The Great Printer War

by Janis Patterson

Normally I am very soft-spoken. Normally I am temperate in my language. Normally… but nothing about this situation has been normal, not even my language.

Years ago I bought an inexpensive little b&w laser printer – nothing fancy, as at the time I did very little printing. Most of my work and documents etc. were done on-line. A printer was a luxury, so I got a cheap one. It came with a decent-sized cartridge and I got almost two years of printing before the cartridge expired. I bought another; it was more expensive by a few dollars, but…

Another year or so and another cartridge, for a few dollars more… (sounds like a title, doesn’t it?) and as I still did very little printing I went ahead and paid.

Until last week, when the current cartridge ran out and to my horror I found that the cartridge (which is fairly small) cost almost twice what I originally paid for the printer itself! To my mind that is just wrong, especially since lately I am printing so much more than before!

Well, on our last two trips to the computer store to get things The Husband needed I had been looking around and fell in love with one of the Epson ink-tank color printers. It is supposed to do everything – copy, print, scan… the whole nine yards. And while Epson makes three versions of this kind of printer (with escalating features and prices) I decided I could afford the least expensive. I mean, it’s an investment, isn’t it? My cheap old one was a number of years old, so who knows how much longer it would last, and even if it did the cost of three cartridges would almost pay for the new printer plus a year’s supply of ink… and just think of the colorful things I could do – holiday letters, birthday greetings, handouts for my ladies’ club… You agree, don’t you? Well, please do even if you don’t, because I did it and I need validation. So I bought the printer.

Except I didn’t. The computer store didn’t have one, just their mock-up floor model. Same thing with the office supply store where we’ve shopped for years. Both offered to have one delivered to me, but could give no idea of when. So, muttering angrily, I went online. Amazon could get me one in just six weeks. The on-line version of our computer store felt sure they could get one to me in just five weeks. The printer’s manufacturer was out of them in their store, and had no idea when they’d get more!

Finally, my muttering growing into a full growl, I checked online at a national we-sell-everything store and found they could get me one in two and a half weeks. Knowing when I was licked, I jumped on it and sent them my money.

Mirable dictu! Three days later they said they could get one delivered to my front door in two days. I was delirious with joy. Until the thing arrived. I unpacked it, removing all the tape and packing materials (some of which were in the oddest places!) and put it on my desk. Then the unholy circus of installation began.

I am not a computer person. I am a writer. I put words down one after another. I speak several languages with wide variations of fluency, but computer-tech stuff flummoxes me, especially when it is written by someone who is not only a computer genius, but to whom English is obviously no more than a third or fourth language. Translating what the manual (manual? a two-sided cheat sheet that came with the machine) said into sensible English took longer than unpacking the thing. Even when the directions were fairly clear, there were no indications if you should be doing whatever was the next step on  your computer or on the printer screen. AAAAUGH!

Fortunately the loading of the ink reservoirs (something I had feared because I am a klutz) was easy as pie. Priming the print heads was automatic, and topping off the tanks with the remaining ink as easy as the first filling.

Then came the bad part. I had to download programs and sync with my wifi, and that is when both computer and printer turned against me. I finally gave up trying to connect the devil device with the wifi and went with my standby plug USB cord. Then I had to make the computer recognize that there was a new printer attached, something it most definitely did not want to do. The instructions were of no help, not even telling me on which machine each action had to be performed.

By now I was in full swear mode, turning the air blue with such fluency it was a wonder that my mother’s ghost did not come back to wash my mouth out with soap. The Husband, who is equally or even more than a techno-naif than I, stood by and very wisely did not say a thing.

After about twenty minutes of following vague instructions down rabbit holes and clicking on all sorts of improbable things, the new printer shook itself with a growly groan and began to spit out perfectly printed test sheets.

Why? How? What had I done? I have no idea. I would swear that I had done the same thing at least three times before, but nothing had happened until that minute. Maybe the cyber-gods had taken pity on me; I don’t know and really don’t care as long as the (several expletives deleted) thing works!

In these days where even the smallest home computer seemingly can do everything but the dinner dishes, why do we have to go through these trials? Why can’t everything be set where when you get a new piece of hardware you just plug it into the wall socket, then plug it into the computer and presto! everything works. Seems like I remember something from years ago called Plug ‘N’ Play. What a wonderful concept! All the owner should have to do is put in the proper plugs (even I can do that!) and the two machines start to talk to each other and then start to work. Does such a wonderful idea still exist in the real world? It should. It really should.

Time to Write and Other Fictions

by Janis Patterson

I used to have a dream… a dream of a place where I have no responsibilities, no job to go to, no social obligations to fulfill, no time-consuming errands to run, no organizations to which I have made promises… nothing but time and quiet in which to write. The archetypical ivory tower.

Well, I can tell you the archetypical ivory tower is very overrated. Like everyone else, The Husband and I have been pretty much self-quarantined at home for what seems like the last couple of aeons. Oh, we have gone to the grocery about once a week (a giddy exercise in freedom!) and once to the bank (drive-thru only) and occasionally to pick up a take-out meal from Desperados, our very favorite Mexican restaurant (food is good as ever, but just not the same experience), but to a modern couple living in a big city with lots of connections and work and organizations, our recent adventures have been pretty thin.

Which, you would think, would be wonderful for my writing. Aside from fixing dinner most nights and a load or two of laundry each week, I have nothing to do but write.

Except I can’t.

The Husband is very good – most of the time – about not bothering me while I work. It took a couple of years in the early part of our marriage, but he did learn that when my office door is closed no one disturbs me unless there is blood or flame! (I should say we’re an older couple, and it’s just the two of us and one very bossy little dog.) While we’ve been sequestered he’s been working his way through some stuffed old boxes of his stuff that date from the time of our marriage.

Me – “You need to go through those boxes and get rid of a lot of that stuff.”

Him – “I know what’s in every one of those boxes, and it’s all stuff I want to keep.”

Me – “Well, then, go through and pack it carefully in new plastic boxes – those cardboard boxes are yucky.”

Him – “I’ll get around to it.”

Repeat this conversation a time or two a year for almost every year – and there are a number of them – we’ve been married.

Well, the Chinese plague lockdown has taken away all his excuses. He can’t go to work, we have no meetings, and he can watch only so much idiotic TV, so he finally said he’d do one box. Of course, that led to another and another (we’re actually seeing parts of the storage room floor we haven’t seen in a couple of years!) and now it’s a treasure hunt.

Him – “Look at what I found! I’ve been looking for this!” is repeated several times a day. The first few times I was jubilant – and just a little bit self-satisfied – but after a day or two I decided I had to work and went behind the closed doors of my office.

Except I can’t.

I am facing two book deadlines (not counting my recurring blogs) and I need to write. Deadlines have been sacrosanct my entire life and I will do just about anything to meet them. Worse still, I pretty much know what I’m going to write, so it isn’t a real case of writer’s block, it’s just… just… The best description I can come up with is a non-religious accidie… a laziness or indifference to the entire process.

My mind wanders – and not creatively, as it should when you’re writing. I find myself either becoming fascinated with something that has nothing to do with what’s at hand or just shutting off and staring at something, such as the rose bush outside my window or the TV screen, and both are just about as edifying.

Perhaps the dirty little secret of this Chinese plague lockdown is a lack of structure. I’ve worked since I was in school, and most of the time done it well, but there has always been a structure. There have been structure-less days, of course, and on occasion a week or so such as in a vacation or an illness, but I always knew that at the end of  a certain period of time the structure would surround me again and that knowledge kept me going. Or started me up again, to be honest.

Now, with no real end in sight and a tragically changed world waiting outside my (metaphoric) front door, I don’t know what to do. I was always pretty good at living inside a structure, but I suck at creating one. However – I know something has to change, and the only thing I can influence or change for sure is myself, so I have been working at writing out a schedule. Somehow that makes it the more real. It’s about time I learned how to schedule… oh, I’ve always known how. It’s simple. The hard part, the part I must master, is fulfilling it.

Hope all of you are staying safe and well. Please take care of yourselves.

God Winks: It’s The Little Things

Being a bombastic big mouth from old school NYC, it’s hard to get me to willingly shut up. When I do, you best believe it’s intentional, purposeful, and to hold my attention. 9/11. A sun dog. A newborn with her fantastic Heaven-scent aroma on her onesie and in my nose. A great sleep.

And . . . God winks.

Although I’d drafted this on the 27th anniversary of turning 27–that’s called “Awesome 54some!” for those of you in #RioLinda **smirk/sarc**–it’s been dreadful to find fresh words for my Casebooks, my Threesome of Magic mysteries, even this platform. We were in the biggest game of cooties I’ve seen in life via COVID. A shutdown wrecking economic havoc. The pokiness of re-opening states so people can resume their lives–or move on in them to settle loved ones’ affairs. These stupid city burnings after an unfortunate series of events in Minnesota. And still having to wear a mask, it becoming a symbol of murdering logic, common sense, and reason in favor of groupthink, fear, and forced compliance.

But I digress.

I prayed, mainly because I couldn’t take the overwhelm anymore. It was the one thing I had some control over, some input for, some say in. When I wasn’t praying, I was sleeping. A lot. No, I’ve no plans to harm myself or others–don’t tempt me on the “others” part, please! :)–but I found it a solace He was listening.

That’s when the little reminders popped up like mushrooms do overnight. Specifics only I’d know. Hoo-boy, did I know them.

Ever heard of Squire Rushnell? Oh, yes you have. If you’re familiar with Schoolhouse Rock and other Saturday morning children’s programming on ABC back in the day, that’s the name behind this part of pop culture. He put that network on the map for inspiring 3 to 7 minute animated segments in history, science, math, government (“I’m Just a Bill”), and grammar in between cartoons, much like CBS did In The News with Christopher Glenn in between theirs (and I switched channels often to not miss either one!). Anyhoo . . . Rushnell kept adding up little coincidences in his life leading to the big ones like Schoolhouse, and how that lead him to be ABC’s Children’s Programming Prez. And hey–if he helped kids do better in school with these subjects of the songs and visuals they provided, #360Win.

Mushroom #1: My husband Pete picks up flowers in bright purple and vivid yellow. I gasped, cried, then asked if he remembered if I told him of my villain’s signature colors in my TOM mysteries. He said no–he just felt he had to get them when he saw them as a sweet birthday gesture.

Mushroom #2: Somebody shares a meme on social of an entryway from the movie adaptation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Almost immediately, a scene drops in mind for my TOM mysteries I can plenty use to move the plot(s) forward. Yes . . . I gasped in sweet surprise again.

Mushroom #3: A Times fan since my mother, God rest her, gave me a back-to-school Snoopy watch for third grade when I was seven (I skipped second, being so bright), fostering my love for analog timepieces since. Along with the flowers, my husband gifts me a watch called Vincero (pronounced vinchairro), and the brand translates in English from Italian, “I will win.” Vincero’s pretty damn close to missing-his-ear van Gogh. Vincent Price. And my Casebooks Jay Vincent. Oh, sure–Casper’s and Logan’s names’d pop up plenty of times outside of their Casebook lives in my life, but Pedregon’s seldom did . . . before that watch company came in over my transom.

Mushroom #4: A numerology newsletter I’m subscribed to, the author suggested in part of her communique for this month that, for those who draw, to keep drawing. Those who create and craft, keep creating and crafting.

And for those who write?
You guessed it: keep writing.

Squire Rushnell created God Winks when he thought coincidence did a disservice to those unexplainable-timing-in-a-good-way little things that make you take notice. It’s not a religious aspect you must believe to see the treatise behind the belief, although Rushnell is a Christian. It’s more like Chicken Soup for the Soul’s cousin or bolder little sister. I haven’t read the book, but I plan to. It’s an occasional nod you’re headed in the right direction when you’re not sure you are, to keep staying on track–or need a boost when you don’t want to stay the course, as was my circumstance, but poignantly special after a monstrously trying week in a disgustingly taxing first half of 2020.

But in the middle of our national storm, another birthday’s come and gone. That, all things considered, is the best God wink there is.

Apologies for the heavy use of adverbs in this update. “Lolly’s Adverb Store” takes full blame for that!

Confession Of A Pixelated Writer

by Janis Patterson

When I first started writing computers were the stuff of science fiction and cheesy space opera movies. If you wanted to write a book, you either wrote in painful longhand, talked into a recorder for someone else to transcribe or typed it yourself on a typewriter. Just to set the record straight I learned to type on a Smith Corona manual portable the summer before I entered the fourth grade and have regarded any kind of handwriting more than a simple signature as cruel and unusual punishment ever since!

Now, of course, like most everyone else I use a computer. It’s faster, it’s easier to edit (I remember in the old days when ‘cut and paste’ meant exactly that!), there’s no need for multiple filing cabinets to hold different versions of different manuscripts, you don’t have to go scrabbling for cheap or even pre-used paper to use for rough drafts, there’s no need to do a complete retype in order to have a clean copy… all in all better. A single thumb drive or dvd can hold every version and every note or bit of research on several novels. Several filing cabinets’ worth of data can be held in a small box on your desk.

So why isn’t my house neater?

I digress…

Since I still tend to mistrust technology, I not only keep dvds of my projects in my desk and in the safety deposit box, I also have them in cloud storage and… wait for it… in a paper copy. Yes, I know what I just said about paper, but this is different. I print out a copy of the final manuscript using both sides of the paper, the narrowest margins I can manage, single-spaced and in a tiny type – 8 or 9 point – not so large as to be bulky, but still able to be retyped if the unthinkable happens. This can reduce the biggest book to a manageable size. Then I drill the manuscript and put it in a 3 ring binder, along with a dvd (yes, that’s 3 copies per book on dvds), a photocopy of my contract (the original is in the safety deposit box as well as scanned to my computer), and any other ancillary things specific to the book. Usually I can get 3-4 novels or 6-8 novellas in a ring binder. It’s a lot smaller than a couple of file cabinets!

I have been writing for a long time, which means I have a lot of partials, multiple copies and extras of all kinds of manuscripts. My husband and I are living in the house where I grew up, and boxes of old manuscripts are still turning up in the garage and attic. I think they’re breeding.

Still, I hate to lose any of my work, even if it’s juvenile or unfinished or just plain unworkable, so I scan what I don’t already have copies of. Then, once assured that I do have a record or that the manuscript I just found is one of many duplicates, I split the pages in half and stack them up for notepaper.

For someone who hates to handwrite, I use a lot of notepaper. Have a quick idea for a cute or a scary scene? A great idea of a different way to do murder? A reminder of an appointment? An appealing name that may fit a character in a future project? Whatever? I scribble it down and affix it to a huge corkboard against the wall. When it starts to resemble some weird sort of scaled creature I do have to go through that board and pare it down. The paper recyclers just love it when that happens…

So, even though I am an admitted techno-naif with only the sketchiest kind of détente with technology, I have to admit that the computer has made this writer’s life much more simple. I have no choice but to do so. I sold all my filing cabinets.

If Seinfeld Can, Why Can’t I?

by Janis Patterson

While The Husband loved the TV show Seinfeld and still occasionally watches DVDs of it, I found it stultifyingly boring and even more uninteresting. It was heralded as a show about nothing, and as far as I am concerned it definitely succeeded. However, it was undeniably popular. (Does that say something about me, or about everyone else?) I much prefer shows in which the actors are attractive, shows in which there is something going on – explosions, genuine humor, dead bodies, passionate kisses on a sunset beach… something!

Still, I have to admit that the show did something right to be so popular and on the air for so long, so I’ve decided to explore its particular trope and find out what made it so successful. Except I can’t find what it is. All I can find is that it is regarded as a show about nothing. (Perhaps a metaphor for the supposed emptiness of modern urban life?)

Okay, I can run with that. Most of our lives are filled with nothing. Oh, we’re busy all the time, usually with things that seem important at the time but have little cosmic impact. Things like deciding what to serve for dinner tonight. (Always a biggie for me, as The Husband is a very picky eater and I am a rather indifferent cook.) Shopping for same. Making lunches in the morning. Laundry – what gets tumble dried and what gets line dried and if any of it gets bleach. Deciding if I really want that cute pair of shoes we saw at the mall. Trying to switch the appointment for a much-needed oil change because that’s the only day I can take an elderly neighbor to a much-more needed dental appointment.

See? All important at that minute, all demanding your immediate attention, but in the grand scheme of things generally dismissed as the minutiae of life. Six months – heck, six weeks – afterward, are you going to remember if you had that oil change on Wednesday or Friday, or if those shoes were the red ones or the blue ones?

So what does this digression have to do with murder? Because everything in a murder is important. How many times does the detective (professional or amateur) bring the miscreant to justice by reason of a single fact uttered some time before? Jessica Fletcher was a master of this – a throwaway line uttered perhaps days ago in the storyline, perhaps at the very beginning of the show, and she remembers it. Worse, I can’t remember it at all. Of course, now that I write mysteries my ‘sleuth’ instinct is honed to dangerous acuity, watching every line and usually being able to figure out what is a clue. That, however, is a reader/viewer trick, trained by far too many hours spent absorbing other people’s stories.

Real detectives, however, don’t have that luxury. They can’t automatically know that the fact so-and-so wore red shoes on Tuesday is important. They have to give every bit of information weight. They don’t have editors and beta readers and directors and cinematographers giving focus to every necessary nuance. I think that’s the main reason most real-life cases are not wound up in 20 chapters or 47 minutes. There is too much everything to deal with and that unfortunately translates to nothing to deal with.

So – I am getting too close to saying something instead of sticking with my intended policy of blogging today on nothing. That’s perhaps fortunate, as I have nothing else to say on nothing.

Stay warm this during this cold winter, write well, read widely and don’t get overwhelmed by nothing.