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Life in General | A. Michael Marsh

Category Archives: Life In General

Little Red Exclamation Marks

Last night I was “hanging” as the kids say, with some of my friends of the writing persuasion.

fellow_kids

This is me, IRL

We get together about once a month and catch up. Sometimes we’re good and we trade pages, other times we spend the majority of our time having a beer and talking. Mostly about writer-ish topics. So when the topic of blogs and websites came up, one such friend — let’s call her Shmonica — wasted no time in pointing out that it’s been months since I even tweeted anything.

People pointing towards a senior business man

Guilty.

She’s right, of course. Generating content is a way of letting the people who care know that I’m still around, actively writing and getting a new novel together for them. It doesn’t have to be all original, either, she said. People may want to see the articles and blog posts that I find interesting, since they might enjoy that, too.

guilty_pup

Double guilty.

All good points. I think I’ll appoint her as my social media manager. A position that comes with a less than impressive title, no pay, and intangible benefits to be named later.

"I dub thee, Sir NotBePaid, of the most noble house of FreeLabor."

“I dub thee, Sir NotBePaid, of the most noble house of FreeLabor.”

This did get me thinking, though. I tend to shy away from posting frequently not simply because I’m too lazy to write blog posts (I am too lazy to write blog posts) but because sometimes I feel like we’re just inundated with stimulus, especially on the internet. You know what I mean? Maybe you’re on Facebook and you see some link that seems mildly interesting, so you click. Within two seconds you’re treated to an auto-playing video that blares through your speakers, the screen goes dark and a window pops up asking for your email address or to click some godforsaken “Like” button. An endearing process which will repeat itself every time you click the next arrow seven times on an article so mundane you can’t even remember what brought you there in the first place.

This is the first condition of the modern internet user experience. I just don’t want to be a part of that problem. So I don’t code that crap into my site. I don’t post click-bait. There’s also a less altruistic motive in there, too. See, I want you as a reader to actually care when I do post something.

It’s like this. Ever worked in an office? I’ll assume that’s a yes. If not, just stick with me for a minute. In every office ecosystem there’s this one guy (dude, muchacho, cat, etc.) who manages to over-inflate the importance of everything they do. Every call is so important they’ll ring your desk over and over until they get you on the line. Every visit is so crucial that they’ll interrupt anyone’s conversation to explain their urgent business. And of course, every single one of their email comes through Microsoft Outlook with that goddamned red exclamation point on it, “Marked as important.”

Without fail, this person’s interruptions, intrusions, and emergencies are never important. They never in any way, shape, or form constitute a need for your immediate or undivided attention. This is the second aspect of the modern internet user experience. Every website now behaves like this idiot cohort as they vie for your attention. All headlines are tagged with cliche phrases like:

“…my jaw dropped!”

“10 Things that…”

“I lost it at…”

“You’ll never believe what she/he does next!”

“Oh, the Feels!”

“…and I’m dying!”

Credit to desertbeagle__

Credit to desertbeagle__

clickbait2

credit to collegehumor.com

My motive is to not do this either. Not only because the behavior makes my ass itch, but also because I know that as soon as I do start in with that crap? Not a single person will want to click on anything I post. Eventually, I’m going to post something I want readers to see. The release date of a novel. New cover artwork. A review I’m proud of. Anything else I think you would enjoy.

But there has to be a middle ground, doesn’t there? Some place between prolific click-baiting and the dead air that normally permeates my little slice of the blogosphere. I can do that. I can do better. And with the help of my new, unpaid social media manager, I can get started right away.

Book Pirates! Yarrg!

Yaaarg!

Yaaarg!

So, here I am, cruising around teh interwebz and I find this lovely site called “booksweeks“, which has apparently made The Changed available for download or online review to it’s subscribers.  Obviously, this is some shady business because the only place legally authorized to sell the digital version of that book is Amazon.  I’ve given Amazon exclusivity so that my book can be shared by readers with the Kindle lending program.  Since Amazon has the market cornered as far as eReaders go, it seemed like the best deal for people who wanted to read the story.

Needless to say, the guys running this site are assholes.  I didn’t bother trying to create an account to see if one really can get the book or if it’s just phishing, and I really don’t recommend you try, either.  A friend asked me if I was mad that people are getting the book for free.  Funny thing is, I’m not.  Not at all.

The way I look at it, if you bought a hard copy of the book and then handed it off to a friend after you were done, that’s basically the same thing as you making a digital copy and giving it to a friend.  Sure, there might be a legal grey area there, but as far as I’m concerned it means that you liked the book and you want your friend to read it.  To me, that’s actually a huge compliment.

I swear by my pretty floral bonnet...

I swear by my pretty floral bonnet…

What puts a bee in my bonnet is that these mugs are taking what isn’t theirs to begin with and then attempting to make money off of it.  That’s just straight up theft.  It’s no longer giving a book to a friend.  That’s stealing a book from a stranger, making photocopies, and hawking them on a street corner.

Trust me, I have no illusions that this practice will discontinue anytime soon.  And the money?  I’m not losing sleep over the few dollars in royalties I’m getting cheated out of.  I’ve just always viewed books and reading culture as a sort of sacred experience.  Predatory people like those who run this site are taking advantage of both readers and writers, which is kind of like smearing a big turd on something I hold dear.

TL;DR If you’re an author, your work might be somewhere on that site, too.  If you’re a reader, please, for the love of all that you consider holy, don’t give these guys a shred of your personal information.

First Post in Forever!

Yes, I know… I’ve been a bad, bad writer. I’ve written exactly zero-point-zero posts in over a hundred days. But let’s be real here, I don’t think there have been any hurt feelings over it. I’m sure that the readers I do have are okay with a little quiet from me and I don’t need to pretend otherwise. Despite what I’m constantly being told by other writers, and social media “experts.”

See, there’s a sentiment in the author community – specifically in the indie circles – that you have to “fake it ’til you make it.” Meaning that even though you’re new and unknown as an author, you should act that part of a best-selling writer so that readers will take you seriously. Kind of like how some salespeople will wear expensive watches or drive cars they can’t really afford. It’s all done in an effort to convince people that they are successful in their profession and therefore should be trusted.

"You see this watch?"

“You see this watch?”

I get it. But I don’t like it and I’m not going to do it.

For me to pretend that I have a larger reach than I do, or that there are throngs of salivating readers trying to get a piece of my time seems to insult the intelligence of my actual readers; people who have been good to me. That’s not what I’m about. It’s more than enough to know that there are people who have read my stories and enjoyed them. Getting a message or a review from a reader who liked the novel I wrote is all I could ask for. Pretending that I’m the next Stephen King or J to the K. R. feels to me like I’m diminishing those folks. It’s like saying, “Hey, having you as a reader is cool and everything…  But, I’m destined for much greater things, kid.”

Tacking “Kid” at the end of the sentence makes it so much more condescending.

To be fair, I can understand the intense drive to sell books and make money if writing is the heart and soul of your financial planning. Many moons ago I accepted that writing will probably never pay my bills, and that’s not a bad thing. I have a career that I’ve worked hard for and love. That’s what pays my bills. So, when I write I get to create the stories that I want to tell without worrying about publishing potential at a big six house, which makes the content in my stories and communication with readers much more honest.

Anyway, I’m working hard on my next novel, the sequel to The Changed, which I have, like, six working titles for right now. Production went a little behind schedule on this one. Life was a bit nuts these past few months, and while I’m not a big fan of excuses I did want to let those who are interested know that the novel is definitely still happening, it’s just a bit delayed. Let’s go ahead and blame life, work, and DAI. As of now it’s looking like it’ll be spring before the novel is publishable.  I’m really excited to get out to you all though.  The story is much larger than what happened in Center City and I can’t wait for readers to see the bigger picture unfold.

Writer Artisan — Getting off your ass and writing. Well, on your ass… Whatever.

For as long as I can remember I’ve written stories.  A little over a year ago I was with family at my mom’s house for Christmas.  She was showing old photos to significant others — the more embarrassing the better, as per article six, subsection three of the Mother Code.  But inside one of these boxes was a single-sheet newsletter from my second grade class, where an A. Michael Marsh original was featured front and center.  Okay, it was in the back, but that doesn’t help the story so let me embellish a bit.  What are you, the story police?  Anyway, this little nugget of prose was my retelling of a family camping trip that featured such zingers as, “I’m not saying mom’s cooking was bad, but I barfed.”  Or, in regard to a campfire ghost story, “Real scary.  Last time I heard that one I fell off my dinosaur.”  Yep.  Gold, people.  Pure gold.

Point is, story has always been something that I naturally gravitated to.  I’ve always written.  The first time I set out to write a novel I was ten.  It was going to be about a cop that gets injured in the line of duty and returns to service as a half-man, half-machine servant of justice.  Yeah, I know that’s the plot of Robocop, but lay off.  I was ten, okay?  What were you doing at that age, Captain Judgmentalpants?

That’s what I thought.

Regardless, I must have gotten about twenty five pages into the rough draft before I lost interest.  That was probably the first time I realized the biggest fact about writing that people who don’t write will never truly understand:  Writing is hard.

Shout out to Brittany Dashiell

Shout out to Brittany Dashiell

Which was a shame because I had big plans for “Night of the Cyborg” (oh, shut up already).  The book was going to be a bestseller, on the shelves of every library and bookstore around.  Once the ducats came rolling in we’d be able to afford name brand cereal and cable tv.  Shit was going to be legit, folks.

Fast-forward a decade or so and I’d still been writing.  Short stories, journals, that sort of thing.  There was even the occasional foray into poetry but I’ll just file that alongside cyborg cop stories as “failed experiments.”  Around that time I decided to make a serious go of it.  Actually write a novel, start to finish.  Ever since then, I’ve been a daily writer.

Except for about nine or ten months out of the past year.  I could speculate as to why I didn’t feel the drive to produce as much as I normally do, but that’s beside the point.  For a long while I didn’t get my fingers on the keyboard, and a hole formed inside of me because of it.  Even though I had thought that I was long past the stage of abandoning drafts twenty-five pages in, I realized that there’s a part of me that will always need a kick in the ass every now and again in order to get going.

Chuck Wendig wrote in his book, The Kick-Ass Writer, that “…just finish the shit that you started.  Stop abandoning your children.  You wouldn’t call yourself a runner if you quit every race halfway through.”  It’s absolutely and unequivocally true.  For those writers out there, just write.  It’s okay if it doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would the first time around.  Just start and don’t stop until it’s done.  There’s a corollary truth to Chuck’s lesson as well:

Aaaaadventure Time!

Aaaaadventure Time!

Sucking really is the first step to being sort of good at something.  Writing is no exception to that rule.  You get better by practicing, learning, and honing your skills.  Period.  People don’t become virtuoso violinists by simply intending to play.  A painter doesn’t master their technique by reading books about Van Gough and picking up their brush once every couple months.  You have to actually do it.  Writers are absolutely not an exception to this rule.  For a while there, I forgot those fundamentals and it affected me in more ways than I realized.  Never again.

For any readers who are interested, the sequel to The Changed is coming along and should be released this winter.  I can’t wait to bring it to you.

Are You A Blogger?

I’m not sure if I like the term “blogger.”  It has a social media Johnny-come-lately feel that I can’t stand.  I’m being a jerk, I know, I just can’t help it.  Whenever people find something fun within the overly commercial depths of teh interwebz, a timer of sorts is set in motion.  Soon enough the profit glands get to salivating and every opportunist this side of the Pecos is leading the charge over to your favorite sites.

noahsarcade

“It’s hip, it’s fresh, it’s Noah’s Arcade. Word.”

Faster than you can say “Facebook used to be fun” your beloved blogs, message boards, and stupid image sharers are now littered with advertisements, your relatives, and that thick sewage of the internet, spam.

Which is a rough segue into the point of this post: If you are a blogger, and you hate getting spam traffic on your page, there is hope.  You may not know that you can do this, but you can actually block specific IPs and domains from accessing your site.  If you’re tired of trackback comments in broken English and false page hit stats, then you may have just stood up with a fist in the air and proclaimed, “The hell you say!”

The hell I do say.  And it’s pretty easy to do.  All it requires is finding the .htaccess file in the root directory of your website and appending this code to the end:

SetEnvIfNoCase Via evil-spam-proxy spammer=yes
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer evil-spam-domain.com spammer=yes
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer evil-spam-keyword spammer=yes
SetEnvIfNoCase Via pinappleproxy spammer=yes
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer semalt.com spammer=yes
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer poker spammer=yes

Order allow,deny
Allow from all
Deny from env=spammer

This isn’t meant to be a tutorial on how .htaccess files and the apache web server works. There is more than enough documentation out there for those who are interested. But for the casual blogger, just know that this code essentially specifies a domain you know to be sending you spammers, and then blocks them from accessing your pages while allowing everyone else entry.  For example, look at the line containing the word “semalt.com”.  Semalt does nothing but send bullshit spammers to your site.  That’s their business and business is good.  This line basically tells the web server that there is a domain called semalt.com which is referring users to this site, and that semalt.com should be labeled as a spammer.  At the last line of the file, we see that the web server is being instructed to deny access to any domain we’ve identified as a spammer.  Easy peasy.

Now that you’ve reclaimed your land from the dreaded spammers, you have cause to celebrate.  Treat yo’self.

You can't look at this frown.  I dare you to try.

You can’t look at this and frown. I dare you to try.

 

Happy blogging.

 

upgrayedd in Progress

Yes, that’s spelled with two d’s — for a “double-dose” of pimping. idiocracy

Seriously, though.

I finally ditched all the old html and css that I was using before. I liked it, but I was long since due for a web 2.0 site. To make things easier, I just went full WordPress and started customizing the css and php as needed. It may take a day or two to get all of the content from the old site migrated over, but it will happen soon.

Take care, be well. 🙂

Writer’s Research Protip — Don’t Hack the Mainframe

If you’ve ever worked in a field that gets represented at times through popular mediums such as television, movies, or books, there are going to be finer points that you’ll notice the writers are getting wrong.

You probably know what I’m talking about.  If you were in the military and you see people in a movie doing something that would’ve gotten you murdered by your squad leader, it makes you cringe.  If you’re a police officer and you read a novel where the detective routinely does things no self-respecting cop would do, it probably takes you out of the story.  For me, one of those sore spots is information technology.

A couple weeks ago I watched all five seasons of Fringe (don’t judge me).  I really liked the show, but in some of the earlier seasons they kept repeating a phrase that comes up in popular fiction.  A phrase that doesn’t make a lot of sense, and kills some of the fun of the story.  Several times, members of the Fringe team directed each other to, “Hack the mainframe.”

If you are a writer, or other creative professional involved with storytelling, please use caution when invoking this admittedly awesome sounding phrase.

The thing is, a mainframe computer system may not be what you’ve been led to believe it is.  Mainframes are large, powerful, computers that have been used by businesses for decades.  When most characters in popular TV and movies say “hack the mainframe,” they’re referring to activities that a mainframe really wouldn’t be used for.

For example, let’s say our heroes are tracing the source IP of a criminal, or they’re trying to get into the confidential files of a doctor who’s a suspect in a case.  Maybe they’re trying to get a customer list from a website.  Regardless, in almost all of these cases, the writers would have been better off just using the generic term “Server” instead of mainframe.  Server is a label given to a computer which has the task of holding (serving) information for others to use.  Using this term will be much more accurate, and it can apply to very wide variety of computers.

The other issue is that mainframes have been in declining use for decades.  These computers are tanks.  For the most part they are powerful, reliable, and secure.  Unfortunately, they’re very expensive and lack the scalability of many modern midrange, distributed computing systems.  Because of this, most new technology companies and businesses wouldn’t have a mainframe in their datacenter.  It wouldn’t make sense for them to purchase older, expensive technology like that.

I know, saying, “Hack the mainframe,” sounds wicked sweet.  I agree.  So, if you really want to use this term, use it in a situation that would be more believable.  Mainframes would be used more commonly by old, monolithic corporations such as large banks/financial institutions, airlines, and governments.  If your characters are after data that is contained on a mainframe, it would likely be information (records of some type) stored in a database.  To hack in, your computer-whiz character should also have a working knowledge of zOS administration and older technologies such as JCL, Cobol, and C.  These technologies aren’t taught very often in today’s computer science programs, so keep that in mind as well.

That’s all.  I hope this helps out another writer while they’re crafting their next amazing story.