Monday, April 24, 2023

On laptops and Goldilocks and repair scams

I'm not one of those writers who can write longhand. I live and die by my laptop. If it's not working, I'm not working.

A writer's best friend

Which is why I was devastated a couple months ago when my three-year-old Lenovo died. Or maybe I should say it was wounded. The laptop still powered on. It still let me open Word and stuff. But it wouldn't talk to the internet. It didn't even see my home wifi network.

In fact, just before it broke the little window that pops up showing you what networks are available started freaking out, flashing though all of them, one by one, until in a spectacular display of pixels, it crashed.

Okay, I made that pixel part up. But the laptop was totally incommunicado, at least where the Internet is concerned. I assumed the network card had blown, which could be a very pricey fix. Even just having a technician open a laptop to take a look inside can run into hundreds of dollars.

Did you ever open one up? A long time ago, on another laptop far far away, I thought I could fix a loose power cord socket. Boy, was I wrong. I was able to open the laptop, all right, but as soon as I did, the guts spilled out all over the places: cables and cords and teeny tiny chips. It's crazy how much stuff they cram inside on of those things. And even crazier for me to think that I'd be able to cram it all back in. Spoiler alert: I didn't.

But I digress.

The point is, I had no internet connection. And without the internet, I lost access to Movie Magic Screenwriter, the software I use to write my plays. (Don't get me started on Final Draft.) I needed to do something. 

Trial and (lots of) error

So I started looking for a new one. And like Goldilocks, I tried two before settling on the third. The first one, a 15.6" Lenovo, was too big. The keyboard was just a lot, and when you spend hours a day typing, typing, typing, the feel of the keys are, well, key. So back to Amazon it went.

The second, a 14" Lenovo, was the right size and the keyboard felt good, but it wasn't a touchscreen, even though Amazon said it was. And that was a showstopper. After just an hour of playing around with it, my fingers ached from using the touchpad to move the cursor around. Back that one went as well.

For the third one, I tried something radical. I went to an actual store--my local Best Buy--to try out their selection of laptops before committing to one, and I ended up taking home a 14" HP (apparently, Lenovo no longer offers a 14" laptop with a touchscreen). I'd never had an HP before, and it felt pretty good under my fingers, even though the keys were a little clunky. At the store, I practiced typing for what must have been an hour and it seemed like something I could get used to. I was sure what few typos I made would stop once I got familiar with the layout. So I bought it.

But after two months of daily usage, I was still making a lot of typos--the keyboard just never felt quite right--and I was starting to miss my Lenovo. The keys on that laptop were nearly flush with the surface and required only a very light touch. Seriously, typing on that baby made your me feel like they were gliding across a velvet cloud. 

So I decided to take the Lenovo to my nearest Data Doctors and at least find out what it would cost to fix it.

After the obligatory patronizing advice ("It could be your home network") and then confirming that the problem was in fact with the laptop, the Data Doctors guy said they'd charge me $60 to diagnose it and would offer me a little something they called...


Despite the ominous sound of that, I thought it was a reasonable deal and accepted it.

A day later, the guy calls me and says they don't know what the problem is, but they think it may be the driver and they can fix it for $250 membership which includes one year of repairs, their own cloud service (which I don't know what it is), and their own anti-virus software (ditto). I said no, I just want them to fix problem that, you know, I brought it in for. They said sorry, that was one option they didn't offer. 

So I took my laptop home. And guess what? The problem was gone. As soon as I fired it up, the Lenovo saw my home network and connected to it. Apparently the problem had been the driver, of all things, and Data Doctors happened to fix it while they ran their diagnostics. A potentially serious problem taken care of for a relatively paltry $60.

Which leads to two possibilities: 1) Data Doctors knew they'd already fixed the problem, in which case they were completely shady by attempting to strong-arm me into paying another $250 for essentially nothing, or 2) they didn't know they'd already fixed it, in which case they were completely incompetent.

I don't know which is worse.

But the bottom line is I now have two working laptops: my beloved Lenovo, and a reasonable backup in case that one crashes again.

Eat your heart out, Goldilocks.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Gopher State Bookshop welcomes all

I love this time of year. Not because of the warm weather or the flowers blooming in the garden or the birds singing in the trees (although they are nice).

No. I love this time of year because of all the spring productions.

In still another article from the Gopher State, the Kenyon Leader of wonderful Wanamingo reports that after a four-year break, Kenyon-Wanamingo Middle School will be putting on a show next weekend. 

What show, might you ask? Well, none other than The Enchanted Bookshop.

The kids are excited. Not just because they get to show off their acting skills once again, but because it provides an opportunity to rekindle friendships. Friendships that were formed four years ago during their last production.

"We did a group of about six tiny, 10-minute plays," says actor Gunner Carlstrom, remembering that long-ago show. "So I mean, that's when I really got to meet them. And so after that, our bond kind of strengthened. Nowadays, I could consider a few of them my good friends."

Co-director Blair Reynolds echoes the sentiment. "The theater department is always a place where anyone can feel welcome. It's one of the few places where kids feel like they belong, which is a great thing."

Sunny days. Songbirds. Flowers bursting out all over. And friendships, both new and old.

Looks like it's going to be a great spring. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

How to Enchant a Bookshop to be published

Every story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. That's true even when the story sprawls across several plays.

The Enchanted Bookshop was the end of the story (spoiler alert!). Of course, the play ends with the book characters disappearing into their books as they sacrifice themselves in order to save the shop. No possibility of a follow-up there.

An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas was the middle. It takes place before the original play, and although everyone knows the characters won't disappear, there's still plenty of tension as the audience wonders how the missing bookmark will be found.

But both of these plays hinted at a mysterious beginning, the story of how A Likely Story became enchanted in the first place. Sure, in the original play, Book Fairy provided a vague explanation of why she gave the gift of life to that beloved band of literary characters. But she never explained how she did it. Or how she learned the spell. Or who those first characters she brought to life were.

Which is why I wrote How to Enchant a Bookshop. Call it the origin story of the Enchanted Bookshop universe.

And that leads to an interesting story. I don't think I'm giving anything away by admitting that Pioneer Drama Service originally rejected the script. They were worried it would water down the stories I already had. And I get that. I was a little worried about that too.

But I told them I felt it was a story that to be told. Again, the beginning to the wildly popular middle and end. And they were generous enough to reconsider it.

Under one condition. That I revise it as a one-act play.

It made a lot of sense. Although The Enchanted Bookshop is relatively short for a full-length play, at sixty minutes it's too long to perform during one class period or as part of an evening of short plays. Making it a one-act would allow me to complete A Likely Story's story while opening a whole new market for Margie and friends.

The editing turned out to be a slam dunk. I cut two characters. The first was a customer who satirized those who prefer buying their books online rather than from a friendly, knowledgeable bookseller but didn't advance the plot. The second was none other that Cosette from Les Miserables, who was an interesting addition but never came alive for me on the page.

More importantly, I cut 16 pages, slimming the script from a plump 63 pages to a much more svelte 47. It wasn't as hard as you might think. Cutting those two characters accounted for about 5 of the pages and the rest came from deleting gags that didn't work (I had way too many of those!).

The result? A tight, charming, and hilarious play (if I do say so myself) that's perfect for elementary schools, not just because of its length but also because the story is lighter in tone and most of the new literary characters I added would appeal more to younger folk.

Who are those kid-skewing characters? Well, one is Cinderella, who's described in the script as "not the Disney version". The other two are the answer to that question I posed earlier: who were the first characters to be brought to life in Margie's bookshop?

And here they are:

TOM THUMB: Oh, Hunca Munca! Have you ever seen such a glorious sight?

HUNCA MUNCA: What is this place, Tom Thumb? It certainly doesn't look like the dollhouse.

TOM THUMB: No, indeed. Why, if I ventured a guess, I would say that we're in a bookshop.

HUNCA MUNCA: A bookshop? What, pray tell, is a bookshop?

TOM THUMB: A bookshop is a place where humans store books so that mice like us may dine upon them.

HUNCA MUNCA: Oh, Tom! I should so like to sample these books! They look simply scrumptious!

TOM THUMB: And so many of them! I should think we should feast for weeks!

Give up? They're the titular characters from the Beatrix Potter story, The Tale of Two Bad Mice. And boy, are they hungry!

I'm hoping some schools and community theaters will see the benefit of performing both How to Enchant a Bookshop and The Enchanted Bookshop in a single afternoon or evening. After all, the total playing time will be around an hour and 40 minutes, comparable to a normal full-length play. And they offer roles for two whole sets of casts, adding up to a whopping 41 parts!

I'm excited to see how this new play fares. Look for it to be available for the new school year this fall.