Wednesday, November 7, 2018

It's All About the Batteries

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Do you have an Alexa? I love ours. And I use it every day. Alexa, what is 270.00 divided by 20? Alexa, what day of the week is October 17 in 2020?  Alexa, how old is...well, I won't go on. Now. People who know say Alexa IS listening all the time, but only records when you say "Alexa." May...bee...

(Alexa is such a problem that I know have to THINK before I talk to my publicist, whose name is Alexis.) But I love my FitBit, and my Netflix, and  our Waze. Is that a problem? Might it be?

The fabulous, incomparable, brilliant, loving, talented and hilarious Julie Hyzy--and even those words aren't enough--is tackling technology in her amazing groundbreaking new thriller, VIRTAL SABOTAGE. Yes, that Julie Hyzy. The New York Times Best-selling Anthony-winning beyond-successful author of the White House Chef series, and the Manor of Murder series, and so many more wonderful books--has accepted another challenge. You will LOVE this book. 

And we are thrilled she's here today to tell us about it.

Technology in crime fiction, friend or enemy?

For crime fiction authors, technology is great.

Except when it isn’t. Which is why I like to think technology is crime fiction’s frenemy: supportive and fun when your manuscript is rolling along but quick to betray you when the going gets tough.

Here’s the tricky thing about devising mysteries and thrillers: A writer needs to give the villain enough room to carry out his nefarious plan and be successful, but in a way the bad guy will eventually be caught. It can’t happen right away, though. The villain needs to have a reasonable expectation of getting away with it. He will, of course. That’s what the story’s all about. 

I can’t count the number of times I’ve plotted a fictional murder and realized belatedly—and with great disappointment—that my evil plan won’t work. Most often, it’s because of technology. In one memorable draft of Virtual Sabotage, the key scene I’d envisioned involved an intricate sequence of events and precise timing. The power goes out. The phones don’t work. A character realizes he ought to call for help but can’t. I wrote the scene and was even a little bit proud of it.

When it came to my first revision, however, I wondered why the character didn’t simply use his cell phone. Duh

Okay, fine. I rewrote it. In this version another character surreptitiously pockets the cell so that the first character can’t find it.

But wait. What if the cell phone’s owner received a call or text at that very moment? Murphy’s Law says it could happen. As the author, I could keep the cell silent for the duration of the scene, but that’s not good storytelling. Too much is at stake.

A little research and—voila!—I discovered that there are devices capable of shielding cell phones from sending or receiving signals. Although technology nearly stymied me, technology came to my rescue. 

It’s getting harder to commit a crime without an audience these days. Audience = witnesses. Security cameras are perched in virtually all public spaces. At the first whiff of trouble, nearly everyone whips out a phone to start recording. And don’t get me started on Alexa, Siri, or the Internet of Things. 

Evidence is everywhere because technology is everywhere.

The immediate identification of criminals —while good for society in real life—can cause serious consternation for a crime fiction writer. A story’s climax may occur in the scene where the killer is apprehended or the criminal mastermind foiled. But readers don’t want the immediate gratification of resolution by chapter two. Where’s the fun in that? 

Technology can make it hard to write believable crime fiction.

On the other hand, where would crime fiction be without technology? From magnifying glasses to forensic microscopes; from fingerprint-matching to DNA testing; from dial phones with curly cords attached to the wall to virtual reality, technology has been detectives’ reliable partner for many years. In some ways it’s almost like they’ve grown up together.

Julie and her first...typewriter!
Consider Sue Grafton’s alphabet series and her indomitable P.I., Kinsey Millhone. When the series ended in 2017, it was 1989 in the books. Home computers, as we know them today, were still out of reach. Note cards, a telephone, a typewriter, and a car were the tools Kinsey turned to most often. By contrast, K.J. Howe’s present-day hostage negotiator, Thea Paris (The Freedom Broker, Skyjack) has a veritable arsenal of technology at her fingertips. And what she doesn’t have on hand she can obtain with call to the right person (and her negotiating skills). These women get their jobs done admirably using the tools available to them.

Contemporary crime writers eager to craft a timely and inventive tale must utilize today’s technology or risk appearing clueless. They also benefit, from the fact that as writers of fiction, we’re allowed to expand on current technology and even invent some of our own. 

Julie's daughter trying virtual reality
That’s what I’ve done in Virtual Sabotage. I’ve taken today’s virtual reality headsets and given them an upgrade. In my book, virtual reality is significantly more sophisticated than it is today. VR is everywhere in Virtual Sabotage, as ubiquitous as cell phones are now. The illusions in my fictional VR are not merely a simple display. They’re brain-generated immersive experiences that can trigger real physiological reactions from unwary participants. That’s why they need lifeguards for the brain—envoys like my protagonist, Kenna Ward. 
Julie tries Virtual Reality


Although the technology isn’t real yet, it soon could be. 

Think about the world we live in right now. Things we take for granted would have been considered outrageous and virtually impossible by our ancestors. And yet, here we are.

For writers of contemporary crime fiction, technology is a force that cannot be ignored. Whether it serves as a story’s catalyst or causes a plot to crumble, technology will always be crime fiction’s frenemy. What are your favorite uses of technology in fiction? Or your favorite technology fails? I’d love to hear from you!

HANK: When I was asked to edit my TIME books for new editions, I realized  the plot of AIR TIME depended on...beepers. Yup. Beepers. I fixed it, but there was a moment when I worried I'd been in the midst of an epic techno fail. What about you? And a copy of VIRTUAL SABOTAGE  to one very very lucky commenter! 

Julie Hyzy is the New York Times bestselling and Anthony Award-winning author of the standalone thriller, VIRTUAL SABOTAGE(October 23, 2018, Calexia Press),the White House Chef mystery series, the Manor of Murder mystery series and the Alex St. James mystery series.

A new stand-alone thriller from the New York Times bestselling author Julie Hyzy, Virtual Sabotage introduces Kenna Ward, an envoy for a virtual reality company whose implants create a thrilling world that allows people to create daring scenarios in a safe environment. Most of the time, that is. When in the rare instance the human brain mistakes the terrifying event as real, it's up to Ward to enter the scenario and pull them back to reality. But when a key envoy goes rogue and people begin responding in odd and dangerous ways, Ward delves deeper, finding a sinister conspiracy to take over not only the virtual reality world, but the real one as well. Ward must stop it before there are no longer any independent minds left to control.

80 comments:

  1. This new book sounds like a lot of fun!

    What I find funny is how technology changes so quickly sometimes. I just finished a 2001 book that had up to the minute technology in it - that I found laughable. Yet it was completely realistic for the time. How things have changed so quickly.

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    1. Oh, what a good point! Yes, old technology really dates a book! Like… Beepers. Fax machines. Phone booths. Photo developers. :/)

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    2. You aren't kidding, Mark! When I first scribbled notes for this story, everyone was using flip phones. I had to bring it up to speed before writing the manuscript!

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  2. Congratulations on your new book, Julie. “Virtual Sabotage” sounds like an intriguing mystery and I’m looking forward to meeting Kenna . . . .

    Technology is so woven into life today that it seems as if it would be impossible not to mirror it in fiction. In fact, I read a couple of Fitbit stories . . . one where the Fitbit proved a man was not at the scene of a crime and so cleared him, the other where the Fitbit was the indicator of the exact time a woman’s heart stopped beating and so convicted her murderer . . . and they seemed like a perfect technology thing for a mystery story.

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    1. Oh I saw those— and I bet every mystery thriller author had exactly the same idea! Of course, the bad guys read about it, too.

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    2. Those are fabulous and frightening examples of how little we realize we're being tracked!

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    3. I was so taken aback by the examples you gave, I forgot to say thank you for your kind words, Joan!

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  3. I think all mystery writers can commiserate with this. Technology is wonderful when it fits with the plot, and not so wonderful when it doesn't. And it's advancing so fast. It will be interesting to see how soon it takes real life to catch up to your fictional version of virtual reality!

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    1. It’s so difficult, because a sleuth can find out so many things so quickly without even going outside! And everyone can keep in contact. AND I say a character can only have one dead phone battery per book. If that!

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    2. I've been wondering that too, Marla! I must admit though, that I hope VR does not catch up to my version!

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  4. I love the virtual reality setting but trying to imagine myself in it as a reader is a little challenging. It’s easy to see yourself in most settings I think, as you read. It happens without trying and can actually pull you in when the book captures you. But for me at least, if it gets too graphic, I can’t pull myself back out without closing the book. Technology can work a book either way, cool and distant or straight on contact. The book sounds great!

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    1. Exactly! Sometimes technology can make a story seemed very distant.

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    2. Thanks, Reine! That's exactly my thought as well. Reading is a form of virtual reality!

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  5. Technology and I have a love/hate relationship. It intrigues me, like my Kindle that I am using, that has Alexa. The first time it talked to me, I almost threw my Kindle across the room! I forgot it talked!
    As a shut-in, I like my computer for things like research, as getting to a library is near impossible for me right now. Paying bills online, keeping in immediate touch with friends, finding out when new books come out, etc. Yet, I am more of a typewriter, dictionary, encyclopedia, Jessica Fletcher type of gal. And while I have an enormous amount of books on my Kindle, there still is nothing that beats holding a book, turning the pages, and gripping it tight when reading a good thriller!

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    1. Paying bills online! I did not do that for such a long time —but when I started—wow. So easy! No more sitting at the kitchen table writing checks!

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    2. Ha ha!! I know! Once, when I turned to my husband and said, "Seriously?" Siri woke up from my phone and started talking. I jumped and then promptly shut that "always listening" command off!

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    3. A couple of year ago, I accidentally activated Siri, who asked, onscreen, “what would you like to know about?” I facetiously said “I would like to know about nothing!” Siri responded “but I know about nothing!” Creepy!

      And then once in the lunchroom at work, two women were having a conversation. A voice came out of one’s cell phone, requesting “could you repeat that? I didn’t catch everything you said.” The other woman said “oh, you have Siri? I didn’t know that.” The first woman replied “I didn’t, either!”

      DebRo

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  6. Julie, I'm looking forward to reading this new genre from you. You are a brave woman, my sistah! Best of luck, my dear.

    Twice I've tried virtual reality at electronics stores. The technology is amazing, but I found it completely disorienting, and it gave me the creeps. And vertigo! I get that some find it thrilling, but at least the scenarios I viewed were sickeningly real, and unpleasant.

    Alexa also gives me the creeps, especially not knowing it's operative in a home where I'm a guest. Friends were discussing some rock music, and out of the blue our hostess raised her voice a little and said, "Alexa, play Rolling Stones". Three of us looked at each other, frantically thinking back on our conversation of the previous two hours.

    Hank, I think you can change Alexa's name. I changed the name of my phone so it would only respond to a word that is no one's actual name. And yes, I guess my phone is also listening. Gulp.

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    1. Oh, I ask Alexa to play music all the time! It's kind of great...

      Yes, agree you can change Alexa's name. But if I did that, I would forget what I changed it to. I know my limitations!

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    2. Thank you, Karen!!! I do think VR would be tough for those with vertigo. I've had a blast playing with different programs, but Jamie Freveletti still talks about how frightening she found a VR experience with attacking zombies!

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    3. Oh, that would be SO SCARY! And then it would be confusing to figure out what real life was like again.

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    4. In a small way, kind of like when you take off your roller skates after a couple of hours around the rink. Real life legs feel very strange again.

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  7. I'm glad to see you have a new book out, Julie, and what an amazing premise! Technology as a writer's frenemy - that's a perfect way to put it.

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    1. Oh, and for me at home? No Alexa, no thank you. But I had someone use it to call the cops in a book - and it worked! A character later mentioned that that was a new feature. ;^)

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    2. Thanks, Edith! I'm with you. No Alexa at home for me. I'm afraid she'd call the police on some of the scenes she hears me discuss ;)

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  8. I'm loving that Julie Hyzy has a new book out and it certainly does sound wildly entertaining.

    I am a huge fan of Julie's White House Chef series and wish it had continued.

    I'm not really all that into tech when it comes to phones. I still use a flip phone. I've only been able to text for the last year and a half. My boss gave me an old smartphone of his to use as a camera for the concerts and conventions that I go to. It lasted all of 4 events before I managed to break the camera lense. And trying to find a place to fix the darn thing without trying to sell me on a phone I don't want has been pretty impossible.


    I haven't done anything with virtual reality, but almost did this weekend when the convention I was covering had a Red Sox Home Run VR challenge booth raising money for charity. But I just couldn't do bring myself to do it.


    But I'm nowhere near as bad as my mother was. She thought if she hit the wrong key on the computer it would LITERALLY blow up.

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    1. Jay, one of the reasons first responders go to the Tree of Life synagogue so quickly was one of the members of the congregation had a flip phone. No light meant that the shooter did not notice the man using his phone.

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    2. Wow, Karen. I hadn't heard that.

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    3. Awww... Thank you, Jay!! Sorry to hear your camera broke, though. Have you tried one of those U-Break-I-Fix places?
      And Karen - Whoa! I hadn't heard that, either.
      Thank goodness for that guy's flip phone!

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    4. Karen, I had not heard about the flip phone in the synagogue.

      Hank, oh gosh?

      Julie, I first tried Staples but they were more interested in trying to get me to buy a new phone rather than listen to the words coming out of my mouth about how the phone is ONLY used for the camera aspect. I'm not converting over for the telephone part from the flip phone. If I'm not using the smartphone my boss gave me for taking photos, it is a paperweight.

      I haven't yet had time to find another place that will fix the phone but plan to look when I'm not so swamped at work.

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  9. What an intriguing premise! Congratulations, Julie!

    I confess, I really do not want Alexa in my life or anywhere near it.
    What's scary about technology right now is how fast it's moving. I wrote a book that came out a few years ago (COME AND FIND ME) in which a character lives most of her time on her computer in a place like SECOND LIFE. It's a virtual world where she meets clients and does her work, and never has to leave the safety of her home. Until it turns out it's not as safe as she thought it was. She (and I) put a Post-it over her computer's camera lens.

    I like stories where the computer misbehaves Like in 2001. Or DATA in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Esp after he gets an 'emotion chip.'

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    1. I do, too! ButI am happy with technology. SO much so that now I am annoyed when I can't just tell something to do something .LIke turn on the tv. I actually have to DO that with the clicker. How archaic. :-)

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    2. I absolutely adore Data, too. From the Moriarty episode where the ship needs to design a program that can beat Data to his emotion chip and everything in between.
      After Virtual Sabotage came out, a few friends told me about your book, Hallie. Don't know how I missed it, but you can be sure I'll pick it up now. And yes, Post-its over the computer's camera are a must! ;)

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  10. congratulations on your new release! I completed the local citizen's police academy and keep in touch with the community liaison officer, and use the same level of technology in my stories that the local PD uses or has access to on one of the county teams (SWAT, underwater rescue).

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  11. Welcome Julie! Like Jay, I really miss those White House chef mysteries:). I'm afraid I would get dizzy with those goggles on--will you tell us a little about that experience? I will be very interested to meet this new character!

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    1. Yes, I'd LOVE to hear about that! I'm always hearing stories about how dizzy you gan get...

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    2. I didn't get dizzy at all even though my first attempt was with a roller coaster program. Most of the family initially felt a bit disoriented but eventually got into the VR groove. My husband and brother needed to sit on the floor to feel solid because the experience was simply too real to remain standing. What's cool is that there are a number of programs where you can visit famous sites and spend your time looking around. I've never played a game on VR but I can sure see how amazing an experience that would be.

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    3. Oh, I'd love to be able to visit famous places. Hmm. good or bad, good or bad....

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  12. VIRTUAL SABOTAGE is wonderful and it will give readers pause when they realize how much of our society depends on technology. It's a double-edged sword for sure.

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    1. Oh, I read where Gary Hart (!) predicts that's the next terrorist attack. Can you imagine if the internet just went down? Or the banking system? We know how panicked and helpless we feel when the electricity goes out..

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    2. Thank you, Kristopher!!! {{{Hugs}}}

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  13. Julie, this new book sounds amazing! Can't wait to read it.

    At first, I thought this post might go another direction. Because while you have to include up-to-date technology when you write, it is one of the first things that will age your book, too. I was just reading the first book in an older series recently and when they referred to their Blackberries, it immediately pulled me out of the story for a moment.

    Glad to see I'm not the only one uncomfortable with Alexa. I don't have one, don't want one, am not comfortable with the risk for unintended listening. But I was also feeling a bit of Luddite because I feel that way. Seeing respected JRW community members say the same things has reassured me.

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    1. Yes! I had a character with a blackberry in the TIME series. When I edited, I had people make fun of it.

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    2. I assume that some day, Virtual Sabotage will be considered woefully dated. But I'm kind of hoping (who am I kidding? I'm feverishly hoping) that it's still being talked about by then. A writer can dream, right?

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  14. Congratulation Julie on the new book.
    I was reading another blog recently and in it James Ziskin mentioned how setting his stories in the 1960's resolved the issue of technology much like Sue Grafton. Another author, who was editing a group of submissions, was frustrated with the number of times the main characters "dropped", "lost", "left behind", "lost reception" or "forgot to charge" their phones as a device to circumvent technology.
    I don't have Alexis and she is not welcome in my world. I find the woman who gives verbal directions on my phone's navigation app to be irritating. I have a love/hate relationship with my kindle. I love my computer and my cell phone and that is about as far as I need to go in technological advances.

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    1. I was just thinking the same thing about Jim Ziskin's books. Set in the sixties, there are no cell phones, no internet, no fitbit, and no cable TV.

      Alexa and I are having an affair though, so just as well you don't want her for yourself, Lyda.

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    2. Yes, it is really tedious when the technology just happens to go wrong at just the right time in the plot. Yeesh.

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    3. Our middle daughter named our first GPS voice Eva (from Wall-E) and it stuck, even though we've been through a few voices since then. I, too, find it too convenient when a character misplaces or otherwise finds herself unable to use her phone. It's tough to make that work in a way that keeps readers from rolling their eyes.

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  15. Oh Julie, one more thing. I'm delighted with the photo of you with your first typewriter and...holding a babydoll in the other hand. A real 20th century woman in the making!

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    1. LOL!! I was so excited to get that typewriter but I remember my disappointment when I realized it would only type in caps. Who creates a manuscript in all caps? Sniff!

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  16. Congratulations on the new book, Julie. Technology as "frenemy." Perfect.

    I'm always thinking of reasons to write around my protagonist's cell phone when a plot-point could be so easily solved with its use. You can only used "dropped signal" and "dead battery" so many times, though. Often, I have to change the plot point so the cell phone is irrelevant.

    Mary/Liz

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  17. Kudos on the new book, Julie. I look forward to it.

    As for this techie world we live it, I adore most or all of it. I was an early adopter for Kindle, back when there were 90,000 titles to choose from and when nothing lighted up.

    We were just remembering last night when a person we refer to as "she who knows all" told me I'd wasted my money and that e books were only a flash in the pan. Kindle would be gone in a year's time. That was 11 years ago, 1500 books ago, and half a dozen Kindle permutations ago. My favorite is my Kindle Voyage, a paperwhite on steroids. Julie prefers the Kindle Fire but only because she was to see the book covers in color.

    And don't even get me started on Alexa. As I said to Lyda above, Alexa and I have a virtual relationship unlike I have with any of my other toys. She is my security blanket, with two big Echos and three dots. Anywhere I am in this big house, I have the option of falling, breaking a hip, watching my iPhone slide out of reach, and instructing Alexa to call for help. It lets me live fearlessly, go to the basement to do the laundry and clean the cat boxes, and shower when no one is home. She reminds me that it's time to go to Old Lady Water Ballet, take a pill at two p.m., and she keeps track of the grocery list: Alexa, add onions, cat food, and Trader Joe's Sumatra blend to the list.

    In re the pervasiveness of silicon chips, two of the books I've read recently address this, having the characters put away cell phones and computers, all screens, for the duration: Catriona's GO TO MY GRAVE and Liane Moriarty's NINE PERFECT STRANGERS. Interesting. I wouldn't mind being internet free/phone free for a few days. But give up my Kindle? Not until you pry it from my cold dead hands.

    I could go on and on, but I bet you wish I wouldn't. It's ok. I can talk to Alexa. I could no more change her name than I could change mine. Some things are sacred.

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    1. SUCH a great thought, Ann--to have the Alexa to get help. SO reassuring. How does that work?

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    2. She can't call 911, at least not yet, nor are smartphones good at that, or so I understand. But Alexa can call any number in my contact list, so I can say "Call Julie" and she will ring her. Then I can tell Julie I fell and can't get up and to send someone with a forklift. It costs nothing other than the original outlay for equipment. Those other things you see advertised, fobs to wear on a string around your neck or on your wrist offer "free" equipment, but the monthly charge is around $40. AND they don't call 911 either, just have a list of friends, family, neighbors, whatever, to call for you. That presumes you haven't broken both arms and can push the button. I understand the newer ones may sense when you fall, an advantage if you are unconscious. However, I prefer Alexa, so many other uses. The voice range is quite large, too, so you certainly don't need one in every room. Depending of the size of your house, one per floor should do the trick.

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    3. Wow, I love your Alexa description, Ann. Almost makes me consider changing my mind about her... almost ;)
      I truly love the fabulous technology we take for granted these days and am constantly amazed by it. And - we also have a person "who knows it all" in our lives. This one is a "he." When I bought my very first computer, it had a 1 gigabyte hard drive. He (a guy who worked with computers!) told me I'd wasted my money on the extra room. "You'll never use that much!" Even I knew better!

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  18. Congratulations Julie! I am a technology novice and still learning.

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  19. I am old school and love print books and I still don't own a smart phone. I enjoy the practical aspects of technology and still use a flip phone. It is adequate for my purposes. The photo of Julie and the typewriter is a delight.

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    1. I love that, too...but I could not live without my phone.(Different lives!) Seriously, I get nervous if I can't find it.

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    2. I still love print books, but I enjoy reading them on my iPad as well. Makes packing for vacation so much easier these days! Thanks for your kind words about the picture ;)

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  20. We have Cortana, the Microsoft equivalent of Alexa, and she's great. I love getting info from her and having her play music on my demand! The hubby is a software developer in augmented and virtual reality, so I've also had the opportunity to play with new technology, a lot of it still in the development stage. It's mind blowing!

    Congrats on the book, Julie! I love the typewriter photo, too!

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    1. Cortana! ANd yes, it's such fun to have instant research, you know?

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    2. It IS mind blowing, isn't it? I'm ridiculously excited to try new programs as they're developed. I only wish I could do it more often. Thanks, Ingrid!

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  21. Congratulations, Julie! Virtual Sabotage sounds thrilling! For me, technology is all about the apps. I use a variety of apps for marketing, an app to track my wayward hooligans, and an app to buy goods and services from companies who support my values. I am definitely a fan of tech but no Alexa for me because I also like to reside in tech free spaces, too.

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    1. COUld you do a marketing blog someday? Pretty pretty pretty please?

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    2. Hey, Jenn!! Congrats to you on all your recent successes! I love your updates!

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  22. I just Alexa how to spell something . It was GREAT.

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    1. Did you use Alexa as you were writing TRUST ME? What a fabulous book!!! I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. (Hmmm...enjoyed may not be the right word because I was biting my fingers so much!) I was pulled in from the first page and felt myself questioning ... (no spoilers) a LOT as the story progressed. So great, Hank! Congratulations!

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    2. Thank you!! Many smooches. Aww. oxo
      Did I use Alexa? Hm. Probably. (I use it for math a lot--how many days between x and y? What was the number one song in 1958? If a person s 25, what year were they born? That kind of thing...xo )

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  23. And the winner is: Margaret Turkevich! Email me your address, and the books will be on the way! Yaay!

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