My ten days of Verizon Hell

The following is a verbatim copy of the letter I mailed to Verizon almost two weeks ago. So far, I have received no response of any kind.

February 10, 2014

Anyone Who Actually Gives a Damn
Verizon “Customer Service”
PO Box 11328
St Petersburg, FL 33733

Greetings:

I’m sending this letter because my story is long and complicated, and it’s proven impossible to reach any sentient lifeform (as opposed to an automated computer bot) at Verizon who isn’t sitting in a cubical in India and actually knows what’s going on. Right now I am wondering why I don’t just cancel my Verizon account and sign up for cable phone and Internet. I’ve had my Verizon account since 1989 and Verizon DSL since, I believe, 2010.

I’ve  had (since 2010) a perfectly good home wireless network, with a Westell 6100G ADSL modem from Verizon and a Linksys WRT54G wireless router that I bought and configured myself. The Westell modem was actually quite new, since on April 25, 2013, a Verizon serviceman came out to investigate problems with my DSL line being noisy and dropping the signal, and gave me a new modem. I also had a Linksys WPSM54G wireless printer server. I have a Dell desktop running Windows 7 and two laptops running Windows XP. The Linksys WRT54G was configured with WPA-PSK “Personal” security. Everything was running just fine.

But the wireless network only ran at 54 Mbs, which is the maximum for 802.11g. I watch a lot of video online because I have neither cable nor broadcast TV reception. Some video was choking up on my slow network. I got a faster wireless router as a freebie. But when I tried to set it up, it wouldn’t connect to my Verizon Internet. It seemed to need parameters that normally you get from your ISP, like primary and secondary DNS server addresses. Verizon is my ISP, so I logged into Verizon’s website to see if I could find this information.

That’s how I ended up in ten days of Verizon Hell.

After searching and searching fruitlessly on Verizon’s website, on Tuesday, January 28, I tried logging into Verizon’s “Live Chat.” I found myself in an utterly surreal chat with “Agent Karthik” who I’d swear spoke no English at all and was running every word through an online translator. He would not answer my questions about getting information like server addresses although I asked repeatedly. Instead, after a couple of minutes he said he was “talking to his supervisor” and Verizon was sending me a new modem. “It’s a modem/router, it’s basically Plug and Play,” he said, “and it’s much faster, it will solve your problem.”

I hadn’t asked for a new modem and I didn’t want one, but that was Agent Karthik’s solution, so I said thank you very much.

The new modem arrived Thursday, January 30. It was a D-Link DSL-2750B. When I set it up according to the instructions, it was fine with the Windows 7 desktop. It would connect with the Windows XP laptops. But it would not assign them an IP address, so they couldn’t get on the Internet. Also, they didn’t show up as actually being on the network with the desktop, and wouldn’t communicate with it—and that’s critical. I back up data onto the laptops over the wireless network so I have redundant backups, and I occasionally work remotely on the desktop from the laptops. I also couldn’t get the wireless printer server to work at all, and I finally had to connect the printer directly to the desktop computer with a cable.

Because I needed everything to be connected, I disconnected the new router and put the old equipment back as it was (except that I wasn’t able to get the printer server working again). On February 3, I had time to work more with the new router and tried different changes in the setup, trying to get it to talk to the Windows XP laptops. I got nowhere, but I learned some things:

  • The router is sent with Verizon’s customized firmware, not the manufacturer’s. Verizon’s firmware has some restrictions built into it that the manufacturer’s does not. It’s also pre-loaded with the WPA-2 SSID and key. If you do a factory-reset, you don’t get “factory settings,” you get Verizon’s.
  • D-Link doesn’t even market this model in the U.S. The user’s manual is written for the U.K. and other online information applies to Australia. I infer from this that Verizon has an exclusive agreement with D-Link that only Verizon will distribute this model in the U.S., with its own proprietary firmware.
  • On the router’s admin utility console, it says “IP Address Distribution disabled” in one place and “enabled” in another.

Verizon heavily pimps out its FiOS high-speed Internet, and all its online support defaults to FiOS. They also heavily pimp out this utility called “In Home Agent.” I downloaded and installed it. But it’s useless. Not only is it, like almost all of Verizon’s “support,” painfully condescending and elementary, it’s entirely for FiOS. Hey, I’d love to have FiOS. I’d sign up in a minute. But it’s not available here. Some time ago, Verizon announced that they weren’t going to expand their FiOS service to any more new locations. Nevertheless, they’re still pimping it out as hard as they can. If you use Verizon DSL, you’re scum as far as their support goes.

I signed up for the user forums and looked around there, but that was useless—and talk about the blind leading the blind, anyway. No Verizon customer was going to solve my dilemma! I tried calling the support phone number several times and got a message saying, “due to an extremely high volume of calls,” there might not be a technician available to talk to me, and to try again later, after which the call was terminated.

I finally got frustrated enough to resort once more to Live Chat. This time I got a “Ragavendra swamy” [sic].  He wanted to take remote control of my desktop computer and change the router setup. I definitely did not want him to do this. I asked what he wanted to change. He said that he would change the SSID and passwords for the new network to be the same as the old network. He promised that if he did that, the XP computers would connect to the network “and it will solve your problem.”

The hell it would! Man, I could see that would be a disaster—not only did I not see it solving the problem, it would have meant I couldn’t go back to using the old equipment! I’d be totally screwed with no network at all! I refused to let him do it. I tried changing the network name to something new and different, but I didn’t have the router connected with an Ethernet cable, so I just crashed the connection to the router and was knocked offline. Ragavendra swamy called me to see what happened. It was past my bedtime by then (he was in India, he had no idea what time it was here) and I told him thanks very much, I would reset the router to factory (i.e. Verizon’s) settings tomorrow morning and start over from scratch, and would apply some of his suggestions.

Which I did. But no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the XP computers to get an IP address and be recognized by the network—except under one condition. If I turned off all security encryption entirely, then both the laptops connected, with Internet, just fine. But having a completely unsecured network seemed…awfully risky.

This was very frustrating, because I wanted a faster connection for online video, and it seemed like Verizon was dangling it in front of me and not letting me use it. The whole thing was stressing me out way too much.

On Wednesday, February 5, I got through to an actual live person, “Victor,” on the phone. This worked much better than the Live Chat. But after a very long phone call in which Victor and I pretty much changed every parameter we could without success, Victor said the D-Link router or its firmware might be defective, and they would send me another router. He said specifically that it would be a different model, an Actiontec. “That will solve your problem,” he promised.

The techs all kept saying that I should switch to WEP security instead of WPA, because, they claimed, Windows XP wouldn’t work with WPA. But there were two problems with this assertion. First, my old wireless network ran under WPA and the Windows XP computers had no trouble connecting to it at all, nor did the wireless printer server. Second, we changed the D-Link to WEP and the XP computers still weren’t assigned an IP address nor recognized by the network.

I set the old equipment back up. On Friday, February 7, the replacement router arrived. But it wasn’t an Actiontec. It was a D-Link DSL-2750B, identical to the one I’d been ripping my hair out over for the past week. I set it up, and I got exactly the same results. There was a pre-paid mailing label in the box to return the first D-Link, and I was so disgusted, I felt like just packing them both up and sending them both back to Verizon. I’d been promised a different model of router—although that may have been moot if the whole issue was Verizon’s flaky firmware, and it seemed pretty obvious that it was.

But I was compulsive enough to still not give up, and after a very long wait on hold, I got another live tech person, Krishna, on the phone. (By this time I was noticing that my calls got some attention, with all the complaints and problems on my account in the past 10 days!) I went through stuff with Krishna, and now it became apparent that the firmware on the replacement D-Link wasn’t quite identical to that on the first one. This time, we were able to change the security to WEP, and mirabile dictu, the XP laptops both were able to connect to the network and the Internet.

Was my problem solved? Well, not exactly. Verizon’s firmware will only allow the router to run in 802.11n mode if the security is set to WPA-2…or none at all, go parse that logic. With WEP security, the fastest speed I get is the maximum for 802.11b/g modes, 54 Mbs. That’s exactly the speed I had before, and this whole nonsense started because I wanted a faster connection! On top of that, I can’t set up the wireless printer server. It allows for WEP keys of 64 or 128 bits. For some weird reason, the Verizon firmware is set up with WEP keys in 40 or 104 bits. (I mean, huh????) They’re not compatible, so the printer server can’t connect with WEP. It was connected on the old router with WPA.

I pointed out to Krishna that with WEP security I had a slower connection. He said it was because there were several devices on the network taking up bandwidth and the security setting shouldn’t affect the speed. But he obviously didn’t realize that the 802.11 mode does limit the speed, because he knew I had to change the mode from 802.11b/g/n to 802.11b/g when we changed the security. So the support technician didn’t even know that I can only get a connect speed of 54 Mbs with these settings.

So after all this frustration and stress, and hours of wasted time, I’m worse off than when I started. I have exactly the same connect speed as before, less effective security, and I can’t use my wireless printer server. Verizon will never expand FiOS to my area, and DSL is rapidly becoming almost as inadequate and obsolete as dial-up. Remind me, someone, why I shouldn’t just cancel my Verizon account and switch to cable for my phone and Internet? If I didn’t loathe all cable companies on principle, I probably would have done just that by now.

 

Sincerely,

 

Inanna Arthen, M.Div
[my account number, phone number and service address]

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Updates: Busy September after Chicago

September seemed very short, very busy and rather disrupted. I had stuff going on nearly every weekend and that’s continuing into October, as well. I’ve long had a routine of getting chores and errands done on Monday and Tuesday, and a lot of creative work done over the weekends because there are fewer distractions. I rarely went out on weekends if I could help it. But that routine has been completely exploded ever since August.

It took a while to get re-oriented when I got home, partly because I seemed to be fighting off the con crud that was flattening a lot of other people and didn’t feel well, and partly because I was off routine. The reason I stayed up until 2:30 a.m. the day I got home from Chicago, for example, was because it was a transfer station week and I normally go to the transfer station on Tuesday; I had to get everything cleaned and get the trash and recyclables together so I could go on Wednesday. Plus, I did all the laundry on Wednesday and I normally do it on Monday. Everything was bumped ahead a day or so.

I was very busy before Chicon 7 getting Un-Dead TV into ARCs and sent out to pre-pub reviewers, and doing the main edits for Nocturnes in Purgatory and sending them off to the author. City of Promise was released on August 15 and I was querying reviewers and doing follow-up business with that. I got it all done just in time, along with all the prep work I did for my trip and my Chicon 7 panels, one of which I was moderating. I came home to a lot more projects, including page layout and generating the galley proof for Nocturnes in Purgatory because the author sent his edits back in record time. Plus, I wrote and posted a long con report, because I want to be blogging more regularly, and I immediately started ramping up my job and freelance search.

Job hunting has proven fruitless, so far–not even acknowledgments that my resume was received in most cases. Freelancing is proving much more productive so it looks like that’s where I’m going to be putting my energy. I’ve been completing my profile on Elance and a new service I discovered via LinkedIn called oDesk. They both do ID verifications: Elance actually calls you on Skype with a webcam, so they can see you on camera and talk to you while comparing your image to the photo ID you uploaded. That was the first time I’ve done something like that and it was kind of funky! But the freelance job I have right now didn’t come from either of those sources. I got it through networking. They say that’s the way people actually get most jobs, traditional or freelance–all the stuff about answering ads and sending out resumes only works about 10% of the time. It’s not my strongest area, but I’m definitely learning to be quicker on the ball when I see an opportunity.

The main challenge with oDesk and Elance is the competition: when a job is posted, it’s like you’re a shark in a tank with 500 other sharks and someone just tossed in one piece of chum. But at least it keeps you on your toes!

Ten days after I got home from Chicago, my sister and brother-in-law flew out here to spend the weekend working on their brand new waterfront construction: a new boathouse, deck and gazebo, and stairs connecting it all. I went up to help them out, and busted my tail for two days helping apply wood stain to the deck, boathouse and stairs, and take in the paddleboat and power boat for the season. We worked so hard, I’d hoped to go swimming one of the days and never got to! Sunday afternoon, September 16, Dad conducted the very last Townsend band concert of the year, part of a crafts fair and celebration put on by the Historical Society. It went very well, and I recorded it. After the concert, I went straight back to the lake for more staining. My quadriceps were pretty sore from hunkering down for so many hours.

I paddled the paddleboat around to its take-in spot on Sunday just before sunset, and I was marveling at how utterly still and clear the water was. I have never seen such a perfect, mirror-like reflection in the water: not a ripple, not the slightest distortion, it was like seeing double. The lake can be very peaceful off-season (except for the fact that someone somewhere seems to be running saws and hammering on something, 365 days of the year!). I was wishing I’d brought my camera with me, but I’m a little wary of taking anything expensive out on the water. My niece’s cell phone is still on the bottom of the lake. :-)

The following week, I was getting a church service ready for the Ashby First Parish UU on Sunday, September 23. I needed to make more ritual candles for myself before Mabon, and since I was going to have all the candle-making paraphernalia out for that, I decided to make orange tapers to bless and give out as the “sacrament” for the church service. So, I was making candles all week long, first a shorter mold for the “sacrament” and then longer ones in different colors for my ritual candles. I’m well-stocked for candles now! I didn’t make so many the last time and I decided I wanted to change the colors I was using. I was also busy with the rest of the service: deciding on hymns, finding material for a responsive reading and other components of the service, finding a story for “time for all ages” and writing the sermon.

It was transfer station week again and I saw some wild turkeys when I made my biweekly visit there:

wild turkeys in Pepperell, MA

True Mabon (local time) was 11:01 a.m. Saturday, September 22. I did my octaval Tarot reading Friday night and then got up and did ritual for the exact time of the Equinox. The Tarot reading was very interesting, indeed. I’m thinking about it a lot! On Saturday afternoon, I attended a memorial service for a member of the Ashby church, Frank McCarter, who passed away a few weeks earlier from a very aggressive and fast-moving cancer. The memorial service (at the Fitchburg church, which is bigger) was so well-attended, it was SRO–even the church choir loft was full! I didn’t go to the reception afterwards because I knew very few of the people who attended. I went home and finished the sermon for Sunday in a rather sober and thoughtful frame of mind, and I referred to Frank a couple of times during my service.

After church service on Sunday, I went up to watch the Patriots game with Dad. This was not fun because the Pats lost the game by one point, in the final seconds of the game, after four agonizing quarters filled with incredibly bad (and frankly, not exactly impartial) calls by the NFL scabs, er, “replacement refs.” I had only just started reading about this issue the previous week and I didn’t get to see the first two games of the season, but I was absolutely appalled by what was going on out on the field during the Pats/Ravens game on the 23rd. I couldn’t believe how out of control the players were, and how incompetent the substitute refs seemed. I started to think that the first three weeks of the season should just be wiped clean and started over! As all alert sports fans know, the very next day the outcome of the Packers/Seahawks game turned on an egregiously incorrect call (a long touchdown pass subsequently nicknamed by some sports writers “the Fail Mary” or “the Inaccurate Reception”), and the NFL finally settled with the regular refs, who were back on duty by Thursday. It’s a relief to have them back, but the whole thing still leaves a bitter aftertaste.

On Tuesday, September 25, the weather was so perfect, I went back to the lake in the afternoon to finish a last bit of staining that my sister and brother-in-law couldn’t get done before they had to leave, and helped Dad with a few other things. That week, I was going through the author’s edits for Nocturnes in Purgatory, and getting ready for Full Moon ritual on September 29, which made some very significant aspects to my natal chart, as well as being the Harvest Moon. But mostly, I was working on edits, and on convention preparation. I got my  program schedule from Albacon (October 18-21) and made a room reservation–in a budget hotel. I can confess that in public now that the convention room block has sold out. Despite how cheaply I got off with my Chicago trip, I still couldn’t afford two nights at the convention rate at Albacon, and I’ll be staying at the Super-8 two miles away. I’m driving over, so I’ll have a car, and I like the Super-8. I wouldn’t mind a roommate to make things even more economical, if anyone would like to go to Albacon and is on a tight budget!

I also followed up on my thoughts of trying out Arisia and/or Boskone again and applied to be a program participant for Arisia 2013. I was accepted, so I guess I’m going! I will probably commute in–it’s about the same commute as I just did to Chicon 7, although with less walking. I probably won’t get much sleep, but I’ll be there! I’m still debating Boskone, but 2013 is Boskone 50 which seems a shame to miss.

My Full Moon ritual went fine, but I couldn’t see the moon! All week, I’d been noticing the waxing gibbous moon rising during the afternoons, pale and ghostly in the bright blue sky. It was odd, the way I spotted it and noticed it every single day. But it clouded over and rained all weekend, so we couldn’t see the actual full Harvest Moon at all.

On Sunday, September 30, I went up to the lake to watch the Pats game with Dad, and that was a much more enjoyable four hours. The Pats came back from a 7-21 lead by the Bills at the half and basically rubbed Buffalo into the dirt. After seeing the Pats get humiliated in their previous two games, it was most satisfying. The Pats are employing a running game this season to great effect. I’ve never seen them use their running backs so much and it’s pretty impressive!

This weekend, I helped out the Ashby church with the Harvest Supper (turkey and all the trimmings) they do in collaboration with the Congregationalist church next door. On Thursday, I drove up there to pick up a turkey to roast–the turkeys, tightly sealed in roasting bags, are cooked by volunteers. On Friday evening, I returned the cooked turkey and helped with vegetable peeling and set-up. The supper was Saturday evening, and I went up on Saturday to help with clean-up. So, I’ve had a busy few days, and I missed sunset attunement for three days in a row. Yesterday, I went up to the lake to watch the Pats/Broncos game with dad, and I also cleaned off and covered up the paddleboat, on its trailer, because that needed to be done. Dad and I were very pleased that the Patriots won their game, but I was pretty exhausted by the time I got home.

My garden is just about done. It was rather a disappointment this year. The weather alternated too wildly between chilly and extremely hot, dry and too much rain. The pumpkins put out much more foliage and healthier vines than ever before–until they got hit by powdery mildew and squash bugs–but just like the last couple of years, they flowered and flowered but never set a fruit. The zucchini plants didn’t do too well, but produced three zucchini, so at least I got some meals out of them. I started my own tomatoes, seeds I saved from an heirloom variety called “Aussie.” The plants did well, fluffy and healthy with no sign of the late blight that’s plagued my tomatoes for the last three years. But almost none of the tomatoes ripened; I got two (HUGE, but only two) tomatoes that actually ripened on the vines. Deer ate some of the green tomatoes–I know this because I saw tracks–and others fell off during heavy rain or winds. I don’t even have green tomatoes to try and ripen on the windowsill. The carrots didn’t even sprout and the onions disappeared. The only real success this year was my tiny three-row potato patch. Despite some problems with potato bugs, which I beat back with organic spray, I got nine pounds of potatoes, the best crop ever. I think the plot simply doesn’t get enough sun (as well as too much deer). I’ve saved seeds from a different heirloom tomato variety to try next year and see if it does better.

2012 potato harvest

The basil was almost eaten to nothing early in the season, but whatever was eating it disappeared (I have no idea why and I don’t know what it was. Maybe the deer scared it away). The basil plants rallied, and although they’re not nearly as large as the past two years, they’re healthy and fluffy and I’ll have a nice batch of basil to dry for this winter. I just need to be sure I pick them before the first hard frost, which they’re now forecasting for this Friday.

It wasn’t just the vegetable garden–the blackberries and black raspberries suffered from the weather, as well, and I didn’t get enough berries for the freezer this year. Of course, the fact that a tree came down in the middle of the blackberry patch over the winter didn’t help, either. Anne’s rose bush and the bee balm did very well, and I saw hummingbirds at the bee balm for the first time this summer.

I’ve been taking long walks instead of exercycling since the cooler weather came in, when it wasn’t raining. When I do exercycle, I’ve been watching Season 2 of Sherlock, which is now on Amazon Prime, and the new (and last) season of Fringe has just started. The Tim Burton/Johnny Depp Dark Shadows movie is on Amazon Prime, but it’s a $3.99 rental and I’m waiting for it to go on sale. I’m really enjoying Sherlock. The parodies of well known story titles they ran through in the first season two episode had me just about falling off the exercycle laughing. I’m still wondering how we should take the ending, though–real, or a fantasy by Holmes? Does Holmes have fantasies? Hm.

I’m still working on a way to move closer to Dad in Winchendon. I have Zillow alerts up for two different towns and some rather interesting properties have popped up in them. I’ve gotten to the point of driving out to look at the exteriors of a few of them, just to see them in “real life” and get a sense of their location, neighborhood and so on. I have not yet reached the step of contacting a representative for an inside viewing. I need to figure out the financing part before I do that. Some of the places I’ve gone to look at have been scratched off my list when I saw, ahem, why they were so low-priced, or I didn’t like the neighborhood or the extreme proximity to the adjacent houses. But a couple of them…oh, man. Real little gems, unless there’s something I can’t see like termites or a failed septic!

But I think something will come up. The Universe just gave me new shoes. I had a pair of sneakers, and the side of one had split away from the sole. I was thinking that I’d have to get new sneakers or similar shoes, and I needed something for colder weather. Just a couple of days later, I was taking my walk and passed some stuff out by the road in a freebie pile. On the top of the pile were…shoes. Winter walking shoes, waterproof, insulated, and they fit me perfectly. I’m wearing them now. I thought, “I need shoes,” and the Universe said, “here you go.”

That happens to me all the time…but not usually that fast! And a house is a taller order, but you know…it’s how I got this one. Really.

And now Arisia wants its panel sign-ups, so I better post this and get some work done. Hope everyone is enjoying their long holiday weekend (Thanksgiving in Canada, Columbus Day here, and a lot of conventions this weekend!)!

Posted in conventions, gardening, general life updates | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

The Bristol Renaissance Faire, real Chicago pizza, and pictures!

On Labor Day Monday, my sister had the day off, and she’d suggested that we go to the very last day of their local Renaissance Faire, called the Bristol Renaissance Faire. I was a little ambivalent because by then, I’d done one heck of a lot of walking (and stair-climbing!), it was still hot and very humid, and I was pretty wiped out.

But…I had never been to a Ren Faire. Seriously! A very large percentage of my friends will find this hard to believe, but I have never been to our local event, King Richard’s Faire (and I could still go, it just started and runs through October 21), nor any similar event anywhere else. I’d always been curious to attend one, had never made it. This was the Bristol Ren Faire’s 25th anniversary year and the very last day. So, off we went.

Well…I had an absolute blast. I really, really loved it! Yes, we walked…and walked and walked and walked. I didn’t try any food because I was being so careful about money, and also about my food intake in general. My sister had some falafel, but I figured I could wait until we got home for dinner; the Faire closed at 7:00 p.m. We checked out every single booth and vendor. I bought some really high quality essential oils and incense, which I needed and wanted. I asked some leather crafters about a leather project I want to have made, but I’ve found that leather crafters are a grumpy sort who don’t seem interested in talking about custom jobs—at least, not to me, for some reason. So I gave up on that. There are local leather workers I can deal with when I’m ready for this project. I spoke to a book vendor about possibly carrying BLUM books, and she took some book postcards and my business card. And I bought horns. I’ve wanted a pair for years. They tie on, and since I’m keeping the bangs, and the little horns look rather natural poking through bangs, I plan to incorporate them into a costume I’m assembling.

My sister was interested in some of the humorous acts, and we saw a couple of these. In “Vegetable Justice,” people can throw tomatoes at a guy with his head sticking out of a hole in a wall, who keeps up a patter of creative insults and jibes (my sister didn’t think the two we saw were as good as one she’d seen before). Another act, Dirk & Guido, was an elaborate spoof sword-play that was cute and went on quite a while (and “Guido” was replaced by another actor whose spooky resemblance to Orlando Bloom probably doesn’t hurt his career). But I was less interested in those than some of the more serious offerings—like the falconer.

We first saw the Royal Falconer, Ray Pena, when he came into one of the shops, walked right by me and set his bird down on a counter a few feet away. I think I had to pick my jaw up off the floor, because I hadn’t seen him before and this was completely unexpected. My sister and I went down to his main show at the big arena later on, where he flew several types of falcons and hawks, with a continuous educational spiel (the 16th century Discovery Channel :-) ). The birds were mesmerizing, but that’s how we expected to see them: at a safe distance, in a big arena.

We didn’t expect to see them again, being flown from the middle of town square just a few feet away (no calls for the audience to stay back, but if you didn’t, you’d get smacked by the lure, so that was a non-verbal boundary marker of sorts). The 11-year-old apprentice was flying a merlin for the very first time (it didn’t go quite smoothly, but it was his first public try; my sister opined that he was swinging the lure too fast, and he was probably nervous. At one point the merlin was so confused, it alit on the ground—right in front of me. I immediately froze still so as not to alarm it, hence I did not get a photo of it). Gods, but those birds were stunning. I wish I’d gotten more photos—one of the assistants was holding a screech owl, too—but I did get a few. (Below: assistant with hawk, then Mr. Pena with a falcon.)
assistant holding hawk
Ray Pena with falcon
So that was pretty amazing. The second most amazing thing, for me, was the performance by three singers from The Seelie Players, an a capella trio singing as Sirena. They used drums and long staves that they pounded rhythms on the stage with, but otherwise no musical accompaniment, and they are just…incredible. I sat through one and half of their shows, I was so enthralled by them. And gave them some money. And promised them I’d blog about them, so here it is! I did not, alas, get a good photo of them. But if you Google “seelie players bristol ren faire,” a couple of YouTube videos come up, and you can “like” their page on Facebook. My sister bought me their CD!

Of course, we had to see some jousting. We ended up at the last show, the Joust to the Death. It was entertaining and dramatic, because there can only be so much artifice to these things; you know they’re taking every precaution and it’s still pretty scary. Maybe that’s why I screwed up when I tried to video some of it and the camera didn’t record. I did get some photos, but the arena was large and the knights were at quite a distance. One of the horses had its ears laid back a lot and seemed rather unhappy, and I overheard another audience member telling her friend that the horse “had been giving them trouble all weekend.” Jousting is pretty hard on the horses, too. They eventually went to choreographed swordplay on the ground, including flaming swords. The bad guy (seen below) won, and everyone booed.
the lists
While we were at the joust, two people sitting behind us noticed my “Vampire Stories for Grown-ups” button, asked about it, and took book postcards and a business card! They’re huge vampire fans! Wearing the button was an impulse and what do you know—it paid off. At the Ren Faire!

And I rode a camel. I know the ride was meant for kids, but, hey. It was a real camel, with very little between you and the critter, you just climbed up there and sat on it. I’ve never ridden a camel before, and who knows when or if I’ll ever get another chance; I wanted to see what it felt like. So now I can say I have ridden a camel—and I even have proof!
me riding a camel
At the very end of the day, the players (and I’m sure, some costumed attendees) all processed out of the park, and that, I did get video of. So, you can see how elaborate and well-made the costumes were. We all followed behind and gathered outside.

The Queen thanked everyone for sharing in their 25th anniversary season, and thanked all the players, and one of them gave the speech from the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and some of the musicians played a last piece. They finished with a hearty call of, “Merry Meet, and Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again!” which I chimed in with. It was rather moving to be there for their very last day.

My sister and I went home and took turns on the shower and getting dinner ready. We were pretty wiped out! The next day, Tuesday, I was flying home, and my brother-in-law was returning a couple of hours before I left from an orienteering event he’d been at all weekend. That made the airport transportation somewhat awkward. We compromised by meeting my brother-in-law at O’Hare and going out to eat at Giordano’s, after which my sister and brother-in-law dropped me off at O’Hare for my flight home.

I don’t eat pizza very often, but you can hardly visit Chicago without trying authentic deep dish pizza. Chicon 7 actually had a pizza (and pajama) party in the Con Suite on Sunday night after the Hugo awards, but it started at midnight and that’s when I had to catch a cab for Union Station. But I got to try a broccoli and onion deep dish pizza at Giordano’s, one of the “real” pizza places (or as Chicon 7 put it, “the good stuff”).

All I can say is…bread, melted cheese and veggies? What’s not to love? You can never have too much melted cheese and veggies, in my opinion! It was pretty darned good. Alas, I gained 2.2 pounds in Chicago, all the exercise notwithstanding, and I’m sure I gained 2.1 of them at Giordano’s. :-( And now I’m fiending to try the deep dish veggie pizzas at Uno’s here at home, which I’m sure are just as fattening!

So that concludes the account of my very enjoyable and very economical working vacation in the Windy City. My sister is pestering me to come back, early and often, heh. We’ll have to see how my financial situation shapes up, but there are certainly other SF/F conventions and other events in Chicago that beckon!

Since I didn’t have it ready when I posted the Chicon 7 report, below, here is the photo of “Secret History of Science Fiction:”
secret history of SF panel
Left to right: Gardner Dozois, George R. R. Martin, Mike Resnick, Joe Haldeman, Robert Silverberg.

And here is La Salle Street:
South La Salle Street

Posted in conventions, general life updates | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off

Invisible at Chicon 7

I had the interesting experience of being almost completely invisible at Chicon 7. This is something that I’ve gotten resigned to at local cons, but I was hoping a Midwestern con might have different dynamics. It didn’t, and in fact Chicon 7 was populated by many of the same people who attend East Coast cons, so I saw a lot of faces that were familiar to me from Readercon, Boskone, Arisia, Pi-Con, ConBust, Albacon, Anthocon and the 2009 Worldcon in Montréal, Anticipation, as well as Broad Universe. The odd thing was…with just a few exceptions (hi, Lisa, Debi, Bill, Merryl and Diane!), they didn’t see me. I mean that literally: they really didn’t see me. I couldn’t count how many times I tried to catch someone’s eye to say hello and the person literally looked right through me, like I wasn’t even there.

It was just…weird. At the same time, it was also typical, and a big reason that I cut way back on conventions after 2010. I know my hair is very different than people got used to from 2007-2011 (it’s no longer blue and I’m letting it grow out) but that can’t be the sole explanation. I’m just…invisible. After thirty-nine years of con-going (my first con was in 1973!), gophering at several cons, volunteering on a con committee and belonging to two local writers’ groups, as far as both the writers’ community and the fan community are concerned, I simply don’t exist. I guess that’s part of the price of refusing to play by other people’s rules, especially as a writer.

My trip to Chicago had a dual purpose: to do programming for Chicon 7 and visit my sister for the first time since the mid-80s. (Since many con reports seem to mention it, I’ll note that this was my third Worldcon, after Noreascon Two (1980) and Anticipation (2009), and my second as a program participant.) I did have a pretty good time and it was certainly an economical one—I stayed with my sister, commuting down to the con from her house every day, and I got a bargain on my airfare bordering on highway robbery—so I’d have to call the trip as a whole successful. I’m still recovering!

The last time I flew on a plane was also in the mid-80s, so I was a bit nervous about all the TSA screening and restrictions. But everything went very smoothly. I travelled light, taking only the duffle I use as a suitcase for a carry-on (it was a freebie from the 2007 World Fantasy Convention and the most massively useful freebie I’ve ever gotten) and a small knapsack with my netbook computer, Pig, and my cell phone, carefully culled of any little gadgets I normally carry with me that are, or might be, TSA contraband. My dad dropped me off at Logan on Thursday morning and I zipped right through the screening, since I wasn’t at all fussed about the body scan (go ahead, scan this Bowflexed bod and eat your hearts out, screeners!). I worried a lot more about the x-ray’s effect on Pig, but he was fine. I was among the first to board the plane because my seat was at the very back, and we landed ahead of schedule at O’Hare.

I love takeoffs! What a rush! The endorphins lasted for hours! My bro-in-law says I’m like a little kid. :-)

Once in O’Hare, I needed to catch the CTA train (the L) to the Clark & Lake stop in the Loop and walk to the Hyatt Regency where Chicon 7 had pretty much taken over the entire hotel. The CTA station at O’Hare is a really, really long walk from the terminals (but a very well-signed walk, at least), and it takes about 45 minutes (and $2.25) to get into the city. When I came out of the L station in the Loop, I wasn’t sure which direction to go, but got a bead on the sun and followed my nose, which was accurate (as it usually is. The only GPS I need is in my head). Lugging my duffle around with me was a hindrance, and I finally checked it with the Hyatt concierge.

The function areas for the con were a complete maze and I’m not sure I ever did find them all! The Hyatt has two towers and you can’t cross between them on every level, so getting from an event in one tower often involved going up or down, crossing, and then going up or down on the other side. Because of this, the programming was organized into 90-minute time blocks but limited to 70 minutes, to give attendees plenty of time to get from one function room to another. That actually worked very well. The con also gets props for signage, which was large, clear, well-positioned and abundant.

I went right to Registration and registered for the con, then went to Program Participant Check-in and got my packet. As soon as I was officially registered I found the freebie racks and put out the BLUM flyers and book postcards I’d brought with me. It was a little after 4:00 p.m. by then and my first programming assignment was “Writer Under Glass #11″ at 5:00 p.m. This event was, I gathered, an experiment: writers signed up to work in sequence on a mass-written story which, according to the description, would be printed out, signed by all the contributors, and auctioned for charity at the end of the con. We were told that we’d be writing on a big monitor that anyone who wanted to watch could see, hence the “under glass” part.

I had to ask at the Chicon 7 Info desk to find the “Fan Lounge” where “Writer Under Glass” was scheduled. It was not marked on the map of function spaces in the Pocket Program (said map being one of the few things at Chicon 7 that was somewhat deficient: it was tiny, hard to read, and incomplete). I hate asking volunteers a question at cons because they always act like I’m just annoying them, and Chicon 7 was no exception, especially at the Info desk. But I did find the Fan Lounge, which was at the back of the Exhibits area.

When I got there, I met the fanzine editor who was running the “Writer Under Glass” activity, Chris Garcia, who was upbeat and energetic, was up for a Hugo award on Sunday, and who I never saw again. There wasn’t a big monitor, just a pair of Mac laptops which were eating their batteries and which the writers passed back and forth. As far as I could see, the assigned writers were enthusiastic: I arrived as #9 was finishing up, then #10 took over, then I did my half-hour and promptly turned the Mac over to #12.

But after that, I never did find out what happened to the story. I went back to the Fan Lounge three times during the weekend but Chris wasn’t there, I didn’t see any writers working after Thursday and none of the volunteers covering the Lounge knew anything about the project. (Many of the Kaffeeklatches were scheduled there and the volunteers had their hands full wrangling those.) It was fun to work on, anyway—reminded me how much I miss v-parties on Vampyres List. [I just learned from another participant that the story was evidently auctioned on Sunday during the Art Auction. That wasn't printed anywhere and I had no idea.]

When I was finished there, I went through the Art Show. There was some extremely impressive art, and it all made me want to go straight home and start painting. :-) My sister was coming down on the train after she got off work to show me the walking routes between Union Station and the hotel, and the train station in Libertyville and her house. She arrived a bit earlier than I expected, so I didn’t go to any programming on Thursday. We headed off to Union Station on foot, lugging my duffle, and stopped for a salad on the way. I would have liked to attend the Adler Planetarium event but it just didn’t work out. I couldn’t have come to Chicon 7 at all if I hadn’t been able to do it so cheaply, and that meant some unavoidable sacrifices.

FRIDAY

Friday morning, I was up at 6:00 a.m. because I had a panel at 10:30 a.m. and I wanted to catch a ride to the Libertyville station with my sister when she left for work. Between being hyper about my Friday panels and the first night in a strange place, I hardly slept at all, and this was on top of several nights of inadequate sleep with all the prepping and stressing about the trip, my programming and the flight. So on Friday, I was essentially a vegetable on feet; in fact, I’m not sure I could fairly say I was awake for most of the weekend! This may explain, if certainly not excuse, any offenses I may have committed on panels (chiefly talking too much).

The train ride to Union Station was about an hour and ten minutes, and the walk from Union Station to the Hyatt was about thirty minutes. But it was nice. I really got to see Chicago, up close and personal. It was very busy that weekend because there was a big Jazz Festival running in Grant Park, along with other events like a special exhibit of Roy Lichtenstein’s work at the Art Institute of Chicago (which had lines running down the block, like for tickets to a rock show, on Saturday). I walked right by that bit of South La Salle Street that’s in The Untouchables movie and later on took some pics of it.

I got to the hotel around 9:30 a.m., roamed around checking the schedule and signs, and sat by an outlet in the hallway on Gold level catching up with my journal on Pig until I headed for my first panel, “Starting a Small Press.” This was something I did a lot—find a fairly public spot by an outlet where I could plug in Pig and watch people go by—and I wasn’t alone, people with laptops camped around outlets everywhere in the Hyatt, which had free wi-fi in the function areas. I didn’t find the Con Suite for another day or so, but I went to the Green Room several times a day. It was usually pretty quiet when I got there, but I tended to be at programming through meal times.

“Starting a Small Press” was my favorite of all the panels I was on. It was fascinating to just hear other small press publishers talk! I am starved to “talk shop” with other small publishers and they’ve got to be the most tight-lipped people on earth; even when I go to Independent Publishers of New England events I can’t seem to talk to anyone. Maybe it’s pure paranoia, the whole publishing world is so competitive—no one wants to talk candidly about what they’re actually doing or how they work, and gods forbid you ask about sales, you couldn’t commit a bigger faux pas. But the panelists were Jason Sizemore of Apex Publications (who I knew by reputation and blog), Stephen Haffner of Haffner Press, Tod McCoy of Hydra House and the moderator was Patrick Swenson, former editor of Talebones magazine and owner of Fairwood Press. I lapped up every word they said. I hope I made some reasonable contributions. We were quite diverse in terms of experience and the scale of our businesses, which of course made it even more interesting. Someone live-tweeted a couple of my remarks! I didn’t realize that until I was looking at Chicon twitter feeds a couple of days later.

After the small press panel, I went to “The Best Vampire Novel of the Century.” I had been following the news about this all year: to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Bram Stoker’s death, the Horror Writers Association assembled a panel to vote on which vampire novel since 1912 was the most influential on the genre. Panelists James S. Dorr,  Kenneth Hite and Richard Lee Byers discussed the six finalists, had the audience do a “straw poll” and then (for those who weren’t already aware) revealed the winner, which was Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954). I agreed with that choice when I first heard it, and it was very interesting to hear the judges’ rationale on each book.

The panel I moderated, and my second panel of the day and the con, was titled “Doom and Gloom and Dark Despair, Young Readers Love Them Everywhere.” There were several similar panels suggested and this is the one that Programming chose; the somewhat unwieldy title is an in-joke, based on “The Markland Birthday Dirge” which probably not too many people are familiar with. The panel discussed controversial “dark” themes in literature for young readers—why young readers like those themes, can they be harmful, and so on. I guess it went okay—the panelists did a good job. I did a lot of prep for this panel and had some articles and references going back to 1972, and maybe I talked more than a moderator is supposed to. By then I was seriously crashing and mixed up two panelists’ names, which was embarrassing.

The lone male panelist couldn’t attend, so we had Jordan Hamessley London who is an assistant editor at Grosset and Dunlap, author Alaya Dawn Johnson (who I knew from past cons but I don’t think she remembered me), author Susan MacDonald and author S.J. Kincaid, who was added at the last minute. We had a minor nuisance at the start as the panel was scheduled right after one of a series of academic papers. The academic went way over time so our audience and panelists were all standing in the hall, unwilling to interrupt someone “reading their dissertation.” Finally an audience member who had bad knees and walked with a cane couldn’t stand there any longer and walked into the room to sit down, which I suppose I should have done sooner (we were all supposed to stay on schedule, Ph.D or not!). The Programming Ops people were sure timely about waving the “5 minute” and “Stop” signs at me, though.

I kind of slunk out after that panel and went to the Green Room for a snack. Then I went down to hear the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading—where no one recognized me, either, although Roberta Rogow, who I sat with on the BU dealers room table at a past con, was running the reading. They had a lot of readers! I think it’s the biggest RFR I’ve ever seen, although I missed the BU RFR in Montréal. I sat toward the back of the room because I wanted to plug Pig into an outlet and recharge his battery.

By then I was freezing cold. Friday was the hottest day of the con, and it wasn’t too bad walking through the Loop at 9:00 a.m. but by afternoon it was in the 90s and the hotel really jacked up the air conditioning. I was wearing long sleeves but it was a very light-weight shirt from the Gap. Sleep deprivation and fatigue makes my already reptilian metabolism plummet, even if I’m eating (and I wasn’t eating much). I had a hard time focusing on the readings. All my stuff was up at my sister’s so I couldn’t just go get a jacket or something. But I actually went outside and sat on a low wall in front of the hotel for a while just to thaw out.

At 4:30 p.m. I went to the daily “feedback session,” which was a mistake—because I didn’t really have feedback, I was interested to hear what other people had to discuss. I guess the Con Chair, Dave McCarty, only wanted people to attend who actually had something to say. Very few people did, it seemed—only about 6 to 10 con attendees showed up. But I was there when Karen Moore brought up her concerns about the con’s accessibility and also about the “joke” track of non-existent spoof program items listed in the schedule. I was one of the few witnesses to actually hear what she said and how Dave responded to her.

I got some veggies, cheese and chips in the Green Room. I was mildly interested in the Regency Dance session, since I’d done something like it at Noreascon Two and loved it, but I  just didn’t have enough energy. At 6:00 p.m. I went to a panel which got off to an uncertain start because it wasn’t described adequately in the Pocket Program. “Web Promotion and Social Media,” presented solo by Mike Stolaroff, was supposed to be, “Web Promotion and Social Media for Filmmakers,” Stolaroff having made an independent film called Pig (which was screened at the con on Sunday but I had a panel at the exact same time). A couple of the small audience left when Mike, rather flustered, explained this, but the rest of us stayed, and it ended up being a very interesting and useful discussion which I thoroughly enjoyed.

After that, at 7:30 p.m., I went to a panel called “Electronic Publishing,” which was well-attended—standing room only—but poorly moderated. It just wandered all over the place and didn’t cover the topic very well.

By the time that panel hobbled to a close, I had a couple of options: check out some parties, hang out, go to the Guest of Honor speech or filking, or catch a cab to Union Station (which I preferred to do rather than walk at night, go ahead and call me a wuss) for the 9:45 p.m. train. I almost went to a party, because I was interested in supporting the bid for Worldcon in Spokane in 2015. I lived in Spokane from kindergarten through 9th grade and I still have a couple of friends I’m in touch with there. But when I saw the lines for the elevators to the 33rd floor, I decided I was much too exhausted to deal with it and just wanted to head up to Libertyville and get to bed. The bellhop got me a cab right in front of the hotel, instantly, and I wanted to tip him, but he was chatting up the cabbie and ignoring me, so, no tip for him. I texted my sister with my ETA (I was texting a lot this weekend) and caught up with my journal on the train ride. My sister’s house is only about a 15 minute walk from their train station, which has pros and cons: Libertyville is a quiet, utterly idyllic little town but they get train noise both day and night. The full moon was shining through high clouds, all yellow, as I walked to the house. I’d done my Full Moon ritual early on Wednesday night so I wouldn’t miss it.

SATURDAY

I slept a bit better that night—by that point, it would have been hard not to, I was so wiped, and my moderating duties were done with, so I could relax about that. I didn’t have to get up quite so early; my sister dropped me off at the train station as she headed out for Saturday errands, and I was at the Hyatt by 11:00 a.m. I cruised around until noon when my next panel started: “What is Magical Realism?” I’d done some prep work and reading for this one, too.

“What is Magical Realism?” went very well and is my second-favorite of my Chicon 7 panels. It was especially interesting because one of the panelists was not from North America: author Thomas Olde Heuvelt from The Netherlands. We also had authors Jeremy Lassen, Mr. Magic Realism/Bruce Taylor, and the moderator was author/cartoonist Roberta Gregory, with whom I’m friends on Facebook but who I had never met. We all had a lot of knowledge about various facets and particulars of magical realism and it was an excellent discussion. At the end of it, an audience member came up to the table and said to me and Jeremy that this had been the best panel she’d attended at the con so far. That’s always neat to hear! :-)

There were three separate panels about Magical Realism during the con; I didn’t see the other two but I saw a tweet about one that leaves me very curious as to what was being said to offend this audience member so much. I’m glad it wasn’t our panel! This topic certainly has potential land mines, though, since it’s identified so strongly with fiction from non-Anglophone cultures such as South America.

Saturday was the day my Invisibility Cloak slipped a little, and people actually started to recognize me and say hello. The first time, I was rather startled, I’d gotten so used to being overlooked, and I didn’t realize this individual, from Massachusetts, was at the con. After “What is Magical Realism?” I went to the Green Room for some fruit and veggies, and chatted a while with several people there.

At 3:00 p.m. I decided to try out a panel which was listed in a very understated way: “The Secret History of Science Fiction.” I hadn’t gotten over to the Crystal rooms in the west tower except by accident when I got lost, or I would have noticed that the event was scheduled in one of the largest function rooms after the main ballroom. The Pocket Program simply said, “Funny science fiction stories that never made it into the history books or encyclopedias.” The panelists were Guest of Honor Mike Resnick, Rob Silverberg, Joe Haldeman, George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. A venerable line-up to be sure, but how many people would be interested in hearing a bunch of old-timers swap in-jokes from four decades ago?

A LOT. The room was jam-packed and standing room only, and I stood at the back for it all, feeling a bit silly for not anticipating that it would be that popular. It might have been even more popular except that I’m sure some con-goers couldn’t find the room; Gardner Dozois came in late because even he got lost! It was funny; the stories were mostly anecdotes from past Hugo awards and/or past Worldcons, but entertaining if you’d been around fandom a while. I fussed with my camera a bit until I figured out how to suppress the flash and took some pictures of the panel, of which one actually came out well.

After that panel let out, I went down to take a slower and more careful look at the Dealers Room, Exhibits and freebie racks. I collected flyers for every upcoming convention that I might send promo materials to or even, *gasp*, attend (I may give Boskone and/or Arisia another chance—Pi-Con is taking a hiatus and won’t be held in 2013). I spoke to most of the small press people who had tables about possible freelance work, leaving my card and taking theirs, if they had one. I also picked up cards or flyers for small publishers at the freebie racks but there weren’t too many of them. The only thing I bought, however, was a $20 pre-bid-support for Spokane in 2015. They were holding their room party Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. When I finished with all that, I sat in the hallway on Gold level catching up on Pig, and someone walking by said, “Man, I wish I could type that fast!” He should see me when I’m not typing on a netbook balanced precariously on one knee. :-)

At 6:00 p.m. I’d thought about going to a panel on fiction series, because it was a duplicate of one I’d suggested. But I realized that another panel, “Conquering Writer,” was a typo and should be, “Conquering Writer’s Block.” Given how long it took me to sort out and finish The Longer the Fall, I decided to see what those panelists had to say. I confess that I spent some of the panel checking Facebook and Twitter while I listened, but it was an interesting discussion, with authors Eldon Thompson (moderating), Russell Davis, Monica Valentinelli, Tom King, and old-timer Gene Wolfe.

At 7:30 p.m. I went to “Do We Need Paper Books?” This was the most disappointing panel of the entire convention, additionally so because it was the only time I saw Ian Randal Strock, who I was on a panel with at the 2010 Albacon. It was hardly “moderated” at all and just rambled on and on, was heavily monopolized by one panelist, seemed to take forever and was basically a tedious mess. It’s too bad, because the topic itself is certainly a timely one and has gotten plenty of air time in online forums.

I didn’t attend the Masquerade (huge crowded rooms don’t appeal to me, to put it mildly, and I’d inadvertently maxed out my huge-crowded-room tolerance at the “Secret History of Science Fiction” panel). I saw a lot of the costumes going by me in the hallway on Gold while I sat there, and many of them were extremely impressive. I saw the Best of Show winner, “Lady of the Lake” (Aurora Celeste), up close several times as she made her way to the Masquerade venues and I’m not at all surprised that she won. That was one amazing costume.

Instead, I checked out the Con Suite, where they were serving sushi (seriously!). I don’t eat sushi but I had some carrot salad. I also checked out the Green Room, where they had a “black bean salad” with tomatoes and black beans that was very tasty. I really wanted to get up to some of the parties tonight, and once again the elevators were jam-packed with long lines, and being wrangled by the hotel staff.

Now, I am a very fit person, and I also was missing my usual daily workout routine (not counting the 30-minute mile-and-half walk from Union Station each morning). So, I had been using stairs at every possible opportunity (which, given the layout of the function rooms, was a lot). Most of the escalators, except the very longest ones, had steps between the up and down escalator; I used them, both up and down. I took the stairs up to the rooms on Silver level in the west tower, and I took the stairs at Union Station. The parties were on floors 23 through 34. But I dislike elevators and hate lines, and especially after going to the feedback session on Friday, I was aware that the con had many, many people, in scooters or wheelchairs and otherwise, who move with far less thoughtless ease than the Universe has blessed me with being able to do.

So, to get to the parties on Saturday night, I took the stairs: from 2 all the way up to 33. Woof. I’d done this before, mind you. On Saturday night at Anticipation in Montréal (in 2009), where the elevator situation was even worse, I wanted to post signs for our party. I walked up the stairs from the lobby to 11 (our room—I did this every time unless I was hauling luggage), from 11 up to 28 (party floor), down to 5 (con suite) and back up to 11, all in one go. By the time I got back to our room, my leg muscles were basically saying, “sit down or we’ll make you.” I sat (heh). But I made it!

So, up the stairs to 33 I went (huff, puff, pause, next flight!), and visited some parties. I ran into a Readercon person at the Spokane in 2015 party and had a long chat. The party organizers called author C.J. Cherryh, who lives in Spokane, on a cell phone, because it was her birthday, and the whole party sang “Happy Birthday to You” to her over the phone! She was surprised. :-) I checked out a couple of other parties briefly, as well. I was avoiding Barfleet at all costs, however, and I wasn’t the only one.

I caught a cab at midnight and the last train to Libertyville at 12:25 a.m. This time the bellhop stood still for a tip! The last Metra train on weekends is really a trip. My car had a lot of teens, a few of whom were so obviously stoned or high out of their minds that they could barely walk straight. One young man, wearing sunglasses, got out of his seat and went staggering down the aisle and off to another car, ignoring his friends who were saying, “where are you going?” I don’t think he ever came back! I never saw anything of the Jazz Festival, but there were a lot of families with younger kids going into the city in the mornings. I don’t know what the teens were going to, but they were sure having a good time. A big crowd of them got off with me in Libertyville, too, so these were affluent middle-class kids (indeed, a lot of them were my niece’s and nephew’s classmates).

I had another pretty, peaceful walk under a hazy moon to my sister’s house, where everyone was in bed and I crashed immediately.

SUNDAY

I decided I wanted to get to the convention at about the same time this morning, even though my last panel for the con and only panel for the day wasn’t until 4:30 p.m. Everyone at my sister’s house was sleeping in late, and I didn’t want to disturb them, so I quietly got ready to leave and walked over to the train station. My sister called me after the train was on its way, because she couldn’t figure out where I’d gone! Not only was I a phantom at Chicon 7, I was a virtual phantom at my sister’s: she was putting me up, feeding me, and even bought my Metra pass for me, and I didn’t even see her for 48 hours straight.

It was overcast, and I’d brought a rain poncho which I actually used. Just as I got to the corner of Adams and Michigan, there was a cloudburst, and suddenly I was squeezed into a door overhang with about a dozen other pedestrians, as though we were all wicked witches in Oz and would melt if we got wet. I pulled out the rain poncho, put it on and went on my way. I wouldn’t have wanted to be damp in the frigidly air-conditioned hotel, but my real concern was that Pig, in my knapsack, not get soaked.

After that brief delay, I got to the hotel around 11:00 a.m. I went to the end of “Historical Reality in Fantasy” which was interesting and seemed well-moderated. But I can’t fairly evaluate it since I’d missed half of the discussion.

At noon, I went to “There Will Be Blood: But How Much is Too Much?” moderated by Warren Hammond with panelists Paul Dale Anderson, Betsy Dornbusch, Richard Lee Byers and Tim Waggoner, all authors who write horror or gritty thrillers. While the discussion was interesting, I actually found it a little disturbing. The writers all seemed comfortable with the position that no topic was, or should be, taboo, including rape in any context or violence against any class of victim. I guess I’m just a hopeless wuss, but there was no panelist who seemed to feel some lines should be uncrossable, although several mentioned things they personally wouldn’t write about.

Coincidence or otherwise, it was at this panel that I first noticed that Pig’s power cord was not working properly: with everything firmly plugged in where it belonged, the cord wasn’t delivering power to the battery unless I twisted or turned it just so. This distracted me during the 1:30 p.m. panel, where I found a seat by a wall outlet and spent the panel fussing with Pig’s power cord and feeling annoyed that it was acting up when I wouldn’t be getting home for several more days and wanted Pig functional.

This was too bad, because the panel, “Victorian and Edwardian Science Fiction,” was very good and the only one in which I took notes. Programming underestimated its appeal; it was scheduled in one of the smaller rooms up on Silver, where a number of “academic” panels were located, and the room was jammed full with standing people all along the back. The moderator was David Malki, with panelists Matthew Bennardo and Randy Smith. Many interesting titles were recommended by both panelists and audience.

After that, I got some food in the Green Room and did another circuit of the Dealers Room and Exhibits, chatting a while with a writer, Eva Caye, who was offering passers-by gourmet Italian mints and talking up her series of books. At 4:30 p.m., I went up to my last panel for the convention, “Incorporating the Personal into Speculative Fiction.”

My. That one certainly got…intense. I’ve been doing programming at conventions, including Worldcon, since 2008 and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten another panelist quite so…agitated. I was simply responding to moderator Cat Rambo’s question! But, hey. I stayed perfectly professional and I’m not responsible for anyone’s behavior but my own. I thought the panel went quite well in terms of everyone making substantive remarks, and it certainly had entertainment value. One of the panelists—not the agitated one—tweeted afterwards that he usually hates being on panels, but he thought this one went well. That’s the only thing I’ve heard about it from anyone else (since I refuse to read agitated panelist’s blog. I got it, thanks).

I did not attend the Hugo awards; see above about huge crowded rooms, as well as the fact that I seriously dislike awards ceremonies. I won’t even watch the Oscars. I hung out in the Green Room talking with people, or just roamed about. I wanted to check out some parties, and after four days of walking through the Loop and going up and down stairs in the hotel, I decided to beat the post-Hugo rush on the elevators and go up to the 34th floor shortly after 9:00 p.m. when some of the parties started. I visited the Loncon 2014 celebration party, which had an amazing cake: a white sheet cake with the con logo in blue and the London skyline in black, hand-painted on the cake. I’d have taken a picture, but the light was very dim and the cake’s cover would have reflected a flash. I also cruised the ConVergence, Spokane in 2015 and Kansas City in 2016 parties before I had to walk down 27 flights of stairs to catch a cab to Union Station for the last train to Libertyville.

That was my farewell to Chicon 7; I didn’t come back on Monday, since my sister was off from work, I was flying home on Tuesday and we were spending some time together. The Metra train tonight was full of teens with skimpy costumes, body paint, glitter—and occasionally no shoes, which isn’t allowed on the trains. The conductors were not happy campers, but we got underway eventually, with stern announcements over the intercom that we were to keep our shoes on at all times.

Yep, Chicago is one funky town! :-)

My sister and I had fun the next two days, but that belongs in another post. I did want to mention my flight home on Tuesday, however, because this was the second time, in a row, that my journey home from a convention has been complicated by a hurricane—one with a name starting with “I.” In August 2011, Hurricane Irene went straight over 6Pi-Con in Enfield, Connecticut. I drove home on the heels of the storm, just barely ahead of the flooding that closed roads and washed out towns the whole way, and stranded some of my fellow con-goers in the hotel for an extra day or more. My flight home from Chicon 7 was delayed by “the remnants of Isaac,” and we went through quite a bit of turbulence. It wasn’t too bad, but I was working on Pig and I had to give up typing and resort to reading, it was just too bumpy. The takeoff was still great, and Boston was so pretty as we approached Logan. I was sure glad to get home. Dad met me at Logan, and we got to my house at midnight. I spent two and half hours cleaning up after the animals and getting things back to normal before I dropped into bed. I’m still not quite back to my regular routines!

I think I’ve been fighting off con crud since I got back, as I’ve been exhausted, sore-eyed, somewhat down, and have felt like there was an anvil on my head. That’s as close to being “sick” as I ever get, but it hasn’t helped me get re-oriented. The unseasonal humidity hasn’t helped, either, but it looks like we’re finally getting a respite from that; it was very humid in Chicago.

Chicon 7 may be looking at some long-term negative blowback for the accessibility issues and their somewhat cavalier attitude to complaints—and also for the presence of Rene Walling, the man who is now banned from Readercon for life for sexual harassment, after causing more heads to roll on the Readercon Board than a whole season of Game of Thrones. I wondered if he would be there, given his position in fandom (he co-chaired Anticipation in 2009), but I didn’t personally see him. I guess we’ll see…

 

Posted in conventions | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

This is becoming a habit…

I wrote the first part of this last night at Dad’s Townsend Military Band concert on Townsend Common–and I’m very grateful about that because last week, the concert was rained out. :-( But picking up where I left off…

I did it again–found something that Dad had lost! And on Father’s Day, no less.

I’d given Dad his gift and custom-made card after the band concert on Thursday, June 16 because I didn’t expect to see Dad until my birthday on Monday. But the next day, Dad called me about a different topic, and he complained that he’d misplaced his glasses and couldn’t find them anywhere. He really needs them to do any reading or close work, including work on the computer. He’s been doing a lot on the computer because he’s been working a lot on his genealogy database. We talked about where the glasses might be, and he said he’d dug up an old pair of Mom’s reading glasses and they were better than nothing.

On Saturday we talked again, and the glasses were still missing. Dad by now was saying that he’d just put them down somewhere without thinking, couldn’t reconstruct where or how, and “they’ll just have to turn up sometime.” But I was pretty concerned, imagining Dad trying to manage without his glasses. He’d misplaced them somewhere between checking his email and getting dressed on Friday morning.

I had this very strong feeling that they were on the floor somewhere, and I had a visual image of them caught in a tangle of extension cords or wires behind a desk or chair–where they’d be hard to feel and difficult to see. In any event, on Sunday I called Dad to wish him a happy Father’s Day, and he still hadn’t found the glasses. So I said, “okay, I’m coming up to see if we can find them.” Dad fussed a bit that I didn’t need to do that, but he fussed because he just wanted to putter away on his projects, and how could he do that without his glasses? Dad also had Office 2010 that he’d bought back in April and it still wasn’t installed on his computers.

So I drove up to the lake. It was a very nice day and I was actually glad to get out of the house. Of course, you can never plan! When I got up there, Dad said that his desktop computer was being wanky, and I spent some time fussing with that. I couldn’t find anything definitively wrong, but it did seem to be very sluggish, so I left it running a full system scan in Safe Mode just in case.

Finally, Dad and I started hunting around methodically for the glasses. We checked around chairs and the computer desk and whatnot, but I finally spotted them. They’d fallen down between the bed and nightstand, and were on top of a tangle of extension cord from the bedside lamp. They’re brown and were camouflaged very effectively–but they were in exactly the situation I’d imagined they were. I’d thought they might be under the computer table because there are so many more cables and cords under there, but my “vision” was absolutely right.

Dad was gobsmacked, saying that he’d “felt around down there” and not felt the glasses. But that’s the trouble when things are mixed up with wires–you can feel around and only feel the wires, because everything is loose and moves as you feel it. But he was very pleased, and I got some great ego-boosting from it, so we’d have to say that Dad had a pretty good Father’s Day. He liked his card and gift, too. His computer finished its scan without detecting anything suspicious and it’s running fine now, so maybe it was just bogged down with software updates. It’s an older machine. I installed Office 2010 on Dad’s new laptop.

The next day, June 20, Dad came down to my house for my birthday. We went down to the Groton Nursery where Dad bought me something I have wanted (and repeatedly asked for at birthdays and Christmas) for years and years–so many years that several of the stores where I used to pine over them have actually gone out of business. I finally have one of those big, deep-toned, and expensive tube windchimes. I love those!! I also bought a pot of peppermint (because I did the supposedly impossible and killed the peppermint I bought last year) and took a free banana pepper plant because the nursery was giving them away. I don’t have the best luck with peppers, but we’ll see how this one does.

After we got back from Groton Nursery, we had dinner at a restaurant that recently opened in Pepperell. Up to now, Pepperell’s eateries have been confined to pizza, Chinese, ice cream stands and coffee-shop sorts of places. This place, Dolce, advertises itself as serving “Tuscan” food. The location is a remodelled former bank on Main Street, and it’s small, with booths, but the food is…just amazing. Really, really good. I had spinach ravioli stuffed with ricotta, with parmesan cream sauce and wilted baby spinach. It came with a house salad that was lightyears beyond the average side salad you get in even a nice place. Dad had a sort of seafood bisque that he thought was one of the best soups he’d ever had. So we had a really super dinner.

The Solstice was Tuesday the 21st at 1:05 p.m. local time, so I did Tarot reading Monday night and then ritual on Tuesday, which concluded my formal observance. My Tarot reading was rather mixed (which is typical), but it’s only for the current octave (6 weeks) so I can’t put too much stress on it.

I’m glad the Solstice is past. The several weeks leading up to it, I felt more and more tense and unsettled. I couldn’t sleep at all, it was like I was pumping adrenaline all the time. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t get work done, I couldn’t stop eating, I just felt completely out of sorts. Since the Solstice has turned, I’ve been feeling a lot better–energized, focused and motivated. I’ve just finished editing a manuscript which is about to go off to the author, a process that took me a full seven days to complete. It’s weird, because I was born at the Solstice, but I don’t like this time of year at all.

The weather on Tuesday the 21st was stunningly beautiful: you couldn’t have asked for a more perfect, quintessentially summer day. So I was a little surprised to awaken Wednesday to dripping eaves and rain. From then on, it rained…and rained…and rained. Before it stopped, Pepperell had logged an “official” 2.6 inches of rainfall–and we got a bit more. It rained on Thursday, and the band concert was cancelled. It rained on Friday…it thought about clearing up Saturday…and finally, on Sunday, the sun came out. Well, briefly.

This was highly conducive to the editing task, but man, did I get sick of the rain. I’d been writing in my journal since my sister went home that I needed to mow the grass–and with an electric mower, it has to dry out a bit before I feel comfortable getting out there with the equipment. Some of my neighbors (or their lawn services) are out there on their rider-tractor monsters as long as it’s not actually precipitating, but I don’t like to run my heavy electric cords through wet grass. The big catch, of course, is that the grass has just been loving all that rain. Plus, I hate it when Dad’s band concerts are cancelled, because he devotes so much work and energy to them.

It’s been slowly drying out this week (we got more rain late Tuesday night), but aside from the wet, I really wanted to get that manuscript edited, so if I wasn’t doing obligatory chores like workouts and animal care, I had my nose to the computer screen. Yesterday I finally got out there and mowed the grass–in the nick of time, too, for a few of the thickest spots. The grass is really lush and green. So is some, if not all, of the garden–the potatoes are about 10 inches tall already. Some things, like the tomatoes, need more sun than they’ve been getting, but they’re growing. Weeding the garden is the next serious outdoor chore. I seem to have lost about half the row of carrots–the rain might have drowned them. The pumpkins and zucchini are doing well so far, and more of the gladiolas have appeared, to my surprise. The day lilies are just about to start blooming in back.

But one flourishing “crop” that I’m definitely unhappy about is the poison ivy, which is lush, fertile, and appearing in more and more places where I’m extremely displeased to see it. Even worse, I have some poison ivy rash again–and I don’t have the foggiest clue how I got it!!! I first noticed it last week and thought it was dermatitis from my malachite necklace, which I’d worn on Solstice. Then it spread into a whole streak over one shoulder, as though it rubbed off some kind of strap, and the insides of my elbows and forearms. I hadn’t done any work in my yards since June 4! I’m completely baffled as to where I contacted poison ivy in that pattern–unless it’s not really poison ivy, but then, I don’t know what else it could be. But gods, I’m sick of having ugly rashes and hives and feeling itchy for six months out of the year! :-( If there was a vaccine for poison ivy allergy, I’d be first in line, even if it cost hundreds of dollars and I had to pay out of pocket. It would be worth every penny!

I’m slowly maneuvering through the process of signing up to supply ebooks directly to Kobo and, via Ingram, Apple. I hand-edited all the .epub editions of BLUM’s titles to pass epubcheck ver. 1.2, only to have Ingram tell me that Apple’s books must be epub ver. 1.0.5, “the very latest version of epub.” Uh, no, it is not either “the very latest version!” But, grumbling, I downloaded ver. 1.0.5 of epubcheck and made sure all the files passed it, because I’ve heard that Apple is extremely persnickety about the .epub files meeting strict protocol (its own, that is). Barnes & Noble and Google don’t seem to be nearly so fussed. But speaking of Google, I’ve also been running around in circles trying to get a problem resolved with Google ebooks, and I have to say, Google is nowhere near being ready for prime-time in the book world. I don’t know what they think they’re doing, but working with them is the most frustrating experience I’ve had with a vendor, and that’s saying a lot. I completed the four-part webinar series on “metadata” with BISG (I paid a registration fee, it wasn’t a freebie, so it had solid content) and I hope to be putting all BLUM’s metadata into ONIX format for distributors soon. It seems like pretty straight-forward XML code. Twice I asked questions which the presenters said were really good ones. :-)

I hope everyone has a pleasant holiday weekend! I have no particular plans, may walk down for the fireworks tomorrow night.

Posted in general life updates | Comments Off

Me and the fairies, what a team!

Here’s the second part of the updates since May 28!

Dad’s Townsend Military Band season kicks off with Memorial Day, so I observe Memorial Day rather thoroughly. This year, I got up early and went to the traditional joint service held by the Ashby First Parish UU and the Congregational church next door in Ashby on Sunday morning, May 29. Then I went up to Townsend for the entire afternoon. Townsend takes Memorial Day very seriously. They hold three different parades and multiple ceremonies, and conclude with a band concert on the Common, usually on Sunday.

Dad doesn’t march with the band, but I arrived in Townsend for the start of the last parade. The concert doesn’t have a definite start time, it’s simply, “15 minutes after the parade,” and the parade ends with a bunch of ceremonies. I wanted to get to Townsend before the parade because the roads usually are blocked off. When I arrived, I was too tired to sit and read, so I decided to walk up to the parade’s start point and then follow it along its route. (I know that may not make sense, but I was so tired, it was easier to keep moving!)

So I “stalked” the parade. :-) I saw the Minutemen fire their fusillade, then we all marched to the bridge where a local minister did a really nice speech and some wreaths and flowers were tossed into the water, then we marched to Memorial Hall and did stuff, and all the way down to the cemetery and did stuff, and finally back to the Common. I heard rifle fusillades and taps played at least four times, and at the Common people read the Gettysburg address and “In Flanders Fields” (horribly badly. I’m sorry, but, gods…). One of our local state legislators showed up and insisted on giving a speech, and I finally tossed it in at that point and went back to the bandstand to find Dad. Then I stayed for the concert. It was hot and sunny but certainly gorgeous weather for all these events.

Pepperell’s Memorial Day parade and commemoration were Monday morning and I slept through it all, heh. But hey, my flag was out, and I had thought many deep and sober thoughts about our servicemen and servicewomen and veterans.

I got my garden entirely planted on Saturday June 4, under the waxing Moon in Cancer. I planted sugar pumpkins, zucchini, sunflowers, and a New England Boiled Dinner–potatoes, carrots and onions. :-) I put in the tomatoes, basil and pepper seedlings that I started, and planted some gladiola bulbs I saved from last year in a rather rough patch in the newly de-ivied flower beds in the back yard. I gave up on the Brussels sprouts seedlings, they were just too poor to put in. I have the worst time growing crucifers–cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts–and I love to eat them, so it’s frustrating. The dill seeds I got as freebies from the Triscuit box didn’t make it, either.

I’d saved some tomato plants for Dad, who likes to put them in up at the lake. I’ll get to that later, but the garden status so far is: everything is coming up in the front garden, and I haven’t lost one single transplant there, not even the teeny tiny ones that I stuck in the ground because what the heck, they survived hardening off (and I’d already lost some of the pepper seedlings: while I was off at all the Memorial Day events, something ate them! :-( ). The spinach in back never happened, too much rain and not enough sun, and I should have weeded it more. The peas have a couple of blossoms, and I need to tie them up to the netting and see if that helps, but they’re not doing much either. I dug an extra patch in the sunniest spot in back for four extra tomato plants I wasn’t counting on–and something ate them all, right down to the ground. My chief suspect is the groundhog and I’m very annoyed. They were some of the best ones because they were the ones I’d saved for Dad. Still, if all the tomato plants in front do well, I’ll be buried in tomatoes. I wasn’t sure any of the glads were viable, but it looks like at least a couple of them are coming up. The blackberries and black raspberries blossomed so we’ll see what happens there, and I have tons of wild strawberries to keep an eye on.

My sister was out here visiting from June 4 through June 12, with my nephew and a friend of his. I spent three days up at the lake doing stuff, and other time doing shopping, cooking and prep work because my sister’s birthday is June 10. I figured that as long as she was here for her birthday, I’d pull out all the stops. I ordered gifts for her from both me and Dad, wrapped them, and made her a custom birthday card (I make all my own cards). She’d just told me a whole story about the Great Horned Owls in her neighborhood in Illinois, so her card had a Great Horned Owl. :-) I baked an absolutely decadent four-layer chocolate cake: dark chocolate pound cake made with fresh blueberry puree, chocolate ganache between the layers (made with Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate) and chocolate buttercream icing. And we had home-made ice cream, because I have an ice cream maker now: French vanilla with Heath Bar crumbs, chopped pecans and chocolate chips as mix-ins.

For dinner, I planned a lobster boil. My sister loves seafood and it’s not the strongest feature of Chicago cuisine. I bought live lobsters, early corn on the cob, white asparagus (because my sister had just been on a business trip to Germany and was raving about the white asparagus there), a couple of loaves of fancy French bread (my nephew and his friend are bread fiends) and sea scallops for Dad who isn’t a big lobster fan.

I got up to the lake with all this, and Dad started to ask if I could cook the lobsters outside on the grill, because of all the steam and smell it makes in the house. He has a monster gas grill with electric ignition. Now, I’m a cook. I can cook on anything. But a few years back, one of our visiting relatives had tried to cook lobster on the grill and had a lot of problems with it, couldn’t get the pot to come to a boil and so on. I never was sure what the issues were because it was one of those situations where everyone was running around fussing and if you tried to be helpful you just got snapped at. But I went out and looked at the grill, and it’s basically a big open gas range. It seemed doable to me.

So, I started the huge lobster pot and a pot for the corn on the grill, two hours ahead of dinner time to allow plenty of leeway…and it all worked perfectly. The pots came to a full rolling boil, everything cooked beautifully, I was running back and forth between the kitchen and the driveway making Dad’s pan-seared sea scallops (which he really liked) and the steamed asparagus, and then doing the lobster boil and corn. I agreed with my sister that we’d “aim for” 7:00 p.m. for dinner. The food was on the table at 7:00 on the dot.

Proud of myself? Well…yeah! :-) My sister did indeed have a very nice birthday. On my visits up there, we also did a lot of walking and cruising around in the paddleboat chatting–no one else will do those things with my sister now!–and I got in several long, lovely swims in the lake, the first swims of the summer. We had some problems with the power boat which I won’t go into, but we now definitely know what’s causing them: ethanol gasoline. Long story (but feel free to ask me about it). So the boys didn’t get to waterski, but my nephew’s friend is quite an accomplished angler and they had a lot of fun fishing. They caught things I didn’t even know lived in that lake! And threw it all back, because no one was going to clean the fish (only I am good at it, but my sister said the boys would have to kill ‘em, and that was a deal-breaker, heh. I can prepare food starting when it’s still breathing; I don’t like to, though. :-( Except lobsters.). I played a couple of games of Settlers of Catan and one of Scrabble, all of which I lost.

My nephew was going to sit in with the Townsend band on Thursday, June 9, supposedly the first regular concert of the season. But of course, the concert was rained out. “Isolated thunderstorms” turned into one of the biggest, nastiest squall lines I’ve seen in a long time–usually they deteriorate as they move east. No tornadoes in this one (and we were spared the extremes of the June 1 storms here in the Merrimack/Monadnock regions). But the storms came through at precisely the worst time of day, late afternoon, and they were whoppers, and the concert was cancelled.

The storms came in with a roaring blast of very strong wind–that was unusual, too, and a bit scary–and I could hear wood cracking and breaking but couldn’t see where the sound was coming from. It turned out to be half of a huge tree that came down in my neighbors’ front yard–and very tidily, too. It could easily have taken out their screen porch, roof or all the electric wires in the street if it had gone in a different direction, but it laid itself down right across their front yard. They’ve just had a tree service here cutting down the rest of the tree and another tree in their yard.

But my biggest coup during my sister’s visit was finding Dad’s lost wedding ring, and here I will, again, publicly thank the fairies for their kind assistance!

Just about one year ago, Dad lost his wedding ring while he was planting the long raised beds he and Mom put in for vegetables. I guess he talked about it to my sister more than to me. But he hunted and hunted for the ring, searched through the dirt with his hands–he said, he doesn’t really like getting into the dirt like I do, heh–and actually rented a metal detector to try and find the ring that way. The metal detector either wasn’t calibrated correctly or the soil by the lake is very metallic (I know the water is very hard, I’m not sure what’s in the soil). By the time I heard much about this, it was autumn, and I offered several times to come up and help Dad look for the ring but he said it was too cold. Then we had the winter from hell, and a long cold rainy spring, and there hadn’t been an opportunity to offer again.

When my sister comes out here, she likes to help Dad do work outside, and had all these plans to plant the vegetable beds, flower beds and planting boxes down by the water. But this issue immediately came up: Dad wanted to look for his ring before we actually planted anything. He was talking about “making some kind of sifter.” As it happens, I have a piece of 1/4″ wire mesh screen that I use for exactly that purpose, along with other gardening tasks. But I just had this…feeling…that I could find this darned ring if I had a chance to really try. I’d felt that all along.

When I got to the lake that first day, Dad and my sister had gone to a local nursery and bought all these plants and seeds, and to my great annoyance, bought tomato plants, when I had told my sister that I had extra tomato plants for Dad. Maybe that gave my assertiveness a little edge. But I said flat out, “I can find the ring, let me go at it,” and my sister, along with a friend of hers who was there for the weekend, tiptoed off without a word of argument and left me entirely alone to start digging in the first of several possible locations. Maybe I was more annoyed about Dad’s tomatoes than I thought…or it might have been the way I was holding Dad’s big 20-pound mattock. *wry grin*

In any event, I carefully cleared and dug two of the raised beds, and rubbed every inch of the soil between my hands, but found no ring. I raked and cleared and searched the ground around them, too. But Dad had also said that he might have lost them in one of the small planting boxes down by the water. He’d looked in them, but he said maybe he needed to “dump them out on newspaper” and go through the soil that way. The two raised beds were certainly ready to plant, at least, and that was no small amount of work. I decided to go down and clean and dig out all the planters.

Now see, while I was doing this, I had this funny little thought in my mind. I was addressing the fairies–half jokingly and half seriously, which is exactly how you talk to the fairies. “Hey, give Dad’s ring back, or help me find it, ‘kay? Because that would really be a nice thing to do,” and that sort of thing. I went down to the deck, got a bucket, and dug most of the soil out of a large square planter–nope. There were two long narrow windowbox-like planters lying on their sides, where they’d been left for the winter. I turned one of those upright, cleared off the surface and dug through all the soil with my hands. Nope. I then turned up the second one.

And there was the ring. Just sitting right there, on top of the soil, in plain sight, not even any dirt on it.

When I caught my breath again, I went bouncing up to the house in a cloud of victory. Dad was totally overwhelmed; my sister and her friend were gobsmacked. I told Dad flat out that it was the fairies, and he, a confirmed skeptic, was saying things like, “It’s magic,” and “well, you’ve made a believer out of me.” I went back down to the deck and thanked the fairies copiously and out loud, and finished clearing and digging all the planters because my sister was going to be planting stuff in all of them. In fact, I brought a whole tray of marigolds up on my next visit because they were perfect for those windowbox planters (and that was a gift for the fairies, too).

Oh, and I also got my sister’s new Blackberry working: she hadn’t been able to turn it on for a couple of days, she said. But I can’t really brag about that because all I did was take the battery out and reseat it, and bing! Back from the dead! Never panic before you try reseating the battery. :-)

Along with all this during the last couple of weeks, I’m taking a 4-part webinar on metadata through the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). I’ve figured out how to manually add code to epub files and all of BLUM’s epub books now pass epubcheck, so we’ll be directly supplying Kobo and Apple. To get epubcheck to run I had to find where java is installed on my computer, and now that I’ve found it, I can go back to learning javascript for real instead of swiping other people’s applets and parsing them out on the sly. I did Full Moon ritual this past Wednesday and I’ll be observing the Solstice Monday night and Tuesday. The band concert was not cancelled this week and I attended, although it’s already looking dicey for next Thursday (poop).

And Monday, June 20, is my 55th birthday. Yes, Edward Cullen has the same birthday as me. I can forgive Stephenie Meyer for the sparkles but I am never going to forgive her for stealing my birthday. *grump* Edward is 110 this year, and I am 55. Too bad we can’t celebrate together! My birthdays tend to be…well, kind of disappointing. Birthday wishes and even prezzies will be very welcome! :-) Looks like Dad and I will be getting together and trying out a new restaurant here in Pepperell.

Posted in gardening, general life updates | Tagged , | Comments Off

Thoughts about sexual assault laws inspired by a blog post…

Shadesong complains in today’s LJ post about Scott Adams’ (Dilbert) most recent inflammatory analogies about gender and rape. Shadesong writes,

“And once again, when people say that men are wired to rape people, not only is that gender essentialist bullshit, but it does a tremendous disservice to men, implying that they are no more than witless slavering beasts. Once again, most men are not rapists. Men are in charge of our society – if men really were wired to rape people, we would not have laws against it.” (emphasis Shadesong’s)

The problem with this argument is its assumption about why “laws” are made in the first place. Of course, laws are made by those in power, primarily to protect the interests of the powerful. This is axiomatic. But many, many laws–most of them, in fact–are made to address behaviors that people would do naturally unless they were prevented. Humans are hard-wired for aggression and violence, and if that wasn’t true, we wouldn’t need laws and enforcement as incentive for people to keep their natural impulses in check (or else). The existence of laws is evidence for bad behavior being “natural.” It’s also evidence that those in power disapprove of the behavior–but it in no way implies the reasons for that.

As for rape laws in particular–it’s only very, very recently that laws against rape and sexual assault had anything to do with the victims. Just read the old legal codes, starting with the Bible. Historically, rape has been a crime against property–another male’s property. That’s why laws were codified against rape, when there were any laws against it at all. The effect of rape on the victims didn’t come into it. The idea of rape as a violation of person didn’t come into it. Women have been, for most of history, male chattel, and other men trespassed on those property rights at their peril.

By the time we got into the 19th century in the Western world, rape started to be seen as a crime against the victim, as well–but chiefly an economic one. A “ruined” woman couldn’t marry, or marry well, so her life prospects were sharply curtailed, and rape laws started to address that. Laws, and social attitudes, that recognized sexual assault as a trauma in its own right, and saw rape as a crime against the victim’s person, are only decades old.

But aside from all this, I’m puzzled as to why people are taking Scott Adams so seriously. He’s a sulphuric-acid-cynical satirist and cartoonist. I just assume he’s deliberately messing with our heads so he can get people all ruffled and privately laugh at them, and I don’t take the bait. I wouldn’t believe a single word he says!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Comments Off

Computers and Skype and cell phones, oh my!

It has been a very busy and eventful and rather disorienting two and half weeks since my last post. I’m updating in chapters. Technology issues have been taking up a lot of my attention for the last few days–way too much of my attention, so I’ll get all that dispensed with first.

I have a netbook (mini-laptop), which I am very attached to. It’s an Acer AOA150 Aspire One, which I named Pigwidgeon after Ron’s little owl in the Harry Potter books, and hence I refer to my netbook as Pig. He’s actually a decent little machine with lots of good features and a very good sound card. He blew his motherboard while he was still under warranty and got an all-expenses-paid trip to Texas for a new one; this did not affect his hard drive, so his original system was intact. He’s been fine since then, but I’d been noticing a few minor little glitches, mostly with McAfee (anti-virus software) and Skype.

I hate, loathe and detest McAfee, which came bundled with Pig, and I’d intended to remove it and install Security Essentials, which I have on my other systems. But I forgot to do so before McAfee auto-renewed the subscription in December, to my great annoyance, and I hated to waste my money. McAfee lets all kinds of crap through, slows the system to a crawl, installs updates and forces reboots at inconvenient times, and is a worthless POS even when it’s working right. It wasn’t working right on Pig because I kept getting odd messages about a scan being interrupted. I also was noticing that when Pig went into standby mode, he didn’t want to come out. And he did seem to be running rather slowly, even though his hard drive was only about half full.

Then there was Skype. I used to run conference calls from Pig without a problem, up until a few months ago when Skype started whining that Pig “wasn’t running fast enough” to make calls. I wish I’d paid closer attention to the timing of the problems, but I only use Skype intermittently. However, my issues seem to have started with Skype’s latest upgrade to ver. 5.3, with all the enhanced videocalling features. Suddenly I was having all kinds of trouble with Skype–if it let me connect at all, the call quality was poor. It was worse if Pig was running on battery, but still dicey when I had him plugged into AC power.

Skype’s error messages said it wasn’t the Internet connection speed–wireless or ethernet cable, the connection was okay. It was the computer’s speed. Pig has a 1.6 GHz processor and 1 GB of RAM, and runs Windows XP Service Pack 3. According to Skype’s website, the minimum system requirements are 1 GHz and 512 MB RAM, even for video calls. So what was the problem? On top of this, Skype auto-starts and runs in the background when you boot up the computer (and hogs more memory than anything else), and often when Pig had been booted up for a while and was sitting by itself, Skype would crash and shut down for no apparent reason. So, something was mucking up Skype even when I wasn’t using it.

This past Sunday, I had so much trouble getting Skype to work on Pig, the Readercon committee conference call started about 20 minutes late. No one gave me a hard time, but I was embarrassed and aggravated. There’s nothing like being embarrassed in front of people whose opinions you care about to give you a solid boot in the rear toward finally addressing a nagging issue.

I’ve been fussing with this problem since Sunday, in consequence–and I’ve had no success whatsoever. I started out going online and looking for tips and tweaks to help improve Pig’s performance. I did the usuals like clean up the hard drive and remove useless programs. I also did some less usual things and I guess I was a bit too zealous because I somehow wound up completely fouling up Windows. Oops. But Pig is entirely a backup machine; there was nothing on him that couldn’t be reinstalled or copied over from the bigger systems (that’s probably why I got reckless). So I just threw my hands up, wiped his hard drive and did a clean re-install of Windows XP from scratch.

When that was all done (the 97 critical updates from Microsoft included), before I even put any data files on Pig, the very first program I re-installed was Skype. It gave me exactly the same error message. The hard drive was empty, I checked all the performance settings, Pig was running as fast and clean as he ever would run–and Skype said he was running too slow.

I emailed Skype Support. They replied very promptly, but their reply was totally useless: links to a couple of Wiki-How pages about ways to improve your computer’s performance, all moot after a total re-install of Windows onto a clean drive, and a somewhat breezy brush-off: “As your issue is not from Skype’s end.” [sic] In other words, “sorry, not our problem.” (Today Skype sent me a feedback form asking me to rate their Support response. I let ‘em have it.) Much searching of the support FAQs on Skype’s website didn’t garner any answers, either.

I took a look at the newer Dell laptop–the one that was my main computer before I bought the big workstation in January, 2010. It’s running great, but I’d maxed out its hard drive. I just replaced its keyboard (for the second time, blasted cats!) and battery this spring. It has a 1.7 GHz processor and 2 GB of RAM, so it doesn’t have that much more under the hood than Pig does. It runs Skype perfectly–no error messages of any kind.

Acer’s website hasn’t been very helpful, either. My final thought was to add some memory to Pig. I did that for the Dell laptop and the improvement in performance was phenomenal. Pig should support 1.5 GB of RAM. But Acer claims that “the user” can’t replace the RAM in this particular model of netbook “because of its design.” (That probably means that the memory chip slot is underneath the motherboard. I don’t have any problems about going in there, but Acer obviously doesn’t want me to, and won’t help. The memory would only cost about $20, too.)

So I’m stymied there. I’ve hunted around in online forums and found numerous suggestions for improving a computer’s speed, some of which don’t work and some of which I’m unwilling to try (one complete re-install of Windows per week is enough, thanks). Even less encouraging, I found other people reporting this same problem–”computer running too slow” from Skype on a computer that in other ways seems very speedy indeed–and no one reports finding a solution.

On the plus side, Pig hasn’t looked this good or run this fast since he came out of the box. Being born again didn’t hurt him a bit! I’ve re-installed just about everything that was on him, he has Security Essentials, I piped all the data files onto him straight from the big computer over the network, and I installed the network printer on him correctly this time. He’s smokin’. But Skype 5.3 hates him. And there doesn’t seem to be a thing I can do about it. I guess the next time I run a meeting with Skype, it will be from the Dell laptop. *sigh* Yeah, yeah, I know…three laptop computers and a workstation and listen to me whine. We get so spoiled by our gadgets!

That was Technology Time-Sink Number One. The other Technology Time-Sink has a happier ending. Last Thursday, I got a call from the camera repair shop. I’d just been thinking about them, wondering if there was any point at all in giving them another call. The shop owner said, once again, that they thought they’d found my DVD. My sister was here visiting last week, and Friday was her birthday; on Saturdays the shop is only open in the mornings. So I told them I’d be in on Monday.

Monday afternoon, as soon as the laundry was done and hanging on the lines, I packed up the camcorder and drove to Arlington, again. Well, guess what? They did find my DVD! I don’t know where the Phantom Technician finally located it. Maybe he turned the couch upside down or moved his workbench away from the wall. The shop owner was hiding, and a female assistant I’d never met got the DVD for me, so I had no chance to ask. But I was very pleased and thanked her copiously. No hard feelings! So I have all that footage from the IPNE conference, and it only took me, let’s see, about one half of the original purchase price of the camcorder in repair costs plus four, count ‘em, four trips to Arlington to get it. That video is now on the big computer’s hard drive!

The third technology event since my last post is that I upgraded my cell phone. I’d been thinking about it for a while. I resisted getting a cell phone for a long time, partly because I hated being locked into monthly plans and contracts. But the shelter started using a Tracfone, so I got familiar and comfortable with that, and during my mom’s final illness, when I needed to be reachable, I got one of those. But I’ve had the same, very rudimentary, little Nokia for more than five years. I was getting envious of all the smartphones that took video and photos and surfed the ‘Net and ran apps and had qwerty keypads and color displays.

But it was more than envy. I could perceive that people, especially younger people, were moving onto their phones and off the Internet. I felt that I needed something a lot more up to date to stay connected at Readercon, where I am Con Chair, and just out in the world in general. It’s almost a professional necessity now. I think what really pushed me past my final hesitation was the Joplin tornado, and reading about all the people in Joplin who were posting updates and getting their news from the ‘Net via their cell phones. They didn’t have electrical service, shelter or food but they were staying in touch with their cell phones. A company even brought powered trucks into the devastated neighborhoods so people could charge up their mobile devices!

So I bought a new Tracfone, an LG. It’s a Blackberry clone, basically. It has color, mobile web, a full qwerty keypad, Bluetooth, color display, takes video and photos, and lots of other cool features. I’m a bit hindered in the learning curve by the fact that my house is a cell phone “dead zone,” so I can only play with my phone when I’m away from home. I’ve made my first call on it, though, to my sister during her visit, and it works great. It feels so funny, though–like making a call with a pocket calculator held to my ear. :-)

It was delivered, by the way, by the world’s most confused Fedex driver, ever. This poor woman absolutely would not believe that she wasn’t sitting in her truck in front of my house. She had my phone number with the order, and she called me on her cell. She was actually in her truck, out in the street, in front of the next door neighbor’s house. With my cordless (landline) phone, which sure has terrific reach, I walked all the way down my driveway, across the street, and up to the Fedex truck, talking to her the whole time, before she saw me and finally accepted that she was not in front of my house! And then, I had to point at my house before she spotted it! Then she was apologizing all over the place (she wasn’t the regular driver for the route) and I ended up patting her shoulder and telling her it was okay, the UPS drivers never can find my house, either. But, sheesh! You know that spell in the Harry Potter books where a location can be made “unplottable?” It’s not fiction! GPS systems, Google maps…they all miss my house! If I ever had a stalker, he’d be off lurking around the wrong address! (And gods help him, because I live in Libertarian Land. Everyone has guns.)(And no, I’m not saying. *wry smile*)

More to come!

Posted in geek stuff, general life updates | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Suddenly, this summer

There sure are a lot of conventions and events over Memorial Day weekend! Balticon, Wiscon, BayCon, MarCon, just for a partial list of cons, EarthSpirit’s Rites of Spring in western Mass…most of the people I know are away at some gathering. I hope everyone is enjoying safe travel and a good time!

The weather has jumped from chilly, dreary and rainy to hot, humid and sunny. It hit 92 degrees yesterday! We hardly got spring at all–for one thing, a week of rain washed out some of the flowers, like the flowering crabs and lilacs, at least around here. I’m hoping the apple crop won’t be adversely affected. On the other hand, the foliage is so lush and green, I feel like I should be swinging on vines to go down for the newspaper. But my yards sure look nice! I finally got out and mowed last Wednesday, and then I got the tiller out and completely tilled the front vegetable patch. I tilled north-south, applied two full carts of compost from the compost pile and tilled east-west. One nice thing about all the rain: the soil was soft and tilled more easily than last year. I kept having to stop and pry stones out of the tiller tines, though. For some reason, the soil around my house is full of little stones, like a fruitcake with fruit. I have no idea if this is natural (glaciers? The river?) or a residuum from past use of the land (I once heard it had been orchards). It doesn’t stop me from getting nice crops of carrots and potatoes, though, when other conditions are favorable.

Speaking of which, I went up to Farmer’s Exchange and got seed potatoes and onion sets. They had baby chicks! So cute!!! Baby chicks define cute, until you really pay attention to their behavior. *wry smile* I’ve started putting the seedlings outside to harden off for the garden, and they’re responding very well. The peas and spinach are struggling because of the heavy rain and lack of sun, but I got trellis netting for the peas and put that up yesterday. The bee balm and rose bush are growing, the poppies and peonies have buds, I’m going to get at least one iris bloom. It’s almost summer. I even got the flag bracket repaired so I could put the flag out for Memorial Day. I felt bad I didn’t get it up for Patriot’s Day but that bracket is a chronic PITA.

I’m focused more on publishing and writing work now, so I may not get to a lot more extra yard work for a while, beyond gardening and keeping the lawns tidy. I spotted a lot of poison ivy this week now that it’s fully leafed out, and it’s no wonder I got such a bad case of it: I may not have been exposed to it where and when I assumed I was. *sigh* The battery acid approach still has a lot of appeal, but my neighbors might have objections.

The ARCs for Anne Fraser’s second collection, All Places That Are Not Heaven, arrived and have been mailed off. This past week, I’ve been working on a massive book blog database and querying bloggers for reviews. There are so many book bloggers, with so many fans and followers, it’s just mind-boggling. Reading, as a recreational activity, is obviously alive and thriving! But the big change I’m seeing is the number of reviewers and bloggers who not only accept ebooks, but often say they prefer them over paper books. Just one year ago, that was uncommon. Most bloggers said they wouldn’t take ebooks at all, or grudgingly would, but preferred not to. Now, book bloggers who won’t take any kind of ebook are emphatically in the minority–a small and shrinking one. It makes sending review books to other countries–which I have done with paper books–a lot easier and more economical, too.

I was disappointed this week when I received notification that I did not, for the fourth year in a row, win the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Older Writers Grant. I wasn’t going to enter this year, but changed my mind at the last minute. Now I don’t know why I bothered. I guess I had this irrational feeling that just maybe, after four years, I might have a chance, but obviously not. I got all suspenseful waiting for the email, though, and then when it arrived on Wednesday, I descended into utter gloom for the rest of the evening. I’d already been rebuffed by the Mass. Center for the Book last month, so I’m running 0 for 2 this year, just like last year when I failed to get one of some fifteen small writing grants awarded by the Mass. Cultural Council and then was rejected for the Older Writers Grant. *sigh*

Then there’s the continuing saga of the broken camcorder, which I posted about below. I’ve been so unhappy about this, it’s only now that I’m up to writing about it, which probably tells you something right there.

The day after my post on April 26, I received a call from the camera repair shop saying that my camcorder was ready. That meant I was committed to pay their bill, so my rebellious thoughts of telling the repair shop to keep the damn thing while I just bought a new one had to be abandoned. Since it had been two and a half months, I drove right down to the shop in Arlington on Thursday, April 28, to pick up the benighted camcorder.

When the owner brought out the camcorder, I immediately opened it up to check on the DVD. This was the DVD that had been stuck in the camcorder, that I couldn’t remove from the camcorder because I couldn’t open the DVD cover. This was the DVD with all the IPNE conference video on it, which I could play back, and “finalize” and un-finalize, but couldn’t get off the camcorder without physically removing the DVD (believe me, I tried everything I could think of. I couldn’t move the video to the memory card, or transfer it directly to any other device by any means except, possibly, re-recording the video onto another device as the camcorder played it, which I didn’t try because I didn’t have a way to do that). This was the entire reason I took the camcorder to be repaired in the first place–I couldn’t get that frellin’ DVD out. I would certainly have removed the DVD before I left it at the shop if I could have! I’d removed the memory card.

Well…there was no DVD in the camcorder. “What happened to the DVD?” I asked. The owner gave me this utterly blank stare. There was no DVD in it, he said. Yes there was, I said. He rustled around in the paperwork and pointed out that he’d put a little question mark on the repair slip after the note about a DVD being in the camcorder. I don’t know why he did that, unless it was because he couldn’t verify my statement that the DVD was in there without opening the cover and checking, which he couldn’t do because I had brought the camcorder in precisely because the cover was jammed shut.

He called the Phantom Technician, who claimed there was never a DVD in the camcorder. There was nothing more I could do. I had no way of proving that there had been a DVD in there two and half months earlier.

I was just SO upset. I was really, really, really upset. I tried to keep my cool, but I made it very clear that I was upset, and I said that recovering the DVD was the major reason I even bothered to have the camcorder repaired at all. I paid the bill and came home, but I remained upset most of the day. It wasn’t merely that I’d gone through all that bother and expense and then lost the DVD. What I hated was being lied to. The Phantom Technician had to know that DVD was in there. If it got broken or even lost, well, these things happen. But he LIED. He couldn’t possibly have repaired the camcorder’s DVD drive and not known that DVD was in there. He screwed up and lost it, and then he LIED.

Moreover, he claimed the cover jammed because there was “sand” in the camcorder. I’m damned if I know how sand got into that camcorder when I never used it outside, only took it to a couple of conventions and the IPNE event, and had a snug zippered case to carry it in when I did. There’s no sand in the case: I checked. I don’t believe there was “sand” in it, I think the cover just jammed because the camcorder is a cheap, Chinese-made piece of shit. Don’t EVER buy a product from Samsung!

The next day, I had calmed down enough to call the repair shop and explain why I wanted the DVD so badly. I said I knew, with absolute 100% confidence, that the DVD had been in the camcorder. I described the DVD (I’d bought a couple of packages of them, and I’d given considerable thought into what type I wanted to use, so I knew exactly what the DVD was) and what the videos on it were. The owner said he and the Phantom Technician would look for it.

The weekend of May 14, I started to think about calling the repair shop to follow up, and I realized that my land line phone was wanked, due to Cerridwen walking over the fax machine/message center to get to the front windowsills. I’d thought the drop-off in spam calls was suspicious! I got the dial tone back and checked Verizon voice mail, where calls go if the phone is wanked, and sure enough: a couple of messages (none from or about Dad, thank the gods). One was from the repair shop: they thought they’d found my DVD.

So, on Monday, May 16, with gasoline prices having just topped $4.00 a gallon, I drove all the way into Arlington again. The Phantom Technician, who I now visualize as probably smoking pot heavily on a daily basis, had indeed found a DVD. But it in no way resembled my DVDs–it wasn’t the same brand or type–and the camcorder, which I had prudently brought with me, wouldn’t even read it. It just spun around for a while and coughed up an error message. Now, the camcorder is fixed, and I’d tested it with a new DVD, so that wasn’t the issue.

So I wasted more time and a couple of gallons of gas, and I still don’t have my DVD. It’s possible that the Phantom Technician and the repair shop owner are still looking, but at this point, I figure it’s a lost cause. I’m still pretty upset, but there’s nothing I can really do about the situation so I’ll just have to get over it. It wasn’t like IPNE formally asked me to record the sessions, I just had this new camcorder and offered to do it.

I seem to constantly be tripping over lots of little hiccups and technological glitches, especially on the Internet. The problems I was having with this journal have not recurred, but Blogger.com has been having problems (and a huge percentage of book blogs are on Blogger), Hotmail keeps choking up, and it seems like something is always temporarily down or being upgraded or forcing a restart. My car’s back door latch is jammed and I’ll have to take it in to be repaired. I tried WD-40 but the problem seems to be more complicated than sticking due to the constant rain, as I hoped. But none of it’s worth whining about, really–especially compared to the fact that I know someone in Joplin, Missouri whose home was completely destroyed by the monster tornado last weekend. Pepperell hasn’t even heard a growl of thunder except for one night!

Posted in gardening, publishing | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Books in all directions! …oh, has it been raining?

So, I’ve spent the last two weeks recovering from poison ivy and punching books through various stages of production: four of them at the same time. There have been times when I’ve felt like that old joke about the one-armed paper-hanger with hives. Fortunately, I have two arms, but I’ve certainly been a juggler with poison ivy. *wry smile*

I haven’t done much more yard work, mostly because of the inclement weather. On Friday, May 6, I got the lawn mower out and mowed the lawns, which were already high and thick enough in spots to slow the mower down. This is the earliest that I’ve ever done the year’s first mowing. That’s not saying it’s the earliest the lawns have needed it, by a long shot, which is why the mower has been to the repair shop four times since I bought it. But once again, I was rewarded for all my hard work last fall, because with so much of the yards cleared out, and so much of the crawl space cleaned out, it was a snap to get the mower and cords out and set to work.

And of course, it’s been raining ever since. The spinach and peas are growing outside, but not as fast as they would be if they were actually getting sunlight. The seeds I started in pots are growing–and getting leggy because it’s been so dark and gloomy so much of the time–the trees I still intend to cut down are all leafed out, the flowering crab blossoms all got washed off the trees and the lilacs, just opening now, are waterlogged. But every time I look out at that big open clear patch outside the west door, I feel very pleased. The peonies and day lilies are growing like rockets because they’re free of all the choking weeds and ground ivy, and I’m getting flocks of birds at the bird feeder (usually bedraggled and sopping wet, which is both funny and pitiful). I probably wouldn’t have tilled the garden and planted seeds yet, anyway–that’s on the docket for next week, I hope, along with mowing the lawns again, cutting some small trees down and continuing to rip up the ground ivy in back. I just hope it’s not going to be another summer like 2009. :-(

The ARCs for Marco arrived and I sent them out for pre-publication reviews. I have a couple left to send out to reviewers or readers who might give the title a cover blurb, but I haven’t been querying for those in earnest yet. The publication date is set for September 1, 2011. I updated the book page on BLUM’s website and put up a PDF sample chapter.

I finished the layout for both of Anne Fraser’s short fiction collections, which Sara Larson very kindly read over to see how they flowed. I had contracted to publish these a year apart, but it was so hard to work on them. I really miss Anne. :-( That’s why I’m bringing them both out at the same time. I wrote short introductions to each collection, and I put so much work into shaping the material, I listed myself as official editor, but I did very little revision. It’s all Anne’s work.

I was surprised that the Gideon and Joshua stories, when I put them all together, made such a cohesive whole. If Anne hadn’t passed away, there’s no question that we could have worked together to create a second novel, a sequel to Gideon Redoak. As it stands, however, The Cliff Road Chronicles is divided into two sections, one of them consisting of the Gideon/Joshua tales and the other, stories about other members of the Brotherhood, some of which are very entertaining. (The tent wall in “Fairy Gothmother” still makes me roll on the floor laughing. You’ll just have to read it.)

The Adrian and Genevieve collection is really to support “Speak Easy,” which I know Anne would have wanted published if no other piece of shorter fiction she wrote saw print. They’re good stories, though, and I’m rather proud of myself for nailing the title. All Places That Are Not Heaven is based on a quote from Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, which Adrian is directing in “Acting’s in the Blood.”

Both the collections will be released on September 21. Once the layout was done, and the PCNs had arrived from the Library of Congress, I set the ARCs up on Lulu and ordered copies. I registered the ISBNs on Bowkerlink. The ARCs for Cliff Road Chronicles are all packed and labeled and going out tomorrow, the ARCs for All Places That Are Not Heaven are still en route from the printer. I created PDFs of sample stories and put them on each book’s page on BLUM, along with cover images and updated information about prices and so on.

While I was doing all that, I was ramping up for Applewood’s official release day on May 15. This involved getting things set up ahead of time because of the time delay for all the various editions and versions. I created separate files for the Smashwords edition (stripped Word file), Barnes & Noble Nook edition (ePub file), Kindle edition (html/mobi file), and Amazon’s Search Inside The Book (web-optimized PDF with cover images and internal bookmarks). I uploaded cover images to Bowkerlink, Google, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and Amazon, all of which had to be different sizes and resolutions (and let’s not even get into the file naming requirements everyone has). I’d already set up the print editions on Lightning Source and CreateSpace and ordered proofs and they all looked good. I redid the Lulu files for the finished book because…well, just because. It’s on Lulu anyway for the ARCs and can be downloaded as a PDF from there if anyone wants it, so, why not? But that means doing a separate paperback cover template according to Lulu’s specs (in fact, I have to do three versions of the paperback cover, for Lightning Source, Lulu and CreateSpace. They all have their own nit-picks, over the spine, mostly). I placed orders for short runs of the paperback and hardcover editions.

With everything set up and uploaded, I had to punch everything over to “live” with enough time to spare so the book was available by the 15th. The Smashwords edition took 48 hours to go through the first time and then was rejected. I put it through again and it went through faster and passed. It looks fine and I have no idea why it choked up. It’s still going through the whole approval process for their “premium catalog” so it will go out to Apple and Sony. The Kindle edition perked right through, as did the Nook edition, and both a Kindle and a Nook copy have already sold. Various third party vendors are taking their time picking up Applewood from Ingram or Bowker. I’m adding links to the book page on BLUM as I spot them. So far, Powells has it, Mysterious Galaxy and (very annoyingly) IndieBound do not. You can get the hardcover from Barnes & Noble but not, just yet, from Amazon. Databases work in mysterious ways…especially with the vast numbers of books being published every year now, the majority of them (like, over 70%) POD reprints of older works.

I’ve been querying reviewers and getting more positive results than I did last year. I’ve sent out about eight review copies of Applewood and I’m still busily working on it. I’ve also sent out mandatory follow-up copies for the ARCs, and there are more to send, to the Library of Congress and for the copyright registration. The author gets comp copies and those are going out tomorrow. Oh, and I set two targeted ad campaigns going on May 15, an animated graphic ad on Google and a set of text ads on Yahoo/Bing. Those got clicks and hits, but I’m not sure about sell-through.

Whew. This isn’t everything. This is just what I can recall off-hand. And this is all in the last two weeks! Publishing is not for sissies. I can’t slow down, though, because I have a whole manuscript to edit and get back to the author and three pieces of cover art to do, all of which needs to happen now. And that’s just the top of the list!

When I go to bed, I read research materials for All the Shadows of the Rainbow until I turn out my light. Then I dream about it. :-(

I also squeezed in my Beltane observance, a church Parish Committee meeting, a Full Moon ritual and even a couple of hours of house cleaning (before the place was condemned, which was imminent). I came this close to forgetting Full Moon ritual: it’s been so gloomy, overcast and dismal for so long, I’d lost track of the phase. I can’t remember when I last saw the Moon, but it was a skinny little crescent!

I’ve been cycling to free episodes of PBS’ Masterpiece online. I just drag the exercycle over in front of the computer and turn up the speakers. It works great. :-) I went through episodes 2 and 3 of the new Upstairs Downstairs, and I have to confess: it made me cry. I’m such a sop! I did like it, though. I then cycled to three episodes of a drama called South Riding, and that impressed me far less. Maybe the book is better, but I found the adaptation to be somewhat disorganized and the ending a bit pointless. I wish there were more episodes of Sherlock online, that was a very interesting series.

I sure am tired of the rain, though. It’s been driving me, not to drink, but to sugar. I’ve been baking cookies and making homemade chocolate sauce and chocolate-cherry brownies, and buying pints of ice cream to wash it all down. This is not the best thing in the world. *sigh*

Posted in gardening, publishing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off