Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Death of A Computer - The Hard Way

As computers tend to do, mine was slowing, s-l-o-w-i-n-g, s..l..o..w..i..n..g down. I knew a reformat was overdue and looming before me. I dread the job. Some people actually pay a geek shop to do it, but it isn’t that I don’t know how, or that the geek shops would do it any faster. It’s just a tedious, mind-numbing task that comes around about once or twice a year depending on how much stuff you have on your computer (I had TONS), how often you access the Internet (most of my waking hours), and despite all the anti-malware, anti-spyware and other fix-it programs you might have. For the most part, I don’t like to pay big bucks for something I know how to do myself.

Last Wednesday, I had to finally bite the bullet and get it over with. I was having to reboot many times a day, things were hanging up, crashing, etc. But because I do have so much stuff on my hard drive, I like a little supervision when I do reformats. A good friend with solid computer skills offered to come in and start it for me. Yay! I knew everything was in good hands. Did I mention that I also have a USB hub with three jump drives where I back up/store my ideas, story notes, character sketches and WIPs because I thought they’d be safer there? Well, not anymore. Those jump drives were wiped clean during the “getting started” portion of our program. Lucky for both of us, I heard the news after a glass or two of Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet, and said only, “This is catastrophic.” My friend has a program that can do a search and rescue for those apparently deleted files, but that’s a bigger task than reformatting the computer. The files appear in long lists that aren’t dated, have no file extension such as .doc, wpd., etc.

In the midst of this mental anguish and suffering one of my cats, who is getting on in years, is on a drug regimen of thyroid medication and an antibiotic. It doesn’t take much for her system to get out of whack, so while I was busy tearing out my hair with both hands, I was also cleaning up after her. The washing machine, the carpet cleaner, and my computer all were busy.

I’m happy to report the cat has improved.

But the hunt is still on for a story that I’ve had hanging around longer than the Jonas Brothers have been on this earth. One that was finally starting to come together for me. You know—that perfect light bulb moment when it all begins to make sense and the muse kicks in. I’m sure it will be found, but till then it’s just a needle in a cyber haystack.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What Goes On At Those Book Club Meetings, Anyway?

Five or six years ago, a group of women—some from the same family—some more loosely connected, got together and decided to start a book club. I was very pleased to be included in this intellectual pursuit, where titles were decided upon, and to be read and discussed with lofty goals and ideals. We had nibbles and wine, and created a reading list for several months out. A reasonably good time was had by all as we got to know each other and listened to different viewpoints and opinions.
After a few meetings, we realized that people did read the assigned titles but getting around to discussing them was becoming less salient. There would be a few earnest attempts and the discussion would get sidetracked by talk of vacations, music, food, wine, and wine and food. Pretty soon music and dancing worked their way into the proceedings.
A shout would go out, "Did anyone read the book?" Often the answer was yes, but that’s as far as the discussion went. On to the food, wine, music and dancing! One time the title I chose was one of Lisa Jackson’s suspenseful heart-stoppers, Unspoken. At the time, Lisa was very busy and under a fast-approaching deadline. Despite all my begging and pleading, and appeals linked to our long-standing friendship, to come to the meeting and make me the belle of the party, she couldn’t. In the end, that was good. No one had read the book except me. It wasn’t because no one was interested. Our priorities were just beginning to shift.
One of the members mentioned that she belonged to a different book club where the book was not only discussed and dissected, the group was staid and calm, not nearly as much fun as ours, the Book Club Babes. (By now we had a name.)
These days, the question will go around, "Did anyone read the book?" and that’s the end of it. We are all voracious readers, and we’ll either read the assigned title before or after the monthly get-together, but we have so much more fun just enjoying each other and ourselves. We’re a diverse group—we have a teacher or two, a former rock star groupie who can dish about nearly any major 80s band, a physician, a writer (me), a legal assistant, and the list goes on. No one actually quits. We may not see a Babe for a few months and suddenly she’s back and welcomed with open arms.
So if you’re not having as much fun at your book club meeting, you might give our model a try. I guarantee you’ll have a good time.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Eccentricity or Common Hoarding?

There are a few TV programs that I never miss, including Breaking Bad—the writing is SO fabulous, I think Vince Gilligan must have channeled every great literary mind in history—Deadliest Catch—I met the late, fun Captain Phil Harris in a rough-edged pirate dive almost three years ago, and Hoarding: Buried Alive on TLC and Hoarding on A&E.
The hoarding shows fascinated me from the first moment. Like nearly everyone else, I sat there, slack-jawed and mesmerized by the utter chaos the subjects live in, some with junk (and unspeakably worse stuff) often stacked so high that therapists and the house cleaners are forced to walk on layers that sometimes put their feet at table or counter height. Often the inhabitants of these homes have that shopping gene that I seem to have. Part of their accumulations include merchandise with price tags still attached and going unused. They can’t find anything in their "hoard," and are forced to go buy replacements because of that. They hang onto things they believe will someday be useful, or would be a shame to ditch. Of course, these people are troubled and usually have inciting incidents in their histories that trigger their behavior.
In fact, I’ve seen enough episodes to begin to recognize a touch of that behavior in myself. (Please see photo.) I used to boast that yes, my office is a mess but I know where everything is. After ten years in the same location, that doesn’t seem to be true any longer. I bought ink cartridges for my printer last weekend and now I can’t find them. I put something down on one of the two desks in my office and, like creatures from a Harry Potter novel, the furniture consumes the item. I know I’m not the only writer who works in this kind of environment. Yes, there are those who need the zen simplicity of a monk’s cell with a table, a chair, a laptop, and nothing else in the room except perhaps a view. Or a lighted candle.

Others of us have stacks of reference books on the floor, copies of printed manuscript sections here and there—my dog seems to have taken over one of them—and pens. Oh, yes, yes, baby, give me pens, give me all you have. I LOVE good pens. Sharpies. Highlighters. Beautiful pens. Fountain pens that flow with the blood of words. Susan Wiggs unknowingly fed this desire when she reported that she writes with an economical Sheaffer fountain pen and peacock blue ink. What a wonderful idea. Let’s go shopping on eBay for pens and ink and sealing wax and seals and high quality paper. Oh, and more pens.

Now if a person is famous, or an artist, or in some other way creative, this behavior is considered eccentric. If that person is just an everyman or everywoman, they’re seen as hoarders or disturbed, etc. I confess I like the eccentric designation a lot more. It has a flair and a dash of interesting romance to it, don’t you think? Here I sit amid my stacks and stacks of CDs, loose papers, the occasional visiting cat or dog, books, spiral notebooks I get for 10 cents apiece at the start of every school year, photos, and pens, toiling away in creative abandon. (I’m making the job sound easy again, aren’t I? Sorry, it's not.) Anyway, my printer is sending me messages that its cartridges need replacing and I can’t find the ones I bought.

Tomorrow, I’ll have to finally excavate in here to find where those things have gotten to or I’ll be out of commission. One of my rewards will be, I'm sure, the discovery of more pens.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"I've Always Wanted to Write a Book . . ."

I've always wanted to play the piano.

I spend a lot of time at a computer. That goes with my job. Sometimes I stare at a blank screen with a blank brain, and other times, when inspiration is on fire and luck is sitting beside me, the words flow. But there are times when I have to get away from it and I can come up with a number of time wasters, um, diversions to distract me.

One of those is the piano. First, let me point out that these are not my legs in the photo, in case there was any confusion. Even the Steinway isn't mine (where to put a concert grand . . . ?). I've always yearned for the talent of Billy Joel, Elton John, and the late, great Freddie Mercury, all of whom make playing a keyboard look so effortless. So effortless that I got fooled into thinking, hey, it's easy! I could do that too! Back in the mid-70s, I decided to give it a shot and signed up for piano lessons with the mother of a friend from my high school days.

I slogged through all the exercises and learned the keys, and even, at the insistance of my teacher, reluctantly participated in the humiliating ritual of a recital. I was the biggest kid there. The rest of the cast was, at most, 12 years old while I was twice that and sneaking outside for a cigarette now and then. I was a pretty good student in that I was willing and happy to practice three hours a night. I'm sure the other kids didn't--there were no Mozarts among us. Still, despite the lessons and the practice and the recital, I came to realize, hey, this isn't easy at all!

After dragging my spinet from one apartment to another, I finally sold it about 15 years ago. And even though I never went near it except to dust, I was immediately sorry. I missed it. In the meantime, technology had made a huge leap forward in electronic keyboards. So had teaching methods. I could get CDs, DVDs, and great books with titles like Piano for Quitters, and avoid the stern, exasperated teacher standing over my shoulder sighing with impatience. Wow, I can do this! Again! So a few months ago, I bought an electronic keyboard on eBay and a shelf full of instruction.

Yeah, I plunk around and fortunately remember some of what I learned early on, but it's still not effortless. I've had readers tell me I make writing look so easy. That's the biggest lesson of all--it might look easy but it's not. It's hard work, and practice, practice, practice. If you really want to write a book, remember that. Put your backside in the chair and write. You'll hit some clinkers, but that's okay. Keep working at it. Hone your craft and sharpen your skills.

Now I'm off to practice Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Geez, it's hard, but I'll keep working at it.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Time to Jump Onboard

I know, I know, I'm probably one of the last computer users on the planet to have a blog, and certainly one of the last authors. But lately it has become obvious that a lot of my readers wonder, whatever happened to Alexis Harrington? Is she still writing? In jail? Gone off to live and die in LA? No, none of those things have happened. And I decided I ought to stay in touch beyond my website, Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace pages.

I'm still writing and I have two or three projects in various stages of development. In the meantime, I have made my backlist available on Kindle and through

Currently I have a finished manuscript in the estimable editorial hands of Judy Gill, who liked the story so much she tracked me down while I was on vacation at the Oregon Coast last weekend. (Aw shucks, Judy, thanks . . . )

So it's my hope that this story, which was true labor of love for me, will catch the attention of a print publisher. If not, it might just become a digital indie book, with a pretty cool sequel. And there are other books that I'm eager to put in your hands as well.

To my established readers as well as those of you who are new to me, welcome to my blog. Sit down and get comfortable--I want to tell you a story.