We Are Updating Your Computer

Updating by Jennie Ivins

Earlier this year my computer was in its death throws. I tried to fix it, scan it, even nuke it from space (reformat). Nothing worked. It happens, computers die. The problem was it was a new-ish computer and I didn’t have the money to buy a new one. As a last ditch effort I upgraded to Windows 10. In all honesty I’m not sure if that made the situation better or worse.

I have very low expectations for computers. And to be fair, MOST of the time Windows 10 works fine. It runs my programs. It saves my work. It connects to the internet. It runs Word and Minecraft.

Simple. Easy.

However, Microsoft has decided it’s a great idea to let Windows 10 decide when and how to download and install its updates. For some reason, Windows continues to reset my computer without asking, and, more importantly, without allowing me to save my work. Then two weeks ago it gave me a mini heart attack. I had been writing at the time and thought I lost an hour’s worth of new words.

Thank God Above, autosave had gone off five minutes’ before the restart!

After recovering my work (and my heartrate), I noticed my computer was running slow. Turns out Windows had helpfully reinstalled all the Microsoft apps I’d removed to improve the computer’s performance, including the creepy HAL wanna-be, Cortana. So, I went back in and re-uninstalled all the damn apps and disabled Cortana.

Computer restored, I moved on with my life.

Then this Friday, it did it again! This time I left my computer on while talking with my husband, came back and it was in the middle of updating.

Very few things on Earth make me angry enough to curse – asshat computers are one of them. I didn’t lose any work, but this time I decided enough is enough. I went through all the settings, looking for what the hell was letting Microsoft update whenever the hell it wanted to.

First I discovered Cortana was back, as were all the uninstalled apps. So I, ever so calmly, uninstalled them, for like the eighth f***ing time. Then after checking it hadn’t changed any of my settings, I got to the Windows Update screen.

For those of you who have not yet discovered this yourself, let me walk you through getting there so you can see this insanity personally.

Near the ‘Shut Down’ and ‘Log Out’ buttons should be a gear marked: Settings. You want to click the gear which will bring you to the Windows Settings screen. Click ‘Update & security’ then ‘Windows Update’.

Updating by Jennie Ivins 2

At the top of the page is your Update Status. This tells you if your computer is up to date. The part you need to look at is right beneath that. It reads:

Update settings

Available updates will be downloaded and installed automatically, except over metered connections (where charges may apply).

As you can see, this is NOT an option, this is a statement of how this program works. The auto-updates are a feature, not a bug. But look beneath that and there are options. Surely there must be a way to fix it so it updates in the middle of night instead of when I’m bloody using the thing.

Hahaha! No.

If you click on ‘Chang Active Hours,’ you will find the following:

Active hours lets us know when you usually use this device. When a restart is necessary to finish installing an update, we won’t automatically restart your device during active hours.

Note: We’ll check to see if you’re using this device before attempting to restart.

Updating by Jennie Ivins 3

Right, so we already know the Note part is BS, as the damn thing restarted while I was actively typing. I’ll just change it so it won’t update while I’m awake. That should fix the problem. Would have been nice if they’d told me that initially, but whatever.

I’m a stay-at-home mom, a website editor, and a writer. I’m on my computer A LOT. So I set the little time boxes to Start Time 7am and End Time 1am, as that’s how long I am generally on my computer either actively working or listening to music while I do other things. However, when I tried to save my settings, I noticed the Save button was dithered out. Why pray tell? Well, because I’d done it wrong, said the cute little message that popped up below the time boxes:

Active hours can be set between 1 and 12 hours.

Updating by Jennie Ivins 4

Let me repeat that.

Active hours can be set between *1* and *12* hours.

Yes you and I are both reading that right. Windows 10 doesn’t give you the option to be actively using your computer for more than 12 hours at a time.

I looked at the other options. All the other options. None of them allow you to change this. Basically, Microsoft has decided you don’t need to be using your computer all the time, just half the time. Literally HALF THE TIME.

I have no idea what to do with this information besides let others know so they can be prepared to save their work when this insane program decides it needs to update.

If anyone out there has a fix for this besides burning it and salting the earth, I would appreciate it greatly.

Title image by me.

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Three Like Me – Day Three: Professor Stein

Me In Three Characters

If you know me from online or know me causally in real life, I would bet my first two character picks were unsurprising. This last one? Well….

In my life I am mostly what you see is what you get. Positive, mom-like, easily amused, and empathetic. But in the back corners of my mind and the far reaches of my subconscious is something else: Some of it is me. Some of it is monsters. All of it is dark, twisted, and unstable.

Stein by Unknown ArtistProfessor Stein is all of those things as well. He is from the anime Soul Eater, which is one of my favorite animes ever. It has a very unique art style and a very interesting premise.

The main characters are students at a school run by the personification of death. Half of them have the ability to turn into weapons, the other half then wield them to defeat evil humans and witches. Their goal is to collect 99 evil souls and the soul of one witch. That will give their weapon enough power to be wielded by Death himself.

Professor Stein, as noted by his title, is not a student. He is an insane scientist who thinks the world exists to be dissected and experimented on. Nothing is off limits, even himself. Despite this he tends toward the side of good in his more rational moments. But when a great being of evil and chaos is accidently released, his madness takes over and his insanities return making him more and more unpredictable.

That sounds like me right? Don’t think so? Maybe you need to look deeper.

The Kishin by TheSexiestOffendersSome of it is me.

I have a dark side, everyone does. That bit of you that tells you to do stuff you shouldn’t. It haunts you with nightmares when you sleep. It pushes intrusive thoughts on you when you wake. It is evil to its core, but in me it’s not alone.

Some of it is monsters.

I am tormented by the duel demons of Depression and Anxiety. Not the little bits that come from being human. No, these are the freakish horrors that attacked my heart and soul for uncounted years. With the help of meds and therapy I have subdued them, but they are not gone.

This other side of me rarely comes out. Only now and then do I let anyone glimpse of what lies beneath my surface. Except in my writing. These days my characters take the brunt of my insanities. I channel my demons onto the page and there they wreak havoc on the people inhabiting my imagined worlds.

Stein by Abz-J-HardingMy cousin and fellow writer, AughtPunk, likes to say she is waiting for the day where I am published and on a panel at some geek writing con. My fans will come expecting some goth/gritty/grimdark person and get a cheery mom that brought cookies for all the attendees. The stories I write at first look like my polar opposite, but really they are a reflection of sinister beasts within, waiting to escape the page and my mind and torment my soul once more.

Or, you know, maybe I just like writing creepy stuff. With me there’s no way of telling for sure.

Three Like Me – Day Two: Alice

Me In Three Characters

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There is one of my favorite stories of all time. The idea that one could travel through a mirror and find another world that was slightly off from our own fascinated me. As a child I wanted to be Alice. I wanted to discover the impossible and try to understand nonsense in a way no one had before. I never grew out of those feelings.

Jewelweed & Water by Maure Briggs-CarringtonMy life has been a series of discoveries. Did you know that if you touch the seed pods on these flowers they explode? Did you know you can use a pan of fresh snow to cool off homemade fudge or frosting faster? Did you know that the way you tell if something in the sky is a star or a planet is that planets don’t twinkle?

Did you know you can make a boat out of tin foil and float it down the streams of water that form on the streets during a rainstorm? Did you know if you do that as an adult, the neighbors give you weird looks for weeks afterwards? Yeah, that last one is still an issue somedays…

Aside from finding wonder in the world around me, in the people I meet, and the art and science that ties them all together, Alice and her curious world also influenced my life and my writing in a big way.

My dreams tend to be epic adventures and the one I had in October of 2010 was no exception. I dreamed a girl found herself in a strange world, where magic powered advanced technology. I told it to my husband and he suggested I write it down, maybe even turn it into a story. NaNoWriMo was only a month away and he had friends who’d done it in the past, maybe I should try it myself.

At first I thought it was a silly idea, but the story kept following me around, poking at my brain and tickling my imagination. Who was she? Where was she? How had she gotten there? It was that last question that got me excited. Why she got there through a magic portal of course! With the support of my unsuspecting husband I began my journey. In one month I wrote 80,000 words. I wrote so much I had to get wrist braces, which luckily I don’t need anymore.

When NaNo finished, my cousin and I went to an after party event. I got people’s names and we started our own forum so we could continue our writing. It worked for a while, but I needed more help and feedback. I started following writers on Twitter. I started a writing blog. I started a writing group with my cousin, my brothers, and later my friend Erica, who I met through the group, which still meets every other week. I joined a proper forum, on some weird site called Fantasy-Faction.

Alice Through the Looking Glass by John TennielNow here I am almost six years later, polishing my story, Mark of the Essence, while, and at the same time, working as the editor at Fantasy-Faction. We have been nominated and even won some amazing awards. We even published an anthology!

All the friends I have online and even some in the real world, all writing tricks I’ve learned, all the authors I’ve read and discovered, all of it is thanks to my love of Alice and her portal adventure in the realms of make-believe. As Alice said, “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” And I couldn’t be happier.

Homework: The Soundtrack of My Life

Chrono Trigger of Life by davidgoh

This year we are trying something new in the Ivins’ household. As soon as the boys get home from school they have a snack then jump right into homework. No one is allowed to play video games until everyone finishes.

There are two reasons for this approach. The first is because the kids’ AD/D-AD/HD meds run out by about 4:30pm. In the past if we let them wind down from school first, we basically had to staple them to their chairs to get them to do anything.

The second reason is one of the big reasons I never finished my homework as a kid. If you are stuck doing boring worksheets while your siblings are off in the next room having fun, there is a lot less motivation to finish whatever you’re doing well, or at all. Instead I would rush through everything so I could join them. My kids were having the same problem.

We instituted a new rule where the only things you can do after you finish your work are reading, writing, or drawing. Then when everyone is done, everyone gets to go play as a group. This strategy was working well, until they figured out I was surfing the internet while they were working. Needless to say they were a bit put out.

So, now I have a block of time every weekday were I have to (by my own rule) be either reading, writing, or drawing. Which would be great if I didn’t get interrupted every two minutes to answer a homework question. I know reading is right out, as I need quiet to read. I could draw, and I might some days, but that’s not overly productive. Also I like drawing to de-stress which is not a thing that homework time is conducive to. Sneaking so extra writing time in sounded amazing! But, yeah that didn’t work. I need to be immersed in that as well.

Instead I decided a half hour to an hour block of time would be perfect for a different kind of writing: I could do blog posts!

And now, here I am. Writing my first post in months, to the accompaniment of the Chrono Trigger soundtrack, because the kids like music when they work and it can’t have words.* I will admit unless you have kids, today’s post might not be that entertaining, but hopefully tomorrow’s will.

Happy Writing! 🙂

*Side Note: Any good video game soundtracks you can recommend? I have a few random songs plus Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV & VI, and Knights in the Nightmare: Symphony of Souls. While they are good, I’m sure we will be tired of listening to the same ones over and over, by about mid-December. Any suggestions for new ones would be appreciated!

Title image by davidgoh.

ConFusion and Clarity

Sunrise in the snowy woods by Roberto Melotti

As I posted on Twitter Monday afternoon, my seemingly endless stores of energy have finally been depleated. Last weekend at ConFusion was amazing. I met so many cool people – some for the first time, some for the first time in person. The hotel was nice, the con staff were great, and the panels were awesome! Kudos to everyone who helped put this convention together because you guys did an outstanding job. The con even got complimented by the hotel staff for being one of the best groups they’ve ever hosted!

On top of the obvious coolness of ConFusion and the ease at which it unfolded there was something more nebulous about this weekend that didn’t strike me full on until Sunday night when mostly everyone had departed for their various home bases. It was a sense of knowing that I was where I was supposed to be. And not just at the con, but surrounded by people who understood exactly what it meant to love writing and reading and genre in general.

I’ve been involved in SFF fandom since 2010, when I started writing my first book and joined Fantasy-Faction. It was fun to be around people that loved the same things I did and understood me. As the years went by I met more authors and fans, improved my craft, and felt more and more welcome than I had anywhere else, almost my whole life.

But for whatever reason, part of me always felt like a fake. Like I was just playing at being a writer, and later an editor. It wasn’t anything anyone said. The SFF community that I know and love is nothing if not supportive of fans as well as newbie writers just beginning to stretch their wings.

The feeling originated inside myself. The part of me that hides in the back of my head and whispers lies and slander about me, that wants me to fail and live my life cowering in a dark place with no voice or hope to be rescued.

That voice is an asshole. And thank God with meds and therapy it has gone from a booming giant to a hoarse whisper. But until this weekend it was still loud enough to keep me from being comfortable at cons and comfortable with my place in this genre (even though that place isn’t very big).

Then at ConFusion something clicked. It might have been meeting so many people in person for the first time that knew who I was and were happy to see me. It might have been my mind finally curb stomping the last bit of the crap voice that had haunted me for so long. But I think the biggest reason was other people voicing the same fears as me. In fact Kameron Hurley wrote a great post about conventions and kindness, that if you haven’t read yet you should go read now. There is nothing more comforting than knowing others feel the same as you. And nothing more incredible than a community saying, “No, please don’t feel that way. Join us, we want you here too.”

I talked (read: ranted) to my husband for close to an hour Sunday night about how amazing it was to feel like I belonged. Like I wasn’t a fake. Like I was meant to be there. It was as if a weight had been lifted from my soul.

I am a writer. Someday, come Hell or high water, I am going to be published.

I am an editor. I love my job, even though I don’t get paid for it. And I want to continue to help share my love of fantasy with others as well as helping polishing people’s work so it shines.

I belong in SFF. I always did. Even before I started writing. Even before I joined the online fan circles. Since the first day I picked up a fantasy book and fell head over heels for the worlds of the purely imagined, I belonged.

But now I know for sure. Now I know this is where I was meant to be.

Fantasy is in my blood and my future is full of spaceships.

And I have all the amazing people in the SFF community to thank for that. So thanks guys, you are the best!

Title image by Roberto Melotti.

Writing Lost and Found

lost in a daydream by mkendall (detail)

It’s been almost a year since I posted last. I blame…um…aliens? I don’t know. I guess I’m not the best blogger in the world. C’est la vie.

I could post about how I’m going to try to be better in the future, but I think me posting anything at all says that better than I could write on purpose. Anyway, enough about me not writing, let’s move on to more important things:

Did I ever tell you I’m writing a book series? If you’ve been following me forever or know me outside this website the answer is probably yes. In fact I created this website specifically to be about writing, hence the title. How am I progressing? Well let me give you an update:

Last month I finished editing the millionth draft of my first book. This month I finished a read-through/edit of the bits of book two that are already written. Yesterday I finished the sub-plot timeline so I know what I need to add to book two to finish it. Today I started writing new scenes for the first time in well over a year.

I am so happy that I’m writing again! I mean I write and edit all the time. But these are new scenes in book two. With each scene I’m that much closer to finishing it and moving on to book three and completing the series!

It felt so good to get those words on paper, or I guess, into the computer. It feels so good to be moving forward. Don’t get me wrong I love editing, but creating something new is one of my favorite things about being a writer.

I’ve also put up an excerpt from book one, Mark of the Essence, which you can read here.

And while I love my book series I have also spent some time here and there writing short stories. Okay they are very short stories, probably more like flash fiction. And I thought maybe since right now they are just sitting in my writing folder I should put them up on here. So starting today I’ll post a new story once a week or so until I run out. At which point maybe I’ll write a new story every week? I guess we’ll see.

I already have two stories posted on the site: “First Light” and “The First Mark”. Both of those were written as part of the Fantasy-Faction monthly writing contest. Today’s story is much shorter and rather than talk about it, I’ll let you read it for yourself. Enjoy!

– – –

“The Scent of Spring”
by Jennie Ivins

The first thing she noticed upon waking wasn’t the songbirds singing in the trees above, or the way the tall green grass tickled the exposed skin of her neck and face. Even the unevenness of the ground and the way her dew covered clothes clung to her body weren’t the obvious senses that roused her tired mind. It was the smell of damp earth, rich and full of promise, mixed with the copper of fresh blood that finally shook her from her sleep.

Her eyes shot open but her body remained still. How long had she been asleep?

The sky through the spring green leaves above her was spotted with puffy white clouds rolling lazily along in a breeze too high up to rustle the grass she lay in. The sun was behind her, making its way up to the center of the sky, taking its time as it shifted the shadows of the forest off patch of clover to her left and onto the dead man at her feet.

She sat up and backed quickly into a tree trunk. She hit her already tender head and cursed under her breath as she got a better look at her surroundings.

The meadow rolled along down a short hill and ended in a brook that was close enough to see, but too far away to hear. The forest behind her was light and airy with deer paths leading through budding underbrush. Most likely it lined a road or a farmer’s field. The edge closest to the clearing was littered with broken braches and scraps of cloth and hair. It was rather obvious which direction the pair had come from.

Her eyes again came to rest on the corpse. Flies were already circling its gore stained clothes, which the song birds in turn were swooping down to snap in their hungry beaks. What would she do with the body?

A short gust of wind blew a blood caked curl in front of her eyes. It brought with it the not unpleasant smell of a farm freshly tilled and animals at pasture. She didn’t remember passing a farm, but it had been dark the night before. Dark and cold and quiet.

The sound of birds and insects buzzing all around her hurt her head. It was too beautiful, too perfect. There was too much life in this place, too much spring in the air for the death that surrounded her.

She stood, using the tree to keep her balance. Her leg hurt. Her head hurt. The smell of blood and whatever else pooled around the man was making her sick.

She hobbled down the soft hill towards the babbling brook. Everything about this place made her angry. All she could feel was pain and fear. But all around here was nothing but warmth and new life. She fell on her knees in the sand by rivers edge and washed herself of all the stickiness she could. She cupped her hands and poured the cold waters on her face and head.

The cold felt better. She closed her eyes surrendering to the chill and darkness. The sound of the water was preferable to the sound of singing. When she’d washed as much as she could, she lay back on the bank, hidden from the sun by the canopy above. Where would she go now?

The wet seeped into her bones and her body started to shake. It longed for the warmth of the hillside and the softness of the grass. She didn’t deserve it. She never had.

Maybe she should stay there by the brook and let the cold take her. She could become one with the leafy shadows and lend her song to the water against the rocks. Bones and rocks were very similar. Hard and smooth. One held up the earth, the other men. But all men’s bones returned to the earth eventually. Maybe it was her time now.

A pit in her stomach bubbled to the surface. She couldn’t stay there. She didn’t want to die. If she had wanted death it could have been hers the night before. Maybe not quick or painless, but hers none the less.

She sat up, sand sticking to her clothes and arms. The farm then. They would help her. They would give her hot food and new clothes. They would shower her with pity and freshen up the guest room. While they weren’t looking she would nick supplies. They would tell her to stay as long as she wanted, but she would only stay the night and be gone before anyone could miss her.

Before the farmer’s wife picked through the holes in her story. Before the famer’s children noticed all the scars on her arms and legs. Before the farmer found the body in the tall grass, where the songbirds sang, under sunny spring skies.

– – –

You can find my other stories by clicking on the drop down menu at the top of the page marked Short Stories or you can click the links below. If you’d like more information on my stories or book series you can find my contact information on my About Me page. Happy Writing! 🙂

“First Light”
“The First Mark”

Title image by mkendall.

Writing and Walking – Fall Is Here

Autumn Leaf on Vintage Book by EmeraldCut

I’m bad at blogging regularly.

Wait, let me rephrase. I’m terrible at blogging regularly.

At least until now, that is. I’ve decided I need to spend more time writing. And while in a perfect world that writing would always be related to my books, any writing is better than no writing. And since right now I’m working on plotting out an outline and reorg-ing the entire beginning of the book, I thought doing a daily blog post would be a good way to keep my writing skills sharp. It also ties into something else I’ve just started doing: walking.

I am not the healthiest person at present. I’ve never been big into exercise and while I know the proper way to eat, I’m not great at it. So last week I decided I would walk a mile every morning after the kids went to school. It’s been working really well! But since I’m out of shape, I need a cool down period when I get home. And what better way to cool down my body than to spend some time sharpening my mind.

Every week day, I’m going to try to write a post. It’s probably going to deal with what’s going on in my life and writing, and maybe even about random thoughts I have while walking. The weekends are currently “off” days, since the kids are home and I usually get walking in Saturday with my cousin Amber. Granted it’s in craft stores or the mall, but I figure that counts. Sundays, I’ve decided should be actual off days. At least until I’m more used to walking. My feet and calves were really sore at the beginning of the week. The day off on Sunday made a big difference. That may be temporary though. We’ll see.

Hopefully it will be interesting, but I can’t promise anything. So here we go. Day nine of walking. Day one of writing. Enjoy!

– – –

Today the sun was warm, the breeze was cool, and the leaves all made a satisfying crunch when stepped on. This is my second week of walking in the morning. Every day I’ve gone has been beautiful – the perfect day for a walk. And out of the nine days I’ve been walking, I’ve only missed one. Not because it rained, as I would have loved to hear the drops drumming on my umbrella, but because the kids had a day off from school. Taking three boys walking in the rain, while fun, would not have been as peaceful or relaxing in any way shape or form.

My walks this week have been dedicated to working out how I’m going to rewrite the beginning of my book. I’m shifting the focus from one character to another, but that involves me knowing a lot of backstory I didn’t think I needed to get into quite yet. Wednesday I figured out how to start the chapter. Today I figured out all the events that led up to it. My plan is to write a rough outline either this afternoon before the kids get home or tonight after everyone’s in bed.

After having the kids home for the summer (well part of the summer) it’s nice to have some quiet time to just think. The walks have been great for this. We’ll see how I feel about it when the weather starts getting cold. But I plan on sticking with this as long as I can. Hopefully blogging about it will give me that extra push I need to stay on track with my health and my story.

Until Monday everyone! Happy writing!

Title image by EmeraldCut.