Monthly Archives: September 2010

Watch out . . .

Consider this post a public service announcement. Yesterday my desktop computer got attacked by the Fake Microsoft Security Essentials Alert trojan. This virus looks like a legitimate security alert, but in fact it’s a trojan that tries to trick you into going to a bogus website and downloading a rogue program to your computer.

Yesterday I was looking at news sites trying to get more information about the shooting at UT Austin. (My daughter went to that school, and even though I knew she wasn’t there yesterday, it was one of those things you watch with grim fascination because you know the place.) I don’t know which site caused the problem; I had several tabs open in my browser. But all of a sudden Windows Media Player opened (I hadn’t selected a video to play) and this window popped up:


I clicked the “Clean computer” button, and was told that Microsoft Security Essentials couldn’t remove the threat. The program then “searches online” for software that, it claims, will fix the problem and shows you the “results”: five bogus sites mixed in with legitimate, recognizable anti-virus sites like AVG and Kaspersky. But the only sites with software to fix the problem, according to the fake alert, are these: AntiSpy Safeguard, Red Cross Antivirus, Peak Protection, Pest Detector, and Major Defense Kit.

Ever hear of any of those? There’s a reason why not: Each one is a rogue program. If you download one, the next time you start your computer the rogue program starts up and pretends to run a scan. The fake scan announces numerous threats (this is bogus) and directs you to buy software to remove them. So ultimately, this trojan is after your money and your credit card info.

But I never got that far, because by now I was suspicious. There was no button in the Taskbar to indicate that Microsoft Security Essentials was running. And why would Microsoft be sending me to sites I’d never heard of to download free software not associated with their company?

It got worse. The trojan shut down my web browser, and I couldn’t open Firefox or Internet Explorer. When I pressed Ctrl+Alt+Del, Task Manager would start for a second and then shut down immediately. I opened Malware Bytes to do a scan, but the program couldn’t update.

I booted my laptop and searched for “Microsoft Security Essentials” and the name of one of the supposed fixes. Google brought up a long list of sites describing the trojan, including this one, which has helpful advice on getting rid of it. In the end, I had to download the latest version of Malware Bytes on the second computer and transfer it to the infected computer via flash drive. That updated Malware Bytes on the infected computer; I ran a full scan, and it got rid of the trojan.

The whole “adventure” wasted about three hours of my time on a day when I was trying to get a little bit ahead on work. I upgraded my Malware Bytes from the free version to the paid version, which offers real-time protection, because my normal antivirus programs let this nasty trojan slip through.

I don’t usually blog about this kind of stuff, but I thought I’d mention it because (a) I hadn’t heard about this one before it hit my computer and (b) it’s designed to scare you into compliance by presenting legitimate-looking—but totally fake—security warnings. I didn’t download a rogue program, but it’d be easy to do so, thinking you were protecting your computer. So watch out.

(I know, I know . . . get a Mac. LOL. But I need a PC for work.)


Listening deeper

I was working on Deadtown #3 recently, exploring a new scene by putting a couple of characters into conversation. I often start scenes this way, because the scene grows clearer to me as I listen to what the characters are saying to each other. Once I’ve got their dialogue down, I go back through and layer in information about the setting, how each character looks and feels as they speak, how Vicky processes the conversation, and so on.

No, I’m not crazy, by the way. I don’t really think that autonomous people are talking to each other in my head. But “letting characters talk” about their situations, when I’m not yet trying to shape the scene, is a good way to find a new scene’s core. (I’m working on a guest post on this topic for another author’s blog. I’ll post more info about that when it goes up.)

Anyway, in this scene I was working on, a character’s seemingly offhand comment suddenly gave me some insight into her psychology. If you’ve read Deadtown, you know that Vicky’s sister Gwen is determined to live the most norm-like life possible. I’ve understood her choices as somewhat shallow. But something Gwen said revealed some deep-seated anxieties and fears that I haven’t explored. And now I find myself eager to listen to what Gwen has to say.

I don’t want to say anything too specific now, because I don’t know yet how much of what I discover about Gwen will end up being relevant to Book 3’s story. But it was interesting and exciting to gain some insight into her and open up a new facet of her personality to explore. When I “eavesdrop” on characters’ conversation, I can find depths to plumb—if I listen carefully.

Freudian slip

The other night, my husband was reading one of the Stoic philosophers (I forget which one), and he read out loud the philosopher’s recommendation for how to approach hardship: “…with smiles, cheerfulness, and contentment.”

I said, “That’s how I’m going to approach my new nonfiction project, with smiles, tears, and resentment!” I swear I didn’t hear the difference in the words until two seconds after they emerged from my mouth.

Anyone else think I could use a vacation? 😀

Proofing pages

Over the weekend, I reviewed the page proofs for Hellforged. Page proofs show the mansucript all laid out and typeset. When you read them, you check for typos and other minor issues that need fixing before the book gets printed. The book is now in its almost-final form, so this isn’t the time to make sweeping revisions, just necessary tweaks.

It’s interesting how different a book feels when it’s laid out in galleys. I write my manuscripts in Word, double-spaced, and while it’s in that format it feels like a work in progress. I can move paragraphs around, change words, delete or add text. Even if I’ve sent in the final version to my editor, when I open a Word file, the urge to tinker is almost overwhelming.

When I get the page proofs, whether I look at them as PDFs or print out a hard copy, it feels a lot more like I’m reading a “real” book. This is how the pages will look when they’re printed and cut and bound into the books that will soon grace the shelves of your friendly neighborhood bookstore. There’s much less of an urge to tinker—which is a good thing, because it’s expensive to make changes at this stage. Mostly, I’m looking for typos. I always find at least a few.

What I like best about reading page proofs, though, is that it’s the first time I get a feel for my story as a book. That’s always a thrill.

My fangirl moment :)

For me, the highlight of ArmadilloCon was meeting Ilona Andrews. She’d generously given Deadtown a wonderful blurb, and we’d emailed back and forth a couple of times, but we’d never met.

We did get to talk a few times at the con. In person, she’s warm and funny and super-smart. Ilona and Gordon both rocked every panel they were on.

At the end of the conference, I asked them to sign my well-worn copy of Magic Bleeds. Here it is:


ArmadilloCon, Day 3

The panel on "Better Worldbuilding through Mythology"

On the last day of ArmadilloCon, I moderated a panel on “Better Writing through Mythology,” which had a great mix of speakers: Guest of Honor Rachel Caine; Stina Leicht, author of the forthcoming Of Blood and Honey; Shanna Swendson, who writes humorous contemporary fantasy novels; Katherine Beutner, author of Alcestis; and Matthew Bey, author, editor, and publisher of Space Squid. I moderated.

This was a first-thing-in-the-morning panel, and on a Sunday morning, no less. So we started with numerous, heartfelt comments about great parties, tequila, and lack of sleep. But before long we had an interesting discussion about mythology underway. It would’ve been hard not to, with the mix of panelists, whose work covered fairy tales and Irish, Welsh, Greco-Roman, and other mythologies. Not to mention the djinn of Rachel’s Weather Warden series. We talked about what mythology is, how it helps with worldbuilding, and how freely authors tweak the mythology to suit their own story. Good stuff.

My final panel was also about writing: “Worldbuilding: First Steps,” and I shared it with authors Joe McKinney, Steven Brust, and Jayme Lynn Blaschke, as well as artist Mark Nelson. With a wide variety of genres—science fiction, horror, and two flavors of fantasy—we had many different approaches to this question. Because I write urban fantasy, I use a recognizable, real-world city (Boston in my case). I start with a city and mythology of my choice and sort of mix in stuff from my own imagination. But it’s important to me that the Boston of Vicky’s world be recognizable as real-world Boston. In fact, I’m traveling there soon to poke around some sites that will appear in Deadtown #3 (and take pictures).

After that panel, I had a signing in the Dealers’ Room. Met some great readers and signed some books. Then I was done—and my daughter was ready to show me more of Austin. We saw the film Get Low at the Alamo Drafthouse. (Terrific acting—especially from Robert Duvall—but IMO the script didn’t earn its big, climactic scene.) At sunset, we took a bat cruise to see hundreds of thousands of Mexican free-tail bats fly out from the homes under the Congress Avenue bridge to find their dinners. I’d seen this on previous visits (I love bats!), but this was the first time we witnessed it from the water. It was an amazing sight.

No bats yet, but lots of spectators

Tomorrow, I’ll show you my favorite souvenir from the con. It’s a good one, I promise!

More ArmadilloCon

After Friday’s writing workshop, I took part in four panels: two on Saturday and two on Sunday. So I had plenty of time to attend other panels and hang out with my daughter.

On Saturday morning, I was on a panel called “Why Do Shapeshifters Get the Girl?” and it was my favorite panel of the conference. Stina Leicht moderated, and the other panelists were the Ilona Andrews team and Rosemary Clement-Moore, author of the Maggie Quinn YA series and The Splendor Falls (which sounded so awesome I had to order it).

I thought it was kinda funny I was on that panel, since in my series the shapeshifter is the girl, but it was an interesting and productive discussion of what shapeshifters represent and what makes leading men attractive. Ilona or Gordon came up with the phrase “loyal but unleashed,” which I thought was brilliant. (Curran, anyone?) And in the course of the discussion, Gordon pointed out that shapeshifters don’t always get the girl, particularly in a contest between a vampire and a werewolf. So which do you prefer?

Ilona Andrews makes a point on the Shapeshifters panel

In the afternoon, I was on a panel called “Vampires: From Folklore to Fanfic,” along with Mark Finn (who moderated), Rick Klaw, Scott Cupp, and Skyler White. We discussed vampires past and present, in literature and film. There were tons of great book recommendations throughout the hour, and I later bought Skyler’s book And Falling, Fly. I’d already been hearing good things about it, but I enjoyed her comments so much I had to read her book for myself.

On my TBR stack

Favorite film vampires ranged from old-school demons Max Schreck and Klaus Kinski to sexed-up Dracs Frank Langella and Gary Oldman. When the question came up of which vampire book you’d recommend to get someone started in the genre, if you could only pick one,  just about everyone agreed to start with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. What do you think—would that be your choice? Or would you prefer something more contemporary?

Saturday evening I listened to a really helpful panel on City as Character. This is an interesting topic to me, because of the importance of setting in urban fantasy. Boston, where Deadtown is set, has a very different feel from, say, the Atlanta Kate Daniels lives in or Cassie Palmer’s Las Vegas. Panelists spoke about working with maps, even if you’re creating your own city. One author mentioned that she used a 16th-century map of Paris as the basis for the city in her second-world fantasy. She also said that you need to know how people get their food and water, how the climate affects daily life.

Gordon Andrews made the point that a city is its people. I agree. Although layout and architecture and geography are important, it’s the people you encounter that make, say, New York City feel different from Chicago or Boston, or Miami feel different from Los Angeles or Houston. Although maps and guidebooks and Google Street View are great resources, if you’re setting your story in an actual city, it helps to start with some place you know well or to make time to visit that city. Even reading its newspaper online can give a stronger sense of what it’s like to live there.

Sense of place: The Austin skyline at sunset

On Sunday, I was on two writing-related panels. I’ll talk about those tomorrow.

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