A Few Days in the 20th Century

As I write this on Tuesday morning, I am beginning my sixth day with no Internet access on my home computer. Last Thursday morning some Verizon technician accidentally pulled the plug on my line, possibly in connection with a minor change in my account bundle. I have no idea if it’s just me or a mass outage—I can’t go on line to ask around—but this is not what I call acceptable customer service.

The story keeps changing. On Thursday night it was an upgrade, and everything would be fine on Friday. When it wasn’t, another long call generated a service ticket and the information that it was a physically mismatched line. Verizon was committed to having it fixed by 5 pm on Sunday.

That came and went. Monday morning I was promised service in two or three hours. It was a network problem, and they were working on it. That didn’t happen, so Monday afternoon I called again. By this time, the Verizon voice mail tree put me through to a human immediately. After forty-five minutes, mostly on hold, I was told it would be twenty-four to forty-eight hours.

I’m far angrier at Verizon than I am at the lack of Internet. Even if it is a widespread outage (which none of their heavily-accented call center people will admit to), this is a ridiculously long time to wait for repairs.

It has given me some interesting insights on my Internet usage. I work at the Scorekeeper on Tuesday through Thursday, so when I get to the office this morning, I’ll be able to catch up on my email, most of which will consist of various Yahoo loops, ads from Amazon and BookBub, and possibly a few business emails from clients, which I would not have addressed until today anyway. I’ll pop into Facebook long enough to tell friends why I’ve missed their birthdays and book launches this weekend. I spend way too much time down that rabbit hole anyway.

I use the Internet for lots of silly things every day. Checking the TV schedule (what’s on? have I seen that episode? where have I seen that actor?), reading comics on the Houston Chronicle web site, playing games.

But not everything is frivolous. This morning I can’t check the traffic before I set off on my thirty-mile commute. This weekend I hit a wall on a freelance project because I can’t access on-line references. I haven’t been able to order prescription refills or check my banking or credit activities. I’d like to review a couple of books I’ve finished reading. I won’t be able to post this until my Internet comes back. I trot over to the computer to look something up more often than I realized. It’s almost like reaching for the light switch when the power is off, an ingrained habit.

I did get a good bit of freelance work done on Friday, until I needed to get on line with it. I did my weekend shopping. I mowed the lawn and weeded and did the laundry. I read a lot. I watched TV. I did not fade away from lack of the Internet. But I was conscious of every ad, every news story, every newspaper article that ended with some variant of “visit us on our web site.”

I miss my morning ritual of email, blog, comics, and Facebook, although apparently I could have slept another hour instead. Yesterday morning I made an early call to Verizon, but I’m not going to bother this morning. I won’t be here most of the day anyway. But if it’s still down tonight, they’ll hear from me again, squeaky wheel and all that.

And then I’ll give the billing department a ring.

Postscript: 215 emails waiting this morning, which I picked my way through in the course of the day. I managed to vent a bit on the Verizon Facebook page, too. When I got home this evening, all the lights on my modem were green and my email popped right up. My voice mail isn’t working, as I discovered this morning, but that shouldn’t be too hard to fix. Not tonight, though. I’m happy to be connected to the cyber world again, but maybe I’ll remember a few time management lessons learned while I wasn’t.

Natalie Meg Evans’ The Milliner’s Secret

Natalie Meg Evans’ The Milliner’s Secret dragged me in from the opening pages and never let go. As The Milliner's Secretthe novel begins in 1937, Cora Masson works in a London hat factory while trying to avoid her abusive Belgian father. The only thing he’s given her is a working knowledge of French, which she uses to flee to Paris when a near-stranger, German art dealer Dietrich von Elbing, offers her his valet’s seat on the boat train.

That impulsive decision changes her life in ways she could never have imagined. With forged documents, she becomes Coralie de Lirac, turning her back on England and making her way in the cut-throat world of Parisian fashion as a milliner. Working her way up in the trade, Coralie never hesitates to fight for her future, for the people she loves, and, as the war sweeps through France, for survival.

Her complicated, changing relationship with Dietrich von Elbing forms the core of the story. Dietrich’s secrets are deeply buried, gradually peeling away like onion skin. An ace pilot for the Luftwaffe in World War I, the approach of another war draws him back into the military as a respected senior officer. His relationship with Coralie serves to protect her—when it’s not proving to be her greatest danger. Drawn together and driven apart, Coralie and Dietrich move through one another’s lives and through the dangers of occupied Paris.

The backdrop of war mixes with the more intimate world of high fashion and the highly competitive, and sometimes vicious, millinery trade. Even as the Nazi occupation dims the Paris lights, women want their hats, and Coralie often serves French customers in the morning and German officers’ wives in the afternoon. The Milliner’s Secret overflows with fascinating background details about fashion and hats, nightlife, feast and famine.

Evans’ previous novel, The Dress Thief, explored the world of high fashion in Paris in the 1930s, ending before the war reached Paris. Although The Milliner’s Secret is not a sequel, supporting The Dress Thiefcharacters from The Dress Thief reappear in Coralie’s life, sometimes as friends, sometimes as foes, sometimes as both, as well as new characters, some trustworthy, some not.

I don’t want to give away too many details: this is a book filled with surprises best unspoiled. The Milliner’s Secret is one of the most gripping novels I have read in a long time.

Both The Milliner’s Secret and The Dress Thief are available as ebooks from U.S etailers. Paper editions are available (fast delivery and free shipping) from the Book Depository in Great Britain.

Death By Decibels

We planned to write about phobias for September’s Writer Wednesday posts, but I really couldn’t think WW Septemberof one. The last few days, however, may have instilled in me a new fear.

Do you remember some years back when American soldiers were trying to force Manuel Noriega out of the Vatican Embassy in Panama City? They went with noise, blaring rock music through loudspeakers and turning a nearby field into a helicopter landing. Noriega lasted ten days. After this weekend, I’m surprised the people in the Embassy didn’t throw him out into the street a lot sooner.

Last Thursday night about midnight, I was on my way to bed when I heard a strange clicking noise in the hallway. Water, dripping from somewhere, soaking the throw rug in front of the non-functional and seldom-opened second bathroom. So I went up to the attic, knowing full well what I would find: a dripping A/C drain line and what appeared to be a puddle on the attic floor. It wasn’t until Friday morning that I discovered there was no puddle in the attic, and there was no ceiling in the bathroom, just a pile of sopping wet insulation and sheet rock on the bathroom floor.

So along with the A/C tech (that part was an easy fix) came the water damage folks, who tore out the remains of the wet ceiling and a bit more sheet rock, and set up four industrial strength drying fans and a large machine that I think was some sort of giant (and loud) dehumidifier.

The noise was—well, I don’t know where to begin. It never stopped (at least not after I reset the breaker the machinery popped about half an hour in). It was everywhere. Even closed doors didn’t help much. The second day in, I found a relatively quiet spot—relatively—in the opposite corner of the house, where I could do some paperwork and read, but I couldn’t concentrate on anything more demanding than Sudoku at my computer.

Turning the TV or the radio up very loud almost masked the relentless sound of the fans. Almost. My poor cat alternated clinging to me with stalking around the house meowing loudly in protest, something she never does. And I abandoned her from time to time, running off for a peaceful lunch with my Kindle and the fast food of the day.

The fans were set in motion midday on Friday. Someone came to check them and tell me the walls fansweren’t dry yet on Saturday and Sunday. On Monday, the technician removed the two fans in the bathroom, leaving the other two, and the big red thing, in the hall. There was no discernible drop in the sound level. By now I was receiving emails from the electric company suggesting that I should have my A/C unit checked because I was using so much more energy than usual.

I actually slept all right despite the fans, probably because spending the days with them was so exhausting. My brain felt like it was stuffed with cotton wool, when it wasn’t making me slightly dizzy. My stomach, and its companion organs, were working overtime. My nerves were shot. And I was cold, in spite of turning the thermostat up.

This morning (Tuesday), a few hours short of four days, the technician who set everything up on Friday came back. He took measurements, made notes, and hauled the rest of the equipment out to his truck. If he had said, “One more day,” I think I might have lost it completely.

So, phobias? How about the sound of water dripping where there shouldn’t be water at all? In fact, I’m seriously thinking of having the sixty-year-old galvanized pipes in my house replaced before they spring a leak.

It Had To Be LoveOn a happier note, check out Tamra Baumann’s new release, It Had To Be Love, available now from Montlake.

What with vacations, back-to-school, and book deadlines, the Wednesday Writers are a little short-handed this month, but catch up with Tamra Baumann, Priscilla Kissinger, Wendy LaCapra, and Carol Post for more tales of phobias. Join us again next month for a discussion of character names.

Changing (TV) Seasons

It’s the end of August and summer is coming to an end. Well, perhaps not weatherwise; summer in Texas might well run into October, along with the hurricane season. But looking at the TV listings, I can see that we’ve fallen into the gap between the end of the summer shows and the return of the network regulars. Warning: spoilers ahead.

Last night I watched the series finale of Falling Skies, after five seasons of alien invasion mayhem. I’ve seen reviews on line, written by people who take TV shows far more seriously than I do, tearing it apart, but I was happy with it. Fine with me that all the members of the Mason family survived (even those who had died and come back to life, thanks to one of the alien allies). I was happy to see the show end on an optimistic note. I really don’t care how all the men found suits and ties to wear (after five years of pretty much wearing the same bedraggled jeans and jackets) or where the women got their hair done. They had defeated the invincible aliens (with perhaps a nod to H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds solution) and that wrapped it up for me.

Friday night’s episode of Defiance was billed as the season finale, but the show must be on the bubble, and the production team gave us an episode which could just as well serve as the series finale, if the show isn’t picked up for a fourth season. By the end of the episode, Nolan (unquestionably the protagonist for the past three seasons) was piloting the Omec ship into the galactic depths rather than blow it up and destroy the thousands of beings on board in suspended animation, with Doc Yewll plugged into the ship’s computer. A few weeks later we see the people of Defiance, humans and all the various aliens alike, peacefully going about their business. Irisa is now the Lawkeeper, Amanda is recovering from her injuries, and Datak and Stahma Tarr, the ever-scheming aliens we love to hate, are together again. How they might carry on with a fourth season without Nolan and Yewll (or how they might bring them back), I don’t know, but I’ll watch if they do.

The SyFy channel had two new shows on the Friday night schedule this summer, Killjoys and Dark Matter, and both of those ended their first seasons with cliffhangers. Killjoys is about a trio of “reclamation agents,” working for an agency that retrieves anything, human or artifact, for a price, definitely the more space opera of the two. Dark Matter is a bit more serious and dark, with six people waking up on a ship with their memories wiped, dodging various dangers while attempting to recover their identities, aided by the rather endearing female android who runs the ship. I watched both without investing much in them; I’ll watch if they come back next year and forget them if they don’t. If it were up to me to pick one to return, it would be Killjoys.

Saturday evening I watched the “mid-season finale” of Hell On Wheels. Unfortunately we’ll have to wait until next summer for the second half of the season (which I suspect has already been filmed, at least in part). Most of this summer’s seven episodes were set in Truckee, California, as Bohannon worked to drive the Central Pacific Railroad east through the Rocky Mountains. There we met the Chinese who built the railroad, including a boy named Fong who turned out to be a girl named Mei, and assorted other new characters, while Gunderson (the Swede) plotted to replace Brigham Young with one of Young’s sons. Back in Laramie, we caught up with Eva, Durant, and their associates. In Saturday night’s episode, “False Prohpets,” Bohannon joined Durant, Huntington, Brigham Young, and President Grant in Salt Lake City, arguing over the route of the railroad. By the end of the episode, they had set up the race to join the two railroads (north of the Great Salt Lake, much to Young’s disgust), Gunderson’s plot to control the Mormons had gone badly awry, and Bohannon and Gunderson were in their own race to reach Bohannon’s wife and son. Considering Hell On Wheels’ willingness to kill major characters and Bohannon’s disastrous record in the area of personal relationships, I’ll be worried about Naomi and little William until the show comes back next summer for its final seven episodes.

What did you watch this summer, and what are you looking forward to watching this fall?

Chet & Brigit: Dog Detectives

I don’t have a dog of my own these days, but I’ve been keeping up with the adventures of two favorite canine detectives, Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Diane Kelly’s Brigit.

Besides their work as investigators, Chet and Brigit have a few thing in common. Both are large dogs (one hundred pounds or so) of mixed heritage. Both survived stretches with thoroughly irresponsible early owners, did time in the pound, and were rescued as recruits for K9 service.

Chet washed out of his K9 course on the very last day. He’s not quite sure what happened, but he thinks a cat may have been involved. That failure was a stroke of luck in disguise, because it led to his adoption by Bernie Little, a private investigator and, in Chet’s opinion, the best human in the world.

Brigit, on the other hand, charged through K9 training like the alpha dog she is. She spent her first couple of years in the Forth Worth Police Department with an experienced male partner, but when he left the job, she was reassigned to a quick-tempered rookie officer, Megan Luz, who had recently tasered her male partner (The Big Dick) in a most sensitive location. Brigit thinks Megan is very green but trainable. Megan’s closet full of chewable shoes is a plus, as is her friendship with a fire department explosives expert and his bomb-sniffing dog, Blast, just the sort of beta male Brigit enjoys.

Chet is the narrator of Quinn’s Chet and Bernie mysteries, the latest of which (number eight) is Scents and Sensibility. The story starts with the mysterious appearance of an illegal saguaro cactus in Scents and Sensibilitythe neighbors’ front yard but quickly escalates to include murder and the missing ransom from a fifteen-year-old kidnapping. Chet’s best furry friend, Iggy, comes to visit and proves to be a less than satisfactory house guest, while Chet finds himself puzzling over a puppy named Shooter, whose scent and appearance are strangely familiar.

Here’s a little sample of Chet’s narrative style, picking up after he has lost track of Bernie’s conversation with a police detective in the parking lot of Donut Heaven: I looked up from what I was doing. Case closed? Had we even started yet? Cases at the Little Detective Agency almost always ended with me grabbing the perp by the pant leg. The only pants wearers in the picture at the moment were Bernie and Captain Stine. This can be a tricky job. I went back to the bear claw.

Brigit’s latest adventure, number three in Kelly’s K9 series, is Laying Down the Paw, in which Megan and Brigit survive a wild ride through a tornado, face down a band of looters, and search for a killer. Megan tells her story in first person, a boy named Dub tells his in third person, and Kelly Laying Down the Pawgives us a glimpse of Brigit’s reactions after each of Megan’s chapters.

Here’s Brigit, after meeting a pampered dachshund in the line of duty: She thanked her lucky stars she hadn’t been born a wiener dog. They were the laughingstocks of the canine world, what with their disproportionately long ears and stretched-out bodies and too-short legs. They looked as if they’d been assembled with spare parts. Yes, shepherds were a far superior breed. Stealthier, too. That’s how Brigit had gotten away with that poor little schmuck’s raccoon toy.

Megan took the stuffed raccoon away and returned it to the dachshund’s porch, but she also stopped at the pet store and bought Brigit a stuffed mallard, which Megan calls Duckie. Yeah, Brigit had Megan wrapped around her paw.

If you love dogs, humor, and mystery, you’ll love Chet and Bernie and Megan and Luz.

Changes in Book Buying

As I drift (slowly) toward independent publishing, I’ve been following several discussion loops and reading articles about the rapid changes in the publishing industry. I haven’t given as much thought to the changes in book selling in the last few years, although I did muse about the rapid decline in the number of local bookshops in my area (Where Have All the Bookstores Gone?)—over three years ago (January 28, 2012—goodness, I’ve been sounding off here for while now!)

The other day, though, I made a decision that brought home my own changing book buying habits. I have belonged to three of the Doubleday Book Club divisions for many years. When I joined the Mystery Guild and the Science Fiction Book Club in the early 1970s, I was living in New Iberia, Louisiana, and the nearest bookstore was in Lafayette, about twenty miles to the north. We didn’t have much money, and books were expensive. But the well-made hardbacks from the Doubleday mail order clubs were very reasonable, and I ordered a lot of them. (A good many are still with me.)

I kept right on ordering from them (eventually adding the Rhapsody club for romances) as we moved from Louisiana to Texas (where I had access to more bookstores, but not much more money), and as the book clubs moved from mail order to the Internet. One in a while the opt-out method would fail me, and I’d get a book or two I didn’t order, but that was rare.

Then, over the years, Amazon happened. Ebooks happened. Over the last year, the Doubleday clubs responded with changes. Now, instead of opting out on specific books, one opts out on “member credits,” automatic charges to one’s credit card (no more checks, no more mail orders), good for one book each, with free shipping on orders of two or more. The standard book price has also risen to $13.99 (how old am I? I remember the Doubleday Dollar Book Club, where I was introduced to the novels of Phyllis A. Whitney).

I soon got tired of opting out of those charges (and the idea of supporting their cash flow in advance of ordering books annoyed me). Maybe it was time to abandon my old friends. I looked at my Quicken file and discovered it has been years since I ordered regularly from any of the clubs. Yes, time to cut that cord.

I belong to Amazon Prime, so I never think about shipping charges, and I’ve gotten used to pre-ordering books and having them show up in my mail box on release day (would that I had time to read them that quickly). Amazon and Goodreads are very clever about letting me know when an author I enjoy has a new book out. I buy a lot of ebooks, too, for my Kindle (Doubleday has added ebooks recently, but only through some Android app). And maybe my tastes have changed, and my favorite authors just aren’t showing up in the clubs these days.

So last week I emailed my membership cancellation to Doubleday. Amazon meets my needs, for the most part. And there’s the Book Depository for British editions, and Alibris for out-of-print books (got one from them just last week). But I still felt a bit of a twinge at parting ways with such old friends.

Meanwhile, I still have all those recently culled books sitting in my storage room (it will be a library again some day, I swear, just as soon as I get all those boxes out of there), waiting for a trip to Half Price Books, and I still hit the local Barnes & Noble once a month or so.

Where are you buying books these days?


Writer Wednesday: Three Searches

Our Writer Wednesday assignment this month is “Show us your last three searches.” I’m afraid if I WW Augusttook that literally, you’d be reading about searches for TV show cast lists (What is that actor’s name? Where have I seen her before?) or lactose intolerance in cats. After finishing the first draft of my latest work-in-progress, I took a little break, so I haven’t been researching for a writing project, either, or searching for anything that might draw the attention of law enforcement. (If Facebook knows I’ve been shopping on line for a new bedspread, heaven only knows what the government knows about me.)

The little “Get Windows 10” icon continues to hover on my computer, and recently the HP help system chimed in, offering to help me install the new operating system. So I’ve searched various aspects of Windows 10. Results: I haven’t made the jump yet. My computer is about five and a half years old, probably strong enough to handle the new system, but I’m happy enough with Windows 7 for now. There was a time when I jumped on new releases the moment they were available, but these days I’m on the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” team.

Yesterday my dentist, who has known me for more than thirty years, asked me to recommend authors a fan of Christine Feehan might like. No, he’s not a fan of dark paranormal romance himself, but his wife, whose health problems keep her at home, is, and being as good a husband as he is a dentist, he shops for her. Dr. B. was installing a new crown in my mouth at the time, so I was neither quick thinking nor articulate. But when I got home I searched “if you like Christine Feehan, you might like . . .” Results: a list of eight or ten names I sent to his Facebook page.

I’ve been doing some proofreading lately, combing through the files of some twenty-five year old Regency romances which have been scanned in preparation for a digital rebirth. I’m good with spelling and punctuation, not so much with Regency slang. Fortunately I have copies of the original books, tiny of print and a bit yellowed, to check against. I’ve found a few typos the original proofreader missed, so when I hit the word nuncheon and found it in the paperback as well, I thought I might have found another. But, hey, those Regency folks spoke their own language, so I searched. Results: yes, my dears, nuncheon is a word, meaning (according to Meriam Webster on line) “a light midmorning or midafternoon snack consisting typically of bread, cheese, and beer.” I have a feeling the characters in the story were not guzzling beer, but they were definitely enjoying their nuncheon.

For more stories of Internet searches, visit the other Writer Wednesday bloggers: Historical romance writers –    Wendy LaCapra  |  Sweet and Inspirational writers –    Kristen Ethridge  |  Novels with Romantic Elements –  Jean Willett  –  Natalie Meg Evans  |  Romantic Suspense –  Carol Post  –  Sharon Wray  |  Paranormal writers  –  Pamela Kopfler  |  Contemporary romance writers –    Kat Cantrell   –  Priscilla Kissinger 

And don’t miss this month’s new release from Kristin Ethridge: The Doctor’s Unexpected Family.


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