Wednesday, November 23, 2011

This One's for the Discouraged

Sunday morning I heard the news that some Indiana missionaries in Haiti were ambushed in the compound where they were residing. Armed robbers broke in, shot four of the missionaries and grazed another with a flyaway bullet. Yet another was injured jumping out of a second story window as he ran to get help.

The men survived, and the mission was not at all like the work camp I'll be a part of, but...still. You can imagine that my morning was...shaky. This had never even occurred to me as something that could happen to me while I'm working in Haiti. I spent a long time with my stomach in a hard ball, wondering WTF am I doing? Because, quite frankly, I feel so ill equipped to handle this sort of thing. I'm not a fighter, people. Confrontations of any kind turn me into pudding. I am that person that when given the wrong food order, I rarely send it back. The first time I had to go through one of those body scans at the airport, I was so shaken I could barely walk away, but did I say a word? Weak, people. I'm weak.

But strangely enough, I never considered not going to Haiti.

Haiti is one of the poorest nations in the world, still suffering from the aftereffects of the earthquake and poverty that seems to have no end. Haiti is not in a position where it can fully help itself right now, and I have been given an opportunity to do something for them. So, just as I would never turn my back on a someone I thought was being abused or neglected, I cannot turn my back on Haiti. Some things are worth the risk.

Am I afraid? Hell yeah. But if I allow myself to be frightened away from something I am meant to do--something beautiful and rewarding--because of some selfish (violent) jackholes, I will never forgive myself. And something remarkable will be lost.

But we do this all the time, don't we? I know I have, allowing myself to be scared off from something important because someone was cruel or because things got too tough. Seriously, all the time growing up. And even in my adult life I find myself doing this sometimes, backing down when really I should be all up in your grill. There have been times in my writing life, too, when someone has done/said something to discourage me, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. It doesn't take much, though, to shake a writer's confidence. We're fragile creatures, naturally, our sense of identity so often tied to our writing.

How many of us have considered closing down our blogs because we feel so discouraged? How many of us have thought about abandoning social media altogether because, while it can bring us a little closer to the world, can also make us feel so vulnerable and exposed? How many of us have thought about hanging up our laptops because of endless and/or nasty rejections? Or because of something some other writer said/did? Or because we have never ever felt good enough? Perhaps we are cruelest to ourselves.

I'm not a strong person, not really. Not for myself. I know when it comes to my own children, I could probably rip out an assailant's throat in order to defend them (yeah, I know, thanks for the visual, Carol), but for me? Not so much.

But I'm tired of running. A friend of mine recently told me that I needed to work on self-love. It was a profound moment for me, and strangely ironic, because I love like mad. Passionately, with every ounce of my being. But loving myself...hm. I think, maybe, if I did, fully, I would fight for myself. I would tell the server to please remake my order (hold the spit); and I would never again think that my writing wasn't and could never be good enough. Most of us wouldn't blink twice at the thought of going to battle for our children, our pets, our parents or friends or even a stranger in need of help. But how many of us would fight for ourselves?

You owe it to yourself to hang on to the things that mean the most.* Don't let some jackhole (even if it's you) scare you away from what you're meant to do. While making others a priority is important, it's okay to love yourself enough. To love yourself a lot. It's okay--and necessary--to fight for yourself (read: your dreams).







NOTE: We will take all precautions necessary and will not take any unnecessary risks when traveling to Haiti. Though there hasn't been any discussion of cancelling our work camp, we will take seriously any warnings from the US Department of State of an increased threat in Haiti. The incident described above was an attempted robbery, a freak incident that could have just as easily occurred in the US or anywhere.



*By this I do not mean hoarding. Or stalking. Or resentments. Or hostages. Or your grandma's fruit cake. Or Garbage Pail Kids.

Friday, November 18, 2011

World Fantasy Convention 2011, with Pictures!

Update: Look up! Do you see how much we've earned so far for Haiti??? Those of you who commented, tweeted, posted, Facebooked, and donated. This belongs to YOU. I'm so wowed, I don't even know what to say. I met my obligation and way more. Do you have any idea how much of a difference you've made already? HUGE.

*******************

I was going to post a review yesterday for Bookanista Thursday, but I've had so little sleep the last few days that I couldn't keep my eyes open. Also, I'm a bit flu-ish. Eh, it happens. So today I bring you a picture post, because that's easier to put together than a real post. So it goes like this:

October 25 I get to the hotel, which is like something out of a 1962 Doris Day movie, loaded with roses and separate bungalow-type weirdness (and a main hotel called the Towers...ohhhhh faaaancy) and stink weed (or was it skunk weed? I dunno, something stinky). And I settle into a hotel room with wallpaper straight out of my grandma's house circa 1982 and blue carpet and everything. It was awesome.

Anyway. Changed my stinky airplane clothes, registered for the con, and joined the gang for drinks at Charley's (the gang being a relative term).

On our left: Happy guy Griffin Barber ignoring my camera and the lovely Amber Van Dyk, who for our purposes we will now refer to as Marble.



On our right: Me, who looks airplane stinky, and sweet-pea Nancy Lambert, who does not. We are a happy pair, despite my stink. There were more people there, but I did not get pictures because I'm lame.

After that, several of us went downtown for breakfast. PS, this was the next morning. We took the "trolley" which is quite the misnomer, by.the.way. More like a crowded metro that does not even always stop at the normal stops but in the middle of nowhere. Ok, that was awesome too, frankly. We found this really crooked street that Awesome Blossom Sara McClung pointed to like whoaaaa.

Go with me on this.




And then Nancy was like, "Did you see that guy? He was all falling down that crooked street and stuff. Like this."



And then we went to this restaurant that served me possibly the worst boiled egg EVER. It was stinky and tasted like chicken poop. But the company was unforgettable and worth the egg.





And then we took a cab back because the trolley was not that awesome. I sat by the charming Jane Kindred and the cabby took the picture just before he almost killed us.

Just kidding. Enchanting LK Gardner-Griffie took the picture. But the cabby did almost kill us. True story. Then Sara and I changed rooms to THE TOWER. We wanted faaaaancy and also not to be in the boondocks.
Met up for soup (I'm the only one who had soup, technically) and took more pictures because that's what you do at conferences. See?

With Lovely Sara and Sweetie Shannon Messenger. Yay! And below: with my precious Holly McDowell, adorable Jessica Corra, and fabulous Brad Beaulieu. Yay us!






And even more Yay! With ever-pleasant Matt Rush.








With my roomie Hollyyyyyy who just arrived!!! And Saraaaaaaaa who I love to squishy squishhhhh!
We did so much fun stuff that night, but I'm keeping mum on that.

The next morning, we ended up getting Starbucks because the concierge guy sent us to a closed Cheesecake Factory.

Above: That's Jane beside the delightful Rae Carson, and on the right, peachy LK, super Rob Ziegler, sweetsie Sara and me in the cowboy outfit. After Starbucks, hello bellinis at Cheesecake Factory.





I will not bore you with the details of our wasted trip to yet another location (convenience store) that was closed, and move on to the evening activities.

At Charleys with Marble, Holly and loverly Marsha Siselak. Love them.




And then we had a drink or two. And then Holly and I exchanged shoes.


















And then I met Jared Leto.


Okay. Fine. I'd had a little cider, so he looked probably more like Jared Leto then than now. He also had a really hot girlfriend with him.

So Matt goes: "Who are those beautiful people? Obviously not writers."

Because of course we writers are all ugly. It's the LAW.

Turns out, Jared was a paramedic (go on, tell me a good CPR joke). I didn't, um, ask about the girlfriend. So. Yeah.
(P.S. Anyone know who this is? Phone number, anyone? Anyone?)


The same night, with memorable Gra (pronounced Gray), Rob, Holly, and I have no idea who that person on the far left is, but she was lovely.


Next day, we went for sushi and had Thai food because the sushi place we were sent to was closed.
From left clockwise: Matt, Jessica, superest Simon Larter, Sara, me, Jane, and LK.



And in the evening, dinner with Shannon, sweeeet Kiersten White, Jane, LK, and Sara. Love these peeps (peops?)

Some stuff happened before that. Mostly meeting up with super cool Andrew Smith who I adore and dude, I met the adorable Victoria Schwab who I want to be. Alas, no pictures on my camera. I have a crap-ton of pictures with a lot of really fab people, though,which you will have to see on Facebook if you must. This post is getting looooong. Sadly, I also somehow neglected to get a picture with uber nice others I spent some time with and adored: Alexia Chamberlynn, Elena Solodow, Stephanie Loree, Elizabeth Briggs and Neil Gaiman. :( Actually, I didn't spend time with Neil--not sure why.

Here is me saying goodbye to San Diego by jumping into the fountain.


If it's not obvious, cons (especially WFC) are really just an excuse to tax deduct your vacation. See you next year in Toronto.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Need

Haiti medical  team, 2011

Some of you probably already know that in January I'm volunteering to serve as part of a medical mission in Haiti. I know, I'm still a little shocked, too. Here I am, a non-medical person needed on a medical mission. Blows my mind. I couldn't really explain why I said yes. Or even all the steps that led to it. Everything just kind of...happened. But I can tell you how I feel. Most of the time, I'm excited and just can't wait to get out there.

Haitians waiting for medical care
But sometimes? I'm really, really scared. I don't know what all I'll be facing. It'll be unnerving, I'm sure--we'll be dealing with abject poverty. Sick people. Wounded. Hungry. Tired. Diseased. Hurting.


It's the hurting that will get to me.
For laundry, bathing, drinking


So many struggling just to eat day to day or to find clean drinking water. Of course, cholera is an issue there, so we'll see some of that, too.

The first day, we'll hike three hours up a mountain to reach a remote village that might not otherwise ever receive medical care. It's hard work, this mission, where we'll carry our supplies on our backs, be on our feet most of the day, staying in open air quarters. But whatever. That's nothing compared to what so many Haitians have to deal with on a daily basis.


And there's an orphanage on site, where I'm going. So we'll be surrounded by children, which, oh my word, how awesome, right? Their laughter. Their little hands. Even the teenagers with their heavy-lidded eyes and shy smiles...love it.

But these are not children like so many of our children. My children have me. No doubt. They know when they need me, I'm there. Any time, all the time. When they're hurting or angry or happy, I'm there. Always. But these kids?

They say sometimes the children will line up just to sit on your lap. That they'll follow you around talking and talking in creole, waiting for a smile from you or a laugh or a kind word they don't understand or for you to hold your arms out so they can jump into them.

This infant's life was saved last year
They know that when the foreigners come with their medical supplies, that they come not with candy or toys or any of the things that could be destructive giving, but with medicine to help them...and hands to hold. Every inch of my heart breaks at the thought of that kind of need. And yet I want to go, more than anything. I want to hold the hand of someone who needs it.

These Haitians? It calls to me, their need. So. I will go.

But I can't do it alone.

As part of this mission, all serving are required to get immunizations and raise enough to cover our plane tickets and stay in the meager accommodations as well as money for RX meds and supplies for the mission. Additionally, we're expected to bring as much over-the-counter medicine as we can carry. Right now, I'm short. Like, by a lot. I need to raise at least $400 more. And I have all of 13 boxes of OTC meds. I'm desperate enough that I've finally done what a couple of my friends have been telling me to do, and I'm turning to you for help.

So what I'm asking of you is to search deep inside yourself and do only what you can. Of course, your emotional support is just as valuable to me as anything else, but if you can spare even a dollar, less than the cost of a cup of coffee, that's a box of children's vitamins from the dollar store--at minimum. Because we also have pharmaceutical connections and can purchase RX drugs and supplies at cost, so that $20 can support the medical needs of something like 60 Haitians for over a month. Seriously. An American family can blow that in one meal eating out. If you feel that you can, please click on the Paypal Donate button to donate funds for this medical mission, as little or as much as you like.





But please. Only what you can. In exchange, we're trying to procure Internet in Haiti so that I can blog about what we're doing while we're there--and so you can see how your support is helping. But I'll ask you only to do what you feel is right, what you feel moved to do. Dude, just reading and tuning in, caring about the welfare of others, thinking about how connected we really are--that's huge, too.

Anyway, this has been a really hard post for me to write. How do I convey a need I feel inside myself in such a way you might feel it, too? I don't know, honestly. I don't. When you look at these eyes, do you feel it?


It's piercing, isn't it?

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Information about my trip in January


Locale: Medical clinic volunteers for Mission Haiti Medical will reside on the compound of L’Eglise De Dieu Reformee in Saintard, Haiti. Saintard is a small village in the Arcahaie region of Haiti, about 30 miles northwest of Port AuPrince, Haiti’s capital.

Accommodations: Accommodations are meager and volunteers are asked to share rooms with other volunteers. The sleeping quarters are open-air, but protected from rain by an overhead roof. Running water for the restroom and showers is used conservatively. Clean drinking water is provided at all times. Electricity and telephone services are unreliable and availability cannot be guaranteed.

Schedule: A Mission Haiti Medical work camp lasts 7-10 days. Three to five days are devoted to mobile clinics, in which the team travels to a rural area to provide a one-day clinic. These are full days and may involve driving through rough terrain and a few hours of mountain hiking. A mobile clinic requires medical professionals, but also relies on a team of persons to assist with procedures,
crowd control, and dispensing medications.
Language: The spoken language is Haitian Creole. Interpreters are used in the clinics.

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THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT. Seriously. Even just stopping by, reading, commenting. Huge.



***Please note, in order to prevent unscrupulous people from attempting a scam...while there might be others directing you to my site, I'm only accepting paypal donations from my blog/Facebook for my medical mission.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How to Prevent Your Own Google Account Hijacking

On November 2, just as I was getting all set to return to the online world after an on-off (but mostly off) sabbatical, I discovered that someone had hacked into my email and spammed every one of my contacts, pretending to be me having been robbed at gunpoint, stranded in Spain and in desperate need of money and lessons in English grammar. But they didn't just "borrow" my email, these hackers. They hijacked my entire Google account. And by this, I mean these jackholes changed my password, of course. And then they removed my secondary  (Yahoo) email, backup phone number and security question, all of which were security measures I put into place so that I could recover my account if I ever lost access to it. They also added their own email and backup phone number to my account. AND these jackholes also hacked my secondary email and then proceeded to spam everyone from my second account.And then they hacked my Facebook. Ouch.

Thankfully, they didn't change any of the password recovery info on the secondary Yahoo email, so we were able to recover this account right away--only to discover they'd deleted every single email and all of my contacts (presumably so I couldn't contact my friends to tell them about the scam). I did manage to recover my Facebook as well, but only because they didn't alter my security question. My primary email (gmail), however, was lost to me. As well as everything else linked to my Google account, including...this blog (and my Youtube, Google groups, Google+, all Google documents, and anything that required me to use my email info to log in). You can imagine what a damaging loss this is. Professionally, I was left exposed, turned into a quivering mass of vulnerability. Talk about demoralizing. I had no way to contact Google, no recourse for recovery except a stupid Google form I had to fill out to prove I was the owner of my Google account (which means having to remember the exact date I opened my Google account, who sent me my gmail invite, when I opened my blog and Google groups, etc.). I filled out this form three times before Google finally disabled my blog, pending an investigation.

Friday, I managed to recover my Google account finally. Clearly I'm not the hacker impersonating Carol--you can tell probably by my correct use of "demoralizing" and commas and the absence of begging for money (wait until tomorrow).

Okay, so, what's the deal, right? Why did they do this? Money, of course. After some research, I've discovered this is a really common scam/hackjob. And a very sophisticated one. Poor grammar aside, this email actually gave a number of my contacts pause, worried I was actually hurt and penniless in Spain . Intelligent people do fall for this because of their own big hearts (and end up providing their own info and money), which is why the jackholes keep doing it. Their programs/viruses work really fast in a really invasive way, and the scam emails are much better written and thought out now, urgent and designed to appeal to bleeding hearts.

Why did they attack me? Random probably. I did happen to have a $#!%load of contacts in both my emails, so mega score for the hackers. Chances are, though, I logged into a fake Google page which phished my password, and in a heartbeat, everything was gone.

What can you do to prevent your Google account from getting hacked? Or any email? So many of us have Google accounts which we use to access a load of programs. Get your Google (or Yahoo) account hijacked, and you're seriously SCREWED. But there are steps you can take to prevent this from happening.

1. Provide Password Recovery Info: That means a secondary email, backup phone number(s), and security questions and answers. Obviously, though, this isn't foolproof, as I did this. If they hack your password, they can change all of this. So...


2.  In Google, you can also turn on 2-Step verification, which requires you to type in a verification code if you're accessing your Google account from anywhere other than your primary computer. This will require you to add a primary phone number and then a secondary backup phone number, to which the codes will be sent. Certain applications (such as iphone, Blackberry, or Android) will require a special application specific password if you're trying to log in with one of those. It's not convenient, of course. But it is safer. If I'd had this turned on, even with my password, hackers would've had to have my cell phone in their hands to access my account. NOTE: you can turn off and on 2-Step verification as you please; and Google does provide you with Backup codes that you can save in case you ever need to provide a verification code and don't have access to our phone(s).


3. DO NOT USE THE SAME PASSWORD for every account, application, and program. I know, I know, who wants to remember a million passwords? So much more convenient to have a single password for everything. But whatever program these hackers used was sophisticated enough to find every account associated with my gmail account and attempt to hack in with the same password. Thus, I also lost my secondary email, my Facebook, and my blog, and every account/program linked to them. Now, I have a list of passwords written down and in a text file I keep on my desktop and on a removable hard drive. Those passwords are also a billion miles long with symbols, numbers, and letters. I merely copy and paste when I need them.

4. EVERY time you prepare to log into an account, just take a quick glance at the URL of the sign-in page. Make sure it looks right and that you haven't just been redirected to a fake URL which mimics the real one. If it has an @ symbol in the URL, be wary. Double check the spelling of words in the address, too (www.gimail.com versus www.gmail.com). Best way to ensure you get a legitimate web address is to type in the URL yourself.

5. You can further protect your Yahoo accounts by creating a special Sign-in Seal for every computer you own. Go to your Yahoo "Account Info" and there you will find a link to create a Sign-in Seal (customized badge) that will appear in the top right corner every time you go to your Yahoo sign-in page. Then if you don't see that badge, you may have landed on a fake sign-in page that could phish your password.

5. Don't be lazy or vain or naive. Don't assume that you're not at risk. Phishing/hacking/hijacking doesn't only happens to stupid people who do dumb stuff like click on obvious spam links and search porn. Anyone can become a victim. Phishing schemes are becoming more and more sophisticated the wiser and more tech savvy we become as online users.

6. You can learn more about phishing schemes and how to prevent this sort of thing by checking out this page from Outlook. It's worth it to stop by, guys, and take a few precautions. It doesn't take long, and can save you serious misery.



What do you do if your account gets hacked/hijacked? Besides break things and curse Google to no end and write majorly gory hacker death scenes?

1. Attempt to do a Password Reset immediately before your password recovery information is deleted. If you're too late, you will need to:

2. Fill out an Account Recovery Form (this is what it's called in Google. Yahoo has something similar, I think). The questions on this are tough. Just answer to the best of your ability, providing as much accurate information as you can remember. If you don't get a response right away, fill out another form. You'll need to be patient as this may be a long wait, but be persistent. Hound their arses. And make it clear that you believe the account has been compromised so that they disable the account while it's being investigated to prevent hackers from using it.




When you recover your account,

1. First, change your passwords and do everything I said that you need to do to prevent this from happening again.

2. Double check to make sure any secondary email accounts and phone numbers that have been added by the hacker for their own password recovery purposes are removed from your account settings. If not, remove them.

3. Also, go into your mail settings (under "Forwarding and POP/IMAP") and double check to make sure that your messages are not getting forwarded to a secondary email that you did not yourself add (this was the case for me!), and then under "Accounts and Import" make sure no third party email still has access to your account.

4. Prepare to work your butt off to recover everything you lost while your account was hijacked, including all your emails and your contacts, which will likely have been deleted.



*********************
Hope this doesn't happen to you. Sucks so hard, I can't even tell you.

Anyone else have any good tips on preventing any hacking/hijacking? Stories to share?


EDIT 4/10/12:

I think I finally discovered exactly how my gmail was hacked. I used to have both a Gmail account and a Yahoo account that used to be linked (each account was added to the other account to be used in the event I was unable to access one or the other account); and the accounts also used to have the same password. Occasionally, I would get (and continue to get) an email notification to my Gmail inbox that looks as if it is from Yahoo indicating that my Yahoo account information has been changed. But when I look closely, it is not my actual Yahoo account, but one perhaps similar with my name. There is always a link that I am supposed to click to investigate the changes. Clicking on the link directs me to a fake login page where I'm supposed to insert my Yahoo login information. My login information would then be phished and my Yahoo account immediately hacked. When I fell for this scam before, because my Gmail account also had the same password as my Yahoo account, the hackers were able to hack directly into my Gmail account using the same password, and then both of my accounts were compromised.

If you receive such an email indicating that your account information has been changed, do not click on the link. Rather open up a new window, insert the URL yourself and investigate the issue on your own. You will likely find that nothing has been changed.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Exposed

So.

I got sick this summer. And progressively sicker and sicker as fall came and wore on. Enough that I struggled to keep up my home and volunteer obligations. Enough that I couldn't always get out of bed. And a lot of days, I couldn't get much work done. Writing about something other than books was even tougher (hence, the glaring absence of such posts). I couldn't always think straight or even find the words for basic things ("Put the...thing in the...thing," I would say.) It took a lot of effort to read, let alone write a review. A post that used to take me an hour or two to write was taking me days--most of the time, I gave up. And then responding to comments became tougher because it took so much concentration, more than my fatigued body and mind could handle.

You can imagine what it felt like to stare at my own book, my own words, unable to make much sense of it all. Along came depression, yeah? That's what happens to a writer that can't write. I can tell you it sucks feeling broken.

But, I'm doing better now. Awesome, huh? While I still struggle to pull the late nights I was accustomed to, I'm a much happier person, feeling good. I was even able to go to the World Fantasy Convention last week (picture post to come soon). It didn't take much, really. Now that we know what was wrong.

Still, I feel sad that I've let so much time pass between you and me. I feel like I've neglected our friendship...like with those of you waiting for giveaway results or for books or correspondence from me; I'm especially sorry about that [on that note, I've finally posted the winner of the signed AUDITION and the winners of the signed JAY ASHER books]. I can't promise that I'll be able to post regularly, but I can promise that I'll give it my best shot. I hope you still want to be friends.

Anyway, I wasn't going to say anything. I'm not all that comfortable sharing this kind of stuff. Any kind of personal stuff, actually. I've always felt very protective of my private life (It's not because I have photos on my phone à la Scarlett Johansson. Probably.) You might have noticed, too, I rarely talk about my writing, which ranks right up there with my family and home life as PRIVATE-PERSONAL-CONFIDENTIAL-DO-NOT-TOUCH. Having any sort of online presence makes me feel...hm. Vulnerable? No, that's not the right word. Naked? Protective? I can't explain it, maybe.

Since I started this blog, I've taken regular, long breaks from it, usually when I'm feeling a little overexposed. Is it a writer thing, you think? Or...probably just a weird personality quirk, huh? I see some writer/bloggers who don't seem to have a problem talking about their Real Life lives, especially their writing. It's admirable, really. But my writing is like, I don't know--like my soul? Is that too melodramatic? I'm not sure if my resistance to sharing it or anything about it is born out of insecurity or self confidence or supremely anal perfectionism or clever marketing. Maybe all the above. But I do know this isn't likely to change, at least not until there's a book to promote, in which case you might be like, WTF, Carol? Or maybe even, You write? Or, I thought you weren't a real person.

P.S. I'll try not to get sucky sick again. But chances are, if it happens again, you'll probably not know about it unless I feel guilty for neglecting you. Sorry...