Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Serenity Out of Gas

It could have been worse, or so I keep telling myself. The price tag for my stupidity is pretty high, however.

A new hard drive with lifetime warranty, plus data retrieval of whatever they can rescue from my dead drive. A new battery, required because my laptop was declared vintage within the last couple of weeks. That means Apple will no longer manufacture the parts, and since my battery was about to die, I needed to get a new battery while they're still available.

Therefore I was going to postpone my planned RAM upgrade until I could recover from this financial gut-punch. However, I figured out that if I did the RAM now, it wouldn't cost me any additional labor costs and it came with a lifetime warranty, as opposed to the 'crack the case and pray' warranty that comes when I do the work myself.

Total cost: $525. To be fair, the cost would have been the same if I hadn't been stupid. However, I wouldn't be sitting here praying that they are able to rescue my files.

See, I had a horrible realization on my way to the indie Machead shop. I'd been approaching this with the mindset that I hadn't backed up in about five months. Stupid, yes. I was thinking of the photos I'd taken, the financial records, the manuscript to the new book, travel itineraries.

But I'd forgotten that the reason I hadn't backed up was that my backup drive was corrupted. Um. The backup drive was corrupted. Not only had I not backed up in five months, but my old backups were likely gone. Therefore, everything I'd done since the 1990s was at risk.

And still is. The Macheads were reasonably confident they could rescue most if not all the data; the old drive has bad sectors and cannot boot, but it is showing up as existing, which is a promising sign. No guarantees, they said, but I stand a good chance.

As the parts ship from Apple, I am waiting to see how much they can save from Serenity. Yes, I named my laptop the day I got her. Why Serenity? What a ship is, is freedom. She lets me fly.

The timing sucks. Well, there's never a good time to get socked with a $525 repair bill. But it's especially unpleasant because a) we are still waiting on the outcome of the Stolen iPhone Saga, and b) next week, my son and I are supposed to go on a road trip.

We're going to Baltimore to see my niece Alexis graduate from high school. We're going to meet my new baby niece Olivia - born two days before our wedding - and spend some time with the family. I'm going to show Ian my old stomping grounds in Baltimore. And if I can afford it, we're going to go into Washington D.C. and Ian will fulfill his lifelong wish of seeing the Lincoln Memorial, the Mall and the White House. Or at least driving past them.

It's a mother-son road trip, something we're really looking forward to now that we have a decent car that will actually make it. Ian is especially excited about Washington - when he heard it was possible to go to the nation's capital while visiting my sister, his eyes bugged out and he exclaimed, "Are you flipping serious??"

Only now I'm wondering how I can feed the teenage boy that eats like a football team for a week on the road when we just emptied the fund on a computer repair. Thus, a plan.

• I have put both Gethsemane and Infinity on sale for the time being (the former is available on Kindle Unlimited) in the hopes of encouraging extra sales. If you haven't picked either of these up, now is an excellent time to do so.

• As always, my paperbacks are available on and usually at prices cheaper than Amazon. For the time being, you can get a 10 percent discount with the code CARD15.

• Finally, some of you have asked if you can help directly. After consideration... yes. I will take Paypal at But it's not a donation per se! For any amount given to this problem, I will send you an art print. So be sure your PayPal has a current address attached. If you request it, you can even get one of the new Elmwood Cemetery photos. They haven't even been put out in the etsy shop yet, because they only exist on my dead hard drive and Ordering prints off Mpix might be the only way they ever see the light of day.

Thanks for the kind advice over the last couple of days, folks. This too shall pass, as they say. And I am determined to see my nieces and show my son the Lincoln Memorial, even if I have to walk.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Bad sector

Let me preface this by saying that snarky or even well-meaning comments about Apple really will not be welcome at this time. I can't believe how often I have to say this, but seriously, guys.

I am quite stupid.

It's not like I don't know the golden rule of computers: Thou Shalt Back Up. I'm actually quite good about it, usually. My mobile devices back up daily to the cloud. My laptop backs up to an external drive I keep on my desk. It isn't wireless, so I had to remember to physically plug in my laptop for backing up, but it works.

Or it did. A few months ago, my external drive went kablooey. That's a technical term. We planned to replace it, but we were stony broke that month - like, tuna and macaroni broke.

We also knew that the house wifi router was three years old and getting twitchy. So we discussed it, and decided that we would kill two birds with one expensive stone. The Airport Time Capsule is an awesome dual-band router and a 3TB wireless backup drive. We would wait and buy one. Then all our devices would back up more easily, which meant backups would actually happen.

Yeah, you know where it's going.

We kicked the can down the road for months. We were busy. Deadlines to meet, shows to do. I had a health issue, Jim was fighting college math. Sales were okay in first quarter, but don't ask me about Christmas. Black Friday indeed. Every once in a while I'd fret, but we had the cascade of problems with Ian's computer, and the stolen iPhone (which is STILL not resolved), and I just didn't get around to it.

Even when my laptop started slowing down and acting twitchy, I thought, "I really need to upgrade the RAM so I can go to the next OS." Somewhere in there I might have remembered that I still wasn't backing up.

Last night my hard drive crashed. Repair attempts in recovery mode were unsuccessful, as was an OS reinstall. Thus another trip to the Genius Bar, and they diagnosed bad sectors on the drive. Bad enough that it won't boot or take an OS. 

It's also six years old, which qualifies as vintage, so they can't help me. There's an indie Machead shop that can install a new drive and attempt to rescue my data. Price tag is unknown at this time. This would have been a good month for the Kindles to kick off.

The money is important, but I'm simply heartsick about the data. I can reconstruct financial records and contracts from other sources, perhaps. The new book's manuscript is a tad more concerning; I am hopeful the editor who has it in hand can send it back to me. 

The photos... oh God, the photos. The Elmwood Cemetery set exists only on my laptop and They're not even on the store yet; I was working on that last night. It would be disturbing if I could order the prints but did not have the images. Not to mention all the wedding photos to re-gather from our friends.

Wish me luck tomorrow, friends. Whatever luck exists for people who kick the can down the road too many times. And go back up your stuff.

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Monday, May 04, 2015

Weekend Update: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good

• Boy's theatrical debut was delightful fun, and he had a smashing time. I had not seen the scaled-down community theater version of Les Miserables before, and as my dad put it, the very young, energetic cast was obviously giving it absolutely everything they had. Boy was terrific as an ensemble player. He was a disturbingly convincing drunk, which means he's seen too many cons, and died most heroically on the barricade. (Spoilers!)

I was not prepared for it to be so stressful! I was much more nervous than he was, hoping nothing went wrong. My stomach was in knots! But I was even less prepared for my emotional reaction to seeing Boy on the stage. The theater meant a great deal to me as a young woman, and I have never once regretted my decision to study it. I also have not regretted my decision to give it up, but I was overwhelmed by emotion when I saw Boy up on the stage obviously having so much fun "At the End of the Day."

• The Author Fair went off nicely, and most of the authors seemed to have a good time: good conversation, a handful of sales. I was not as successful as I hoped in getting feet up the steps to the fair, so I will have to set my thinking cap for better plans to get more foot traffic in the room. I want to make it truly worth the authors' time, and that means more feet in the room. Still, almost everyone sold something, and most said they would like to come back.

• The Relay Cafe and Relay Sunday were a terrific success! We waaaaay overplanned on the chili, but feeding the church with it worked out nicely - and several people took containers of it back home. In the end, there was only enough left for tonight's dinner. That works for me, because I'm tired. However, the combined take for the American Cancer Society was nearly $400, and that makes me happy.

• Visiting with the folks is always fun, reminding me how much we miss them and that they really aren't that far away. They came into town for the play, and treated us to a ballgame after church on Sunday. In between we caught up, and they brought me that awesome brown sugar from the Mennonite community as well! Mmm, baking.

The Bad

• Boy's brand-fucking-new iPhone was stolen when we were at the ballpark. I was hoping it was just lost and someone would turn it in, but we received a report that someone tried to hock it this morning. We are working with the St. Louis Police and our carrier to resolve the situation. If you've got good thoughts to spare, we could use them; I literally signed the agreement one week ago and am obligated to two years of payments on that goddamn phone, found or not. Boy is devastated, not just because of the phone, but the backstage pictures and wacky selfies from his theatrical debut.

• So of course, his laptop decides to misplace its hard drive tonight. For those keeping track at home, this laptop had a bad air card. We brought it in for a replacement air card, which also failed. Then they replaced the logic board and the hard drive. For the brand new hard drive to fail, something is very odd. Back to the store it goes...

• And if I didn't have enough to keep myself occupied, Paypal has randomly decided to pick my business account for extra scrutiny. I'm supposed to submit my driver's license, proof of address and proof of Social Security number. Gee, thanks. I feel so much more secure knowing that you guys are on the case - and that my personal information is "safe" in your hands. But since my various enterprises require that I use Paypal, comply I shall.

The good news is, anyone who stole my identity would likely give it back with their apologies.

The Ugly

• Today is the only night off in a stretch of 12 days. I have too many night gigs. I think I might do something crazy like go to bed before 2 a.m.

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Sunday, May 03, 2015


One of the fun things about an author fair, even one with light foot traffic, is the chance to talk business with other writers.

Chatting with the other authors at this weekend's signing convinced me to try KDP Select for one item as a test case. I've not been terribly fond of the exclusivity requirement; I am concerned about what Amazon's market dominance means for the rest of us, and I have generally followed the philosophy of having my work available in as many formats as possible. If my readers want it in iBooks or Smashwords, they should be able to get it there.

However, my standalone novellas have not been terribly successful on the other formats. The difference is drastic. In a strictly-business review of sales, I lose very little by taking a novella and putting it exclusively on Kindle for three months. I'm conflicted about it, but if I look it at solely as a businesswoman, it's an experiment worth doing.

Some authors have said they lost a bucket on KDP Select. The majority, however, say it has done wonders for sales. We shall see.

For the next 90 days, Gethsemane will be available on KDP Select, unless I end the experiment early. (In which case it would be pulled entirely from sale, since KDP Select requires the 90-day option.)

There are very few items in my bibliography that I have control over, because all my work has been traditionally published except for two novellas to which I could not sell first rights. Those novellas are my experiment. I guess we'll see where it goes.

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