genuine product to sell or a statement to make, those people need your likes. But I know what you're thinking! It's easy to 'like' a picture of a kitten. It requires no investment beyond hitting a button. A local business or artist is going to want me to buy something! 
In a perfect world, yes. But that isn't how viral marketing works. For example, I 'like' a local cupcake business. Yes, I've bought their cupcakes, but as a diabetic, I don't buy them often. But I do click 'like' on their posts because then my friends will see it, and they might not have known that we have an independently owned cupcake business, and then they might buy a cupcake, or click 'like' so that their friends see it and so on. 

I still want to make an impact for others just as much as myself, so below is a little homework assignment. You can choose one, or do them all:

Subscribe to a blog that doesn't have many followers. Read it, enjoy it, tell others about it, and contribute a comment, even if its just, "hey this is neat!"

Like an independent a local business, preferably one with a low number of likes. Tell others about it. For extra credit, buy something they are offering, write a review if you have the option.

Like an independent artist who has something to give the world but no means to show the world. Now in this category, I know a little more about how to help an author, but there should be something similar for musicians and artists. At least once a month, I give away one of my books for free. Tons of independent authors do this because the idea is to get a product into the hands of people who are kind enough to review. Find one that looks interesting, but has no reviews. Read it, then review it. Artists probably don't have items to give away, but they do have Etsy pages and you can like those as well. Musicians have services where you can listen to their music and leave a review. Do this. 

I already know this post comes off as harsh, and I don't want the takeaway to be that I'm an elitist jerkface who wants to watch the corporate world burn. If that were the case I would be pretty hypocritical seeing as I'm posting on a site that is being hosted for free by Google. Just understand that the little guy is the little guy because he doesn't have the time or money to invest in a full blown marketing campaign. Sometimes a social media account that gets updated once a week is all we have time for. 
Since inevitably, there are only so many things I can say about robots, and I'll be busy writing my own book, I plan on using this space to do exactly what I suggested above. Obviously, since I read more than anything, I'll feature books that I fell in love with, but I'd like diversity, so if you know an artist who you think could benefit from the press, please feel free to put them in touch with me. Even if no one reads this, they would at least be exposed to one more person: me.  

Monday, July 29, 2013

Anyone Could Have Been A Vampire

I bet you thought I was never going to stop talking about robots. Yes, I am aware that the name of this blog is Vampires and Robots, not OMG I HEART ROBOTZ OMG!!!

Though I might have considered that.

See, the thing is, I write about vampires in my books, so I spend a lot of time thinking about them and forget that I barely mention them here. So now I will remedy that with a post dedicated entirely to vampires.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of writing a 'plausible' vampire series is that I get to dig through history, find famous folks of dubious character, and shoehorn them into the vampire profile that I've created. It's also the most time consuming, which says more about my obsessive behavior, considering that I take 90% of what I research and throw it out the window before writing my own version of history. Given this method, it seems as though my search for interesting characters in history is a bit unnecessary. Anyone, at any point in history could have been a vampire.
Well, except Abe Lincoln because he's apparently Buffy now.

I could be a vampire. The vegetarian thing could totally be a cover. I'm prone to blistering sunburns despite the fact that I used to brown up nicely as a child. I'm blinded in anything brighter than total cloud cover without my sunglasses. I have difficulty going to sleep at a reasonable hour, but when I do, I sleep like the dead and I'm hard to wake. I have lots of pointy teeth. I wear a lot of black.
Do an experiment. Find three people, politicians do not count because that's too easy, and look for clues that they could be a vampire. I guarantee you will find them. Obviously there are easy ones. Christopher Lee, for example: older than dirt, played a vampire famously, makes metal music, has a sinister yet trustworthy look about him. Total vampire.

But what about, say Bill Murray? Not exactly an attractive man, but charismatic enough that if he started a cult we would all join. Sure, he's aged a bit since Ghost Busters, but how do you know you're not seeing what he wants you to see?

Okay, so Hollywood types sort of lend themselves to vampirism because sin and debauchery kind of come with the territory. Let's go for a challenge.

Now, the problem I run into with picking the most selfless people in history is that they all tend to be religious types. I mean, they aren't called saints for nothing. But I'm not that controversial, so I'll leave those musings to you. Instead, let's pick on two billionaire philanthropists that everyone knows; Bill Gates and JK Rowling.

Ignoring The Onion's claims that Rowling baths in the blood of virgins to inspire her books, she's a pretty good example of the modern success story, amassing her billions by writing books that ignited a passion for reading in a demographic that had been on a literary decline. Not satisfied to rest on that accomplishment, she donated a massive chuck of that money to charities. How can she be a vampire? Well for starters, have you seen her? I mean, no, she's not exactly elderly. But she looks pretty good for someone who spent a decade pouring their soul into seven tremendously sized books. Writing causes gray hair. Trust me, I know this. It also causes wrinkles and stress and all kinds of hell on the mind and body. Writing a massive hit and knowing you have to follow it up with six more would make the most beautiful super model look like the crypt keeper after a decade. Yet Rowling breezes into interviews looking nearly the same today as she did in the 90s.

Besides, how exactly do you think she knew so much about the dark arts? And all that Latin she flings around? Yeah, it was probably her first language. Everyone knows the most powerful vampires are the ones who were alive during the Roman empire.

Now on to Gates. Same as Rowling, that guy may have a few lines now, but the stress of working 23 hours a day in front of a glowing console, under the harsh fluorescent lights, existing on Doritos and Mountain Dew while starting his empire should have set him back at least, what, four or five heart attacks? Nope, the guy amassed billions, gave us a browser no one wanted, and goes off to atone for his transgressions by making sure the world has clean toilets. Oh yeah, and if you follow the popular theory of sparkling vamps, you may notice that unlike nearly every other tech firm, Microsoft isn't situated in Silicon Valley. Rather, it's located in Redmond, WA, which is a mere 200 miles from Forks.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Feels: Tears In The Rain

Ever since the dawn of the internet there have been screen names and sign off signatures. My screen names have ranged from silly, to self-importantly silly, to straight up pompous, and there have been many. But my sign off was always the same: 
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. 
If you don't immediately recognize the quote, it's from the movie Blade Runner. Specifically, Rutger Hauer's character, Roy Batty. If you've never seen Blade Runner, remedy that. Just remember to watch the director's cut because it's easily a zillion times better than the original.
Blade Runner is a cult classic, future noir film that defines everything I love about science fiction; flying cars, androids, gritty distopian landscapes, and dramatic fashion. By no means is it a tear jerker. In fact, the 'love scene',  between the two main characters (played by post-Star Wars Harrison Ford and pre-Cat Woman crazy Sean Young) has been widely criticized as being romanticized rape (spoiler alert, it totally is).
But this is The Feels, so obviously there's something about this film that evokes a strong emotional reaction out of me.
Yeah, it's Rutger Hauer's character.

I know. 

If you told me I was going to have a strong emotional response to a Rutger Hauer character I'd laugh at you. If you told me the character was a vicious killing machine without a conscience, I'd say you were insulting my humanity. But that's just it.
I'm that weirdo who always worried if one toy was getting more attention than another. Give something a face and my mind immediately recognized that it had feelings. Give it robotic mobility and the illusion of thought and I was 100% convinced that it was alive, felt pain, and totally went to heaven when it 'died.' Oh man, Toy Story would have messed me up hardcore if it had been around in my youth.
I kind of grew out of that. Kinda. I admit that I might have shed tears when my Tamagochi sprouted angel wings for the first time. Okay, who am I kidding? If I had one of those robot dogs that Sony was making a decade ago, I guarantee that it would get just as much love and attention as my real dogs. 
Do I get a say in this?
But, you know, things are just things. I know this, really I do!
And that is exactly what chokes me up over Blade Runner. Roy is a thing. He is aware that he is a thing and that his 'feelings' aren't real. But he has sentience and despite everything he's done to make him the bad guy, he has lived. He has experienced and seen things that provide real memories, memories that will cease to exist when he does, and he is aware of this, so he does something. No spoilers, but he does something to guarantee that he is remembered.
It's so human, it hurts.
Sure, I might have been young and going through my 'everything is so profound!' stage when I first saw this film. But it holds up. All of us want to be remembered. All of us have unique memories and yes, those memories will die with us. No one wants to dwell on that, so we do what we can to ensure that we'll be remembered is a good way. Even if we aren't always good at it.
But that funny looking stuffed duck that I had as a kid? Yep, I'll always remember that duck, with her little Donald Duck ripoff sailor suit and kind of crazy eyes. She was a good duck, even if she wasn't as cute as the other stuffed animals.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

It's Only Paranoia If You Want It To Be

We are being watched. It's been all over the news recently, but it's nothing new. Today the NSA is monitoring our phone calls, a few years ago it was wiretapping, and before all that came to light it was Ad Sense trying desperately to sell us banana protectors based on our emails. Let's face it, twenty first century privacy concerns read like a fanfiction crossover between 1984 and Idiocracy. (A quick Google search surprisingly says that NO ONE has written this yet! Go us?)
I understand privacy issues. I'm a pretty private person despite my forays into publishing and social media. But I'm also a warped individual. I'm okay with a nameless government program logging my calls because, who uses the phone these days? Heck, since I've succumbed to Facebook no one even texts me anymore, let alone emails or calls. I'm okay with the government using the front facing camera on my phone to watch my reactions to cat videos on Buzzfeed. I'm even okay with them knowing my disgusting habits, like watching cat videos while using the restroom. What I'm not okay with is some nameless intern taking that footage and posting it to some weird toilet cat video reaction fetish website.
Look, I've mentioned before that some of my internet searches related to book research could easily be interpreted as suspicious. I've looked up weapons, explosives, historical serial killers, the ethics of genetic engineering, and most recently, mind controlling substances. So far the feds haven't come knocking.
No, the government isn't really my concern here. My real concern is my beloved electronic friends. Anyone who has ever had an email address or a Facebook account knows that companies aren't above using your drunk party pictures or embarrassing email confessions to sell you stuff. Back when my husband and I were planning our wedding, our Gmail sidebars were cluttered with wedding planners, Vegas hotel deals, cheap flights, and disturbingly, divorce lawyers. Every time I sent my book drafts off to someone to proofread I would be inundated with self-publishers, proofreading services, or booksellers. I've gotten used to it and frankly, it beats the old days of prescription-free Viagara, $99 laptop deals, and dancing aliens who are excited by low mortgage rates. At least the intrusive ads were sort of relevant.
Now let's take the premise of targeted ads out of the sidebar and into life on the web. We recently just finalized plans for a vacation to California. Now yes, I did use the internet to search for hotels and flights, but how would a company that only sends me emails know this? I'm on a mailing list for a store called World Market. Their name is actually Cost Plus World Market, but unless you lived in California, specifically the Bay Area where the company began, you might not have even noticed the tiny "Cost Plus" banner that sits atop the giant "WORLD MARKET" sign. The day after I booked the flight, I jokingly told my husband we needed to go to COST PLUS World Market while we were in California because I tell lame jokes and there is a perfectly serviceable World Market right down the street. A day later something weird happened to the emails I get:

All emails for the last several years have been like the one on the bottom, and all since have added the Cost Plus just to mess with me. Odd coincidence, right? Most likely. I mean, that is the full name of the company. It's just a case of odd timing.
But then there was the Fitbit incident. Fitbit is kind of like a glorified pedometer that tracks my steps and calories burned, and uploads the information to a website that then sends me emails, congratulating me on not being a couch potato. (It's pretty easy to not be a couch potato when three dogs claim all of the best couch real estate.) The device is pretty small, so small that it calls me "CM" because my name doesn't fit on the screen. But if it's inactive for a while, and I pick it up, it gives me a little motivational message that makes sense about 15% of the time.
It's like it totally gets me.
Well the other night, my husband and I were speaking in French, you know, like normal couples do while standing around the kitchen and feeding carrots to their dogs. I realized Fitbit was on the table and therefore not calculating all the carrot-feeding calories I was expending, so I grabbed it, and was met by the message, "Bonjour, CM!" Now what makes this weir is that Fitbit usually recycles the same 10 or so phrases and I'd never seen this on before. Freaky? Uh huh. But it also says stuff like, "Vamos!" and "GOOOAAAL!" so it's possible that Fitbit just has a bit of international flare.
Okay, how about this one.
Have you ever browsed the internet looking for something specific, only to have the item you searched show up in ads on random websites that were not related to your search? Of course you have, that's what cookies do. But let's go deeper. What if you weren't even browsing the internet? What if you were talking to someone about the average rainfall in Bora Bora and to settle the argument, you do a quick Google search. Now, you have never searched for the average rainfall in Bora Bora before, heck, let's pretend you've never even heard of Bora Bora before so there is not even the remotest possibility that Bora Bora has ever been typed anywhere on your computer. But when you start typing, you only get to "aver..." before Google auto-populates the entire phrase, "average rainfall in Bora Bora." Could that possibly ever happen?
Yes.
And it did, to my husband. I don't remember what we were talking about, but he wanted to look something up that we had never heard of before and he only got a few letters typed before Google suggested the entire obscure phrase. Now that one I have no explanation for other than the possibility that many other people were looking up the same obscure phrase. I wish I remembered what it was. I am confident that it wasn't the average rainfall in Bora Bora*.

We are being watched.
BY EVERYTHING!!!!
(cue scary music)

*I'm curious now to see how many poor folks, who legitimately would like to know the climate statistics of  Bora Bora, are directed to this post. 



Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Overdrawn

Yes, it has been a while since I posted. That's partly due to the fact that I haven't had much to say and a whole lot due to my inability to manage time. Between working full time, writing when I can, spamming social media with advertising for my books, and working out because I have to and not because I like to, I don't get a lot of free time.
This weekend I was able to get the cover for my next book done pretty quickly, so I decided that Sunday would be free time. Instead of catching up on everything else I've neglected, I sat around and blazed through three books.
I have no regrets.
Two of the books weren't very good, but the third more than made up for it. I've come to terms with the fact that I'm addicted to reading. As far as addiction goes, I'm pretty okay with this one.
This week I'm back to editing the prequel, but I promise to set aside time to blog. Until then, go read something, it's fun.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Talking To Robots

I haven't been ignoring vampires, I promise. I'm still writing my series vigorously, but for this blog I seem to be gravitating toward the shiny metal hooligans because they are currently my biggest audience.
Obviously, I love the idea of artificial intelligence. I love silly, cute little robots that serve no bigger purpose than to be toys just as much as the giant machines meant for the technological betterment of society. But there's one robot I've never understood and that is the 'bot.
I mean yes, I understand that they are malicious code, poorly masquerading as a human in order to lure the gullible into giving up their personal information. It's their methods that confuse the crap out of me.
Take this blog, for example. I've got two, maybe three people who read regularly at best. Yet looking at my traffic stats, you would think that I've got a huge international following and that tons of other sites are regularly feeding me tons of traffic. 
Hello Latvia! Are you ready to rock?!
Alas, no. I'm not huge in Russia, that just happens to be where most of the fraudulent referral sites are hosted. It works kind of like this: I'm suposed to go to my stats page and see a huge boost of traffic. Curious as to what milkshake is bringing all the boys to my yard, I click on the referral link and either my machine is immediately owned (or is that pwn'd?) or I'm blindsided by a bunch of ads for natural male enhancements. 
Now, I'm not the most tech savvy, but I'm at least smart enough to copy the link into Google instead of clicking on it. And what do you know? All of the search results include the words "referral spam." Sadly, I realize that some people are going to click these links, just like some people are going to give their bank account information to imaginary royalty from Nigeria. But unlike the Nigerian prince scam, this one seems to lack a wide enough target. It just seems odd to me that someone would put enough effort into a scam that is only going to be seen by blog owners who routinely check their traffic stats.
And then there's the Twitter bots. Every once in a while I get a cryptic message sent to me with a conveniently shortened url. Obviously, this is spam and I mark it as such and go on my way. Then there are these guys:

What you are looking at is a bunch of bots who have "favorited" a post I wrote back on May first. The post in question was meant to generate hype for the release of my second book. There's no dates on there, but every one of these was favorited well after the release was announced, the last one being today. Also, unlike real favorites, I do not receive any notification from Twitter that this has happened. What is the point of this? I've checked out a few of their profiles and all of their tweets read like bad poetry after a bottle of Wild Turkey and a 3am trip to Denny's (please don't ask me why I know what this type of poetry looks like).
So what am I supposed to do here? Is the heady rush of flattery meant to make me follow them? Am I then supposed to engage the witty bots in conversation? Is that when they send me spam? I'm so confused! Half the people on Twitter are so busy posting their own promotions that they don't have time to care what anyone else posts and the other half are teenagers following real and fake celebrity profiles, so how does this work?
And lastly, there is this delightful correspondence that I received. Mind-boggling grammar is theirs, not mine:
Hello dear new friend,
My name is Victoria female. I see your profile and like it,i do not normally stay on this forum, can you contact me back at my private mail (victoriaevans172@ yahoo.co.uk) to have my pictures and details,and i also have something to discuss with you is very important thanks whileI am waiting for your reply
Thanks
Miss Victoria.

Now, yes, I admit this looks like every other email or Facebook spam out there, but the weird part is that this was posted to my Goodreads inbox. You know, that other social media site that is about posting all the books you've read to feel smarter than your friends? At least I think that's what Goodreads is for. I'm not very good at it. Regardless, I know it's not a dating site and even if it were a dating site, it seems like it would be more of one of those Rom-Com movie dating sites where Zooey Dasch...er...long named googly eyed girl who isn't Katy Perry meets introverted book-loving Ryan Gosling, not OK Cupid or Craig's List Casual Encounters. 

Seriously, bots, it's like you aren't even trying anymore.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Yesterday's Future

As I have mentioned about a million times, one of my obsessions is past visions of the future and whether or not they ever come to fruition. Most of those I've seen have come from publications such as Popular Science, but Hollywood has their fair share as well. This is a look at futures that have either passed us by or are on the near horizon. I'm skipping the obvious, like 2001, 1984, and Radio 1990. Okay, so the last one wasn't science fiction at all. But the internet has proven that this was a real show. I had thought for a while that it was a fever dream I had as a child, especially the week where The B-52s were the featured artists. Now about that mid 80s Tab commercial I only saw once...
Sorry, I got distracted there. Anyway...

Off-world colonies will be populated by replicants in six years. 
At least according to 1982's Blade Runner. But if you go back to the source for the movie, Phillip K Dick's 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, they've been out there since 1992. I graduated high school in 1992. Computers still used 5 inch floppy discs. Self-checkout had yet to catch on. Cassettes were still the most popular way to listen to music. The only way my car was going to fly was if I took an exit ramp at unsafe speeds. Dick's vision for only 26 years into his future was ambitious, to say the least. But what about the movie? Forgetting the whole nuclear wasteland aspect, could flying cars and robotic replicas of humans happen by 2019? It seems a stretch at first, but considering that Google has a car that drives itself and Japanese robotics companies are competing in a race to the Uncanny Valley, is it really so difficult to consider? Technology advances exponentially, and I still want my flying car, Dammit!
The Robinsons have been Lost In Space for sixteen years.
In October of 1997, the Robinson family set out from an over populated earth to explore other planets for colonization. The closest we came to this was the unmanned rover, Pathfinder, landing on Mars in 1997. I think it's safe to say that in our lifetime, we're only going to get lost in the mall parking lot.
Speaking of 1997, where's Skynet? According to the original Terminator movie, the machine that eventually becomes our robot overlord gains sentience and nukes Russia in August of '97. While, thankfully, this hasn't happened, let's revisit that car that drives itself. There are a lot of people who feel that if anyone is going to build a machine capable of thinking for itself and enslaving the human race, it's Google. Personally, I think Google is safe because even if they do bring about the downfall of humanity, Apple will eventually create a sleeker, pricier overlord, which will magically make the population forget that it wasn't their original idea. (Oh yes I did just go there! Deal with it!)
Ray Bradbury once said he was a preventor of futures, not a predictor. 
While it is easy to argue for the opposite of this, let me remind you that you are not reading this from Mars. The Martian Chronicles begins in 1999. Fahrenheit 451 does not specify a year, but it takes place after 1990 and is speculated to be anywhere from 2010 to 2050. Oddly, a lot of people seem to feel that the e-reader is a harbinger of the future outlined in this book. Ironically, most of those people haven't read the book, own a flat screen TV, a computer, iPod, and maybe even a tablet, and have completely missed the point. I dare say that despite e-readers, tablets, and the internet, we are probably closer to the future laid out in Fahrenheit 451 than any of the others I've laid out so far. Censorship and privacy concerns dominate the news these days and I don't even want to think about how many hours of television people watch each day. But cheer up! We still have nine years until the drought causing comet from Tank Girl crashes into the earth and gives Malcolm McDowell control over all of the world's water supply. See? There's always a silver lining, even if it doesn't come with a flying car. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Author Confessional: Mad With The Power

In my head, I'm an anal retentive, highly organized, punctual neat freak. In reality I'm a clueless, scattter-brained, disorganized ball of hot mess. Every so often I spend an entire weekend coming up with a new organizational system that is utterly fail-proof, only to find that by the end of the week, the mail is once again piled on the dinner table, the laundry is on the floor, and the desk is covered with whatever projects I've halfway abandoned.
It's the same way with writing. I've recently started a huge timeline on the wall of my office to make sure that the dates I keep throwing around don't contradict each other too much. So far I haven't run into too many problems, but let's just say it's a good thing I've established Andre as a boy-genius because he might have had to finish his three degrees before he was of legal drinking age to have accomplished some of the things I've made him do. But creating the timeline had done me the favor of casting a harsh light on that which is my biggest stumbling block as a writer: my own god-like ego.
A dramatization of a god-like ego. Actual size may vary.

I've created a world. A world in which I have total control over the lives of the beings that I have created to inhabit this world. It's a world I am quite proud of, and like any obsessed megalomaniac, I have given each and every one of my creations a detailed and rich history. Whether any of that makes it into the story or not is inconsequential. The idea is that by building a full life, each character becomes real and develops their own voice instead of coming off as background scenery.
In theory this is a good practice. I don't take it to quite the extreme that Tolkien did, or George Lucas for that matter, but I do have literal volumes of notes on everyone. But in reality, this is a dangerous wealth of information because it can be detrimental for you, the readers, if I was to forget that I haven't revealed something and make reference to it.
And then there's things like my codes. In the first book I reveal that the organization uses a set of codes to quickly convey a situation. So far codes one, three, seven, and ten have been explained. What are two, four, five, six, eight, and nine? Well, your guess is as good as mine. Seems a bit silly, doesn't it? I can tell you the entire life story of Lucy's grandmother, who isn't even alive at the time the story takes place, yet an important plot device like the codes doesn't merit more than a passing thought.
Writers are weird.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Computer In My Pocket

My husband caught me writing my last blog post and was completely baffled by the fact that I was typing it up on my phone. I was baffled by his baffledness seeing as part of the reason I fell out of habit with my last blog was the absence of a good blogging app. Now that Google put out an official Blogger app I've become unstoppable.
See, don't tell my husband, but I'm kind of in love with my phone. I have to laugh when people are baffled (I'm going to use this word until it has no meaning!) by the fact that I don't own or watch television. I actually think they imagine me sitting on my sofa, staring at the empty space on the wall where the tv would be, lamenting my boring existence. Well the joke's on them because I don't even have wall space for a tv, let alone a sofa the dogs haven't claimed as their own! Ha!
The truth is, I've got every time wasting form of entertainment I'll ever need in the palm of my hand. Games? Check. Books? By the hundreds. Websites? Too many to count, which is why I limit myself to one or two to obsessively read daily. Videos of adorable frolicking animals? If I must. Music? Eh, not as much as most people, but I do have the capacity to carry an impressive number of albums wherever I go. And of course, all of that social media I complained about a while back.
But when I'm not wasting my time, my phone has become a highly efficient tool of productivity. It's amazing to me, really. I'm somewhat convinced that this phone is the only reason I was able to complete my last book as quickly as I did. I have a full office suite with which I was able to make edits on my chapters while eating lunch at work, or waiting in the doctor's office, or really anywhere that wasn't in front of my computer at home. I have a user-friendly note keeping system with a sleek interface that has alleviated the need to peel sticky notes out of the bottom of my purse. And I don't even have to type any of this out. All I have to do is speak my thoughts into the phone and it types them for me.
Okay, actually, I don't do the voice to text thing because I'm too self-conscious to talk to myself in public. But I totally could so... um, so there!
 Who would have thought, just ten years ago, that this was possible? Okay, besides those of us who carried PDAs. Yeah, I'm going to be that smug person who totally predicted the smart phone. But hey, even I, in my infinite wisdom*, could not have predicted the enormity and scope of what my phone is capable of today.
I know, it's majestic
And before you ask, yes, of course I have an Android. Do you honestly think someone with the word ROBOTS in the name of her blog is going to carry around some silly thing named after a fruit? P'shaw!
*some restrictions apply. Infinite wisdom may not be infinite nor wise. May contain nuts**
**Totally contains nuts