Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Please Send One Dollar…

In the seventh episode of the eighth season of The Simpsons (“Lisa’s Date with Density”), Homer finds an auto-dialer and sends messages to his neighbors telling them they can have eternal happiness if they send him one dollar.

Even better, after he gets caught, he sends out a new message apologizing and telling them to send a dollar if they forgive him.

You’d think silly scams like this are only fodder for comedy shows, but they’re not. They’re everywhere around us and it doesn’t take a Springfieldian to fall for one. Scams out there that we might laugh at (the Nigerian prince, the promise for dsc0unt V1agra) are just waiting for you to slip up and click the link because for whatever reason, you believe what it says. They used to do this via snail mail, too. They were called chain letters back then.

You can’t be on guard all the time and you can’t be aware of all the scams that you’ll laugh at later but right now, might seem legitimate. The only way to be prepared is to recognize the signs of suspicion that indicate something is amiss. Before you open that email or click on that tweeted link for WRITER’S WANTED, watch out for these signs:

1. You don’t recognize the sender. A friend may have changed his/her email address, but that shouldn’t be the first thing you jump to, especially if the address just seems to be a random assortment of letters and numbers.
2. The subject line is Hi or Hello, or says it’s a forward or reply. Yes, I’ve gotten replies to emails I never sent. Combined with number one above means it’s a match for your spam folder. I suggest whenever you send an email, don’t use a generic greeting in the subject line. Do anything more specific, because Hi should be in your spam filter.
3. The tweeter doesn’t have a picture. If that big egg is up there, be cautious, especially if they have no blurb underneath. They might be new, so check their profiles to make sure they aren’t only tweeting links. I’m not on Facebook so I can’t get into specifics, but I think the principle is the same: if there’s nothing that makes them seem real, they probably aren’t.
4. Be wary of clicking on links, especially shortened ones. The short links are nice for getting your point out more briefly, but can’t be verified by a mouseover or simple check of the source. I link quite a bit, so I try to explain what it is I’m linking to. Never click an unexplained link and avoid those of people you don’t know.
5. Never click a link in an email, even if you’re sure it’s legit. There are a lot of websites out there with the sole purpose of mimicking a more famous website. If Someone@FaceBook.reply.net emails you saying your account has been hacked, please click on this link to visit it, don’t do it. Go to Facebook and check your account on the website. The only exception to this rule is if you’ve just signed up for a website or had to ask for a new password because you forgot yours. In those cases, they usually send an email out to confirm that the person at your email address is really you. Lucky for us, most of those addresses are NoReply@twitter.com, so there’s a lot less of a chance of hacking.
6. Your spyware/antivirus software popped up saying your computer is infected but it can’t erase the infection. This in itself is an infection. It happened to me once; Windows Defender kept popping up saying I had a virus but there was something wrong with my Key Code and I needed to reenter it. Something about the window that popped up looked wrong, not quite Windows-y, and then it asked me for a credit card to renew my prescription. That’s when I knew it wasn’t right. But every time I clicked exit, it just popped up again a few minutes later. My computer was infected with a bad virus that was blocking my antivirus software. I needed to use System Restore to go back a few days in my computer’s memory. If this ever happens to you, don’t assume it’s okay. Your security software sends emails when you need to renew and you go to their website, not some strange box on your desktop.
7. If someone on Twitter or Facebook or any social networking site asks you for money, don’t do it. There are a lot of scams going around where someone claims to be an old friend of yours (hey, people share this information online and it’s not that hard to find), chats you up for a few weeks, then emails you with an emergency saying they’re trapped in another country with no cellphone and no money. They beg you to send a few grand for them to get back home and since it’s a friend (or so you think), you do it. But it’s not! If anyone, even someone who seems to be someone you know, asks you for money, start asking questions only they would know. Make it vague, something they wouldn’t put online (ask about the time they got hammered and drunk dialed their ex, not what their sister’s name is). If you really believe it’s your friend, they’ll accept something that requires an ID and signature to obtain, too. If they get defensive, cut off communication. It’s a scam.

This public service announcement has been brought to you by: The annoying spammers who keep tweeting those links. Stop bothering me.  

Monday, November 29, 2010

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Now that NaNoWriMo is coming to a close, I no longer have an excuse for lack of content in my blog. Hmm.

Anyway, I'm back to editing my other WIP and I think I have a few bits of advice for others also trapped within the tumbling castle. First of all: activate your writing. I know, it sounds cliche, but it's the best thing you can do. I have almost three hundred variations of the word "see" in my novel and it's bad.

You don't need your character to see/feel/hear something for it to happen. Eliminating the senses puts the reader right in the scene with the character, so if they're running from a shooter, so is the reader. But if you say "Eddie saw the gun point at him," it takes them right out. The gun isn't pointed at the reader; it's pointed at the character. They disengage, lose interest. But if instead it says "The gun leveled at Eddie's chest," you actually feel the gun pointed at you.

Unless there is a particular reason for the sense to be called up, (i.e. the scene where my characters were in an unlit tunnel and had to feel their way around), don't use it. Use a word that makes the reader feel it, not the character. Another example: "He felt the sun sear his back." Okay. But he felt it. What do I care? "The sun burned holes in his back." Better. I can imagine it happening to me now and ow, it hurts. 

Advice number two: "That" is a seductive word. Don't let it charm you with it's extra pause in your sentence. Unnecessary words are the enemy. As is inactive writing.

Oh, man. If this is what I pull out when NaNo is done, this does not bode well for the future. ; )

Sunday, November 28, 2010

One Hundred And One

A few days ago, there was a list going around about one hundred classic books. It asked you to copy and paste the list into your own blog and then bold the ones you’ve read and italicize the ones you read part of but, for whatever reason did not finish. The list was pretty good, but there were a few doubles, i.e. Hamlet and the Complete Works of Shakespeare (which there are a lot of; I don’t know how anyone could read all of them), and some works I thought were slighted since they are, if this makes sense, recent classics. 

In any case, I’ve decided to post my own list, this one of 101 writers you should read before you die. If anyone has any writers or works by them to add, leave it in the comments, because I know I missed some great ones.

1.      Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse Five, Harrison Bergeron 
2.      Laurie Halse Anderson: Speak 
3.      Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Beloved 
4.      Zora Neale Hurston: Their Eyes Were Watching God 
5.      William Shakespeare, whose written a number of sonnets as well as plays like Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Othello, and a Midsummer Night’s Dream 
6.      Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games (series) 
7.      J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter (series) 
8.      C.S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia (series) 
9.      Richard Adams: Watership Down 
10.  Mark Z. Danielewski: House of Leaves 
11.  Stephen King: It, Misery, The Stand, Christine and many, many more 
12.  Ira Levin: Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives, A Kiss Before Dying, Sliver 
13.  H.P. Lovecraft: The Call of Cthulhu, At the Mountains of Madness, The Whisperer in Darkness 
14.  Thomas Harris: The Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon   
15.  Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma 
16.  Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities 
17.  Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre 
18.  Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights 
19.  Emily Dickinson, author of 1775 poems 
20.  William Golding: Lord of the Flies 
21.  George Orwell: 1984, Animal Farm 
22.  JRR Tolkien: Lord of the Rings (series), The Hobbit 
23.  John Irving: A Prayer for Owen Meany 
24.  Daphne Du Maurier: Rebecca, The Birds 
25.  Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler’s Wife 
26.  F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 
27.  Langston Hughes: The Negro Speaks of Rivers, My People, Not Without Laughter 
28.  Fyodor Dostoyevski: Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov 
29.  John Steinbeck: East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men 
30.  Lewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass 
31.  L. Frank Baum: The Wizard of Oz (and its sequels) 
32.  Khaled Hosseini: The Kite Runner 
33.  Arthur Golden: Memoirs of a Geisha 
34.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings 
35.  Rudyard Kipling: The Jungle Book, The Man Who Would Be King 
36.  Laura Ingalls Wilder: Little House in the Big Woods, Little Town on the Prairie 
37.  Margaret Atwood: The Handmaiden’s Tail 
38.  Frank Herbert: Dune 
39.  Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace, Anna Karenina 
40.  Henrik Ibsen: A Doll’s House 
41.  Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows 
42.  J.D. Salinger: Catcher in the Rye 
43.  Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita 
44.  Alice Sebold: The Lovely Bones, Lucky 
45.  Alexandre Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers 
46.  Louis L’Amour: Silver Canyon, The Quick and the Dead, How the West was Won 
47.  Jean Shepherd: In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash 
48.  Cormac McCarthy: The Road 
49.  A.A. Milne: Winnie the Pooh 
50.  Louise Fitzhugh: Harriet the Spy 
51.  John Le Carre: The Constant Gardener 
52.  Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer 
53.  Herman Melville: Moby Dick 
54.  Bram Stroker: Dracula 
55.  Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses, Midnight’s Children 
56.  James Joyce: Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, Dubliners 
57.  Alan Sillitoe: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner 
58.  William Peter Blatty: The Exorcist 
59.  Truman Capote: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, In Cold Blood 
60.  Harper Lee: To Kill A Mockingbird 
61.  William Blake: Songs of Innocence, The Tiger, To Spring, A Poison Tree 
62.  Alice Walker: The Color Purple 
63.  Aldous Huxley: Brave New World 
64.  E.B. White: Charlotte’s Web 
65.  Franz Kafka: Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, A Hunger Artist, A Country Doctor 
66.  Gustave Flaubert: Madam Bovary 
67.  Hermann Hesse: Siddartha 
68.  Stieg Larsson: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest 
69.  Roald Dahl: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Witches, Matilda 
70.  Victor Hugo: Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 
71.  Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness 
72.  Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (series) 
73.  Hans Christian Andersen: The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling 
74.  Robert McCloskey: Make Way for Ducklings 
75.  Mitch Albom: Tuesdays with Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven 
76.  Joseph Heller: Catch 22 
77.  William Gibson: The Miracle Worker 
78.  Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales 
79.  Henry James: The Turn of the Screw 
80.  Evelyn Waugh: Brideshead Revisited 
81.  Graham Green: The Third Man, The Fallen Idol 
82.  Silvia Plath: The Colossus and Other Poems, Ariel 
83.  Colleen McCullough: The Thorn Birds 
84.  Ian Flemming: James Bond (series) 
85.  Arthur C. Clark: 2001: A Space Odyssey 
86.  Ernest Hemmingway: The Pearl, The Old Man and the Sea, The Killers, A Clean, Well Lit Place 
87.  William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury, Absalom, Absalom!, A Rose for Emily, 
88.  Tennessee Williams: The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire 
89.  Fannie Flag: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café, Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man 
90.  John Cheever: The Falconer, The Swimmer 
91.  Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter, Young Goodman Brown, Feathertop, 
92.  Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes 
93.  James Dickey: Deliverance 
94.  Mary Shelley: Frankenstein 
95.  Percy Shelley: Ozymandias, Ode to the West Wind, To A Skylark 
96.  Washington Irving: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Rip Van Winkle 
97.  Shirley Jackson: The Lottery, The Haunting of Hill House 
98.  Isaac Asimov: The Bicentennial Man, The End of Eternity 
99.  Edgar Allen Poe: The Raven, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Cask of Amontillado 
100. Jack London: To Build A Fire, Call of the Wild
101. Robert Louis Stevenson: Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Language of Confusion: No, I Haven’t Given Up On It Yet

One of the interesting things about words is that with different emphasis on a syllable, a word can mean something different. Take refuse. Am I talking about garbage or saying no? If I say re-fuse, I’m saying no, I absolutely will not. If I say re-fuse (actually closer to ref-fuse), then I’m saying the trash needs to be taken out.

That’s not the only syllable driven word. There is perfect (just right) and perfect (make flawless) and produce (fruit and vegetables) and produce (the act of production). Also, as I discussed before, the word entrance can mean point of entry or to hypnotize depending on how much emphasis you give the first syllable. And let’s not forget desert (abandon) and des-ert, a big, empty place : )

One thing I’ve learned from etymology: pronunciation is almost always an important part of the meaning of the word. Of course, the other thing I’ve learned is there is no hard and fast rule to any form language (for example, the meaning doesn’t change whether you pronounce neither neether or nyether). It’s probably one of the things that makes foreign languages so hard to learn. There are so many subtleties that we grow up with, things that are ingrained in our minds you can’t learn from learning the different verb tenses in Spanish class.

And, for all you word nerds (or myself), the etymology of refuse. To refuse comes from Old French, 12th century word refuser, which comes from Latin (the Vulgar variety spoken every day, as opposed to Literary Latin) word refusare, a verb-izing of refundere, the Latin word for “give back” or “pour back.” Not surprisingly, refundere is also the route word for refund. It is a combination of re (back) and fundere (to pour). You can trace fundere back to Proto-Indo-European, the ancestor of many languages, where it also means pour. So if you refuse a request, you are literally pouring it back to the asker. I just find that neat.

Refuse, as in garbage, has a slightly different etymology. In genealogical terms, you could say they’re something like second cousins. It also comes from Old French, the word refus, a descendant of refuser, the same word the other refuse comes from, meaning the rest of its line is exactly the same. The first refuse also came about three centuries earlier. Garbage refuse came in the late fourteenth century as outcast and then a little later became associated with garbage, that which is discarded. This refuse is what is refused, thrown away…poured back. It’s just used up first.

As always, thanks to the Online Etymology dictionary. And thanks to Dictionary.com, too.

Friday, November 26, 2010

I’m Thankful That It’s Over

Seriously. Something always happens in my family’s holiday events. Last year at Christmas? People were smoking pot down in the basement of my aunt’s house. And guess what: none of them were under the age of forty-five. Me, my sister, my nephew and all of my cousins were upstairs with my parents and one aunt (by marriage so she isn’t related by blood). The aunt who owned the house went next door for some reason, so the rest of my mother’s siblings went to smoke. With teenagers upstairs. I hadn’t known because if I had, you would have read about what happened in the newspaper’s police blotter.

This year, well, no one toked up but my mother’s other sister (i.e. not the good one) flipped out because me and my cousins walked down the street to hang out at the school playground. The thing is she knew we were going out and we were gone for an hour and a half. Still she flipped out at us (me in particular as the oldest) for being “inconsiderate.” The best my mom could figure was she wanted to leave and her daughter wasn’t around, and when she drove around and didn’t see us…well, I don’t really know what made her flip out further because everyone else knew where we were and weren’t worried because we do this every damn year. Of course, it didn’t help that my cousin left her phone behind (although at least one other person had a phone they could have called), but really. My aunt was talking about calling the cops, never mind that she was the only one upset and there were five of us out there, all of whom are more responsible than the adults have shown themselves to be.

So, yeah. That’s Thanksgiving at my house. Hell on Earth. How was yours?

(PS: look at my previous post! I just love it and can’t stop talking about it. Please validate my probably misplaced pride!)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving! Or November 25th. Whichever.

Updating super early because I’m probably not going to get a chance to see the precious internet until super late tonight, and only if I’m not too tired. Spending time with my relatives is exhausting

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been working on: The Flowchart of What Writer’s Do All Day Now Stop Asking. Subtitle: Why I never get anything done. 

I just find flowcharts hilarious. Click to embiggen.

Edit: I increased the font size in the boxes to be easier to read. I hope it works!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Almost Time

Short post today because I’m going to be posting my Thanksgiving post early (after midnight for me, which is early for the blog :).

I hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving Weekend, even if you aren’t actually celebrating Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday because not only does it have a good message, my mom is the one who cooks the turkey and my mom is the best cook. Ever. I know you might say your mom is better or that everyone says that about their mom, and both those things might be true. But my mom is still the best.

There will be turkey, stuffing (she stuffs the bird and then, once that is cooked, puts it in a bowl and lets it finish cooking to seal in that birdy flavor), cranberry sauce (a mix of cranberries, apples and oranges, all ground up), and for desert? Cheese cake. Cookies. Peanut butter balls (dipped in chocolate—pure heaven).

I have to stop now. Drooling can’t be good for my laptop.

And if you’re heading out right after eating to wait in line for Black Friday…Good luck.