A Blessing, a Wish, and Reflections

Up to my tweed arm patches in dusty old books…Slithering with serpents, wrestling with werewolves, battling chicken headed monsters and rising like a Bennu. That’s how I imagined blogging Mystical Monsters from A to Z. And of course, schedule it all in advance. Alas, it was not to be.

Late February, I got a call. The call you never want to get. The call that said “dad’s had a massive stroke, it's bad…” To say the prognosis was grim was an understatement. And I was on the other side of the planet. It was a race against time and I was on a flight from New York to London the same day. Actually, I had to get all the way to Newcastle (another flight) and then in a taxi straight to the hospital. Longest fifteen hours of my life.

I spent the next six weeks in the UK running up and down to the hospital almost daily, by bus or bike as I didn‘t have a car. Exhausting on multiple levels doesn’t even cut it, but glad to be there never the less.

And to make matters worse, just before this happened, my email was hacked and I was locked out of my online banking. Both of which ensured that I had no idea that none of my clients had paid me. One of them for months. And then a dear friend to whom I had promised a favour called it in. Can anyone say timing? And the favour? Oh, just put up a 40 page web site with a bazillion attachments and newsletter signup yada yada. Normally I would have been happy to oblige and did, but now? NOW?

A mentor of mine used to say that bad things don’t happen in threes. They happen in at least threes. A life event she accurately described as ‘a shitstorm.’ That’s a technical term. There was other stuff and if I wrote it on a toilet roll and threw it down the stairs we still wouldn’t be done. But you get the picture?

I was going through a shitstorm.

The Blessing
I did not schedule my AtoZchallenge posts in advance. But I did do them every day. In fact, far from being another ‘thing to do’ when my head was already at explosion point, my world of mystical monsters was a place of retreat and rejuvenation. A few minutes or often more when I researched fantastic beasts I had never heard of, or discovered fascinating facts previously unknown to me. Did you know the Loch Ness monster was a Christian? Neither did I. Or that the Phoenix was based on an earlier monster from ancient Egypt, a self created being and creator of this world, called a Bennu? Me either. Or that drinking rainwater from a werewolf’s footprint could transform the drinker into one? News to me! Or that despite a plethora of ways to become a werewolf demonstrated in the literature, there was a frightening dearth of options for turning back...

This was the world I retreated too. A world of ancient beasts and mystery. Of fantastic fangs, wicked whiskers and deadly bites. A world that transcended life and death and made the impossible, possible. A world of endless wonder.

As the weeks wore on, my father improved beyond all hopes and expectations, I finished with my website building favour, my clients, after much haranguing began to pay me. I visited the bank and regained my online access. After three months of email-tag and 7 hours (I kid you not) on the phone to my email provider trying to prove my identity, I regained access to my email account.

Throughout the challenge, I committed to blogging each day, and together with my monsters (they behaved), we visited other blogs, learning, growing, making friends, and connecting with others.

April marked the biggest visitor flow to my blog ever. And as one by one, the recent challenges that had beset me were removed and overcome, and my father looked likely to be discharged from hospital after a six week stay. Things started to look up.

Until W.

W was for Werewolf. A changeling. Something that is not what it appears to be. Just like my blog. And after W is for Werewolf, my blog disappeared.

Poof! Gone. Disappeared like scotch mist.

I called my registrar - Go daddy - only to be told that my domain name had expired a month earlier and had been put up for auction and sold to the highest bidder - a guy in Belarus. They had sent me numerous emails, but as my email had been hacked, I didn’t receive any of them (coincidence?)

Well I should have been more careful. It’s my own fault. I’m not a lackadaisical person. I consider myself highly organised and queen of the list. And you better believe protecting my website, name and reputation was high on my list. If only…

W is for Wish
I wish I had remembered to pay my domain name renewal. But with everything going on, it slipped my mind. Why didn’t I write it down?

I wish I had written it down so I wouldn’t forget. Oh, but I did, plain as day and right in front of me. Just, I had other things, pretty big things, on my mind.

I wish I had put my domain name renewal on auto renew. The thing is, I am pretty sure I did. But my email was hacked and likely my Go daddy account with it.

And that’s when I discovered the practice of cyber squatting, of snapping up domain names with traffic (often after hacking the email and preventing reminder messages from getting through or mining login info for the registrar…) and then attempting to sell the domain name back to the owner at an exorbitant rate.
The squatter did not change the domain name servers for a month - the month of April - allowing my traffic to build before he made the switch.

Before all this happened, I was getting ready to launch my first book - Story Master. Having spent years building my blog, social media and brand. My website and blog and thus domain name were my author name, HJ Blenkinsop [dot com]. And now someone else owned, not only my web site name, but my own personal name. My real name. And could do anything they wanted with it!

Fortunately, I already owned the .co.uk variant; hjblenkinsop.co.uk. I spent the day of W frantically trying to switch everything over. Not only the blog, but facebook, twitter, google +, blogher, technorati, places I’ve guest posted and anything else that pointed to my domain name. Unfortunately, the AtoZchallenge linky tool was already closed so I could do nothing there. And I didn’t realize just how far and wide I had spread my dot.com domain name until I tried to change the links…

The advice from Go daddy? Try and buy my domain name back from the squatter. But it’s my name! My personal name! And the squatter is using an old version of my blog, using my articles and posts masquerading to the world as me. Isn’t that an intellectual property issue? Surely I get some kind of protection? Yes, as a matter of fact I do. Through both the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), and the allegedly faster and cheaper action of filing a complaint with the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Notice I said cheaper and not free. And for a struggling writer who has to couch surf for the change to pay for said domain name, their fees, no matter how supposedly affordable (and I believe they are in the thousands), are more than my couch-fishing trips can cover. And the squatters depend on this - that it is cheaper to pay them off than pursue legitimate legal action against them. Another day of my life I will never get back finding all that out. So despite having a solid case, the cost to pursue it is too much.

On Reflection
I’ve mulled this over and come to a decision. I refuse to reward the cyber squatter by buying back my own name. I refuse to be complicit in such a reprehensible practice. To do so would only encourage them to stand like trolls on the internet bridge, holding personal names, reputations and intellectual property hostage. I have decided on another tactic. A monstrous tactic. A beastly one. A troll toppling tactic. I will bury the old site like a corps with the rich, witty and hopefully humorous earth of the new one, shedding my old domain name like a snake sheds its skin to rise like the Bennu, a self created being and precursor to the phoenix.

And as soon as my ‘editors’ get back to me, I’ll launch my book anyway. Life happens. Bad things happen - in at least threes. It’s called a shitstorm (technical term). All I can do is roll my tweed sleeves up to the arm patches and delve into dusty old books about mystical monsters, breath life into them and unleash them on the world.