Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Another Case of Not Paranoid Enough

Folks, for a person who writes computer code all day, I'm an idiot. You know how they tell you to change your passwords often? Well, I always thought the insecurity of my forgetting my new password superceded the insecurity of having a stale, hackable one.

Long story short, I had a keylogger trojan on one of my computers that logged the password for my online banking account. Through that, some nice evildoers were able to change my account email to something that looked like my email but was not my email. (This is the point where I am grateful for my 20/20 eyesight--caught it in time.) I changed the email back to me. 20 minutes later (and all during lunch, I might add--had I not been eating at my desk, things would be different) I received an email confirming the addition of an outside bank account to my online banking profile. Had I not caught the first breach, I would not have received this email. I called my bank and had my online banking turned off. The evildoers had not begun transfering funds yet. I'm very glad I was not on vacation.

Then began the pain in the butt part of it: All new accounts. This right before direct deposit coming in and automated payments going out. Month end. Brilliant.

I asked tech support at work how I could have prevented it. "You can't," he said, "unless you want to unplug from the internet and email. It's the risk of being online." I asked if I got it through web browsing or email. He said it can arrive either way.

I didn't lose any money (I don't think, at least not yet) but I did lose several hours of my time and probably got some new gray hair in the process. I've learned my lesson. Change old password often. Especially before long periods away from computers. Not foolproof, but helpful. Thought I'd share.

Monday, July 21, 2008

If You're Jonesin' for a Summer Conference

I didn't schedule any summer conferences this year, and I wish I had! Luckily, some attendees are reporting back:

Cliff Garstang has been blogging from Sewanee, where he is workshopping with Tim O'Brien. A conference veteran, he opted out of several sessions and managed to get some writing done. Go Cliff!

Ryan Call also blogs from Sewanee, where he re-learned how to do the rope-swing-swimming-hole thing. The key is you have to let go. Also reports back from his workshop with Christine Schutt.

Donna Trussell, another conference veteran (and convert from fiction to poetry), compares her experience at Sewanee with her memories of Breadloaf.

Incredible faculty at Sewanee this year. I'm kicking myself for not applying.

From Tin House, the anonymous Lit Scribbler reports back from Steve Almond's workshop, with some story tips. Almond's advice is still about putting characters in danger because you love them, which still rings true to me. Great teacher.

Poet Sharon Hurlbut, also reporting from Tin House, captures well that reeling feeling you get at a writer's conference. The overstimulation is like a drug. She seems to have done what I did, attend everything. She studied with Mary Jo Bang.

And lest you think the summer conference experience is all fun and explosions of the positive, Anatomy of a Dress reports back on bad chemistry with poetry workshop leader Nick Flynn. Sounds like a workshop I would have loved to take, but I tend to prefer the touchy-feely bewilderment stuff. Some people want to be taken more seriously.

My feeling on writing workshops in general is you're paying the instructor to give you their shtick. You might connect with it. You might not. You might feel targeted in class. You might feel ignored. Regardless, you are buying an experience, one of many experiences you can use when you sit down to write and revise. You are not buying a critique for your manuscript, IMO. It's not really about you. It's about IT. Like I said, touchy feely. My favorite workshop ever was Lynda Barry who gave no feedback whatsoever (didn't even learn NAMES), but gave memorable shtick and helped me generate several fresh pieces (some of which have been published).

And if you want to just feel good, from SLC, Utah, it's fun to read the buzz around the Writers at Work Conference's fiction fellowship winner, Ben Roberts, who rocked the house with a Mormon story, selected by non-Mormon Steve Almond. Something tells me Ben loves his characters and therefore lets them behave badly. Go Ben!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mean Green Zine

I got my contributor's copy of Opium 6: Go Green! (But Save Me First), and I'm impressed. (And not just with the page that has my 500-word memoir, "A Turtle Weighs In on the Republican Nomination.") I'm honored to be sharing a cover with the likes of Aimee Bender, Jim Tomlinson, and others. Included are several entries from Opium's 100-Word Story series and Bookmark Contest, and a beautiful retro design by David Barringer. Very playful layout, with WPA-esque graphics to go with each story. Plus some lit-witty green tips on "restraint and responsibility." An issue worth looking at.

Kudos to editor Todd Zuniga for putting it all together.

Monday, July 14, 2008

PEN's Achebe Tribute Now Online

I went to this event at Town Hall last February and found it really inspiring. Chris Abani was so funny and charming, talking about how to use literature to lure women; Suheir Hammad was fierce as she read one of her own poems; Chimamanda Adichie did a great job of repping the newest generation of Nigerian voices, with stories of her childhood in Chinua Achebe's former house (!); Ha Jin enlightened me on the loaded choice of writing in English; Colum McCann made me want to grovel and be his student: "What gives off the deepest sparks is the democracy of story-telling."

And of course, softspoken Chinua Achebe brought down the house at the end, talking about the publication (almost thwarted by a typist) of THINGS FALL APART, and expressing gratitude to his readers .

The place was packed. The line outside was long. It was one of those moments where I loved New York, claustrophobia and all. Now the computerized world can listen in, with added elbow room and a pause button. I look forward to listening again.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


I've been enjoying Larissa Shmailo's new spoken word CD, EXORCISM, particularly the track, "How to Meet and Dance with Your Death (Como Encuentrar y Bailar con Su Muerte): A Cure for Suicide." If you like it on the page, you'll love it out loud. You can sample it on her MySpace page too. This poem digs at you.

The whole CD digs, though, bringing forth fiery, unorthodox, visceral imagery of the Devil and Magdalena, lovers and torturers and survivors. She crafts breath, rhythm, and rhyme, with a relaxed and dancerly demeanor and natural authority. Subtle music accompaniment and vocal multitracking. Highly recommended.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Undercooked Steak

I was in a celebratory mood and decided to make my reader copies nice this time. Who cares if it is a first draft? I can't believe how easy this POD technology is. And cheap! For the same cost as copying a 300+ page manuscript at Kinkos, I had shiny, real books made. Uploaded the file Monday, received the books on Friday. Who says POD has to be used just for self-publishing? How about as a groovy alternative to the alternatives? A simple means to make 11 copies for a handful of helpful pals? It's totally private. You Google this book, you don't find it. Unsearchable on the POD publisher I used. Just what I wanted!


I designed the cover with Microsoft Publisher and some photos I shot in my house and at St. Luke's garden in the West Village. I love wandering around and finding images to go with my text. I'm thinking this might lead to a more graphic project next time around. More of a chicken and egg work of art, where the images and the text talk to each other and generate new images and text.

Another part of me wants to unretire Big Fat Press yet again and start soliciting manuscripts from the talented and frustrated writers I know out there. Maybe that can be my retirement career. If books still exist by the time I retire.

The problem with POD technology is that it's too easy to make a "real" book. This novel reminds me of a badly cooked steak. It looks delicious. But inside there's lots of fat that tastes disgusting. A little bit longer on the grill would not hurt. So the key while reading this draft is not to be snowed by the format. There's something about messy pages from my inkjet printer that is a lot less sacred, if less portable. I'm not hesitating with my red pen, but I'm a little worried my readers might.

In the meantime, it was a very fun experiment. If I ever do find a home for this, none of the design decisions will be mine, so at least I got to have my creative moment.

Now it's time to put it aside for a month or so and work on other stuff, so I can reread with fresh eyes.