Kernel 32, in the library, with a computer

I don't know if you'll find this funny, but, to me, it's simply hysterical.

I do a lot of what I call pro bono computer consulting for ladies and gentlemen of a certain age. Most of them are my mother's friends, and they're all on fixed income.

Mom volunteers me for everything from: "sure, she'll be glad to design a 5 page web site for you for free" to "sure, she can fix your 20 year old hard drive." I even change light bulbs.

Anyway, there's one of my "clients" who has a corrupted kernel 32 file. The last time I visited my mom, I made the rounds. I tried to fix this problem by downloading one from the MS website, but the old corrupted file would not let the new one overwrite it. Very frustrating.

This is an abandoned, unsupported Windows version so basically, the dear lady is screwed. With no money to purchase a new computer, I managed to get it working, for the most part. She can still use it for email and Internet, but other applications lock it up.

I explained the problems to her and told her about kernel 32.

Yesterday, I got this phone call. Excitedly, the lady with the kernel 32 problem told me a message had appeared on her computer, and she wanted to read it to me so I could tell her what it meant. She starts reading the kernel 32 general protection fault message.

I gently interrupted and told her that this was what I was talking about when I explained to her why her computer would not work properly. I asked, "Do you remember my telling you about that?"

In a confused voice, she said, "Oh, yes. I remember you talking about Colonel 32, and I remember wondering what branch of the service he was in."

5 rules about promises

I'm thinking about that moldy oldy rock song that goes: "don't make promises you can't keep."

That's how I live my life. If I say I'm going to do something, then, by God, I do it. This helps me sleep well at night, but sometimes it also makes me really, really tired. Why? Because I often over-commit when it comes to friends and family.

Lately, I've been doing a lot of grumbling because of all the favors I'm asked to do. Sure would make life easier sometimes if I just blew them off the way so many citizens of our modern world do. Still, I hate it when someone tells me they'll do something and they don't follow through. I just can't live that way.

If you are commitment-challenged and want to become better at keeping your word, follow these 5 rules:

1. Don't make a promise if you can't, won't, or don't intend to keep it.

2. Learn to say no. That's a biggie and one I need to work on.

3. Write it down so you won't forget the commitment you made and when you have to follow through. I won't begin to tell you what happens if I don't log something on my calendar.

4. If you create deadlines or contracts in business, plan on absolutely making sure you follow through. Future business may be on the line. This applies to getting that book manuscript to the agent on time or that article to your client on time. It also applies to showing up for meetings on time and everything else under the sun that is time-oriented.

5. If you can't keep your promise, contact the person immediately and try to negotiate another time. Sometimes it's okay to renegotiate if you find you can't keep your promise. This is assuming that it is a business promise.

Personally, your seven-year-old isn't going to understand the concept of renegotiating if you miss her school play when you promised to go.

Amelia Peabody: old friend rediscovered

On my most recent trip, I entertained myself by listening to a book on CD. I do this often because I find audio books far more entertaining than movies on small screens.

In this case, the book was The Golden One by Elizabeth Peters. The book wasn't new to me. I'd listened to it before, but it is a particular favorite listening experience due to the talent of Barbara Rosenblat, the actress who narrates the story.

The story itself is full of intrigue, greed, tomb robbing -- think the Brendan Fraser/Rachel Weisz "Mummy" movies without the supernatural element. It's a great swashbuckling kind of story, but what makes the audio book so wonderful is Barbara Rosenblat. She's simply amazing as she performs. Her voice lends itself as easily to a wily Egyptian trader as it does to a young girl or middle-aged Egyptologist Amelia Peabody or Radcliffe Emerson, the Father of Curses.

Ms. Rosenblat weaves a spell with her voice and transports you to Egypt as it was in 1917. I adore Elizabeth Peters. Her writing is always superb. Barbara Rosenblat does her Amelia Peabody books justice, easily helping your imagination create mental pictures of the characters as she effortlessly goes from character to character.

The book is entitled The Golden One, but Barbara Rosenblat is golden too. Her voice is a golden treasure.

For readers & writers: Book tour

If you don't read Booksquare regularly, get on over there and read their blog about a new venture called For writers and readers, this is a pretty exciting concept.

Writers can register and list their latest release news and their book signing events.

Readers can register and request email news about their favorite authors.

So go register at Best of all? It's free. I love free.

10 best things about home

Since I just returned from a trip, I thought I'd list reasons why home is so great.

1. My husband who didn't accompany me
2. My own bed
3. My own pillow
4. My brand of coffee at the strength I make it
5. Sleeping late the next morning
6. Wearing my pajamas to work (my home office) the next morning
7. Browsing through several days' worth of newspapers
8. Sitting on the patio to breakfast and gaze at the roses
9. Walking barefoot throughout the house and yard
10.Sitting down to write and looking out my study window at the weird things people do.

Like the man who pulled up in a pickup, got out, looked around to see if anyone was watching. Then he took a stack of old newspapers from the neighbor's recycling bin on the curb, tossed them in his truck, and raced away as if he were committing some felonious act.

People are just endlessly interesting.

Rain on the roof

I'm finally home after another short trip. Rain greeted me when I returned to Texas. Of course, rain accompanied me on my trip also. I'm feeling rather wet and a bit tired of the weather we've been having.

However, I must tell you I rather enjoyed the rain where I was staying. Each night, in darkness, I listened to the music created by the falling rain on the tin roof of the screened room in which I sat. The sound was never monotonous. Rather it increased in loudness as the rain drove hard against the metal then it ebbed to a gentle patter as the rain slacked and nearly stopped.

Now I'm home and listening to the rain pound the contemporary asbestos shingles on the roof. Sadly, no music.

Houston author gets 3.75 million

I read in the paper this morning that a Houston MALE author is getting $3.75 million to write a vampire trilogy.

Why did I emphasize the word MALE?

Because women authors have been writing these kinds of books for more than a decade. Some of the authors have fanatical followings who wait for their books the same way readers wait for a new Harry Potter. I don't know any of them getting that kind of advance money.

It's no secret to writers that there's a huge disparity in advances between men and women authors. I'm not saying the men aren't worth it. I'm just saying the women are worth it too.

On the heels of my mild outrage, came other thoughts. Who is this guy's agent? And is she/he taking new clients?

Privacy notice

We value your privacy.

The privacy notice is a curious modern phenomenon. As usual, the well-intentioned idea is a result of government regulation. Sometimes I wonder how many trees die in order to print these notices each year, or each time some company information changes, and ship them to the consumer.

You know. You get one from the bank, the insurance company, the utility provider, the credit card company, and one is sent for every product you have with these businesses. Got a checkings, a savings, and a CD? Three privacy notices. Auto insurance, homeowners, jewelry and furs, life insurance? Four notices. Lots of dead trees.

Have you ever read these notices? True, most require a magnifying glass and a couple of aspirin to get through all the dull, boring, repetitive prose, but they are supposed to be read and filed with your other business papers.

A couple of weeks ago I heard a security expert say that one reason identity theft is mushrooming is because people don't block their private information from being sold to every Tom, Dick, and Harriet who gathers personal data. He went on to say that people should take advantage of the protection offered by the privacy notice and restrict this info.

Like any concerned citizen, I decided to do this. The opportunity presented itself when a privacy notice from Comcast appeared in our mail box. Comcast bought Time Warner cable last year and recently took over. I waded through the tiny 6 page leaflet, printed front and back, circled the phone number to call to opt out of their information sharing program.

I delegated the task to my husband. He called one evening and was directed to call the next day during business hours. He did. After calling the number in the notice, he traversed the dreaded voice mail menu options and ended up on hold for about 15 minutes. A customer service representative finally came on and did not have a clue as to what my husband wanted. Didn't know anything about this privacy notice "thing." He palmed my husband off with another number to call.

More voice mail menu options. Holding for 30 minutes. Finally, a confused person who said to call Billing and gave him a number.

More voice mail menu options. Long hold. A woman named Rhonda who listened patiently and said she would take care of it.

My husband and I both wonder if the matter is taken care of. Is there a big X mark next to our names now? Do not sell this person's private information. How do we know? Do they send us an acknowledgment by mail to confirm?

In a perfect world, they might. In a perfect world, the flood of junk mail would lessen. Of course in a perfect world, there wouldn't be such a thing as identity theft.

Too bad this isn't a perfect world.

Drugs KILL

My heart is heavy with sadness this morning. I want to tell you about something that happened Wednesday. I'm not using real names or locations because there will be a murder trial about this. I don't want to be part of pre-trial publicity that might be prejudicial.

We, my husband and I, have a dear friend who called early yesterday morning. She'd been up all night. A few weeks ago she confided about the hell her sister has been living through. Her sister's teenage son, involved with drugs since high school, had grown increasingly violent with much violence directed at her. The deputies had been called to the residence many times because he was beating up on her, but each time she would not press charges. He was her son. Desperately, she loved him. She prayed he would clean up. She did everything she could to get him to clean up.

In the end, she lived in fear. She became even more afraid that if she pressed charges, he would be released and would take out his fury on her. She was a tiny petite woman. Her teenage son is well over six feet.

Finally, she did have an arrest warrant for mental reasons sworn out. He was picked up. The shrinks said he was normal. He was released.

He stabbed her to death sometime this week. They don't know when yet. Her body wasn't discovered until Wednesday night. He was still on the premises and was arrested.

She was a single mother who did everything she could for him. She loved him dearly. He had grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins who loved him. In the end, none of that meant anything compared to the drugs he was hooked on and the devastation wreaked on him.

Who are his victims besides his own mother? Her sister. Her elderly parents. All the family. Friends. The list is long.

Why do I write this? To make these points.

If you haven't tried drugs, DON'T. There's increasing evidence that there's a genetic factor in addiction. Maybe you have the gene that predisposes toward addiction. Maybe you don't. Do you really want to test something like this?

If you are on drugs, do whatever you need to do to get off. You may save a life--your own, or the lives of everyone who cares for you.

If you know someone on drugs, and you care about them, do whatever you have to do to get them off, even if that's turning them in.

If someone is physically abusing you, press charges. It doesn't matter if the abuser is your spouse or your child. Do it the first time. If it's an ongoing thing, then plan ahead for shelter and support from family, friends, or social services. Don't let it become a cycle of abuse that climaxes in unspeakable violence.

Drugs are killing our country. They are the scourge of the small parish in Louisiana where I grew up. You can't pick up a newspaper without hearing about some drug-related violence. You can't listen to a news broadcast without hearing about it. When kids get hooked young, the situation is particularly dangerous.

We had friends whose daughter tried drugs in middle school. By high school they had to have a forced intervention which culminated in shipping her out west to one of those isolated drug rehab places. She came home, hating them. She graduated from high school and moved out, never wanting anything to do with them again. They got her off drugs, but they haven't heard from her in years. They don't know whether she's alive or dead. They saved her life for the short term, but they suspect it was too late.

My daughter had a college friend whose older boyfriend gave her meth. She dropped out of college, spent months in a rehab, and struggles to stay clean. Her family moved away in order to break the connection with the bad influence. Drug sellers never let you alone. If you're around, they'll get to you. Users can't return to their old life with their old friends.

Meth has got to be the worst. I think they ought to make posters of before meth and after meth pictures of users and hang them along the hall ways in high schools. I've seen documented photographs. Meth can take a beautiful, glossy-haired woman in her twenties and transform her in a few years, should she live that long, into a toothless, straw-haired woman who looks fifty or more.

The next time you watch a movie, notice how drug use is glamorized or made part of the humor, especially in movies aimed at young people. Is it any surprise that kids think drugs are cool, hip, or just a funny thing?

Drugs do kill. No, drugs didn't wield the knife this young man used to repeatedly stab his mother. He did that. But drugs killed his life and every hope and dream he had. And drugs killed the hopes and dreams held by those who loved him.

Smart Car

I read in yesterday's business section that Smart Cars are poised to invade America. When I was in Italy, I fell in love with the Smart For 2. I photographed this one in Florence. I wanted to put it in my pocket and take it home as a pet.

I normally drive a retro-designed Thunderbird (love that car!) or a big all wheel drive Tahoe (love it too), but this cute little toy car appealed to me. In Europe they get almost 70 mpg, but to meet EPA standards here, they'll get much less--maybe only about 30 mpg which isn't any better than the Buick LaCrosse my husband drives for the daily office commute. Heck! My old Tahoe gets better gas mileage than the new ones.

I have a feeling the price tag is going to be a lot more also. Over there, you can get one for about 9,000.00 Euro (about $13,000. USD at current exchange rate). My brother who has a car dealership in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, said they're all over Vancouver. He's even seen a couple go through the car auctions, but they were pulled because they didn't reach the minimum bid of $15K. So look for the new ones to sell for a lot more in the U. S.

Hollywood Librarian

Read a review this morning of a movie, actually documentary, I'd like to see. Hollywood Librarian was a labor of love for Ann Seidl, a consultant. When Ms. Seidl was obtaining her master's in Library and Information Studies in 1997, she was inspired to create a cinematic offering to refute the long-held view of librarians.

The result is Hollywood Librarian, financed mostly by private donations. Premiered at the recent American Library Association convention in Washington D.C., the movie features, among other American librarians, Houston's own Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson, Director of the Houston Public Library with its 600 employees.

Unfortunately, I probably won't find this at my local theater. Features like this are usually shown only at what passes for Houston's art house cinema. Maybe I'll get lucky and it will come to DVD fairly soon.

Reading this, made two memories pop into my head. The first was something that happened when my first book SUMMER'S FORTUNE was published. The mother of one of my daughter's friends had bought the book. With a wide smile, she told me that she particularly enjoyed the fact that the heroine was an elementary school librarian - just as she was. She said, "I loved that there was no bun or spectacles in sight. It's about time someone depicted a librarian as something other than an old sourpuss."

The second memory was of Miss Zelma Berry, the school librarian and sponsor of the Library Club which I joined in ninth grade. Miss Berry was what people called an old maid, and she had a twin sister named Thelma. They lived together until their deaths at a ripe old age.

I loved books and thought, in my naivette, that nothing could be better than a library club. Boy! Was I wrong.

From the first moment I met Miss Berry, she traumatized me. We're talking the black spectacles, the hair style that had been all the rage in 1945, a sharp arrogant glance that could freeze you in mid-motion, and the imperious voice that could shush a varsity football tackle in a nano second. The woman scared the bejeebers out of me.

So of course we had a run in the first time we met. She ordered me to shelve returned books. To my dismay, I learned immediately that the library club had nothing to do with reading and everything to do with labor. I told her okay.

She fixed me with her sharp gaze and said, "I beg your pardon."

"Uh, okay," I mumbled, face red.

In an icy voice, she repeated, "I beg your pardon."


She never blinked. "I beg your pardon!"

My brain froze. I stared into her unblinking eyes, magnified by the thick glass lenses. Then my poor fourteen-year-old brain thawed and went into overdrive, trying to figure out what the proper response was because if I didn't come up with the proper response, I just knew I'd be standing there, staring into her flinty eyes for the rest of my life.

Suddenly, it dawned on me. "Yes, ma'am," I whispered, and added for good measure, "I will."

She smiled. Or I think she did. It happened so fast that I really can't be sure.

Miss Berry and I had a stilted relationship, but she instilled knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System that I retain to this day. Funny thing was, after I was grown, I ran into her at the grocery store during one of my visits to my hometown, and she beamed at me. Beamed! She said how wonderful it was to see me again and how fondly she remembered my time in the Library Club. She asked me if I still loved books.

Isn't that just weird?

I made sure to say, "Yes, ma'am."

10 ways to be safe & secure

I keep saying I'm going to start a web service geared to my Mom and her friends because I spend a lot of time helping them with their computer and Internet issues. The only thing stopping me is that I want to call it Blue-Haired Web Service, and my Mom would kill me if I did. Age jokes are NOT funny to her. Don't even get her started on the label senior citizen!

All joking aside, I was typing up some security tips to disseminate to her and my other blue and silver-haired "students" and thought I'd pass them along to you as well. I read these in today's Houston Chronicle and thought their expose in the Business section was useful knowledge for everyone.

If you have someone of a certain age you love, print this out for them.

1. Don't ever answer an email supposedly from a bank or mortgage company. Banks don't send emails to customers. Sheesh, they barely have the time to service you when you stand in line so what makes you think they'll personally email you? DELETE without opening the message.

2. Don't ever answer an email supposedly requesting a donation for charity. Legit charities don't use email to solicit donations. DELETE without opening.

3. Don't ever answer an email where a store wants to send you a free gift card. Trust me, Macy's isn't in the habit of sending $500.00 gift cards. DELETE without opening.

4. If you set up a PayPal or Ebay account, they will never send you an email without using the user ID to contact you. Be suspicious of every email that says it's from Ebay or PayPal. Open your browser, go to your online account, and read about how to verify legitimate emails. Print out the information. Keep it by your computer so you can check out those emails if necessary.

5. To verify whether a nonprofit organization is legitimate, got to

6. To check out securities dealers or legitimate information on investments, go to

7. To check out whether the amazing email story you received from a friend is true, go to

8. Not on the Net, but in real life, if someone befriends you, earns your trust. and then, in whatever way or circumstance, offers to help you manage anything if you'll give them power of attorney, run the other way. Power of attorney should be 3 words that are warning signals screaming: "Danger, danger!"

9. Let your representatives know that you support legislation to enhance punishment for those who prey on the elderly and the disabled.

10. Register with every "do not call" agency so you won't get those calls from telemarketers. If you still get them, learn these 2 sentences and overcome whatever manners that were drilled into you as a child: "No, thank you. Remove this number from your call list."

They're supposed to say, "Yes, we will." If they start arguing. Hang up. If they call back, ask for their name and phone number and report them to your state's attorney general.

I look at it this way: unsolicited emails and phone calls do not require white gloves and manners. Though some of the stuff falling into my Inbox makes me think I need to wear rubber gloves to deal with it. E-yu!

Meager offering

I'm doing on-site work for a client so I'm not really at home, but the world of computers makes it look as if I am. Hmmm. How many plots have been done that revolve around techno-created alibis? Actually, I can't think of one except an old Columbo episode. Anybody?

Anyway, I have a quotation today as my minimum-required blog effort. This is from the irrepressible Fran Lebowitz and was brought to mind by some of the books that have landed on my desk this last month and by an artist portfolio I viewed recently.

Fran said: "Very few people possess true artistic ability. It is therefore both unseemly and unproductive to irritate the situation by making an effort. If you have a burning, restless urge to write or paint, simply eat something sweet and the feeling will pass.

Some people should have their computers, number two pencils, and Crayons taken away.

Don't bother bribing me. My lips are sealed.

Bill Crider is amazing

There are few bloggers as dedicated and prolific as my friend Bill Crider. Visit his blog Bill Crider's Popular Culture Magazine and congratulate him on his 4000th blog entry. Actually, that's 4004 as of today.

Better yet. Go buy one of his books. Authors like that as much as they like accolades. Maybe more since that equals royalties.

Pour me some of that cyber champagne, Bill. Here's looking at you!

Happy Birthday, U. S. of A.

Freedom isn't free. The freedom we celebrate was bought and paid for with the blood of patriots, the blood of our soldiers, sailors, air force, coast guard and marines. Whether you agree with the politics that sent our military into harm's way or not, please support our troops. There are many organizations that send care packages to them or help out their families at home. If you haven't made a donation before to aid our military, do so this year.

Whatever your faith, wherever you are right now, take a minute to say a prayer for our country. No matter what you think is wrong with this country, take it from me. I've lived all over the world. There's no country better than this one. No country that provides more opportunity for its citizens. No country that has provided so much for so many others in different parts of the world. No country that has such lofty ideals. True, we fall short. But we keep trying.

I'm Christian so I say, "God bless America."

Cutting, slashing, bleeding aka revising

I finally did it. I butchered the first two chapters of my WIP. Was it crap, you ask?

Actually, it wasn't. It was laugh out loud funny for twenty or more pages, the length of the two chapters. So why did I chop it to shreds?

Because it didn't advance the plot.

I loved those two chapters because it revealed the heroine in all her dysfunctional, comic glory. But, forward motion of the plot screeched to a standstill because I got so involved in writing the yuks that I lost sight of where the story should be going.

Sometimes I have such fun writing dialogue and crazy internalizations that I think I need to put brakes on the old keyboard. I'm smokin' hot, but going nowhere.

A writer always needs to remember what the through-story is and not get carried away by the introductory scene which, though highly entertaining and interesting, may not have anything to do with the plot which will be kicked off by an initiating incident a few pages beyond.

If you don't heed this, then you end up with 20-30 pages of wonderful prose that then must be cut. And sometimes that's hard to do because, darn it, you just think it's wonderfully witty and maybe the editor will be swept away by your writing and ignore the fact that....

Nope. Ain't gonna happen. Cut and be done with it. Move on down the road with the story you're telling.

Writing news: Elmer Kelton, Sandhills Boy

Call me a foolish dreamer or a hopeless romantic, but I believe there is still a viable market for the western novel. The western and the western hero is in the ethos of America. I honestly believe if readers would pick up some of the western novels by the premier writers of the genre, they would find compelling books with great characterization. They'd also find that most of these characters and stories aren't as far removed from today as they believe.

Though Clint has given us the anti-western in Unforgiven, a grim tale of all that was bad about the West, I think there was much that was heroic and admirable and, yes, good about the West, though it has become unpopular to believe.

What brought on all this analysis of a dying genre? I read a review of Elmer Kelton's memoir Sandhills Boy: The Winding Trail of a Texas Writer. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.

Now, you may think it odd that I, a published romance novelist and a would-be mystery novelist (wait for it, my manuscript will be finished by fall!), see the allure of western novels. What you don't know is that I cut my teeth on Zane Grey novels. I read every one I could get my hands on the summer I was thirteen.

Kelton, the son of a real cowboy, has published 50 novels with many of them like The Time It Never Rained being highly regarded. Though he's not the household name McMurtry is, Kelton is one of the best writers from Texas, and this state has produced some good ones.

Sandhills Boy tells of his early knowledge that he wanted to be a writer. Encouraged by his mother and misunderstood by his father, he majored in journalism at UT but was drafted into the Army and sent to Europe. After the war ended, he was assigned to a POW camp in Austria where he met the young woman who became his wife.

Persistence paid off, red tape was eventually surmounted, and they married and settled in Austin.

Kelton began a full-time job as the farm and ranch reporter at the newspaper in San Angelo. Though he published his first fiction in the late forties, he never quit his day job. He did his faction at night and on weekends.

Kelton was, and is, a working writer, mining the theme of change over and over in his books. Get a copy of his memoir and let that lead you to his books.


Hello, Blog Universe! I'm back.

Actually, I didn't intend to take off the entire month of June which I basically did. When I returned from Italy, I found so much writing work waiting for me. Between fulfilling all the contracts offered and trying to get a couple of pages on my mystery done each day, I just didn't have the energy or brain power to blog.

Today is the first day of a new month, and it's a great day to return to blogging.

Since it's Sunday, let's get back on track with my first of the week inspiration, a quotation from Rita Dove, former Poet Laureate of the United States.

"If you wait for inspiration, inspiration's going to go away and look for more fertile ground to work with."

Now, if you are an aspiring writer, chances are you view writing as something done when the "muse" is communing with you. There's something you don't know that professional writers do. Inspiration comes to those who write consistently, every day.

Professional writers don't wait for inspiration before hitting the keyboard. We know that the part of the brain that spews words is like an old-fashioned water pump. If you don't know how one of those water pumps work, let me enlighten you.

The pump has a long, cast iron handle. You pump the handle up and down vigorously. After a few seconds of pumping, water spurts out - unless the pump hasn't been used in a long time. If the pump isn't used regularly, you may have to pump and pump until your arm muscles scream in protest and you're out of breath. It takes a long time for that water to spurt out. Sometimes, you even have to prime the pump by pouring water into it in order for it to start pumping water out again.

That's how writing works. When you write every day, it's easy to get that outpouring of words. But, if you write every now and then, when inspired, it takes a lot longer to get the words flowing. Many professional writers leave nothing to chance. They prime the pump every day by leaving a dangling thread that can easily be picked up the next day. They also may prime the pump by reading over what they wrote the previous day, editing it a bit, and then diving into the current day's writing.

Sometimes, writers who don't write regularly have a difficult time getting the words to flow. Sometimes the flow is less than a drizzle, only a drip or two. If they give up then, it's even harder the next day. Sometimes if they don't persist and keep pumping that handle and priming that pump, the flow dries up completely. The longer they go without producing a flow of words, the harder it gets to squeeze a word out.
That's when a writer says they have writer's block.

I dont' think I've ever heard of a daily working writer with writer's block.

"If you wait for inspiration, inspiration's going to go away and look for more fertile ground to work with."