The one thing you can trust about SPAM is it never spoils

I made a promise. It was a promise I thought would be easy to keep. I was wrong.

I told a friend that I’d wait to see Avengers: Endgame with her, and then she went and got sick, so now I’m having to go to some extreme lengths to avoid spoilers – like actually reading the contents of my spam folder. Lucky for me, it’s proven to be entertaining. Not as entertaining as, say, seeing how the storylines of more than twenty movies can be resolved in a single cinematic-marvel. But entertaining in its own way all the same.

I thought I would share some of my favorites.

“I’m envious. Seems like every time I come back to your website you have a new interesting thing for me to read. How do you stay so motivated? Do you research all of these posts before posting?”

This comment was attached to a post I’d written about the different tools I’ve used for ebook conversion so I might have approved it if the link and user name attached hadn’t been a red flag.  That said, even knowing the compliment wasn’t genuine, it was a bummer to send it to the discard pile. After all, I’d worked hard on that post (and yes, not only had I researched all the products, I’d used them extensively too)

“I together with my guys were reading through the good tricks found on your site and immediately developed a horrible feeling I never expressed respect to the blog owner for those techniques. Most of the young boys became totally glad to read through all of them and have clearly been tapping into these things. Appreciation for really being really helpful as well as for pick out these kinds of exceptional things most people are really desperate to learn about. Our honest apologies for not expressing appreciation to earlier.”

Someone sent in this comment after reading a funny story I’d written about waking up in the middle of the night thinking there was an intruder in my house, when in fact it was only my robotic vacuum cleaner. In case you are curious, I no longer have it run at night as it clearly cannot be trusted. I also have no idea what things the young boys, referenced by the commenter, are tapping into.

“Throughout this awesome pattern of things you actually secure a B- just for effort. Exactly where you confused everybody was first in the particulars. You know, people say, the devil is in the details… And that could not be much more correct at this point. Having said that, let me say to you what exactly did work. The article (parts of it) is definitely incredibly engaging which is most likely why I am making an effort in order to comment. I do not make it a regular habit of doing that. Secondly, even though I can notice the jumps in reasoning you make, I am not convinced of how you appear to unite your ideas which make the final result. For right now I shall subscribe to your point however trust in the future you connect the facts much better.”

B-, just for effort? Ouch. However, considering this comment was placed on one of Her Royal Highness’ letters to her loyal subjects, I’ll leave it up to the monarchy to address its particular feedback.

“It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate to this superb blog! I guess for now i’ll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to fresh updates and will talk about this website with my Facebook group. Talk soon!”

Actually, I do have a donate button, I’m glad you mentioned it. It’s at the bottom of my About me page. It’s been there for years, though I don’t make a big deal about it, so completely understand why you missed it. However, now that you know about it, feel free to click on it and spot me cup of coffee. Talk soon!

And then there was this…

“Hey, how’s it going?”

I like how this one starts out. It’s like we know each other or something. But then things take a turn. (This is why I moderate comments)

“The power that runs the world wants to put a RFID microchip in our body making us total slaves to them. This chip matches perfectly with the Mark of the Beast in the Bible, more specifically in Revelation 13:16-18:

“He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.”

It keeps going.

“Referring to the last days, this could only be speaking of a cashless society, which we have yet to see, but are heading towards. Otherwise, we could still buy or sell without the mark amongst others if physical money was still currency. This Mark couldn’t be spiritual because the word references two different physical locations. If it was spiritual it would just say in the forehead. RFID microchip implant technology will be the future of a one world cashless society containing digital currency. It will be implanted in the right-hand or the forehead, and we cannot buy or sell without it! We must grow strong in Jesus. AT ALL COSTS, DO NOT TAKE IT!

“Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name” (Revelation 14:9-11).”

Ummmm… okay…

“If you haven’t already, it is time to seek God with all your heart. Jesus loves you more than you could imagine. He wants to have a relationship with you and redeem you from your sins. Turn to Him and repent while there is still hope! God bless!”

Shew. That’s a relief. Here I was starting to worry.

So, apparently, the end is nigh. Good thing I’ve already made peace with our soon to be robotic overloads, however, this is yet another reason my friend needs to get off her sick-bed sooner rather than later. Please get better! We’re running out of time.

I Managed to See a Movie! (My Shazam Review)

A 30-second preview was all it took to convince my ten-year-old son that Shazam was a movie we absolutely, positively, had to see. It didn’t take much to convince me. I love superheroes. My other half… well let’s just say that the heroes he prefers to watch on the big screen typically prefer military fatigues to capes and tights. More importantly, I couldn’t help thinking that soon he’d rather watch movies with his friends than me.

If you aren’t familiar with the film, Shazam about a fourteen-year-old foster child, named Billy, who is given the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury (or S.H.A.Z.A.M), as well as the body of an adult. It’s also set in the same world as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. As a result, the characters are less motivated to find out how to use Billy’s new powers for the greater good (because saving the world is already covered by the more experienced heroes), then how they can use them to get out of school work (and other things).

Billy has no clue about the extent of his powers, and the series of trials by fire (literally, in one case) to test his limits. This caused me to laugh out loud several times throughout the movie. However, there is also a much more serious side to the film centered around the definition of home, family, and the impact a parent can have on their child. To avoid spoilers, I won’t go into it, but be warned there are scenes where a couple of the characters learn their parents aren’t without flaws–some more severe than others.

During one of these scenes, I couldn’t help thinking that there was some cosmic irony at play, considering I’d made such the point to see this movie, of all movies, with my son. I snuck a peek at my offspring. How was he handling it? I wanted to reach for his hand and have him nestle his head on my side like he used to do whenever he was confused or afraid, but he didn’t appear to be either of those things. Guess, my son is growing up even faster than I wanted to admit.

I returned my attention to the reason my wallet was thirty dollars lighter than it had been the day before (this is also one of the reasons I don’t write very many first-run movie reviews). Superhero meets Super-villain. Cue the fighting sequences, collateral damage, monologues, and epiphanies one expects at these sort of things.

Shazam, in many ways, is a film mirroring its central character. Like the fourteen-to-fifteen-year-old kid on the screen, the movie doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be when it grows up. It’s not a comedy, but its not an action movie, or completely family-friendly fare either. There’s cursing, monsters, and more than one random death that sort of comes out of nowhere. As a result, there were more than a few times I was glad I’d left my younger son at home.

It may not have the hype of Avengers: Endgame (or the bankroll), but it still has plenty of heart and better executed than some of the other DC movies I’ve seen (*cough* Dawn of Justice *cough* Suicide Squad *cough*). Therefore, I’m glad I took the time to see it in the theater, even if the person I saw it with made it an even better experience than watching what played out on the screen alone.

Oh, the joys of home ownership

Some writers prefer music in the background, saying it helps to get them in the proper mood. I’m not one of them. I get distracted enough by the random deer that walks by my window or hawk that lands in our new trees, so when one of the smoke detectors began chirping a few days ago, it was hardly something I could pretend not to hear.

However, the battery wasn’t quite dead.

Miracle Max the Wizard: He’s only mostly dead. If he were all dead, there’s only one thing you can do.
Inigo Montoya: And what’s that?
Miracle Max the Wizard: Go through his pockets and look for loose change.

This meant the tone sounded in occasional bursts. In addition, thanks to building codes where I live requiring a detector in any room remotely resembling a bedroom (and then some), there were several alarms to choose from. Therefore, it was difficult to determine which one was the culprit. I would stand under one for minutes, only to not hear another beep until I was back in my office, writing away.

As a result, My husband and I decided it would be best if we updated all of the devices, rather than continue to locate and troubleshoot just the one.

One would think this would be a simple matter of swapping out a battery. One would be wrong.

He pulled out a ladder as I readied the 9 volts. Suddenly EVERY SINGLE ALARM in the house was going off and there was nothing we could do to get it to stop. Oh sure, each individual sensor had a lovely button that claimed you could silence the madness, but remove your finger from the button… beep… beep… BEEEEEEPPPP!!! In stereo. Connected networks are great until all devices are screaming in unison.

Our sanity began to unravel as high-pitched electronic torture blared from all directions. Our kids stumbled out of their bedrooms with their hands covering their ears demanding we make it stop. Oh, my children… if we only could…

Grabbing our phones we each tried desperately to look up the make and model of our system’s installation instructions. What had we done wrong? The proximity to the alarm, however, had caused my vision to blur, making the tiny instructions on a mobile screen nearly impossible to decipher.

Her Royal Highness tucked her tail between her legs and fled as I stood, like the statue of liberty, with phone clutched and arm raised, as I pressed the tiny button that was our only protection against the madness. A light on the device turned yellow. That was different. Then green. I blinked. Had I stumbled upon our salvation. I braced myself against the potential audible onslaught and let go. However, the device remained silent. I called out to my husband with my discovery.

He picked up another of the offending devices and snapped it back onto its ceiling mount. The light blinked as the battery case slid into position. Our eyes widened. We’d finally done it–

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!!!!

Or not.

Seeing no other choice, we did the only thing we could think of in the situation. We took the dastardly device off the ceiling. Thankfully, the LEDs on the house’s other sensors magically turned a happy green and peace descended once again upon the land. Oh, joyous day.

The nightmare was over for now, but unfortunately, I know that one day, in the not too distant future, I’ll need to return it to its home (it’s kind of the whole point of this fire safety thing). I know this, and yet all I can do is shudder.

An Average Day in the Life of Matt Summers – Flash Fiction

An Average Day - Flash Fiction
Matt Summers lived in an average house on an average street where nothing ever happened.

His mother would wake him by opening his curtains, allowing the light to stream in. Only today, his mother snapped them shut shortly after opening them.

“Wha’s going on?” asked a bleary-eyed Matt.

“Oh nothing,” said his mother. “I just realized that it’s Saturday and thought you could use a little extra rest this morning. I couldn’t help but notice how much you’re still growing.”

Matt smiled. He had every intention of burrowing back under his covers, but then remembered how close he’d come to beating level twelve on his favorite video game the day before. Unable to go back to sleep, he slid off the bed and padded into the den where he found his mother pulling a decorative sword off the wall. “What’cha doing?” he asked.

“Just pulling this down to give it a cleaning,” said his mother after a slight pause. “I noticed a bit of tarnish.” She tittered, though whatever the joke was, it went over Matt’s head. “Er. Why don’t you go and get yourself a bit of breakfast?”

Matt nodded and went into the kitchen where he poured himself a bowl of cereal. His father entered the room. “Have you seen your mother?” he asked.

“She’s in the den,” Matt said, spilling a bit of milk on the counter. “Acting weird. Taking the sword off the wall so she can polish it.”

“Ah,” said his father, his face taking on a severe expression.

Matt looked at the spot of milk on the counter. “Don’t worry, I’ll clean that up.”

His father blinked. “Right. I’ll go see if I can help your mother.” He turned and exited the room, leaving Matt to finish his breakfast in peace.

After shoveling the cereal into his mouth, Matt went into the den and fired up his video game console. His dad re-appeared, briefly holding a large dusty leather-bound book. Matt guessed his mother must have found another cleaning project for his father to do. “You’re blocking the screen,” said Matt.

His father started. “Sorry,” he said “I must have been distracted. Didn’t see you there.” before exiting the room in the direction of the front door.

The game’s intro music blasted over the speakers. “Alright,” said Matt to himself. “Let’s do this thing.”

Several hours, Matt jumped around the room. He’d done it. Not only had he beaten level twelve, he’d defeated the baddie on level thirteen and fourteen too. He couldn’t wait to tell his friend, Oscar, on Monday all about it. The game’s sound designers had really pulled out all the stops on level thirteen. At times, it had seemed as if the sound of explosions were coming from outside of his house rather than on the small screen in front of him. However, the game designers must have spent their entire budget on level thirteen as fourteen had sounded dull and dead by comparison outside of a single, solitary crash.

His stomach rumbled realizing he’d played his game well past lunch. On his way to the pantry, he noticed the trashcan was full. His mouth twisted and his nose wrinkled, but he grabbed the sack. Taking the garbage out was his responsibility and his mom was obviously in one of her whole house cleaning moods. If he didn’t take the initiative to take it out to the curb on his own, he knew from experience more chores would follow.

Outside, the air smelled of smoke. One of the neighbors must be smoking a pork shoulder. There was something else, though Matt couldn’t quite place it. It was like eggs and milk gone bad. He glanced at the bag of garbage he held in one hand. The stench was probably from that, he just hadn’t noticed it inside.

Rounding the corner, he found his father leaning against the home’s brick wall. “Taking a break?” Matt asked.

“I guess you can say that,” said his dad, picking up the book from where it lay on the ground, still as dusty as it had earlier that day.

“You got something on your shirt,” said Matt pointing at a large oily-looking stain.

His father looked down. “So I do,” he said. “I should probably go and get this cleaned up before it sets.” His father then turned and went inside taking the book with him.

Matt spotted the little old woman who lived at the end of the street standing in the middle of the road. She was staring at their house. He waved. The woman scowled and scurried away. Matt shrugged and returned inside where he found his mother re-attaching the freshly cleaned blade to its place on the wall.

“Sorry, sweetie,” she said noticing him there. “That took longer than I thought it would.”

“That’s okay, mom,” he said, picking up his controller and returning to his game, which he played through dinner. Later that night, Matt lay on his average-sized bed, in his average-sized room feeling he’d accomplished a lot, and yet at the same time, it was as if he had missed something more. He turned over on his side. Giving into dreams, he let the feeling go. After all, it had been just another day on a street where nothing ever happened.

Getting Started: Writer Problems Edition

Why do so many people who talk about one day writing a book fail?

Because finding those first words to mark on an otherwise empty page is a thousand times tougher to do when you decide this time you are going to start getting serious. Instead of writing anything, you simply sit there, staring at a white screen or a blank sheet of paper until you either get too frustrated, bored or otherwise called away by the real world. It can be brutal.

It’s not quite as hard as it is to stick with a novel weeks and weeks later when you’ve reached that saggy center typically devoted to world building, supporting character development or introducing the occasional red herrings, and all you want to do is move on to the next big idea, but pretty darn close.

But back to the empty page.

One of the reasons it is so difficult to get started is that many writers, myself included, feel pressure to shine with the very first line. There are a hundred, gazillion articles and pieces of advice out there (that’s likely an underestimate) on what you should do or not do when opening your story.

Don’t start with your character waking from a dream.

Do start with a flashy first hook of a line that will make the reader want to continue.

Failure to follow these rules, or open your story right will cost you, readers. credibility, sales. The love and respect of your family (who you suspect secretly wish you’d abandon this whole writing for a living dream and focus your effort on something more realistic – like getting the kids to school on time or paying bills). So, there’s no pressure to get it right or anything.

It took me a couple of tries, but eventually, I figured out a trick for getting over this fear –

Write the ABCs. Write your grocery list. Write absolute garbage. Just write something. I’ve found that words are like guests at a party. No one wants to be the first on a dance floor, but once one or two are out there and appear not to have a care in the world, the rest will follow.

That being said, I am now faced with an entirely new and unexpected writer problem.

You see, one of the benefits of my nice shiny new home is the fact I now have my own dedicated office where I can do all sorts of writerly things rather than force-fitting a forty to sixty-hour working week into a two-foot by two-foot square, partitioned from a larger room. The drawback is I haven’t had a clue what to do with all this extra space. It’s like the blank page staring at me, and I’m having a difficult time knowing where to get started.

The desk my other half so painstakingly made for me was built into the walls of our last place. Meaning, I am working with a relatively blank slate at the moment as far as furnishing goes. More specifically, I’m working off a card table.

Oh, and the zero key is still missing. Yes, its nothing but the best for me.

Logically, I know I solving at least one of those problems should be easy. I just have to find a desk I like and hope that the rest of the room’s design will soon follow. However, this is proving to be no simple task. It needs to be wide, but not too wide, as I want to be able to walk around it. With storage for my style guide and other tools, and I want it to be made of wood, but not the manufactured wood that falls apart the second you try to move it.

In short, I want it to be perfect. Hence, here I am, weeks later, paralyzed by indecision, still writing out the word zero and trying not to jostle the surface too much so as not to knock my coffee over. Even so, I’ve somehow managed to write close to 70K words on my latest work in progress (the third and final book of my Project Gene Assist series).

Part of me now worries changing my setup now will upset the creative muse (she is a fickle thing indeed), while another part is pretty sure I would be further along if I’d made a decision sooner. In either case, while I still have a long way left to go before I can say I am finished with this one, it’s, at least, a start. And the start is the hardest part indeed.