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Tuesday, June 29, 2010 4 comments

Welcome Back, M.A.E.

Those of you who have been kind enough to stick with TFM through all the weirdness, fictional and otherwise, might recognize the name Ms. Almost Einstein, whom I usually just call M.A.E. Waaaayyyy back when, she was The Boy’s girlfriend, the one he swore he’d kill himself over if we tried to break them up. (Drama queens come in more than one gender.) She was one of the original FAR Manor boarders and hangers-on, and continued to live with us even after The Boy (after sharing a house with her for a good long while) broke up with her over the phone while we were in Florida. Somewhat over three years ago, she left the manor to be close to her new boyfriend.

That didn’t last long, and she eventually found another boyfriend, reproduced (deliberately), never did quite marry the guy. M.A.E. and Mrs. Fetched have stayed in touch, and even went to the resort with us (and little Emma, who now has the blog name Moptop) last September. Then the boyfriend ran into some trouble, going to jail for drugs, and not exactly being a model father and SO after he got out. Somewhere along the line (according to M.A.E. anyway), he started cheating on her and she finally had enough last weekend and bailed (with Moptop of course). She spent a day at SPOW (her mom’s) place, but her mom makes Big V look like a model of sanity and she bailed on that situation too…

… and guess where she landed?

Mason certainly doesn’t mind — he likes watching girls, and Moptop is definitely a girl. We had a daybed in the garage, and were able to set it up in the living room with just a little furniture shuffling. M.A.E. and Moptop were both going to sleep in it last night, but DoubleRed had some place she needed to be for a few nights so she got her own (very large) bed. She brought a ton of food with her, and we’re taking a lot of it for Big V to have some chow.

I can’t wait to get some photos of Mason and Moptop together. They ought to be tooth-rotting cute!

Monday, June 28, 2010 3 comments

White Pickups, Episode 41


“Caitlin was talking to somebody in a pickup,” Little Ben was telling Big Ben — or rather, his camera. “I was afraid she would get in, so I hit her with the soccer ball. She picked it up and threw it back, and that’s when I woke up.” Little Ben went back to his lunch.

“That’s… eerie,” Jennifer said, and Big Ben turned the camera on her. “Caitlin said she had the exact same dream last night! What the hell is going on?”

“Beats me,” Ben said, putting the camera down. “But a lot of people had some kind of dream about the trucks last night. Did you?”

“I might have.” Jennifer paused, scratched her head, looked at her fingers. “Damn, I hate not being able to wash my hair every night. My scalp itches. I think I had a dream, but I don’t remember it.”

“Several people had similar — or identical — dreams last night.”

“I guess the trucks are all on our minds more than we think. It stands to reason, I guess — they took away almost everyone we knew and cared about.” Jennifer raised her mug and slurped. “Who made the soup? This didn’t come out of a can!”

“Some of it did,” someone said from the next table over. “Miss Sally put it together. All of it came out of cans, but she made it soup. Max made the rolls, they’re pretty good too.”

Kelly dropped into a chair across from Cody and Sondra, surprising them both. “Hey,” Kelly said, then slurped some soup from her mug. “Hm, that’s pretty good.”

Sondra glanced at Cody, looking at his mug as if trying to decide if he wanted it, then back at Kelly. She felt a flash of annoyance at the intrusion. Kelly looked much like any young woman these days: dressed in a sweater and jeans, but just a little tight instead of comfortable and slightly loose-fitting, showing off her body to best effect. Sondra wasn’t nearly as well-endowed… not that Cody seems to mind, she thought, and almost smiled. Like Sondra’s, Kelly’s hair was slightly greasy and pulled back in a ponytail. Nobody under forty bothered with makeup these days, but Sondra had to admit that Kelly looked good without it — and everyone was getting toned, walking or bicycling everywhere and gathering food and firewood and other items against the coming winter. Still, Kelly was pretty in a way Sondra never would be. But looks aren’t everything, are they? she found herself thinking. You thought you could slag him off until you were ready to own him… you snooze, you lose.

“You heard, right?” Kelly asked. Cody looked up at Kelly, but she was looking at Sondra.

“The dreams?” Sondra felt a chill, and her right arm tingled for a moment.

“Yeah. So was I in your dream last night, or were you in mine?”

Cody: “What was your dream about?”

Kelly scowled. “I was riding fifth wheel on your honeymoon trip, God knows why, and your car started turning into a pickup. You and Sondra jumped out, and I was trying to get out before my door disappeared or the damn truck crashed.”

“Yeah, that was my dream, too,” Cody said, returning his attention to his soup mug. He lifted it, took a sip. “But I didn’t know if you guys got away. Maybe it was your dream, if you saw that and I didn’t.”

“So why didn’t I dream it?” Sondra asked, scowling at Cody too. “Maybe I’m the fifth wheel here.”

“I don’t think it was our dream,” Cody said, concentrating on the mug. “If it was just the two of us, I’d say yeah — but a bunch of people had dreams. Not everybody… or maybe they did and don’t remember. I heard a couple people say they dreamed something, but can’t recall it.”

“So whose dream was it?” Kelly asked. Both of them dropped the scowls.

Cody looked at each of them, holding his soup mug in front of his face as if hiding. He finally took a sip and put it down. “It came from the trucks, obviously,” he said, his post-Truckalypse confidence returning. “Or whatever sent the damn things.”

“What do they care? Or it?” Sondra asked.

“Hell, I don’t know. And if I ever met the SOB, I’d be too busy trying to kill it to ask.” Cody tore into the corner of his sandwich and talked around it. “Maybe we’re unfinished business. The fish that got away, 'cause we were swimming against the current.”

Kelly gave him a curious look. “Huh. I thought you liked it this way, and you’d kill the truck maker?”

Cody stammered, “I— they— hell yeah, I’d kill it. I’m glad the preps and jocks are gone, but not everyone who drove off was them. My sister… the kids remind me of her, she was about their age. She would’ve liked them. I want her back, but I don’t think anyone who got in a truck is ever coming back — I don’t know that for sure, it’s just a gut feeling. But I’d jump in one of those fucking things myself if I thought it would bring her back.” He wiped his eyes and paused a moment. “Thing is, I don’t think we can rescue anyone. All we can do is get rid of the trucks. And maybe get some payback on whatever sent ’em.”

“How do you figure we can do that?” Cleve asked. The three teens jumped; they had gathered an audience unawares.

“What, just because I wear black and have long hair, I’m automatically the authority on All Things Evil?” Cody mock-sniped at Cleve, and grinned. “You still profiling?”

Cleve laughed, as did several others. “Busted the cop! But seriously, do you have any idea how we can fight those things?”

“Not yet. Maybe if we knew more about them — about what happens to people who drive off — we’ll be able to figure out what to do next.”

“Yeah. So what’s the next step?”

Cody took a deep breath. “You know what? I think I have an idea.”


Friday, June 25, 2010 2 comments

Phone Booth at the Crossroads

After a few calls to support, and a little troubleshooting on my own, I’ve concluded that my iPhone 3G is pretty much toast. It works OK until it gets warm, then the phone part blows a gasket and thinks it needs to be restored. The rest of the phone works fine when this happens, including the wifi; if I turn it off and let it cool down, it comes back like nothing ever happened.

With the new iPhone 4 out, you might think this was a wonderful excuse to upgrade… but Mrs. Fetched has been complaining about the phone bill for a while and put a preemptive kibosh on upgrading. The two small areas between the manor and the retail district where we lose signal are (for her) a reason to go back to Verizon. But smartphones on Verizon are even more expensive than on AT&T, and frankly I’d rather not have a cellphone at all than live with how Verizon cripples their not-so-smart phones.

So I’m seriously considering a more radical move: keep the ailing iPhone, remove the SIM card, and turn it into a Skype phone. The IdioTs at work block wifi access for personal equipment, but that’s what an office phone is for. There are plenty of open wifi hotspots between work and the retail district, and I really shouldn’t be on the phone in the car anyway, right?

Doing a little figuring in my head, it seems like I could probably do all the phone stuff I really need on Skype for maybe $10/month, maybe a little more. For what I’m paying to have an iPhone, a few inconveniences don’t seem all that substantial…

Tuesday, June 22, 2010 5 comments

State of the FARf

Shortly after Mrs. Fetched got off the phone Friday afternoon and told me about my doctor appointment coming up Monday, my phone and computer also got in on the act. I punch those follow-up dates into my phone on the spot so I'll have some warning.

But when Big V somehow managed to end up at the manor, with Splat's kid Skyler, it was a somewhat less than restful night. Big V passed out in the rocker that we use to get Mason to sleep, so he was up for quite a while… The Boy and Snippet ended up taking him upstairs with them until he wore himself out. Each of the babies woke up through the night, and I just don't sleep through that… so when morning rolled around, I didn't start rolling until it was impossible to get to the doc's office on time. I called and they said I could be 20 minutes late without having to reschedule, so I jumped in the car and booked it. I just made it, even with the obligatory slowpokes, but just barely.

Blood pressure was good, even with the hassle of getting there. They ran an EKG, which seemed to go OK since I didn't get referred to a cardiologist. She put on The Glove… and assured me she'd take to dinner first next time. That wasn't so wonderful, since she found a bump that didn't belong there. Now I get the full reaming, boo hiss. A large "eternal" zit on my back turned out to be a cyst, and that will get yanked tomorrow.

Might as well get all the scary stuff out of the way since I'm still employed, right? At least Big V was at her own house last night.

Monday, June 21, 2010 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 40


From the diary of Ben Cho, fall 2011, condensed:

We planted spinach and turnips, and a few stored onions that started sprouting. We gathered trailer-loads of walnuts, and a few buckets of hickory and pecans. One of our field guides told us how to get the bitterness out of oak acorns — put them in a cloth bag and leave them in running water for a few days — but we don’t trust nearby creeks to be running clean just yet, so we’ll let that food source pass this year. It’s clear we won’t starve though, even if the gardens fail; we just have to let things grow and know what to look for. Johnny Latimer says he’s going to start hunting, it would be nice to have some fresh meat. Feral dogs are becoming a problem, but the fence keeps the most dangerous ones out and everyone is armed when they go outside.

Water is a tougher nut. We can count on numerous rain barrels scavenged from garden centers, at least through the winter, but rainfall in a Georgia summer is anything but reliable. So many things we need water for: drinking, cooking, sterilizing (by boiling), washing, irrigation, and some of us still find ourselves trying the faucets from time to time. We decided that the creeks might be all right for irrigation and washing by spring, and we’ll start drinking from them (with filtering) this summer if we have to. We covered the swimming pool for the winter, but we’ll probably use it as a swimming pool at least one more year.

A lot of us have been having weird dreams lately. Everyone’s an amateur psychologist…

Part III
Dream Warfare

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Cody hit the bedroom wall, bounced back flailing. “Uh!” Moonlight made his red robe a dark spot among shadows.

“Cody, are you all right?”

He paused a moment. “Uh. Um… yeah.”

“You must have been having a dream,” Sondra said, sitting up and wrapping her robe around herself. “You remember it?”

“Yeah.” He sat down, reached under the blanket, found her hand. “It was… weird. We got married and we were driving to Florida for our honeymoon. The weird part was, Kelly was in the back seat, I don’t know why. She said, ‘Look, we’re taking off,’ and we raised up off the ground… but the car started turning into… you know. You were yelling at me to stop, stop, and I was standing on the brakes. Then I said, ‘We’ll have to jump,’ and I opened the door and jumped out. I hit the pavement — I even felt it — and was hoping you got out too. Did I just run into the wall?”

“Yeah, you did. You okay?”

“I guess so.” He felt himself over, then shivered and climbed back under the covers. They wrapped themselves around each other. “It’s cold out of bed. I guess when winter really gets here, we’ll have to move into the living room, in front of the fireplace.”

“Sounds romantic. So… getting married wasn’t the bad part?”

“Not really. As long as it was you, anyway. Problem is, I think all the preachers drove off.”

“We’ll work something out when the time comes,” Sondra whispered, kissing him. “As for keeping warm…”

They went back to sleep, but not right away.

Jennifer Lane woke with a start, and gasped at the silhouette against the moonlit window.

“Miss Jennifer? I had a bad dream.”

“Oh. Caitlin. It’s all right, you’re awake now. Do you remember it?”

“Yeah.” The little girl shuddered, even wrapped in her blanket from the futon in the living room. “I was playing outside, and a truck stopped. My mom was in it — I couldn’t see her, but I knew it was her. She said to get in.”

Jennifer thought a moment. “Did you?”

“I didn’t want to. I said you were taking care of me now, and I was scared of the trucks, but she said I had to come. I started walking toward it, and someone — I think it was Ben — threw a soccer ball at me. I threw it back at him, then I woke up.”

“You want to know what I think?” Jennifer asked, and Caitlin nodded. “I think you had that dream because we went and got your stuff from your old house on Wednesday, and we had to stay there overnight because it was too far to ride back home before dark. That made you think about your mom, but you didn’t know you were thinking about her, so you had the dream.”

“But I did think about her!” Caitlin wailed. Her breath caught for a moment. “I did. I — I didn’t wanna make you feel bad, because I know you’re taking care of me now, but I wished she was home and I could just stay there with her.” Jennifer could see her tears in the moonlight.

“It’s okay, Caitlin,” Jennifer said. “I’d be disappointed if you didn’t feel that way. It’s normal.” She took Caitlin’s hand, and the girl slumped onto the bed, crying. Jennifer let her cry, and Caitlin cried herself to sleep on the bed, still wrapped up in the blanket.

Jennifer looked at the sleeping girl for a moment. Caitlin couldn’t help being a little clingy; her parents had split last winter. First her dad had left, then her mom drove off. Her crush on Cody was likely just his “luck” at being the first older boy she’d met. The girl was already losing her fat — with no TV to speak of and lots of work to get ready for the winter, even the kids were getting in shape — but was still too heavy to pick up. After a moment of thought, Jennifer got another blanket from the closet and went to the futon. Good enough for her, good enough for me, she thought. She slept — and had her own dreams.

to be continued…

Thursday, June 17, 2010 5 comments

The Cluster-Post

Since I can’t seem to get to these nearly as often as I’d like… they all get rolled up into one big post.

I’ve only had it for a few days, and I’m finding the new iPad is a game-changer, at least as much as moving from desktops to laptops was. It’s already changing how I read email, use Twitter, read blogs, and play games. Once I get a Bluetooth keyboard for it, I expect that I’ll be on it more than I am the MacBook since I’ll use it to blog and work on stories too. Actually, in landscape mode, the on-screen keyboard is big enough to touch-type on. I have to look at it though because I have no idea whether my fingers are drifting off their correct position, though.

I really wish Google would come up with a way to allow writing and editing in Google Docs with the iPad. But until they get it figured out, I’ve found that Yahoo Notepad at least works for tapping out something into the cloud. Obviously, I’d settle for limited functionality with Google Docs.

Mason's third handMason had his 9-month checkup this week. He hasn’t gained any weight, but our doc didn’t seem too concerned about that since he’s so active (which he demonstrated quite well in the exam room). She said his iron’s a little low, feed him some baby vitamins… and meat, if we can find any he’ll eat. Actually, there’s an organic turkey w/vegetables combo that he seems to like OK.

As you can see in the pic here, he: 1) is constantly in motion; 2) has figured out how to carry something around when he has his hands otherwise occupied. He’ll be walking pretty soon — this afternoon, I watched him get to his feet “open-field” (that is, not pulling up on anything), so he’s getting a little more confident with his balance. He has also taken a couple of steps, ran three more and dropped to his hands and knees once he realized what he was doing… looks like all he needs a little more confidence. I’m rediscovering how one can turn stuff laying around into instant baby toys: large pill bottles are just the right size to hold (but not eat) and can really be interesting with a few beads or jingle bells inside; cardboard boxes and upside-down laundry baskets are perennial hits; even a stack of old magazines can be a happy distraction for pulling down and strewing around.

One of the downsides of Mason’s continued development is that he’s learned how to cut loose with this blood-curdling screech when he wants attention. I guess I’d better warn the Wicked Stepfather to turn off his hearing aid when we go visit.

Reality is stranger than fiction, at least around FAR Manor, and the two sort of came together this weekend at church. The little teen girl who sings in the choir introduced me to her friend Caitlin on Sunday morning. And… Caitlin is this little redhead, just like Caitlin Cooper in White Pickups (the one with the gigantic crush on Cody). The real-life Caitlin is fairly slim, but the chubby fictional Caitlin is slimming down what with… well, some upcoming episodes will explain. I have to say, meeting one’s own characters IRL (when they more or less introduced themselves from thin air to begin with) ranks right up there with some of the weirder writing-related things I’ve run into. Speaking of writing, I’ve been making pretty good progress on the story lately… I have episodes sorted through #60 and have about eight more that need to be ordered and laid out (with one more to insert). From there, I know how it’s going to end and mostly how to get there… and the details tend to be there when I need them. Then it’s on to Book 2!

And… what would a week (or a day) at FAR manor be without some TB/SN/TS errors? Snippet has constantly been throwing SN06 errors lately (sleeping all morning, sometimes into the afternoon); her excuse is (SN05) she can’t deal with Mrs. Fetched or Daughter Dearest. Seeing as DD is in Florida this week, she should be getting up twice as soon since she only has half the can’t-deal-with to deal with.

Yesterday, she wanted to go tubing on her off-day, leaving Mason with us (of course) and Mrs. Fetched vetoed it. Snippet, of course, got all defiant and threatened to “take Mason and she won’t see him for a long time.” That qualifies as an SN08, because she can’t usually get her skinny little @$$ out of bed before noon — what makes her think (if one can call it that) that she’d be able to do even a halfway job of taking care of an active baby?

The Boy, meanwhile, has been indulging in multiple instances of TB03 (not coming home) and TB21 (in bed half the day). And several TS03 (bring weird friends over) — one of them was here all weekend and wasn’t out until Tuesday. Despite the uglification he’d obviously worked hard at, he wasn’t all that bad… he would keep Mason entertained and watched over, and was a fair hand at the piano. Snippet doesn’t like him, so that’s maybe one more thing in his favor.

Oh, and I’ve been continuing to work on the wood spill. More later…

Monday, June 14, 2010 7 comments

White Pickups, Episode 39


The laden trailers slowed them down, which suited Cleve just fine. They stuck to the side of the road, using bike lanes or sidewalks where available. The drivers of the pickups seemed happy to share the road, but nobody wanted to listen to the constant invitations. The late-morning sun was warm, and the four of them worked up a sweat in a hurry. Everyone kept an eye out for other riders, but Tim guessed that between the head start and their load, whoever had passed by Sunlover’s was long gone.

Sara waved them to a stop shortly before Pleasant Hill. “Listen! Is that a dog barking?”

“Sounds like two, maybe more,” Johnny said, hefting his carbine. “Safeties off?”

“Not yet,” Cleve said, peering down the highway, “but let’s move slow enough where we can stop quick. Don’t worry about kickstands, just let the bikes fall over if we have to. Sara, you sure you don’t want a gun?”

“I’d just shoot myself or one of you.” She unhooked the air pump from its mount. “If I have to, I’ll whack ’em on the nose. That might slow ’em down enough for one of you to rescue me.”

They moved slowly, crossing Pleasant Hill behind a few trucks (who treated all major intersections as a four-way stop). The barking grew louder, then they saw movement up ahead. “Safeties off now,” Cleve said, stopping long enough for all of them to comply, and they hurried forward.

Up ahead, a woman faced two large dogs in a church parking lot, backed up against a truck. She had positioned her bike so the two dogs facing her could only come at her from one direction, and she had her air pump in hand. A third dog lay in the road; the occasional thump-thump of a pickup rolling over it suggested the dogs had crossed the highway to attack.

Back off!” Cleve shouted at the dogs, who turned to face the newcomers; the woman looked up as well. They barked and darted forward, but did not close. Tim waved at the woman to get out of the way; she picked up her bike and slipped around the white pickup, as quiet as possible. One of the dogs turned back to her, but too late — Johnny fired four times as soon as he had a clear shot. Both dogs dropped to the pavement, twitching for a few moments, then lay still. The woman slumped to the pavement behind the truck, and Sara ran to her.

“Are you all right?”

The woman looked up at Sara. She was dark, nearly as dark as Sara herself; she had her long straight black hair pulled back into a tail and tucked into the collar of her shirt. A cap lay on the pavement nearby. “I think so. They didn’t bite me.” Tears ran down the rider’s eyes. “What will you do with me?” There was a lilt to her voice, an accent Sara couldn’t quite place.

“You can come with us, if you like,” Sara said. “We live a ways north of here.”

“This is why we don’t travel alone, and we don’t travel unarmed,” Cleve said, a little winded from running to catch Sara. “I guess you’ve been lucky so far.” Tim and Johnny joined them.

“Lucky? I suppose.”

Sara shook her head at Cleve. “I’m Sara Karsten. This is Johnny Latimer, Tim Petro, and Cleve Isaacs. We live… a little north of here.”

“I’m Rita Diaz. And thank you all for coming when you did.”

Tim asked, “Were you who I saw about an hour ago, riding up the highway?”

Rita nodded. “I was alone. I thought if I couldn’t find other people, I might find a farmhouse somewhere in the country where I could grow my own food. My parents used to tell me about the way they lived in Mexico; I thought if they could do it, perhaps I could too. I stopped at a gas station a ways back to rest and get a few water bottles. If you hadn’t come along… when I saw the dogs, I thought I could get into this church and claim sanctuary, but they came too fast. So perhaps God sent some angels instead?”

Johnny laughed. “We’re no angels, but we’re not bad folks either. We live in a fenced-in subdivision, and some of us are already turning it into a big ol’ lawns-to-gardens project. The trucks are all outside the fence, so I guess that makes it a little slice of Heaven. Shoot… maybe we are angels, then.” He laughed, and Rita joined him.

“May I ask… what are you carrying?”

“Solar panels, control boxes, spools of wire, batteries, all that junk,” Cleve said. “Some of us gotta have our creature comforts, you know.”

“Very resourceful. I should have thought of that myself,” Rita said. “Maybe I didn’t think things through as much as I should have. Being out in the country would make it hard to scavenge while waiting for the harvest.”

“You think we’re resourceful?” Tim laughed. “You haven’t met Cody yet!”

“I’d be glad to learn from him, and the rest of you. If you’ll have me.”

“Sure,” Cleve said. “There ain’t enough of us to worry about crowding, any time soon.”

“Thank you so much,” Rita said. “For saving me, and for taking me in. How far do we have to go?”

“Ten miles, maybe?”

“I’ll try not to slow you down. I’m not used to bicycling everywhere yet. Could we stop by a medical clinic on the way?”

“Why?” Cleve asked. “Are you hurt?” Tim caught Cleve’s suspicious look that said: or are you a druggie?

“No… I want to pick up some supplies. I’m a nurse-practitioner, so I thought it might be useful to have some things around in case they’re needed.”

Nobody said anything for several moments. “Well, you’re an answered prayer, then,” Tim said. “You sure you’re not the angel?”

to be continued…

Saturday, June 12, 2010 7 comments

From the “Holy Crap!” Department…

OK, I know I gripe a lot about stuff in my life. Then something like this comes totally out of right field…

Mrs. Fetched’s older sister came to visit today, bringing much food for me to grill. She handed me this iPad and said, “I thought you might like to play around with this for a while.” Oh, but of course! “This isn’t the 3G kind, just wifi,” she added… no problem, we have wifi here. (I sometimes like to think of FAR Manor as a tiny oasis of civilization in the midst of cultural darkness.) But there was much grilling of food to be done first, naturally. I got to fiddle with it a little, anyway.


She’d loaded several eBook readers and music streamers on it, and more than a few ebooks, videos, music tracks, and so on. Our media preferences don’t intersect all that well, but who cares? It was fun to fiddle with. There was “only” 20GB left (on a 64GB iPad)… I learned a while ago that an 8GB iPhone fills up pretty quick, so I figure to get at least a 16 or 32GB version next time (which may be soon, as my iPhone craps out when it gets warm now).

Then we brought to the food down to the in-laws’ place for lunch. She hugs me and whispers, “Since I didn’t get you anything for Christmas this year, I figured you could have that.” [FARf→floor]

Yeah, I complain a lot about the stupid stuff that goes on around here, but sometimes… something like that happens. Like winning a Kindle at Christmas. Okay then: the Ultimate eReader Smackdown is about to begin!

Thursday, June 10, 2010 3 comments

Wood Spill

I finally got serious about cleaning up the wood spill behind the manor.

After dispersing the spill with power and hand tools, there ’s still a couple major plumes of wood…

pile of wood

another pile of wood

Nature is lending a hand at eating the spill, although it would take a long time…

Wood beetle

Some of the smaller wood particles have drifted into the woods, where they won’t cause any problems…

brush pile

Some of the spill has been recovered and stored…

stacked wood

Still lots of work to do, but I’m hoping to have the spill cleaned up in the next week or so. It would go a lot faster if I could get The Boy in on the action.

Monday, June 07, 2010 3 comments

White Pickups, Episode 38


Thursday, September 29, 2011

One by one, Cleve, Johnny, Sara, and Tim rolled up in front of Sunlover’s Solar. Cleve and Tim took up positions on either side of the strip building, covering Sara and Johnny as they pulled up. Sara was unarmed, at her insistence, but Johnny had his carbine slung over his shoulder. Morning was bright and warm, a perfect early fall day. As usual, a single white pickup whispered to them in the parking lot; others rolled north and south on Buford Highway. An overhang shaded the storefronts, but the sun reflected off the windows and doors of the trucks.

Sunlover’s had a small window; Sara peeked in and saw a few displays but no movement. She gave the door a try. “It’s locked.”

“Figures,” grumbled Johnny, watching the street. “The most important place we’ve looted so far, and the first one we’ll have to break into.” He stepped out to catch Cleve’s eye. “It’s locked, Cleve! Now what?”

“Johnny, come down here. Cover me while I check out the back door. Sara, go over to Tim’s corner and help him watch.” They split up.

Tim stood watching the driveway to the back; it was wide enough for a transfer truck. The next strip building squatted on the other side, uphill beyond a few shrubs in a four-foot landscaping island. Sara jogged to the corner.

“Watch my back,” Tim said.

“Above or below the belt?” she laughed.

He gave her a wary smile. “Good thing I didn’t tell you to watch behind me.”

“But that’s what you want, right?”

“Yeah.” She shifted to his side to watch the back lot.

After a quiet minute, Tim spoke: “You been doing okay?”

“Sure. I walked to my job at the Saver-Mart most days. Riding a bike’s a little different, but you get used to it.”

“Yeah. But I really meant, with all… all this.” He waved his hand at the street.

“Well, those trucks ain’t been what I wanted to look at the rest of my life, but I’ll get by. I’m keeping Ashley now, so I’m doing something useful. What about you?”

Tim sighed. “Has it really only been a week since I found Rebecca? It seems like a lot longer than that.”

“A crisis does funny things to time. That’s what my kin in New Orleans would say. They should know, they were there for Katrina.”

“Ow. I’m sorry.”

“Me too.” She put a hand on his arm.

“Thanks. You know? Maybe… it’s better this way. Sure, I’d rather she lived long enough for us to find her, but it would have been awkward, being around her all the time.”

“That bad?”

“Oh yeah. We’d have been checking out each others’ new interests, and probably approving them. Or not.”

“Wow. ‘Up in each other’s bidness’ is what my family called that. That wouldn’t have gone well.”

“Tell me about it.”

Johnny poked his head around the corner in the back. “Hey! The back door was unlocked, we’re about to go in. Meet us up front, but Cleve said not to stand where anyone inside can see you from the window.”

“Okay!” Sara answered. “C’mon, Tim… Tim? What is it?”

“I… I could have sworn I just saw someone ride by on a bicycle.”

“Which way?”

“Going north. On the other side of the road.” Tim pointed then walked down the storefronts, watching the street and in front of him.

“Did they see us?”

“I don’t think so. They didn’t look this way.”

“We’ll have to be careful going back, then,” Cleve said. They stood inside Sunlover’s, watching the traffic through the window while Sara looked at the displays.

“Eco-Mergency 2000,” Sara read aloud. “Portable power at home or away from home.”

“I don’t think they saw us down here,” Tim said. “He — I think it was a he — didn’t even look our way. He would have had to look over his shoulder to see me, anyway.”

“GridFree — When you’re ready to cut the cord, or when the cord isn’t long enough. Ha. Cute. Optional RV mount available.”

“So do we do anything different going back?” asked Johnny.

“I don’t guess so,” said Cleve. “We just have to be watching for places where someone could jump us.”

“Ask about our fall special: free delivery and 50% off installation. Hm. Sounds tempting. I bet they didn’t expect all their installers to drive off, though.”

“Looks like we’ll have to deliver them ourselves,” Tim said. “Nice displays. I guess the merchandise is out back?”

“Yeah. And I still can’t get outta the habit of flippin’ the switch,” Cleve grinned. “They must have one of their systems up on the roof, ’cause the lights actually came on. ’Bout gave me a heart attack!”

“You put down the doughnut, maybe you won’t get a heart attack,” Sara laughed.

“Babe, why you gotta go there?” Cleve grinned. “Nah. I think I’ve lost five pounds already, and it’s only been two weeks. The end of the world is gonna gimme back those fifteen years I was gonna lose!”

“Hey Cleve,” Tim said, still watching the window. “I just thought about this. Were any of you guys downtown smokers?”

“Damn… you know what? I don’t think any of us smoked. I used to, had to put ’em down at the end of ’08. I swore if we got a black president, I’d quit… and damn if it didn’t happen. Then the world had to go and end!”

“Stands to reason,” Johnny said, after the laughter died down. “The trucks would’ve ‘picked up’ on that right away. ‘Drive off, we got smokes.’”

“Picked up? Tell me you didn’t just say that!” Cleve fanned the air in front of his nose. “Y’know, we’ll never get this stuff loaded if we sit here shootin’ the breeze. We can do that at home. Johnny, you watch out front. We’ll bring the bikes around back and load up.”

“Beats liftin’ stuff,” Johnny laughed, patting the carbine. “You want me to shoot first and ask questions later?”


Tuesday, June 01, 2010 6 comments

Self-Published Publicity (NSFW?)

… or “Boobs, Books, and Buzz.” Or "Marketing 101 in the Internet Age.”

Have you heard the names “Hayley Williams” and “Paramore”? Until Saturday, I hadn’t, although Daughter Dearest insists that I’ve heard some of their music on the radio. Anyway, this self-snapped shot (look at the angle of her left arm) appeared in her TwitPic stream on Thursday night — OK, I’ve slightly doctored it to keep this post PG-rated:

Hayley Williams topless pic (censored)

The pic was pulled down, but not soon enough for it to get copied (obviously, see above) and the old Whoops, I got hacked excuse popped up in her tweetstream. 'Course, some folks checked the pic’s EXIF data and found the shot was snapped about eight minutes before it got posted… making the possibility of a hack, shall we say, extremely remote. A much more believable explanation would have been “it was supposed to be for my boyfriend and I messed up when I emailed it.”

For those of you who have to see the original, I found out about the whole kerfuffle in an [!!!!!NSFW!!!!!] article from TheRegister [!!!!!NSFW!!!!!]; it includes the picture in all its nude-tastic glory as I type (and ElReg tends to give the meaty middle finger to take-down notices).

So… this all happens on Thursday. I read about it on Saturday. And by Monday, I’m off to Amazon’s MP3 store to check out Paramore’s music selection… which turns out to be pleasant to listen to as well. There has been a ton of press about it, and “Hayley Williams” is a trending topic on Twitter at the moment — you just can’t buy publicity that good. Hey, if I thought I’d get a huge traffic bump by posting (and taking down) a nudie of myself, I’d go for it too… but my bits just aren’t as interesting to look at. IMHO.

Clothing choices aside, I like her face better in the above shot than the one in a more “turned-out” publicity pic (in which she looks like a Jennifer Aniston clone, not that I think Jen is unpleasant looking). Hayley, lose the makeup and the hair stylist, you look better and more like yourself without them.

Now that I’ve got your attention…

Last week, I mentioned, among other things, J.A. Konrath being the subject of a Publisher’s Weekly hit-piece and his response. This week, he embarks on a fascinating experiment he calls Steal This eBook: he makes available a zip file containing Jack Daniels Stories (one of his own books) in various ebook formats (and a direct link if the first one doesn’t work). The really audacious part is where he asks people to share the file far and wide via the usual “piracy” channels.

Konrath sums up his experiment thus: “I've said repeatedly that there is no proof piracy hurts sales. So I'm manning up and putting my money where my mouth is.” Indeed. This experiment has just sailed, so it’ll be interesting to see how it pans out. But I can already say, Konrath has put one of his books in my reading pile where there were none before. I’ve never been one to shy away from making predictions, so I’ll throw one out here: I think he’ll see a negligible effect on sales for this particular book, and a noticeable uptick in sales of his other books.

Of course, it can be debated (and is being debated in the comments on Konrath’s blog) whether this is actually “piracy” or not — after all, the author himself is encouraging spreading the file far and wide. Perhaps this should be better considered a “loss leader,” an old sales tactic where a store sells one product at a loss in hopes that people will buy other (more profitably marked-up) stuff while they’re grabbing the Great Deal. But successful buzz generation means you have to get people to notice what you’re saying — and is “A free ebook” or “Hey, pirate my ebook!” going to get more notice? Or, in the case of Hayley Williams, did “hey, music” or “BOOBZIEZ!!!!” turn more heads? (Big hint: of the thousands of bands out there, who’s getting the attention right now?)

Publicity is not for the faint of heart, and DIY publicity doubly so. I think there are some lessons to be learned here, though, to make things a little less scary…

1) You can only do this thing once. Williams’s stunt definitely lands in the category of “tough act to follow.” Konrath took a more modest approach, but even if he offers another freebie later on, a lot of people will go “yeah, yeah.”

2) Know what results you’re looking for. I’m guessing that both Konrath and Williams did, and got them.

3) Seize the opportunity when something goes wrong. Sometimes, you might get free publicity in a way you neither expected nor particularly wanted. Once the genie is out of the bottle, no amount of whining nor DMCA take-down notices will get it back in… and you’ll just end up looking clueless and petty. Make it work for you instead. Get out in front of the story so you’ll have at least some control — and for your own sake, don’t come up with a lame explanation that can be easily debunked (e.g. “I got hacked”). On the other hand, if you can extend the controversy (which is an unpleasant way of saying “extend the free publicity”) with a silly comment, it might be worth it.

Consider the sad case of Stephanie Meyer throwing a hissy-fit when an early draft of Midnight Sun* got leaked onto the net — she decided that she’d “been violated” and walked away from the work. To her credit, she soon acquired a partial clue and posted a copy herself (although with the usual “Any retranscription or reproduction is illegal” stuff), but still has no plans to finish it. She would have been far better off, publicity-wise, had she said something like “I’ve been rewriting this and what hits the shelves will be different and far better, it’ll be out on [some date]. Hang in there.”

*Thanks go to Daughter Dearest, a Stephanie Meyer fan, for supplying both the book title and the author name when my memory couldn’t produce either one.

Cheap electronics and public networks have changed creative media forever. It was once said, “freedom of the press applies only to those who can afford a printing press.” Now the electronic equivalent can be purchased for a few hundred bucks new, or sometimes fished out of a dumpster for free. Of course, the old “talent” issue still applies — Sturgeon’s Law says “Ninety percent of everything is crap,” and many would say Sturgeon was an optimist — and so publishers and the recording/movie industry can claim to be a filter for that ninety percent. Still, people like J.A. Konrath are making a comfortable living without having the mass-market appeal that the gatekeepers/filters demand, simply by using the tools available today and finding a way to get noticed.


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