Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

© 2006-2018 All rights reserved

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Computer Scam Retorts

If you have a computer, odds are good you've gotten calls from scammers who want to "fix" the problem you didn't even know you had.

My computer, my cat Jim-Bob
A couple of weeks ago, I  got a call from some guy with a really heavy accent who wanted to help me with  my computer. Between the static in the phone line (which happens just about every time it rains) and his heavy accent, I never could understand what his name was—but I was pretty sure he was a scammer. You know the type—the ones who call to tell you that they "detected a problem" with your "Windows computer." 

But I didn't let him get that far. I wanted to know what company he worked for. It was something like "Rep Assist-something" or it might have been "Rep Asset-something"or maybe "Rat's Ass-something." Anyhow, I asked him what his company's website URL was. He tried to oblige me.

Between his thick accent and my deliberate mistakes as I slowly and laboriousy "attempted" to type the URL (while saying the letters I thought he said out loud and being corrected by him because I was saying the wrong ones), I wasn't able to get "your rep web assist (dot) com" (or something) and finally (in an exasperated voice after letting him know that I got "Rep Assist at Amazon") exclaimed, "There must be something wrong with my computer!" A moment of silence ensued. Then he hung up.

That was the fastest a scammer has ever hung up on me. Usually I can keep them going for a while. 

Sometimes I pretend I have to turn on my computer—which of course takes a while. And I push a bunch of button on the phone which makes little beeping noises for him. One guy had the nerve to tell me to stop doing that, and I had to insist this was how I started my computer. Then I have to put in the password which I spell out loud as I type it in: "S-u-p-e-r-c-a-l-i-f-r-a-g-i-l-i-s-t-i-c—Uh, oh! I think I left something out. Let me start again."

I kind of enjoy the Windows scam, wherein my "Windows computer" has gotten a virus or something, and the scammer will help me remove it. I try to drag the scammer out for a while (see password in previous paragraph), as he tells me to do such-and-such. One was flustered that I couldn't find a particular key, although he painstakingly described where it was on my keyboard. But I kept insisting it wasn't there. I knew it was't there because a Mac keyboard is different from a Windows keyboard, but it never occured to him I was using a Mac. I'm not the only Mac user who does this. Here's a pretty good YouTube video of a Mac user dealing with a Windows scammer: 

Recently I got a heavily accented computer scammer to hang up on me in less than 5 minutes! He didn't attempt to try my last name but asked if I was Miz Reee-beh-kuh and if I was the prime computer user. I agreed. That's when he told me they'd gotten reports of my computer downloading malicious downloads. 
Me:" Oh no! What's the name of these malicious downloads!"
He couldn't give me an answer. 
Me: "But if you know my computer has downloaded malicious downloads, you should certainly know the name of them! What are they called?"
I couldn't understand all he said next, but something to the effect that if I would turn on my computer, he would walk me through how to get rid of the malicious stuff.
Him (obviously reading from a script): "Now if you would step in front of your computer—"
Me: "Step in front of my computer? I don't understand!"
He repeated himself—
"Now if you would step in front of your computer—" and I cut him off again.
Me: "I have to step in front of my computer?"
Him: "Yes, and then—"
Me: "But I'm sitting in front of if. I don't understand what you're asking. Do you want me to get up and do something like an Irish step dance?"
Silence (well, except for all the other scammers in the room where he was). Then he hung up.

It was just as well. I can't Irish step dance. But if you want to see step-dancing, here's a video:


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Wednesday, March 07, 2018

In Like a Lion

We had some warm days in February—one even hit the 80s—and it seemed like spring was here. A lot of buds appeared on trees and some flowers bloomed. The crocus, of course was first,

It wasn't long until the forsythia bloomed.

The "ornamental peach" that produces wonderfully sweet peaches was covered in buds.

The old-fashioned lilac that I transplanted from Smith Farm years ago had green buds.

Of course there were daffodils . . .

. . . and bridal wreath.

But March roared in with damaging winds and peeled the roof on the shop. 

For two days and nights, the high winds blew and blew. We were lucky that we didn't lose power like thousands in the county did. But we did have a lot of branches down.

I suppose the early spring was short-lived. We're expecting snow this weekend.


Monday, January 29, 2018

Email Spam 2018

 Recently I received an email from a person I didn't know who was promoting his relatively new self-published book. As a self-published author myself, I wondered how this person knew about me. Had he perhaps read my CreateSpace-published books—Patches on the Same QuiltThem That Go, or Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories?

I'm pretty sure he hadn't. Since his email had also been sent to several others, it looks like he harvested my name and contact info from the website of a group where I am a member. 

Here's what he wrote—with name, title, etc., redacted. While I consider any email that hits my in-box fair game, I do not wish to embarrass those who don't know better. Hence, the redacted info in the email I'm publishing here for educational purposes:

I'm new to [BIG WRITING GROUP], having authored a non-fiction book on [Title redacted] available on Amazon in Kindle for $20 and a paperback version for $24.65, and soon a smaller paperback. 

There is no way that I would ever spend over $10 on an ebook by a well-known author, so I'm unlikely to buy an ebook by an unknown author on a subject that doesn’t interest me. I don't think I'm the target audience for this book. Plus, the following paragraph isn’t a book summary, nor is it a hook to entice folks to buy the book. I’m not sure what it is:

The current "batch" of Justice, FBI and Congressional "silence breakers" is for . . .  [employees who reported waste, fraud or abuse] who usually "blow their whistles seemingly too late", while really they are held in silence by government agencies. These were started by the First Continental Congress in 1777. That didn't work well, as 90 years later government fraud almost lost the Civil War for the Union until Congress passed and Abraham Lincoln signed the False Claims Act in 1862, "deputizing and rewarding all citizens reporting fraud". 

Commas and periods belong inside end quotation marks. Writers know that. Writers also know that over-use of quotation marks (unless quoted material is being cited) is really annoying to readers.

I left out some stuff in the next paragraph (which also isn't a book summary or an effective hook):

The threat and quick governmental legal action worked until WWII when public sources enabled hundreds of civilian [. . . ] cases to be filed [. . . ] on military contractors that were settled in courts before the Justice Department even knew about them, too late the Attorney General claimed to pursue criminal action, against large influential Corporate political contributors. So Congress made cases "secret", keeping them "under seal" in Federal Courts, where most stayed uninvestigated and untried in Courts. A few are settled after 5 years or so "under seal" but recovered less than 1% of what was accused of having been stolen from taxpayers. Mine was filed in 1998 [. . . ] It was supposedly "dismissed", I believe illegally [. . . .] Over $1 billion unpaid in Virginia!

From that paragraph, even with the deleted info included, I had a heckuva time figuring out what the book was actually about. Plus I'm even more annoyed by the comma/quotation mark misuse. The spammer changes tone in the next paragraph, though:

Being a novice, I thought libraries bought books, especially by local authors, and especially in eBook formats that take no room on shelves.

No, that isn't how it works at all. Libraries subscribe to a service that provides access to ebooks. The service gets to pick which ebooks. Your local librarian could have told you that. As a fomer member of my county's library board, I know that some libraries will buy print copies of books by unknown authors if several of library patrons request the book, but libraries have fixed budgets and must use their funds to buy books that will be checked out by more than a few card-holders.

However, if a library allows you to do a presentation about your book (which includes your selling/signing your book), you should donate a copy of your book as a way of thanking that library.

Since that is not the case, I next thought that joining writers groups who are non-profit and giving them half the profits would work, If I could stimulate sales of their books as well, in return.

I have no clue how that would actually work—and I've been a member of various writers groups since 1994. But I can tell you—from personal experience—that self-published authors have doggone few profits. Factor in costs to get to venues that aren't close to home and you could even end up with negative profits.

If you can't stimulate sales of your own book, you are unlikley to stimulate sales of others' books.

The basic concept is to "leapfrog" libraries who can't purchase anything and go directly to "Book Clubs", who I believe are not only looking for "local stories", but are or have contemplated writing one themselves. My experience is in order to complete a book you have to be persistent and are best served "buying from local experts".

There's that doggone comma/quotation mark error again. Arggghhh! I'm not sure what " 'leapfrog' libraries" means. As for book clubs (or, as you put it, "Book Clubs"), they are for readers—people who enjoy reading and discussing books with like-minded folks. People in writers groups are the ones who have contemplated writing books.

Many "Book Clubs" book clubs in my area choose their selections a year or so in advance. Most that I'm familiar with meet monthly, so they don't choose more than a dozen books a year. 

At my website, [title redacted] you'll see my target is a big one "the $20 Trillion National Debt" that shows it is "costing each American over $62,000" for which none received anything of value. Buyers do receive something of value in seeing all the information [. . . ], and $10 if they buy [my book] at my website to their charity of choice, which I will inform them [BIG WRITING GROUP] qualifies as, and I will target to each [BIG WRITING GROUP] Chapter areas and give names in my marketing to those who make presentations.
 My full information is on our [BIG WRITING GROUP] site.

Only basic information—not "full information"—for all members is on the writing group's site (where he found my contact info). And anyone accessing the site has to know an author's name to be able to look up the info. But—since I intend this post to be educational—let me digress into giving a bit of info that might be helpful to self-publishing novices:

Go to writing conferences and symposiums. I've blogged in the past about some writing events  I've attended, such as this symposium and this publishers' day at Virginia Festival of the Book.

Read books about writing. Your library should have some. Start there, but be aware of many articles, blog posts, etc. that exist online. Over a decade ago, I blogged about "Books that Every Writer Should Read." On this blog I've also reviewed some writing books—like Shut Up and Write and The Writer's Essential Tackle Box.

Read about promotion and marketing. Lots of online articles and blogs address marketing. The Behler blog is a good place to start. I've previously blogged about what I didn't want to do for book promotion ("Book Promotion—NOT") and what I might do ("Book Promotion—Maybe").

Join a local writers group. Members who have been there/done that can help you with your concerns and questions.  They can explain hat works and doesn't work for book promotion. But, please—don't spam them.

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Saturday, December 09, 2017

Early Snow Pt. 2

The snow continued on and off all night. When I took Maggie out at 7 on Saturday morning, our world looked like this:

The front sidewalk was at least clear.  But the snow was deeper than last night—and it was still snowing.

The road looked clear, too.

Could a gimpy old woman and her elderly border collie be able to golf-cart out to feed the barn-cats? The driveway was clear, so we could go down it to the road if we had to.

Chloe was able to go out on cat-patrol. If a small cat could do her chores, maybe Maggie and I could do ours.

Having a basic grasp of physics ("Stuff slides down hill"), I figured I could go around the front of the house and turn down the hill in the side yard. This is how it looked when we were at the top of the hill (picture of snow on dogwood limbs taken while Maggie made a comfort stop): 

We carted past the dogwood and the big maple. The going down was pretty easy. Twiggy, Spotz, and Sherman were waiting for us, and they were soon fed. (Skippy had already been to the house to eat; Wilbur was no doubt holed up somewhere.)

While I fed and watered the cats, Maggie guarded the golf-cart and looked back at the way we'd come.

We left tracks from the big maple on down.

We proceeded toward the road, so we could get the newspaper before we went in. It was clear to the right . . 

. . . and to the left. The paperbox is to the left at the top of the road. No traffic was in sight, so we started up the road.

The snow hung heavy on the pasture fence across the road.

Hard to believe that a railroad—the old F&P—used to pass in front of the old Novelty depot across from my mailbox.

After getting the paper, we started up the driveway for home.

The snow-covered crape myrtles that I planted years ago provided a photo op.

So did the big oak tree.

I think Maggie was impatient because I was stopping so often. Taking pictures isn't part of our daily routine.

So, having accomplished what we set out to do, we headed for home.

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Friday, December 08, 2017

Early Snow

Snow was predicted to start this afternoon, but it started this morning. At first it was barely visible.

Then things picked up considerably. Here's the view around 1 PM when Maggie and golf-carted out to get the mail.

From the garage looking toward the mailbox.

Looking toward the pasture across the road.

A snow-covered Maggie.

Looking toward the house on our wa back.

Yes, there's a cat in the picture. Chloe likes snow.

Scraper blade attached to the tractor and ready to go.
It's supposed to snow throughout the night, so we'll likely end up with a lot more snow than you see here.

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Sunday, December 03, 2017

Another Martin Mystery

Who is Bessie Martin?

For the past few years, I've been trying to fill in the gaps in my Martin genealogy. I've blogged before about my Martin mysteries: in "Martin Mystery" ,I wondered who my great-great grandmother was: and in "Martin Mystery II", I shared what I'd discovered about Elizabeth Webb Martin, the third wife of John Reid Martin..

Meanwhile I'd been wondering about Elizabeth's daughter—my great-grandmother, I knew Mariah Lousia Martin, born in 1854 and the second wife of Henry Silas Smith, had died in 1913 at the Snith homeplace in Union Hall. I knew, from census records that she went by her nickname, Lula. I'd visited her grave several years ago and had a photo of her broken tombstone, but I had no pictures of her. 

Did any pictures of her exist? I found her death certificate on the Internet, but no pictures. She was 58 when she died of cancer. It's interesting that her husband's name on the certificate is his nickname, "Shuge."

I'd given up hope of finding a picture when a first cousin once-removed showed me the only picture of Lula that existed. She'd gotten it from her grandmother, who was Lula's grand-daughter. 

I recognize where the picture was taken—the porch of the old Smith homestead. Some pictures of the old homestead are in this 2010 blog-post: "Smith Sleuthing,", and some of the late Ralph Porterfields's memories of the place in the 1940s are in "Going Home to the Farm," Ralph was Lula's great-grandson. 

But another Martin mystery has arisen. In the same box as Lula's picture was a photo of a Bessie Martin. The photo was taken by F. H. Brown at the Danville Art Gallery in Danville, Virginia. An ad for the business appears in the April 21, 1893, issue of the Reidsville Review in Reidsville, NC and again in May 19, 1893: "Danville Art Gallery No. 236 Main Street is the Place to get your Pictures taken Before going elsewhere. . . ." Besides Brown, there were at least two other photographers, W.E. Eutsler and a man whose last name is Blunt. (At one time, an Internet site had late 1800s-1900 photos by them and others for sale.)

Who is Bessie Martin? Did she live in Danville or just go there to have her picture taken? How is she connected to my branch of the Martin family? to Lula Martin? Is Martin her maiden name or married name? 

So many questions. . . . 

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Understood Betsy

Recently I read Dorothy Canfield Fisher's novel, Understood Betsy, originally published by Century Books in 1916 and by Henry Holt & Company in 1917. Several free versions are available online.

One e-edition, posted online in various forms, is here: . Another edition is here: downloaded a digitized version from Google Books into my Google Play app on my iPad:

While the book was written for children, adults will also enjoy it. I did. It's a wonderful look back to a simpler time, and is rich in details of everyday life of a century ago.

The plot: Nine-year-old Elizabeth Ann, orphaned as a baby, has spent her life with her Great-Aunt Harriet and her Aunt Frances (Harriet's daughter) in a city somewhere in the Mid-West. When they took her in, they were glad that Elizabeth Ann's other relatives, The Putneys in Vermont, didn't get her. They didn't like the Putneys at all.

Chapter 1 shows their dedication to Elizabeth Ann:
There was certainly neither coldness nor hardness in the way Aunt Harriet and Aunt Frances treated Elizabeth Ann. They had really given themselves up to the new responsibility; especially Aunt Frances, who was very conscientious about everything. As soon as the baby came there to live, Aunt Frances stopped reading novels and magazines, and re-read one book after another which told her how to bring up children. And she joined a Mothers' Club which met once a week. And she took a correspondence course in mothercraft from a school in Chicago which teaches that business by mail. So you can see that by the time Elizabeth Ann was nine years old Aunt Frances must have known all that anybody can know about how to bring up children. And Elizabeth Ann got the benefit of it all.

She and her Aunt Frances were simply inseparable. Aunt Frances shared in all Elizabeth Ann's doings and even in all her thoughts. She was especially anxious to share all the little girl's thoughts, because she felt that the trouble with most children is that they are not understood, and she was determined that she would thoroughly understand Elizabeth Ann down to the bottom of her little mind. Aunt Frances (down in the bottom of her own mind) thought that her mother had never really understood her, and she meant to do better by Elizabeth Ann. She also loved the little girl with all her heart, and longed, above everything in the world, to protect her from all harm and to keep her happy and strong and well.

Aunt Frances did everything for Elizabeth Ann—dressing her, combing her hair, walking her to school and back, etc. Elizabeth Ann didn't even have to think for herself; Aunt Frances took care of that for the "sensitive, nervous little girl." When Harriet developes a serious cough, the doctor recommends treatment and Elizabeth Ann must stay with her Putney relatives for a while. It will, she's assured, only be temporary. A family friend accompanies her partway by train. When Elizabeth Ann arrives, her Uncle Henry meets her in a horse and buggy—and promptly hands her the reins. She's puzzzled at first, but soome figures things out. When she arrives at Uncle Henry and Aunt Abigail's house, she finds that she has to do a lot of things for herself—and her relatives call her Betsy, not Elizabeth Ann. What Betsy learns over the course of the year changes her considerably. And therein lies the story.

I loved the author's voice. While there's a lot more telling than there is showing, the author is a wonderfully intrusive narrator, commenting on things that—well—need commenting upon. Plus she does an admirable job of letting her readers see how different life was a century ago.

Dorothy Canfield Fisher is an interesting character in her own right. Biographical information about her is here: and here: The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award honors excellence in children's literature.

Recently, however, there was a movement to get rid of the book award because of Dorothy Canfield Fisher's past involvement in the eugenics movement—"Author under scrutiny for long ago ties to eugenics"  provides some background.

From Molly Walsh's June 2017 article, "Vermont Considers Dumping Dorothy Canfield Fisher Over Ties to Eugenics Movement": "It's appropriate to revisit history and reexamine the lessons it might teach through a contemporary lens, said State Librarian Scott Murphy, who has the final say on whether to remove Fisher's name. But he said it's also important to view things in context and take a measured approach when it comes to removing honors in response to changing attitudes and understanding."

Many came to her defense: "Institutions, relatives, respond to Dorothy Canfield Fisher controversy
In his July 2017 Times-Argus commentary,"Don't scapegoat Fisher," Richard Gower defends her:
"That was then, and this is now. You can’t change history. You can only hope to learn from it. And, arguably, society has learned from many mistakes of the past and advanced because of them."

What needs to be understood about both the book and the controversy:
Re-examine the lessons of history from a contemporary lens.
You can't change history.
View things in context. 


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