Tuesday, October 31, 2017

SPAM= Unwelcome Spiced Ham

Remember when Spam stood for canned meat of unclear origins?

Euphemistically named for “spiced Ham,” (it wasn’t exactly, but those who liked it preferred not to delve further) it was salty, greasy, meaty, and oddly satisfying to all but gourmet palates.

In the Internet age, SPAM became something almost completely different. It is unsolicited commercial Email. Only the “unclear origins” retained the connection to that potted thing-a-ma-food.

Beginning last spring, I noticed more and more comments on this blog that were not from readers. I moderate comments specifically to weed out SPAM. I have rarely gotten comments that were cantankerous, and welcome those. So long as they are from genuine readers, c'mon in. I’m not afraid of disagreements.

As the counterfeit comments come into my comment-moderation sphere, I mark them as SPAM faster than I can read them to the end. Sometimes the comments contain links. I don’t click on the links, so I can’t report if they involve relatively benign selling of somethings we don’t need, or dreaded viruses. Sometime they may be attempts to get entrance to the site, with no visible links.

In the past, the texts of the comments were riddled with very poor not-quite English. The sort only Google Translate could have come up with. They did painstakingly (I assume) refer to the specific post, but they did so incoherently. Those always contained links.

This summer brought a new flavor of Spam. The ones coming in in the last few months have two things in common. Invariably they come from Anonymous and they are to a post that is old. I mean, a few years old. Key words must have been caught by the casted nets and fished out by the swarming hacking machines. The comment’s text says nothing about the post, but congratulates me on such an excellent blog, promising to follow my “informative posts” from now on.

Frankly, my “excellent blog” is not very informative. (Gee, Mirka. You really can’t take a compliment, can you?)

Just as I was typing here, one of those marvels showed up . Here is most of it, for your amusement:

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I can't imagine who would click on this clown's link for "school composition assist to". If anyone ever did, maybe they deserve such polished assistance. (It must work better in Polish, come to think of it.)

Yes, I have activated Spam filters. A few of them. I also mark every comment that I know isn’t from you, real readers, and send it to the great trash bin on the Ethernet. Lots of garbage floating up there, no doubt.

We do what we can to shore up the wall against these cans, and will continue to do it.
What do you do about Internet trash?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Good Instincts

A Pat on the Back, Me

Sometime ago when I was looking to be agented, a well-known literary agent turned my novel down saying she has a client working on something she felt was similar. This agent was surprisingly specific about the setting and a couple of details of her client’s WIP. She asked that I check with her if and when I had other work, and was still unagented.

Shortly after, another agent offered representation, and I’ve been agented since. That particular novel has not sold, and we have moved on to my next.

About six months ago, I ran into a review of a middle grade novel that sounded so much like my unsold story, and I checked it out. What-d-y-know, its setting and specifics fit perfectly with the response I got from that agent. I began reading the book online in its E-version. I found myself heaving as the first paragraph reminded me of the way I chose to begin mine. But there’s more. The name of the main character, (an uncommon one) was the very same as in my story.

I did a bit of searching to find and verify that this writer’s agent was indeed the same one who liked my story, but had a client working on something similar.

I bought the book in its print version. I read it. It is a very good book, well written, and it deserves its place in the market.

You wouldn’t blame me for doing the next thing. I wasn’t going to, but something in me felt I just had to. I wrote to the writer to tell her I liked her book (true) and added that I liked the main character’s name very much.

Almost instantly, I got a reply. The writer was grateful for my appreciation, and added that, incidentally, the main character’s name was her agent’s suggestion, after her editor didn’t care for the name she had used originally.

I sat, heart pounding, staring at the screen. It’s rare that you get such confirmation of the tentacles you put out in the universe actually reaching somewhere. Bingo.

I am well aware that names, titles, and even general plotlines are not intellectual property and thus, rightly, can’t have a copyright. Inspiration comes from what we have read and seen before, and writers take from others (often subconsciously) all the time.

But it still felt... weird.

There’s a good article about writer’s envy that just came out a few months ago. I must have incorporated it inwardly, because I spent only a few moments feeling these pangs. I looked in the mirror and said, “You’ve done well. You had the good story and a name that was worth borrowing.”

Both stories deal with unseen connections across time. It’s fitting that I found just such a true connection between them, the one that was published and the one that was not. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

This Life is NOW

A few months ago someone I had some virtual contact with, mostly in years back, let her Facebook friends know she had just suffered a calamitous loss. On what should have been a joyous father-son bonding trip, half her family was wiped out. Her husband and older son died while hiking, likely from heatstroke.

In one cruel swoop she was a widow, and the mother of one surviving son.

This horrific event was on the news, local and national. I read the reports over and over, as if re-reading would tell a different story, maybe with a happier ending. I woke up the next day with that feeling most would recognize. It’s that did this really happen thought, and a feeling of reality descending but not quite hitting the ground.

This did not happen to me. I could go on with my day and the days to come with my routine intact. But it did shake me up. The opening words of Joan Didion’s Year of magical Thinking kept echoing

Life changes in an instant.

It’s still a wake-up call for me. I tell my kitties I’m so happy they’re here. I look at people and places with gratitude. Nothing is permanent and most things are not for later, they are now.
Hugs, everyone.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

What’s Wrong?

a.k.a The Art of Diagnostics

Some months ago, I had an odd sensation of my throat swelling. I went to sleep thinking I was likely coming down with something. I woke up the next day with a swollen tongue to boot, and a vague unease in my digestive system. The swelling was mildly sore, nothing that would make me reach for medication.

I also felt peculiarly tired and, while all fit with a possible reaction to infection, I somehow felt there was something different about it.

Long story short (love this peculiar expression)— after trials and tribulations, and a wandering set of symptoms getting worse, better, then much worse, I found the culprit. The natural sugar alternative Stevia, otherwise revered by natural food folks, was causing a sort of allergic response from my immune system. Until then, my body was not known for reacting to anything that wasn’t attacking it. I don’t remember having verified allergies to anything, even as many around me did. There was the suspected reaction to Penicillin, never verified. There was a sort of reaction to mascara, also not clear. All go back to adolescence, and penciled in my medical records with a question mark.
But, really, not really.

So in my quest to solve this problem I didn’t make the right connection for a while.

This reminded me of the process of writing. There are times when a writer knows something is just not right, but all suggested feedback rings false. For myself, I will attempt the fixes anyhow, if only to try to be the humble and receptive person I aspire to be. Then, the fixes make the story need other fixes, and eventually nothing is working.

It’s a matter of accurate diagnostics.

When it comes to doctors, be they medical or book doctors, a good diagnostician is the most important quality. If you are one, or have such on your team, you’ve hit the jackpot.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Ye Shall Dwell in Booths...*

*Leviticus 23:42

The seven-day festival of Sukkot is an odd one if viewed without context. Jews are commanded to make insecure structures with porous roofs that allow us to see the stars and let precipitation seep in. We are to eat meals and spend nights in those “booths” (some translate it as “huts”) for seven days.

All this— to remember our ancestral forty-year journey to the Promised Land, dwelling in tents for two generations.

All over the observant Jewish world, these structures are erected according to specification, and then decorated to the hilt. I have warm memories of this from my childhood in Israel, where even the marginally observant just had to have a Sukkah, (=Booth) even if we mostly decorated and rarely dwelled.

In my current home, I tried to give my kids a taste of it. Our non-Kosher hut (because it was a section of our entry-porch, and the only solid part was, alas, the roof) was not a place to sleep. But we had a couple of lunches in it, and like in my secular upbringing in Israel, we spent more time on decorating than being in there. The neighbor’s cat, though, adopted it immediately and did the Mitzvah for us.

{{{I highly recommend the movie USHPIZIN, one of very few made by ultra-orthodox Jews, and telling a beautiful tale that stars the holiday of Sukkot.}}}

The point was to remember. To recall where you came from and pay homage to the struggles of those who went before.

I no longer attempt a sukkah, even for our cats. But, you see, the holiday starts tomorrow, and I remember.