How I Met The Spyders

How I Met The Spyders

Hello!

First of all, I’d like to thank Holly for giving me this opportunity to interact with her readers.


I’m Apeksha Rao, a YA author from India, and I’m here to talk to you about my debut novel, Along Came A Spyder.

Guys, if I had a penny for the number of times I’ve been told to “show, not tell”, I’d be zipping around the world in my own private jet. Only in non-COVID times, though, since India is still in lockdown.

So, in the interests of “show, not tell,” I’d like you to meet a kick ass group of teenagers from Mumbai – The Spyders.

Meet The Spyders
These girls are juvenile covert operatives, which is just fancy-speak for teen spies!

Along Came A Spyder is a book about a seventeen year old girl, Samira Joshi, who wants to be a spy.

Samira Joshi

When she accidentally discovers a secret sisterhood of teen spies, she wants in! The question is, do they want her?

The answer to that lies within the pages of my book, Along Came A Spyder.

For updates on the release date, do check out my book page.

Contrary to popular belief, I. Am. Not. A. Spy.

Because, simply writing about spies does not a spy make. I should know.

I spent most of my teen years convinced that I was deep undercover for R&AW, India’s foreign intelligence agency.

I waited and waited for my handler to find me, until I made peace with the fact that my level of klutziness did not recommend itself to espionage.

Meh.

I decided to do something even cooler than being a spy. I decided to create my own spies.

I just didn’t plan on writing about them, because I wanted to be a doctor.

Well, I grew up and became a homœopath, set up my practice, and like the adult that I was supposed to be, put away my writing dreams.

Until… I gave birth to twins.

Motherhood gave me the courage to start writing again, because if I didn’t follow my dreams, how could I teach my kids to follow theirs?

I knew that if I ever wrote a book, it had be about spies. I’d been researching that topic for years, after all.

Hey, reading spy novels totally counts as research!

My obsession for teenage spies has led me from tiny pieces of flash fiction to a full novel, the first in a series of four books, and I hope to write a lot more in the same line.

In my next post, I will give you a peek into the world of The Spyders.
Stay tuned!

Mother, Touchstone, Friend

Mother, Touchstone, Friend

We mothers – we are merely rudders, guiding our children’s ships through the storms and over the turbulent seas of life – we guide them as steadily and as best we can, but we are not the only influence that determines the outcome of the journey…

Who am I today? I am a woman, a daughter, a wife and mother, a writer. I am confident with unexpected moments of self-doubt, calm with occasional thunderstorms, selfish but generous, affectionate but reserved, intelligent with a few Swiss-cheese holes in my brain, rational but prone to flights of fancy, a dreamer with her feet planted on the ground – and I see none of that as contradictory. I am my mother’s daughter.

mom-childMy mother nurtured me with love and learning. My parents married young, with the understanding that both would attend and graduate from college. Did having a baby at nineteen deter my mother from her commitment? No! She told me once that my earliest bedtime stories were chapters from her college Psych texts. If I am determined, efficient, and able to multitask, it’s because I was raised by a woman who could study, cuddle an infant, and read to her child simultaneously!

Astrologers might argue that the Pisces child, born on a Sunday, so near the pull of the ocean’s tides would naturally be gifted with creativity and a vivid imagination. But I contend that any innate creativity and imagination I possessed was nurtured by a mother who got down on the floor and played with me, allowing herself to be cast in the thousands of roles I invented for her. My love of writing was sparked when she installed a bulletin board in my room, and daily pinned a writing prompt – a quote, a photo, some whimsical item – to it, and supplied me with endless reams of paper and a variety of pens. She later insisted that I learn to type; much, much later, I thanked her for it.

SLS-Gr1-croppedI have a great appreciation for languages. If I can’t speak fluent French today, it’s not my mother’s fault! My mom’s answer to a whiny eight-year-old who cried out, “I’m bored!” was to enroll her in private French lessons at Berlitz. Latin was a 7th grade elective; my mom elected it for me. If I believed that college was just an extension of a child’s compulsory education, it was my mom’s doing – she was still working towards her Master’s degree when I was twelve! She made reading and studying seem as natural as breathing, as essential as eating. Blame my mother for the fact that I started college at age twelve – the early French lessons, her schedule of classes from Kent State lying open on the bed, and my natural curiosity combined: “Do you think they’d let me take French I?” Well, why not? With three years of French under my belt and both of my parents there to support my request, doors opened – and I was enrolled in summer school!

mom-deb-portraitOkay, maybe I can’t speak French fluently today, despite eight years of lessons – but I have learned to entertain myself! If I love Oldies, it’s because my mother handed down her 45 RPM records and a phonograph; if my tastes are eclectic, it’s because she also made sure I attended the symphony and the ballet, met Beverly Sills, saw Linda Ronstadt and The Irish Rovers in concert, and took piano lessons. If I can appreciate fine art, it’s because one of my mother’s most cherished books was Jansen’s History of Art – and because she saw to it that I got to tour the Louvre.

While my mother built my confidence and self-esteem, she took care never to talk down to me, never to sugar-coat the truth, never to inflate my ego unrealistically so that the world at large could tear down what she had so carefully built. All her life, I could rely on my mother to be a trustworthy touchstone: she was an honest critic as well as a staunch supporter. If I am happy, content with who I am, it’s because my mother never allowed me to believe that my best wasn’t good enough. If I am able to appreciate constructive criticism and learn from it, it is because I had a mother who dished it out with love.

Three decades years ago, I became a mother, myself. When I held my daughter in my arms, I realized the awesome responsibility my mother took on at the tender age of nineteen. For the first time, it hit me just how much I was loved. And that’s when I knew that the debt I owed her was marked “payable to my grandchildren,” and I know that it’s probably one that I can never fully repay.

july-2001grandpaWhen my mom died – on Valentine’s Day, 2002 – I lost not only my mother, but my best friend. Though she always insisted “It’s not my job to be your friend – I’m your mother,” she couldn’t help but be both. I miss her, especially on Mother’s Day, but because of her, I am strong enough to wipe away the tears, smile, and go boldly forward in my own journey of motherhood.

It’s a wild ride, with all the crazy ups and downs of a world-class rollercoaster. But I am thankful for every minute of it, and I am so proud of the people my children are becoming.

The Inconstant Blogger

The Inconstant Blogger

It is a poorly-kept secret that I have been writing “elsewhere” and not on this blog, the last couple of weeks.  My friend Rasheed Hooda, who once declared me Queen of the No-Niche Bloggers, likes to do to me what I so blithely do to others. Like the Pied Piper, but instead of a flute he balloon-twists his way through the Internet, leaving breadcrumbs and nudging and cajoling until it’s hard not to follow his wanderings. This time, he lured me back to Medium, where I had an account, circa 2015, but only as a reader.

An Accidental Writing Portfolio?

I had stumbled onto the site long ago – The Atlantic has a presence there – and that may be where I first read work by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Is it any wonder, then, that I had never ventured to write, there? I had not seen Medium as it is widely regarded – as a blogging platform. And as a writer who viewed Medium as a platform for more serious, professionally vetted and edited writing, can you imagine my horror at returning there to learn that every comment is treated as a Story? That people had actually “clapped” for some of the passing comments I’d left behind? I had…followers. A lot of followers. 1,277 of them, as of this moment. I’d already built an audience there, without even trying.

Who were these people and why were they following me? Mostly, I think, they were writers, hoping that I would follow them back. But of course, I hadn’t. I hadn’t returned to Medium at all in about three years. I followed everyone back, indiscriminately. And then I deleted all my Stories – my comments. I tested the waters by re-posting an old blog post. A few readers, there, liked it.

And then Rasheed started nudging. Join the Medium Partner Program, he nudged. Maybe it’ll be another income stream, he suggested. I’m all for getting paid to write, but I had no intention of publishing listicles and formulaic blog posts like “8 Things You’re Doing Wrong with Your Life – Pay Special Attention to Number 6,” just to earn a few pennies. Been there, done that: Themestream, Redpaper, Vines… The idea of micropayments, tiny amounts of cash in return for the time spent reading an article – the challenge of holding a reader’s attention long enough to earn a payment for the work – has its appeal. But I was still determined to be worthy of rubbing elbows with writers published in The Atlantic.

I’m Not a Hack, I’m a Busker!

pink and white concrete building

By January, that first “dip-a-toe-in-the-water” story that I’d posted had earned a whole penny. Dreadful.

Then came The Great Pause. Celebrities showed up on TikTok and Instagram and competed for attention with ordinary, but extraordinarily creative, people. They came without make-up or camera crews, and they came with bad lighting and laundry baskets in view. The originality was breathtaking. “We’re all in this together!” we all proclaimed, but almost as soon as we shouted the hurrah, it was clear that we were not, in fact, “all in this together.” The real celebrities still had more expensive homes, even if they tried filming from their walk-in closets. Pandemic brought into sharp relief the differences that separated us: wealth, “essentialness,” ideology, sense of duty, sense of humor, maturity. Who had the capacity to find the silver linings among the scraps of rust; who could turn rust into useful things? And, if nothing else, who had the capacity to entertain themselves and not be bored under #StaySafeStayHome orders?

Normally, I’d have relished the quiet, the solitude, the ability to sleep in late without guilt. I had plans, too. Vague, but serious, plans. I was going to write a novel, finally. But now, it wasn’t a choice, and I felt less inspired, less creative, less imaginative than I’d envisioned my April self. I felt like a small boat, anchored, motor running, with no one at the helm. Rudderless. There were no waves, just little circular ripples.

So. Why not try Medium as a writer, for a change? Why not. 

Busking is performance art. So is impromptu collaboration, as you can see here:

View at Medium.com

two biplane on flightThat was fun.

So Where Am I Going with This?

I still don’t see Medium as a “blogging platform,” even if that’s what it is. Jahangiri.us is my website, and Medium never will be. It’s more like a warm-up area before the performance. As is this, in a way – but I control it. My original plan was to use Medium to increase readership on my own blog. I know that Amy Marley gets that; I think she’s the only reader from Medium who ever followed me from there to here – and that’s probably because I’m one of the few who went straight from her bio on Medium to her own blog.

I think that I have widened my reach and found a new audience for my writing, but there is little cross-pollination. “Build it, and they will come,” is utter bullshit. Marketing and PR are exhausting.

It’s not my intention to drag you, Constant Reader, over there. Although I have done exactly that, to at least two of you – and I don’t think you were disappointed. You will find some of Medium’s best articles tucked behind their paywall, including most of the ones I publish there. But even a few of those are free each month whether you choose to pay the $5/month membership fee, or not. Much of that is distributed to the writers whose work you spent time reading (so no skimming, okay?) My plan is to use whatever pennies I earn busking over there to support my own $5/month Medium membership and maybe help pay for the domain and hosting fees (about $250/year) here.

I’m Not a “Joiner,” but It’s Nice to Find a Writing Community

I’m not big on writing groups, but that’s probably just because it’s hard to find the right one. To build a sense of community isn’t easy, and why would you trade reads and edits with people you don’t feel a sense of kinship with?

Shortly after dragging me over to Medium, Rasheed coaxed me, like a wild bird, over to a Publication called, “ILLUMINATION.” Its founder, Dr. Mehmet Yildiz, has the sort of boundless energy for promoting himself and others that you might attribute to a whole team of PR people. He, himself, swears it has something to do with the strength of his mitochondria, and I can’t quibble – whatever it is, no amount of vitamin supplements is giving it to me. I became a contributor there, and to two other publications: Writers Blokke and The Bad Influence. In the process, I’ve made writer-friends. I’ve connected more with my Facebook friend, Bob Jasper, who is spreading his wings over on Medium as a writer – I’m not the only one Rasheed plays Pied Piper to!

I’ve also learned how to use and administer Slack workspaces, and started building my own little community of writers – independent of Medium or WordPress or YouTube or any other platform, just a small community of friends who don’t talk about the horrors of the day. We write about them, if we must, but for the most part, we’re pretty determined to write about the worlds that live in imagination or the silver linings we’ve found and want to share. We don’t just trade links and outrage and mutual despair. We trade links to say, “Hey, I made this thing. Come lookit!” like excited nine year olds. Because we’re starting to feel energized and creative, and having fun with that, again.

 

How to Use Flipboard: Curated Content & Feed Reader

How to Use Flipboard: Curated Content & Feed Reader

What is Flipboard?

Flipboard is a place to discover and share content you enjoy. “Over the years,” they say, “in partnership with the world’s greatest publishers and with you, our community, we’ve built a curated experience with a plurality of voices, where people can find quality stories on any interest, investing in their lives and their passions.”

Flipboard is curated by individuals, like you and me, and by publishers, like CNN or your favorite bloggers. Including me.

How to Sign Up

Signing up with Flipboard is easy. Just go to flipboard.com. You can Sign up using the link at the bottom of this dialog, or you can sign in using Facebook, Google, Twitter, or a registered email account if you already have one.

Click on your profile picture (or the gray circle) at the upper right corner of the screen to display the drop-down menu shown below:

Click Profile. Here’s an example of what you might see – but with fewer Magazines, until you create some!

Start by clicking Make a New Magazine (the first square below Magazines). Add a Title and give it a Description. If you want to keep your Magazine private and not publicly viewable and shareable, click to deselect the checkbox next to Public – let everyone see my magazine.

Next, start flippin’! There are several ways to do this:

Browser extension:

Share buttons (if available on the website – see the bottom of this post, for example, and feel free to try it out):

Manually, using the URL and the pencil icon (upper right corner, next to the magnifying glass – search icon) on Flipboard:

Use any of those, and you will see this dialog (if you are using the last method listed above, you’ll be asked to enter the URL; the other methods will prepopulate the link and show a preview image):

You can, optionally, add a comment – perhaps a note about why you found the content interesting or why you think others might enjoy it. Then, click Flip (or Cancel).

What is a Publisher on Flipboard?

In theory, any producer of content with an RSS feed can apply to be a Publisher. This allows you to automatically publish RSS feeds to a Magazine (you’ll see one additional option, Source, in your Magazine options). Make sure that the content meets Flipboard’s standards before applying, and have your RSS feed URL handy. When I applied, several years ago, review and approval took months. Be patient, if you do decide to apply.

How to Sign Up as a Publisher

Click on your profile picture (or the gray circle) at the upper right corner of the screen to display the drop-down menu shown below:

 

Click Settings. Scroll down to the Account Settings section, then click Become a publisher.

You will need to add an RSS feed to your publication, and wait for Flipboard to review your application.

 

Notifications? Really?

Notifications? Really?

I finally started using Microsoft’s Snip & Sketch utility – the coming replacement for the old Snipping Tool in Windows. You can open it from the Start menu or Windows Logo Key + Shift +S. If you don’t have it already, download it from the Microsoft Store. It’s free, and it’s convenient. I was resistant, but this little app slowly converted me into a fan, at least while I was on my work PC.

At home, I had other tools: Paintshop Pro, for one. It was easier just to prt sc,  paste the whole thing into Paintshop Pro, add annotations, and crop out the bits I didn’t want, than to use the Snipping Tool to snip the bits I did want and then edit in the annotations.

I’d only recently started using the little known, built-in Snipping Tool, when Microsoft shoved Snip & Sketch in my face and said, basically, “Wanna try it now? We’re going to force you to switch, pretty soon! Get a preview, now, before we do that!” They still haven’t forced anyone to switch, as of this writing, and it’s been years. At least three of them. Two, since the utility last had an update. @Microsoft, if you’re reading this, we don’t all have a touchscreen and stylus – please make it easier to add text to the snip.

Why Does It Work Differently on Different Laptops?

I liked the way Snip & Sketch worked on my work PC. I hated the way it worked on my home PC. The shortcut key to open the utility was the same on both: Windows Logo Key + Shift + S. But at work, this opened a new window for Snip & Sketch to add annotations and highlight things. At home, all this did was let me snip – and whatever bit I snipped was available only on the clipboard until I used Ctrl + C or made another “snip”! The only way to capture a snippet of the screen and edit it in Snip & Sketch (this is really its main advantage over the old Snipping Tool) was to run the app, click one of the capture buttons at the upper left, capture part or all of the screen, make my edits, and save. That didn’t save me any time over other tools.

I diligently checked all the app settings. Both were the same:

The app versions were identical, as well. But just to be sure, I updated both. I even uninstalled and reinstalled a fresh copy of the app on both PCs. The behavior was unchanged: at work, the app behaved as expected; at home, not so much. I left feedback about this on the Microsoft site, but it’s hard to describe, there, what’s going on – and when Feedback says, “Hey give us a screen recording of this thing happening to you,” it miraculously appeared to work the same way on my home PC as it does on my work PC! But this only happened during screen recording – the minute I finished and closed the feedback box, thinking there was really no point leaving feedback if the app had somehow fixed itself, it went back to not working on my home PC.

I had a mystery on my hands, but no time to investigate. There was so much more interesting work to be done.

Mystery Solved, But WHY, Microsoft?

Thanks to recent retirement and the pandemic lock-down clipping my wings, I have time on my hands. I finally went on a quest to solve this mystery. Someone else’s instructions on using the app gave me a clue: They mentioned snips showing up in the Notifications and Activity pane in Windows. I rarely use or think about that pane, and I’d turned off notifications altogether, on my home PC. Could that somehow be related? Surely not…

But apparently, the behavior I wanted (which was for Snip & Sketch to work on my home PC to exactly as it does on my work PC) is tied to allowing Notifications in Windows. This is as brilliant, @Microsoft, just like only allowing Feedback from users who also allow you to run Cortana and capture all their speech and writing so you can “give them a better user experience.” That’s another nit to pick, another day – but I am tired of Cortana reactivating on my PC and randomly “listening” to my conversations. I do not want it sending my novel drafts and emails to the Mothership. And no, I did not say anything that sounds remotely like “Hey, Cortana,” so don’t even.The closest you get to that excuse is me, occasionally swearing at “Coronavirus,” and I’m starting to wonder if Cortana thinks that’s her real name.

So, to recap, Snip & Sketch works so much better if you enable Notifications in Windows. Why the app’s behavior is tied, in this way, to Notifications, I cannot begin to guess. I’d say it’s a bug. Certainly an opportunity exists, here, to “improve the user experience.” Are you listening, Coronavirus? Please pass it on to the brilliant folks at @Microsoft.

To enable Notifications:

  1. Go to Settings > System > Notifications & Actions.
  2. Turn Notifications ON, as shown below.Now, each time you create a snip by using Windows Logo Key + Shift + S, your new snip will appear as a toast notification and you can access it by clicking the notification as it pops up, or through the notifications bar.

Sure, there are other screen capture utilities out there, and some work much better, but this one’s free. It’s also great for showing people, visually and quickly, what you’re trying to explain how to do for umpteenth time on Facebook, without going to a lot of trouble to create professional-looking illustrations for a manual.

Enjoy!

 

 

Hell, I Just Killed Liam…or Murdered Murf

Hell, I Just Killed Liam…or Murdered Murf

Oh, don’t look at me like that. Liam’s a housefly, and it was a mercy killing. While we’re at it, Liam’s not his real name. His real name is Musca Domestica, or Murf, for short. At least that’s what it sounded like as I smooshed him with the wooden blinds. “Murrrrf.” And don’t think I wanted to kill one of God’s creatures – I’d spent hours trying to swoosh Liam out the door before I had to smoosh him, but what does he do? He goes over to the door and calls to his friends, then goes swooshing back with a sashay and a slight buzz and they all start to party like it’s 1999. I must’ve left an undrained wine glass out.

Next thing you know, Liam and his buddies are flitting around my face while I try to ignore all the goings on behind the blinds.

Up till then, I’d just been relieved that Liam, or Murf, wasn’t a hornet. As his shadow wizzed by me, strafing my earlobe, Liam dove between the slats of the blinds and struck glass. “Be careful,” my husband said. “I think we have a wasp in the house. Or a mosquito.”

I am used to wasps – we get one or two in the living room, every year, and every year, I grab the useless can of Hot Shot Wasp & Hornet Spray and try to drown the poor sucker in what ought to be enough poison to fell a racehorse. My couch is now saturated with toxins and one window in my house is sparkling clean because we keep having to squeegee Hot Shot off of it. The can says “Guaranteed to kill on contact,” but what it actually does, over the next forty minutes to an hour of writhing, insectoid agony, is cause the poor creature to enact a death scene worthy of a Shakespearean actor:


The poor bugger generally scoots his way slowly across the window ledge, about ten feet off the ground – flipping from his front to his back and back to his front again – then drops, slowly spiraling with one tiny leg waving, acting as an air-rudder for maximum spin. Looks like a synchronized swimmer who’s taken a header from an airplane at 35,000 feet without a parachute. Then he’ll convulse at irregular intervals, ensuring that no corpse is touched or disposed of before its time, for another twenty minutes or so. You think I’m exaggerating? Here’s actual film footage, taken from about the forty minute mark, six weeks ago:

I listened carefully. I went up to the hall balcony, where I have a view of the window-ledge from which lone hornets like to gaze longingly out the window at a world they will never, again, be a part of. There was definitely something there. Something bigger than a hornet. My husband offered binoculars, but I decided I didn’t want to know, that badly, what the something was. The point is, Liam wasn’t there. The lump, which was definitely not a breadbox and probably not a mutant wasp, wasn’t moving.  “Probably not a wasp,” I said, to my husband. “He’s not in the usual spot, plus I think I heard him go shooshing by, and he doesn’t sound big enough, or angry enough, and his little body isn’t quite hard and crunchy enough as it hits the glass. Definitely too big to be a mosquito, though.” At this point, I paused to wonder what sort of mosquito sounds big enough to be a wasp, or how my husband could have been confused on this point. Maybe I had exaggerated just a tad about how loud the previous night’s mosquito was, while it was trying to decide which of my ears to whine in. Maybe, I planted the idea in his head that we had mosquitoes that were bigger than a breadbox.

At this point, the flies start partying in earnest. I have realized that there are at least two of them, now, and their buzzing reaches an annoying crescendo. I find Liam trapped behind the wooden blinds, in the kitchen, whining piteously as he body-slams the windowpane. The other one is still flying like a drunken Kamikaze pilot around the living room, barely a shadow on my peripheral vision. I look at Liam. “Shut up, you,” I mutter. “Don’t make me squoosh you.” I make a pot of coffee and hope that a word to the flies will be sufficient. I have not noticed, yet, that there are three of them.

Eventually, the frenzied buzzing and beating of a rather large, striped fly body against my kitchen window really starts to get on my nerves, and I try to extract Liam for this trap of his own making. I rattle the blinds, hoping he’ll notice that they are open and he’s not really stuck back there unless he wants to be, which it seems he doesn’t. What do I know, right? Maybe he was just trying to taunt the robin, out in the yard, buzzing a high-pitched, “Nanny, nanny, boo-boo, no lunch for you-ooo!” But he seems lonely and in need of attention, and I think maybe if he has company, he’ll stop trying to get my attention like a temper tantrum throwing wild child. Unfortunately, I manage to hit him with one of the wooden slats. I’m pretty sure he’s injured, and we all know there’s no fly EMT circling overhead to take him to the insect hospital. I’m pretty sure the exotic animal vet would just tell me there’s nothing he could do to help Liam, so, with a twinge of guilt and torn between trying to jerry-rig a splint for his crushed leg and wing or just squooshing him and getting it over with, I reluctantly decide to put him out of his misery.

It wasn’t quick, I shudder to say. I might as well have drowned him in the Hot Shot.

The other two must’ve heard Liam’s piteous moans and they started whining and buzzing and eventually they came over to try to claim the body. “ENOUGH!” I cried, and hastened to put them all out of their misery. It’s lonely in fly quarantine, without Liam. Rest in peace, Musca Domestica.


Author’s Note: I no longer know or care what day it is, and that includes the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Rather than give up and eat bonbons, I’ll play the game my way – it’s not cheating if there are no rules, right? 

H, I, J, K, L, and M – all in one post!