Real life inspiration

A quick reminder to start off this morning. Nominations for the Hugo Award close Thursday. If you are interested in checking out the recommendations that came in to SP4 this year, check out Kate’s post. She not only lists the titles that received the most recommendations but she has a link to a Google doc with the complete breakdown of recommendations. Now on to the post.

Except I still don’t know what to write about. Part of it is I am suffering an extreme case of “why the heck am I out of bed?” Part of it is the Death Wish Coffee hasn’t been able to cut through the mental fog this morning. Part is residual mental exhaustion after spending the better part of two days going through the process of figuring out why my current WIP kept telling the file — and all the backup copies — was corrupted and couldn’t be repaired/opened.

Worse, it happened to a couple of different files. Something I discovered yesterday when I was doing a final check after I thought I had figured it out and fixed the problem. I still don’t know why it happened or how. Most files opened without problem. Others, recent documents started over the last two weeks, were about 50/50 impacted. When you have a paying gig impacted as well as an upcoming release, you (or at least I) tend to get a bit frantic when each copy of the latest version suddenly decides not to work.

But it is fixed — finally. All files open without problem and have been backed up multiple times and in multiple ways. After watching me pulling my hair out over the issue, Mom promised to never again wonder if I have lost my mind because of all the different forms of tech I own. There is a reason this household has PC and Mac, iOS and Android. Not only do I want to see how my e-books look in each format, not only do I want the ability to upload to iTunes without having to give money to a 3rd party, I believe in redundancy when it comes to tech. I’ve been burned too much over the years when something has died without warning and I’ve been unable to finish a project without having to run out and spend money I usually don’t have just then to get an immediate replacement.

Anyway, it saved me this time because after some hours of tweaking and cursing and banging my head against everything hard I could find, the impacted documents would open on my MacBook Air. Prior to that, I had tried opening them using Word, Atlantis, LibreOffice, OpenOffice and more. Nothing worked. But, as I said, I was finally able to open it on the Mac using Word. I then tried “save as” with a new file name. No go. That was corrupted as well. Even on the Mac. More head banging and cursing.

Long story short, I was finally able to save the documents in question as DOCX files. Those opened without problem across the different laptops and tablets. They opened in all pertinent word processing programs. They were then saved — many times and in many places. Next came, yet again, scans of not only the documents in question but all my machines for any sort of virus, malware, etc.

The end result is that I lost basically two days of work — hiss.

The one bright spot was seeing my son, even if only for a few minutes, as he switched flights on his way to his next duty station. I needed that — hey, I’m a proud Mom. What can I say? — and even though it was not long, it was enough to remind me what is important.

Let’s face it, life often throws us curve balls. But it also serves up a lot of fodder for our plots. Mom has the news on as I sit here typing this and in the last few minutes, several stories have come on that I can see becoming a book or story. The pilot who is appearing in court this morning, accused of running a string of brothels out of his Hummer. He allegedly had a dozen or so “brothel apartments” in the Houston area. This high flying pimp, alleged, could easily become a character in a mystery/suspense novel.

Then there’s the guy who managed to get a pellet gun — although, at the time, the Capital guards did not know if it was a “real” gun or not — into the Capital’s visitor center security area. He pulled it and got himself shot. One woman was injured by shrapnel. The alleged gunman was known to the Capital police. He had disrupted Congress earlier, claiming (iirc) that God had sent him. Again, it could be the opening of a mystery or even SF story.

If that’s not enough, how about the co-pilot of the commercial flight that was escorted off the plane yesterday or the day before who was charged with being over the legal limit for pilots? Can you imagine how those passengers felt when they learned one of the two pilots in charge of their lives had been drinking? Think about the action and suspense you could write if you put that into a story — especially if the pilot wasn’t removed from the plane and did take the stick during the flight for whatever reason. Or, putting a twist on it, say he is a former pilot who is on the jet, and who has been drinking, and who then has to take the stick because something happened to the crew. How would he react and would he think about the consequences? What about the passengers who knew he had been drinking?

One last example of how real life can inspire plots or at least inklings of plots. There’s a group called Nextdoor. You can sign up to get notices about what is happening in your “neighborhood”, etc. One of the emails that came across my server yesterday was a post from someone warning everyone that her neighbor’s house had been broken into that day Apparently the perps knew the victim’s schedule. Once she left the house, they made entry to her backyard and then broke in through her French doors. After grabbing a couple of laptops, money and prescription drugs, they walked out the front door. Comments in response to the post talked about seeing strangers in the neighborhood the week before, usually men wearing orange vests and carrying a clipboard but no one really seeing them doing anything but walking the neighborhood. Paranoia fairly dripped from some of the comments. Me, I simply made sure certain precautions were in place and then talked to Mom about it this morning to make sure she knew to not drop her guard.

Again, I can see so many different plots growing out of that simple scenario. Everything from a cozy mystery to police procedural to SF/F to Horror. So many different variations.

None of which helps me finish the current WIP edits (which should be done today) nor the paid job. But at least thinking about them and writing this blog has helped get the brain functioning this morning. So I guess I ought to find myself some breakfast and get to work.

I’ll leave you with this: Make sure your work is backed up — always. Do regular maintenance on your work machine, including virus scans and malware scans. Back up your work (yes, do it again). Look at what is happening around you or in the news and see if you can see plotlines you might be able to pull into your own work. Oh, and pray to the coffee gods that they soon give us the ability to mainline coffee. It would make mornings much easier to tolerate. VBEG.


  1. One thing I learned as a sysadmin:

    Backups are nice. But only successful restores count.

    1. Amen! I remember religiously backing up a project every night, then finding out when it counted that the tapes we had been using were bad. After that the backup always included a verify. Doubled the time, but at least we knew we had the data.

      1. Had a client that backed up every night. Unfortunately for them, their system never told them that the backup was over the tape size – and their D: drive, in which they kept the Microsoft encyclopedia, was first on the drive list…

        Took me a month to untangle (most of) the corrupted data they had. (Did most of it at home, too, off the clock – they were a very tiny United Way organization, could never have afforded what my employers would have charged them.)

        So, yes, test the restores (I am pretty sure that even their crappy backup system would have alerted them that they were trying to write to a read-only drive. I think…)

        1. There is some really, horribly, cataclysmically bad “backup” software out there. As in “I’m surprised nobody has gone to court over it” software.

          Straight copy to whatever your backup medium is. And then you can copy it back.

          [double extra points for the expensive Windows backup package that required running Windows system and an installed, registered copy of the backup software… and then couldn’t restore over the running OS files anyway. Only Hindu gods have enough hands for the required facepalm]

          1. Only Hindu gods have enough hands for the required facepalm.

            This one might come close, though:

            BTW, I’ve been rather happy with CrashPlan ($5/month) so far. And I *have* done restores from them. Though restoring a 500GB hard disk over the Internet is SLOW, so a second backup approach is recommended. (In my case, a hard disk was developing bad sectors but hadn’t gone bad yet, so I copied all the files EXCEPT those in bad sectors over to a new disk, and just restored those files from CrashPlan.)

          2. These days my backups are usually a disk image and file copy. Windows has an image maker that also lets you make a boot disk for when things get seriously hosed. There’s also free disk cloning tools out there, and have used those before, too. For I-didn’t-make-a-backup-and-I-can’t-boot, I usually boot to a Linux CD/DVD and then try to copy files.

    1. Reminds me of Dave Freer’s post yesterday about the difference between the “ants” who know what it’s like to work for their food and the “grasshoppers” who have only ever relied on the work of others — and how the “ants” tend to be much more aware of the consequences (especially the physical consequences) of their actions. Someone like Dave Freer, who knows the ocean and what it’s capable of because he’s worked on (and in) it to get his food, would never have done something as stupid as that woman did. She basically tried to kill herself! Oh, that wasn’t her intention, but it was entirely predictable (to anyone with common sense) that the actions she took would result in her death, and it was only by extreme, lottery-winning levels of luck that she didn’t die.

      1. Nature is a honey badger. She don’t care. But too many people are not only isolated from the human predators but also the natural ones. These are the ones that say that El Diablo will give up slinging coke if he can make 15/hr at McD’s…and that the bears in the woods just want to hug them…and that no animals are harmed to get meat in the supermarket.

      2. Looks like she wasn’t in full possession of her faculties when she did that. The husband’s behavior is also strange, he went back to the UK without his wife and has so far not contacted local authorities about her. Weird.

        Rui Jorge

  2. Yesterday was horrible. My building is a few blocks down from the Capitol, and the Mall was full of families with children walking all over the place. They come for spring break and the cherry blossoms, which are stunning this year. It was very good when it ended.

    My hard sf novel comes from real-life inspiration. There are a lot of space prizes these days, and orbital debris is a constant problem. I put the two together to come up with a story about a race to win a prize for the successful de-orbiting of space junk. With JAXA’s Hitomi satellite suffering loss of control there will be another spike in interest on the topic.

    1. Ever watched the anime Planetes? Hard science, and dealing with space junk is the main plot.

      1. Yes! What a charming show.
        Btw, if you are the Robin in Thailand I dropped you a line a few weeks ago to see if we knew anyone in common. It may have gone to spam.

        1. Sorry; I did get your email, but forgot to respond. I’ll write you back later today.

  3. A few weeks back, walking to work, I saw an empty cardboard box in a parking lot. When I got to my place of work a few blocks away, I saw another empty cardboard box on the ground. The wheels in my head started to turn . . .

    1. we’re being invaded by aliens with the ability to disguise themselves as cardboard boxes?

      1. Oh good, it wasn’t just me. *grin*

        My mother was quite delighted that the Nendoroid of Solid Snake came with a little cardboard box you could fold into shape for him to hide under. I got it as one of her birthday presents one year.

        1. Though technically not eligible for an award from not being strictly “anime”, one of the most well received “anime music videos” at a con I staffed one year (over a decade ago), was a collection of MGS Solid Snake game play running around in the box, set to Alice in Chain’s “Man in the Box”.

        2. Ever see Modern War Gear Solid by Beat Down Boogie?

          It’s a live action parody of Metal Gear and Call of Duty. Cardboard boxes are more dangerous than you’d think…

  4. One of the most important things to do with backups is to regularly make sure you can restore from them. The wrong time to discover they don’t work is when you’ve mangled the originals…

  5. I frequently find inspiration in books and movies. Generally the ones I hate. “Couldn’t he see the *Real* potential in that character/situation/tech ??!!”

    And so far my combination of CDs and cloud have worked for the few times I’ve needed to find an old version, or was out of town and needed something I would have sworn I’d moved to my laptop. But you give me the chills. Lose the wretched story I’d sweated over for months! Every version of it? Make me think I’ll remain a luddite an not sync all my toys.

    1. G. Harry Stine was one of the “early adopters” who moved from typewriters to personal computers with text editors. Early on, these being the days when a floppy disk was high tech (no tape! yay!) he had some kind of glitch that ate a couple of months worth of work on his current book.

      After that he put every chapter on a separate floppy disk and saved his working file every paragraph or so. There’s no kill like an overkill.

      I knew him casually via e-mail; we shared an interest in old muscle cars. I got a call from a mutual acquaintance one day to let me know that Harry’s wife had found him dead in front of his computer… and that the dialog box on his monitor said his file had been successfully saved to drive B:.

      Good work habits will work for you all your life. And maybe slightly beyond.

  6. I want to thank everyone for their comments. I will try to get back later today to comment individually but let me see if I can handle most of it here. When it comes to my files, I am more than a bit anal about making sure I have multiple backups in different formats. What baffled me about the two or three files the other day was that it was only those files — of course, it was also the files I was working on at the moment, hence the frustration.

    My usual procedure is to do daily copies to thumbdrive and external hd, as well as cloud, for working files. Yes, I sometimes forget but not often. I certainly won’t forget for some time after being bitten in the butt again because I thought “nothing will happen if I skip it this one time.” Once a week, I do a true backup of everything. One external HD is devoted to that and another external HD, as well as several thumbdrives, as the daily “save as” destinations. I do it that way because I have been burned by backups, including system backups, that didn’t work later for any variety of reasons. Yes, the programs for it are better now than they used to be but once burned, thrice more cautious.

    Of course, this post also bit me in the butt by giving me an idea for a new book — something I really do NOT need to be thinking about right now. So, I am telling that idea to go back to sleep for a bit and let me finish what’s on my plate right now. As for the rest, I’ll be back later to comment. Thanks again for all your great comments and recommendations.

  7. If you want to know how to get rid of the bodies in your mysteries, watch and read the news.

    A fella in British Columbia got busted eventually, when some property belonging to a missing hooker, a gal that had been missing for years, was found in his pigpen. He’d been using his pigpen to get rid of the evidence for years.

    So, that’s appeared in the piece I’m working on now……

  8. I know that shrapnel is a commonly used term but there is a but.
    Shrapnel is not from a pistol round being fired, it is from a artillery round specifically made with a bursting charge.
    One of the proper names for what wounded the woman are bullet fragments.

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