Tales from the Missing and Endangered Trail

In the past, when I’ve gone off on book tours for two to three weeks at a time, the blogs I’ve written in transit have been dispatches from the trail. I don’t see why this tour should be any different.

It’s pub day. Rather than heading out with suitcase and red pen in hand, I’m sitting in front of a glowing fireplace with Jojo on the hassock next to my knee. She incurred a serious back injury fourteen months ago. Thanks to a skilled surgeon, Jojo can now make it up to and down from the hassock, with the help of a carefully positioned foot stool. She can also manage the doggy door on her own, something for which I am very thankful.

Several people have already written to say they’re enjoying reading Missing and Endangered, including two who have already finished it. Many thanks to all those early adopters.

Had I been going on an in-person tour, I would have been doing so after Mother Nature dumped more than a foot of snow on the Seattle area over the weekend and sent areas in the South into the deep freeze as well. So yes, I’m relieved to be at home and not concerned about flight cancellations and transportation issues, but I’m worried nonetheless. I’ve been sitting here stewing about tonight’s upcoming Facebook Live presentation for Poisoned Pen.

First of all, allow me to say that students and families stuck with the disaster known as “Virtual Learning” have my utmost sympathy. I’ve had any number of virtual malfunctions in the past several months, an ongoing condition I’ve come to call Zoomageddon. The interview scheduled for this past Saturday morning serves as a prime example.

For one thing, there are all kinds of different platforms for these events and none of them seem to operate in the same fashion. In the case of Saturday’s interview, I was told the host would send me an email that morning which would include a link that would enable me to sign in. I was also informed that earbuds were recommended. I wrote back saying that hearing aids and earbuds, like hearing aids and face masks, are counter-indicated.

On Saturday morning, I bounded out of bed, showered, fixed my hair and makeup, donned suitable attire and was ready to rumble. As advertised, the email with the link arrived in due time. I had been told that the platform the program was using was dead simple to operate. It wasn’t.

It turns out I have a long history with the words “dead simple.” I’m a liberal arts major. I expect things like computers to simply … well … work. I’m not a big fan of reading directions. My husband, Bill, is a retired electronics engineer and he ALWAYS reads directions. By the way, in 1968, while working as a EE for Motorola, Bill led the team that put together the radio components to create the first-ever cell phone, that gray-brick version that finally went on sale in the late eighties. In other words, Bill is the tech savvy member of the family. Whenever I go whining to him with a computer issue because I can’t get the machine to do what I want, he’ll give me an exasperated “guy” look and say, “Why do you make things so hard for yourself? This is dead simple.” Over the years I’ve let it be known that if I ever knock of a EE in one of my mysteries, the book will be called Dead Simple.

Back to Saturday morning. The email came in. Bill read the directions and it said the platform didn’t support iPads. So using the laptop was it. When we logged onto the link we were told we needed to choose one of two browsers—Chrome or Firefox. I don’t use either one. I tried downloading Chrome a year or so, and it immediately crashed my trusty MacBook Air. Bill got it running again, eventually, but only after another one of those “dead simple” dramas.

Chrome is a Google creation that isn’t user-friendly as far as I’m concerned. When I first started writing in the early eighties, Google didn’t even exist. For a long time I wrote in Word Perfect, first on an Eagle—dual floppy, 128 K of memory—and later on a series of Toshiba laptops. Word Perfect was perfect for me, but Windows was always lurking in the background waiting to screw me over at every opportunity. I’ll never forget the afternoon I hit the wrong button in my database. The screen suddenly filled up with images of skulls and crossbones while the words FATAL ERROR flashed on the screen. Dead Simple? You bet!

Then one day in the early 2000s, Microsoft announced that they were introducing a new operating system, one that would no longer support Word Perfect. I always have to work my way through a series of V-words —Voyages, Vacations, Visions, Visitations—before I arrive at the right one—Vista. At that point, Bill told me that if I upgraded to Vista, he was no longer going to function as my IT guy. Faced with that grim prospect, I moved to Apple and, after a few early missteps, I’ve been happily at work in Pages ever since. As for Microsoft? I like to tell people, “I don’t do windows—either kind.”

On Saturday then, with Chrome no longer under consideration, we opted for FireFox, but first we had to download it and make it my “preferred” browser. It isn’t! But even then, with Bill following all directions to the letter, we were unable to make that supposedly “dead simple” platform work. We eventually had to switch over to Zoom in order to make it happen. And in the course of that hour’s worth of technical agony, I learned that the resulting interview would be audio only! Grrr!

Shortly after another presentation which had been preceded by a miserable hour or so of tripping down Diagon Alley, someone wrote to me to suggest that I might try having run-throughs in advance so I wouldn’t look so nervous. Well, yes, on that occasion I’m pretty sure my facial expressions were akin to those on someone who has just swallowed a persimmon. But the truth is, advance run-throughs aren’t always possible which is why I’m keeping my fingers crossed about tonight.

As I’ve been writing this, I’m reminded of a much earlier book tour, one that happened in the late eighties. I was still at home and doing local events. That week Bill’s sister, Ann, and her husband, Roger, were visiting from out of town. Ann and I were finishing a batch of apricot freezer jam, when someone called and to remind me that I was due at a radio interview in downtown Seattle in half an hour. I whipped off my apron, grabbed my purse and car keys, and headed for the door.

“Wait,” Ann called. “Don’t you need to change clothes and put on some makeup?”

“Nope,” I replied. “It’s radio.”

That happened long before the era of the Internet and podcasts, but thinking about it today made me laugh. I hope it does the same for you.

Now it’s time to get dressed, put on my makeup, and break a virtual leg.

It’ll be dead simple

PS. I wrote the above on Tuesday during the day while being plagued with opening night jitters.  It’s Thursday afternoon now.  I believe the virtual event went well, but you’re welcome to judge for yourself.  The event is not yet posted on YouTube, but here’s a link if you missed seeing it live and would like to view it on line: https://poisonedpen.podbean.com/e/ja-jance-1613598147/