Writing: It’s All the Playground

creepy-girl-playground-sky-swing-Favim_com-241414Writing is a lonely craft. When a writer sits down to write—really write, not just talk about writing—there are only three components involved: a writing utensil, a blank page, and the writer’s own mind. Through the years, writing utensils and the blank page have changed drastically. Ink and quill morphed into typewriters, then laptop keyboards. The blank surface of papyrus became pressed printer paper, then mere pixels on a screen.

But while the instruments of writing transformed over time, their function remained mostly the same: to be a playground for the writer’s own mind.

A playground?

Yes, indeed.

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” (Virginia Woolf)

“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” (James A. Michener)

Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.” (Ray Bradbury)

You can make ANYTHING by writing.” (C.S. Lewis)

For the next month, I’m diving deep into the writing cave to make some headway on my next novel. I’ve been working on this one for a while, I’m stuck at 21,000 words, and I need something to push me. By the end of November (National Novel Writing Month), I’m hoping to add another 30,000 words to the draft.

I won’t be blogging until at least early December. But rest assured, I will be writing.

I’ll also be on Twitter. Why? Because I usually tweet when I write, even if only a meager “Need more coffee #amwriting.” And I’ll continue posting regularly to my FB author page, often in ways that provide hints to my mental state (if you haven’t liked my page yet, please do. I post regularly about coffee and writing, with some cyberpunk thrown into the mix).

Social media and events like NaNoWriMo remind us that as writers, we’re not alone. We desperately need this reminder.

But the truth of the matter—for every writer—is that the act of writing is lonely.

There’s a keyboard.

The blank page.

And the writer’s own mind—that fun place of chaos, characters, and worlds within worlds within worlds that have yet to be discovered.

“When I’m writing, it’s all the playground…” (Stephen King, On Writing)

Time to come out and play.

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Spam with Typos: Like Cyborgs with Water Damage

typos-typos-everywhereLately my WordPress posts have been inundated with spammers. Unlike the obscene spam of years past, these more innovative folks prefer to make a flattering, ambiguous comment in hopes that readers would click on their name, which links to a retail website (or something). Unfortunately, my free Akismet filters don’t catch this stuff, so bloggers like me must manually unapprove each comment as it appears.

It’s annoying. But to any spammers out there reading this, I understand the need to sell a product. Really, I sympathize with your plight.

However, I absolutely cannot tolerate spam with typos.

To be clear, I don’t mind typos in personal correspondence. If we have a personal relationship, this post isn’t about you, so please don’t be self-conscious. Typos in our FB posts, chats, emails, texts, Twitter replies, Goodreads messages, even friendly blog comments—these don’t bother me. But strangers who just want me to click a link? C’mon. Get real.

Even in spam, I can handle certain things. Generic compliments? Love them. Who doesn’t, right? And half-hearted attempts to sound contextually relevant? Sometimes lame, but usually amusing. At least you tried. Points for the effort.

Careless typos?

Forget about it.

No flippin’ way I’m clicking on that link now, buddy.

Despite my friendly nature, I’m a suspicious type of person at heart. If you’ve read my fiction, then you understand this about me. I can usually sense a sales pitch from a mile away.

Several years back, my husband and I got talked into letting a salesman come to our home to analyze our tap water. For TWO HOURS on a weeknight, he explained that his amazing filtration system could reverse all our health problems, make our clothing last longer, improve the quality of our skin and hair, increase the longevity of our household appliances, and get rid of all those little hard water stains on the dishes. The fine lines around my eyes would disappear, and my house would be *ahem* MUCH CLEANER. Quite honestly, I wanted to spray the guy down with our chemical-laden tap water.

When we thanked him and said we’d think about it (which we wouldn’t), he went for the hard sell. Surely we didn’t want to waste another day with that awful, horrid water from the bowels of the city. Not after he spent so much time with us! He drove all the way out there, his kids were sick, his wife was about to leave him, blah, blah, blah.

email editWe said no, closed the door after he left, and locked it behind us with a collective sigh of relief.

I don’t remember why we initially agreed to the demo, but I think it must have sounded worth the time. At first.

So here’s my point: Spammers, if you’re going to sell something in a sneaky, roundabout kind of way, at least make the effort to be professional—especially in the first attempt.

Show me an eloquent spammer who knows how to proofread, and I might let the comment remain on my blog for longer than usual.

But I’m still not clicking the link.

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What Ebola Can Teach Us about Cybersecurity

ebola-dallasI live near Dallas, otherwise known in social media as ground zero of the American zombie apocalypse.

Ebola is a nasty virus. Nobody wants it, so I certainly understand the concern. But here’s the deal: October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month and we are much more likely to fall victim to hackers than we are to contract Ebola. Someday the hacking threat may extend to implanted medical devices and e-health records, but hopefully that’s just science fiction. For now.

In this pre-cyborg age, we as individuals must prioritize cybersecurity. If you’re a celebrity with a nude photo you could’ve sworn you deleted, or a Christmas shopper with a credit card, or if you own an electronic device of any kind, you’re at risk.

As with infectious disease prevention, a little knowledge goes a long way.

Here are three things about cybersecurity we can learn from Ebola:

Nobody is safe. The 80-100 people who came into contact with our Dallas Ebola patient had NO IDEA they were near a deadly, contagious virus from halfway across the world. Ebola wasn’t even on their radars. Likewise, you might think there’s nothing worth stealing on your computer, or that hackers wouldn’t go through all that trouble for your credit card information. You’re wrong. Anyone can be a hacking victim.

Points-of-contact matter. Ebola is a public health emergency. The CDC is tracking down everyone who may have been in contact with the patient, probably down to the people who touched affected doorknobs. Same goes for cybersecurity. So you deleted the obscene picture. Great. Where was it stored? Who else saw it? Could it be on their device? Did you save it to a cloud-based program? Celebrities are learning the hard way that nothing in the cloud goes away. Ever.

Get help from the experts. Ebola isn’t the common cold. Granted, some patients might slip through the cracks. You might wander into the hospital feeling icky, fail to mention international travel, and leave undiagnosed. But if you truly have Ebola, you’ll go back to the hospital in an ambulance, the CDC will show up in hazmat suits, and your entire family will be quarantined. The same goes for cybersecurity. Do your homework, understand what’s at stake, and invest in quality products for virus and spyware protection. Don’t assume your computer is safe because you bought a virus protection program four years ago. Stay up-to-date.

Infectious disease experts aren’t the least bit surprised that Ebola came to the United States. They say it wasn’t a matter of if, but when. Hacking is the same kind of risk: it can happen to anyone, at any time.

Be ready.

(Special thanks to Lisa Margetis from SingleHop, who provided information that inspired this post.)

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Cemetery Cats? Yep. Just in time for fall…

2e8230b84a9bf246b0a65e06a8d5c8dc_largeEvery now and then a story captures my imagination enough that I break with my traditional blog format to do something different. This is one of those stories.

Cemeteries are usually eerie, lonely places—barren reminders of the dearly departed. Not in Buenos Aires, home to one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. For the record, I’ve never been to Buenos Aires. But it’s come to my attention that something strange (and furry) walks between the graves of the Buenos Aires cemetery.

Cats. All kinds of cats.

Despite how it sounds in this pre-Halloween season, this is not from the pages of a Stephen King book. It’s the subject of a documentary called “The Guardians of Recoleta,” currently in production with BE MORE REAL, a global media production firm owned by Blake Kuhre and his wife, Adrienne.

I went to high school with Blake, where we worked together at the student newspaper and other journalistic endeavors on campus. Since then, he’s built a thriving career in broadcast journalism and new media, including ten years with the Walt Disney Company. As director of BE MORE REAL, Blake now describes himself as “a former Mouseketeer turned storyteller.”

Ok, back to the cats.

I want to know more about them.

Cats that hang out in one of the most beautiful cemeteries of the world fascinate me. Maybe I read too many cat stories as a child. Or the early introduction of the Pumpkin Spice Latte to the Starbucks menu has me feeling all spooky. But I think cemetery cats are kind of cool…

And yes, perhaps also a bit spooky. In a beautiful feline sort of way.

“Millions of tourists, thousands of souls, and 9 lives.” – The Guardians of Recoleta.

 

(Love animals? Interested in these cemetery cats? Crowd funding for “The Guardians of Recoleta” is open through 10/2… click here to support this unique documentary.)

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Seven Reasons Gen X Parents Rock

breakfast-club-1985-08-gMy oldest child is about to turn twelve. This freaks me out. I remember being twelve, and that’s why I just don’t think it’s possible for me to actually raise a child of this age. So I wrote this blog post as therapy. An affirmation, so to speak. (I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!)

Here are my top seven reasons why Generation X Parents ROCK:

1. We survived some of the 70s, and all of the 80s and 90s. Think about it. These three decades defined disco, big hair, bigger hair, the entire span of Michael Jackson’s fame and demise, Nirvana, OJ Simpson, Columbine. Our parents might have been hippies or beatniks. We’ve been through it. Just sayin’.

2. We have choices. Diet or regular. Organic or pesticide-laden. McDonalds or Chic-Fil-A. Netflix or satellite. Our choices are endless. If anything, we have WAY TOO MANY CHOICES. What a great problem to have, right?

3. We have resources our parents didn’t have. A seatbelt requirement, for example. Sturdy infant carseats. Oh, and yeah…the entire span of human knowledge at our fingertips. Plus…wait for it…this one is my favorite one…A SMALL, VERY IMPORTANT DEVICE that can always be taken away. Worse than grounding. Worse than losing allowance. It’s the best incentive for good behavior EVER.

4. We’re streetwise about boy bands and fame. We weren’t surprised when Justin Bieber was arrested for DUI and resisting arrest. I mean, seriously. We were raised by people who had Elvis, the Beatles and the Doors. We cut our pop culture teeth on Madonna, LL Cool J, Metallica, and Kurt Cobain. We had Snoop Dogg, NKOTB, NSync, Color Me Badd, and Milli Vanilli. We know how to guide our kids through celebrity worship. We know the limitations of entertainment.

5. We embrace technology. We understand it’s a necessary tool. We know that children who have access to the latest technology will have more opportunities in a future workplace, so as taxpayers we vote for tech funding in even the lowest income schools. We know that kids pick up on this stuff faster than we do, because they grew up with it, literally from the cradle. We might be jealous of this. But we’d never say so.

6. We absolutely don’t trust technology. Facebook isn’t private, no matter what the settings tell you. Since logging into the online world sometime in our early-ish years, we’ve been hacked, tracked, and digitally violated in so many ways it’s not even funny. As children we thought mandatory finger-printing was sort of creepy. Now we cyberstalk our kids and feel no shame in doing so. It’s part of the job description.

7. We could survive without smartphones. Granted, it wouldn’t be pretty. But most of us remember a world without texting, Google, or Siri. We could do it, if we absolutely had to. We might wander the countryside aimlessly, looking for a payphone or the Encyclopedia Britannica or something, but we’d pull it off somehow. Our kids, on the other hand… well, I guess we better teach them. Just in case.

I mean, that’s what parents are for, right!?

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Social Media for the Pre-Cyborg Age

timecoverWe’re living in what I like to call the Pre-Cyborg Age. Except for certain medical devices, implanted biotech is completely optional and on the farthest fringes of society. But if you’ve been paying attention to the news, cyborgs are already among us. Their number is increasing. All kinds of implanted medical devices are growing in acceptance, and I don’t think the trend will slow down anytime soon.

That’s why we need to get smart – real smart – about how we perceive our devices.

At the very least, we should…

Have a strategy. Every social media platform and new app has strengths and weaknesses, and what works for one type of business might not work for another. Today, the latest fad in technology might end up being a huge time suck that costs hours of productivity. But in the Cyborg Age, there will be much more to lose. Learn to create a social media action plan for your current needs, then re-evaluate your plan periodically as technology changes. Establish the habit now, so that it’s already part of your routine for the future.

Understand that everything can be hacked. Regardless of sleek marketing claims otherwise, privacy is an illusion in the digital world. Every app you download and allow access to your information is like an unlocked window into your house, just waiting for the NSA, Russian hackers, or common cybercriminals to peek through. This is true about your home computer, your smartphone, and your e-reader. It will also be true of your brain implant, should that day ever come.

Practice mental resistance. Technology in most industries moves at lightning pace and if you don’t have the latest version or upgrade, you’re already behind. True? Yes, absolutely. This is the reality of the Digital Age. But in my opinion, this will also be the mindset that drives us into the Cyborg Age.

Imagine that your co-worker decides to get a memory-enhancing brain chip. Then another coworker. Then another. Suddenly, your own software is out of date, your productivity pales in comparison to theirs, and you fall behind. Then what?

In this Pre-Cyborg Age, we must train ourselves to resist the pressure toward the latest and greatest.

Our future humanity might depend on it.

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Social Media for Cyborgs: How to Unplug

Cyborgs-vs-HumansDigital communication isn’t going away. If you own a business or want to stay connected with friends and family, you must be online. But at some point, you’ll want to (need to!) intentionally unplug from the digital community. Maybe for a whole vacation. Or perhaps just one night away. Even for one quiet hour over coffee. To think. Exist. To just…be…human.

For most of us, it’s a question of when to put down the smartphone. Not an easy task these days, to be sure. But attainable.

For the cyborgs among us, unplugging is more difficult. Like Neil Harbisson from the UK, who had an antenna implanted in his skull. Neil is part of a growing community of people who self-identify as cyborgs. They’ve even created a group called the Cyborg Foundation, to raise awareness and lobby for their rights.

Embedded biotech presents a dilemma, though. You can’t just set down the smartphone when it’s implanted in your skull. But there’s hope. If you’re a cyborg, here’s how to unplug (or at least disconnect for a while):

Ask for an “off” switch. If you are considering becoming a cyborg, get the facts before going under the knife. Make sure you can turn the biotech off, when/if you want to unplug for a while.

Block the signal. If you’ve already been implanted, find a way to block the incoming signal. Even for a few minutes, you might be able to feel human again.

Consider surgical removal. Maybe you’ve been a cyborg for a few months and realize it’s just not for you. Make an appointment with your surgeon to discuss removal. In some cases, it might not be possible, especially if your tissues have already fused with the biotech in such a way that removal would be dangerous. But it’s worth a try.

Seek qualified support. Becoming part-machine is emotionally stressful. If you can’t unplug when it gets overwhelming, find support and learn how to cope. At the very least, you need one human, one cyborg, and a biotech health expert on your side. No one should go it alone.

(As a side note, you should also strongly consider hiring a cybersecurity team that specializes in wearable and implanted technology. Being a cyborg is hard enough without having to worry about hackers. But I digress.)

Unplugging comes at a cost for everyone, especially for cyborgs. But what about those of us who aren’t implanted yet? How can we stay digitally connected to our friends, family, business community, and the world without sacrificing what’s left of our humanity?

Stay tuned…

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