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.

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.

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.

The Move and a Bittersweet End To an Era

How much stuff can a single family acquire over a span of fifteen years? Quite a lot actually, as I’ve found out.

We’d been considering moving for a number of years – really ever since my youngest came home from the hospital when the diaper boxes alone threatened to fill a room, but there was always something. The timing was bad, the lot wasn’t right, or the location too far away from our jobs. So we’d put it off, and put it off, and put it off.

Though we eventually didn’t have to worry about rooms full of diapers, we still had plenty of other clutter to find places for. My husband heard about minimalism and gave it a try, clearing out his closet of all but the essential. He tried to work on mine too – but I’m not quite as committed to the cause.

We found new homes for baby toys, only for the free space to be filled with Hot Wheels. We sold off furniture that wasn’t being used. Big boy beds took their place. We got creative with things like Murphy desks and multi-use space. Our kids were inconsiderate enough to continue to keep growing.

But our kids weren’t the only things to change over the years – our house started to show its age too. First, the water heater went out. Then there was the indoor waterfall (though in defense of my house, that one wasn’t entirely its fault). Then the air conditioner failed – twice. Not to be outdone, the furnace went out too. It was one thing after another. Suddenly, I felt less like I was in my home and more like I’d fallen into the plot of the movie, the Money Pit.

Even so, I loved my house. Or at least, I loved my location. I loved how close we were to the greenway, the series of wooden paths that run through my city where you can go when you need help visualizing what the world might look like after the collapse of civilization. (Necessary research in my case). As much as I wanted more space, part of me didn’t ever want to move.

I loved my neighbors and the fact my kids could run out at nine in the morning and be outside all day without me worrying about things like traffic or sketchy individuals. Seeing them play with kids next door and down the street brought back memories of my childhood, back in years we won’t mention when the news was a lot less scary. The last thing I wanted was to jeopardize all that.

But as I said, the darn kids kept growing and no matter how much my husband (and to a lesser extent, I) was able to offload or rehome, it never seemed to be enough. So, love it or not, we kept an eye out for something else. Then one day, quite unexpectedly, we found something that checked all the boxes. As much as I hated the idea of moving away from our block, it was a place where I could envision an equally memorable future.

We arranged for movers. A representative walked through our soon-to-be former home and gave us an estimate, saying it wouldn’t be too bad as we didn’t have all that much. Later he would learn just how wrong he was.

The day of the move came. Our neighbor snapped a picture of the truck leaving, captioning it with a sweet goodbye. However, the joke was on her – we had to come back for three more loads before all was said and done.

I’m still in the process of unpacking and learning where the new light switches, scissors, and curiously enough, the trusted zero key on my keyboard are (the latter being particularly annoying), but the place is starting to fill more like my own. As much as I hated the physical process of moving fifteen years of stuff from one location to the next while wondering why I kept so much of it for so long in the first place, I’m looking forward to this next chapter.

I just hope that in fifteen years time, if we move again, I’ll take more memories with me than clutter.

 

Making the Best of the Heat of the Moment

making the best of the heat of the moment - www.alliepottswrites.comDo you ever have those moments … the ones that make you realize everything you’ve done over the past several weeks if not months was preparing you for this one specific day or hour?

I had one of those moments recently.

To properly tell you about it though, I need to go back to this summer. We’d invited another family over and decided after the sun began to set, we’d send the kids upstairs where they could watch a movie while the adults continued to chat downstairs.

I escorted the kids to the top of the stairs where I walked into an invisible wall of sauna-like heat. It quickly became apparent that our heater had taken it upon itself to rise up and rebel against the shackles of its thermostatic-overlord’s imposed peace treaty and instead do battle against its arch-nemesis the air conditioning unit. When I’d walked into the fray, both climatic titans had been doing battle for some time, however, the AC was now in a state of retreat.

We shut the unit off and opened all the windows, hoping beyond hope that the artificially heated air could find its way to the greater outside. It was too much to hope for. The ninety-degree temperatures lasted much of the night, and well into the following morning.

We called an HVAC repairman who let us know that a wire had gone bad. A few moments later the AC was once again running as it should. I thought peace had returned. I was wrong.

Fall decided to cut its time with us short this year, hopping over to winter before the leaves could even finish changing their colors. My husband grumbled and moaned about it but after listening to the children and I complain about the chill he begrudgingly went to turn on the heat. Only the heat didn’t come on.

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How is it already November?

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A day passed. Warmer than the last. Then another day. The chill returned. After a few more days of the atmospheric roller coaster, I asked my husband when he’d scheduled the follow-up appointment with the repair service. I learned he hadn’t. Then it grew colder.

My doorbell rang, sending Her Royal Highness into a frenzy. It was the same technician as the one who’d serviced the unit in the summer (who was deathly afraid of dogs – which of course meant HRH wouldn’t leave him alone). He told me it had to be the thermostat. I questioned that as I’d noted the thermostat wasn’t getting power so thought there had to be another problem.

Then he told me it could be the control board on the furnace or maybe still the wiring. He could fix it, he said, but it would be a two-man job and so he’d have to come back another day – which could be a while as they were rather backed up at the moment with other job orders.

I reluctantly agreed and found a sweater. What other choice did I have?

The downside of working from home is the fact that you don’t have the benefit of escaping to another location when things like this happen. While my kids got to thaw at school during the day and my husband was able to work up a sweat running his business, I, on the other hand, spent the next several days trying to write while I huddled next to an ancient space heater.

The weekend arrived. We’d agreed to go camping with the kids’ scout troop back when we thought we’d still be experiencing a Fall this year. It was in the sixties when we arrived at the site and set up our tent. The sun began to set as the troop built up a fire. The temperature dropped. And dropped. And dropped some more.

It was cold enough to allow me to see my breath inside my tent as I burrowed deeper and deeper into my sleeping bag and still the night grew colder. The temperature inside my home, unpleasant as it was, was nothing compared to this. What had we been thinking, agreeing to go camping in mid-November?

But we survived the night and returned home with memories of s’mores, camp songs, and a new pack of dental floss (an award from a campout game), so it wasn’t all bad.

The house was still chilly when we returned home – but it was far better in comparison to what we’d just “slept” through. The technician came back – this time with help. Unfortunately, even with help, the overall the system was still broken. I soldiered on. After all, I’d been through worse.

That is not to say I gave up and accepted my lot. Instead, we called another service who actually managed to correct the problem, though it cost a little of the extra money I would have rather spent on Christmas gifts. However, ten minutes later, I heard the magical whirl of a fan coming back online as heat descended from the ceiling vent. It was glorious.

When I stood around the campfire that night, I’d joked with the other campers that our heat situation had helped acclimate my body to the cold – as if all the days of shivering by my computer were leading up to this moment. However, the hours that followed, proved me wrong. This story doesn’t end with me being able to grit my teeth and deal with larger adversity thanks to a series of trials leading up to this grand event.

No, instead, what I’ve realized is it’s not enough to deal with and work through unpleasant surprises. You also have to be able to keep yourself from settling for less, when it truly matters, even if that sometimes means starting over. I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again, and each time it has gotten a little less scary. And that’s a thought that may just keep me warm for many more days to come. (Though finally having a working HVAC system sure helps too.)