First Page Critique – The Mark

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Good morning and welcome to the first page submission from another Brave Author who says the page is in the crime genre. Read and enjoy then we’ll discuss.

  The Mark

Pink hair, tattooed hands, open casket. That’s all he remembered. Well, not quite all he remembered. He remembered his cell phone which he had forgotten to turn off, violating the sacred service with its demand for attention.  Afterwards, standing at her gravesite, he looked skyward, muttered a few obscene words and prayed for forgiveness. 

Hanagan sat and sipped the espresso. The wall mounted tv in the bar was showing early morning futures charts on the screen. Hanagan was a mid level options trader for a company called Maverick Trading. He’d had a good year trading other people’s money which was why he sat in this coffee bar waiting for someone named De Vries.  The man had called him minutes ago, apologizing for his tardiness and promised he’d be there within 15 minutes.

Jensen De Vries had spent all night laboring on a 60 by 80 painting of an early 20th century abstract. Several shades of blue juxtaposed with bright iridescent streaks of red. Blackened blocks of burnt sienna guided the eyes to the hero marks that often identify the style of a painter. He moved his eyes back and forth from the canvas to a photo now projected onto his laptop screen. The photo of the twentieth century abstract that was last reported to be in a family estate somewhere in Portugal.

The coffee shop was not far from where De Vries painted. A rent controlled studio in a warehouse in Hell’s Kitchen.  De Vries entered the bar and scanned the crowd looking for a bright blue blazer that would identify Hannagan.

He began to approach the man but hesitated. Another person had just sat down to join Hannagan. A woman he did not trust.

Earlier that day, in the suburbs of Greenwich, Connecticut,Maria De Vries stood in a darkened living room holding a gun. The room smelled like bleach, as if a crew had cleaned up any incriminating evidence.  She turned towards the seated man and began to tell him what she was going to do and the order in which it had to be done. He didn’t like her patronizing tone, but kept his thoughts under control. He swiveled clockwise to a side table and selected a cigar from a humidor. He raised the cold cigar to his nose and inhaled the earthy aroma.

~~~

Let’s get to work.

Brave Author, your writing is solid and skillful. Your descriptions are vivid and full of excellent sensory detail. I can immediately visualize the body in the casket and hear the rude intrusion of a cell phone at a funeral. Iridescent red, blue, and burnt sienna are strong visuals. The smells of bleach and an unlit cigar are palpable.

Now the nitty gritty:

The first scene is in an unspecified cemetery and the point-of-view (POV) character isn’t identified. It’s in italics, indicating perhaps a preface.

The next scene switches to a coffee bar and an options trader named Hannagan (BTW, Hannagan is spelled two different ways) told through his POV. He’s waiting to meet an artist Jensen De Vries who’s late for their appointment.

Suddenly the location and POV switches to De Vries working on a painting in his studio in Hell’s Kitchen. He then heads for his appointment at the coffee bar with Hannagan but hesitates because he sees Hannagan with a woman he doesn’t trust.

Then the reader is yanked to earlier that day, in yet different location in Connecticut, with another new character, Maria De Vries, holding a gun on yet another new unnamed character who’s about to smoke a cigar and in whose POV we are now.

That’s SEVEN characters, FIVE location changes, and FOUR points of view in a single page. 

This jumps around like a 30-second film trailer for an action movie that might have a title like Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Each scenario by itself could be compelling: a funeral; a mysterious meeting with a stranger; a woman who can’t be trusted; a woman (not sure if she’s the same woman) holding a gun at what may be a murder scene. Each one raises questions the reader wants answers to.

Yes, an author needs to instantly grab attention. But a precisely aimed bullseye is more effective than wildly scattered birdshot.

Trying to cram in too much information all at once overwhelms, confuses, and frustrates the reader. S/he feels whiplashed and never has a chance to become grounded in any single character, storyline, time period, or setting. 

My strong suggestion is to pull back and look at the totality of your story. The connections among these scenes will undoubtedly be revealed later. Each has intriguing potential. But, as presented in this first page, they’re a discombobulated jumble.

Ask these questions:

  1. Which one of these characters is the most compelling?
  2. Which one of the conflicts makes the best launch point for this book?
  3. Which situation will make a reader the most curious to turn the page?

Assessments like this are difficult to make when an author is too close to the story. Don’t feel bad–we’ve all been there.

If you’re unsure how to answer the questions, find an editor, critique group, or beta reader to objectively review the book.

Listen to their feedback carefully. What scenario captures their attention the most? Which elements appeal to them and why? Then decide on the best time, place, space, and character to kick off the story.

When you rewrite the first scene, slow it way down. Give the reader a chance to explore that world, form an impression of the POV character, and become curious about the conflict/problem.

Your quick thumbnail character sketches are well done but too short. The descriptions are vivid and full of sensory detail. The situations are intriguing. Expand on them. You don’t need to rush so much. There’s a whole book ahead to add more plot lines, characters, and complications.

Brief, punchy scenes with jump cuts can be effective but not before the foundation has been established and the reader is firmly enmeshed in the story.

Brave Author, your skills are good, and you have all the necessary elements for an exciting crime story. I’m sure you’ll find the right beginning that fascinates readers so much that they’ll want to keep turning pages. Best of luck!

~~~

TKZers, what suggestions do you have for this Brave Author? Which of these scenarios strikes you as the best place to start?

~~~

Please visit DebbieBurkeWriter.com to enter a drawing for a Legacy Wood Deep Fake Sapphire Pen (hand-crafted by Steve Hooley) and a BONUS FREE Short Story when you join my reading group.

The Meaning of Success

Dictionary.com defines success as

  1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.
  2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.

* * *

There are many opportunities for success in life. Winning a race, getting the lead role in a play, graduating from college, etc. But how do we define success in writing? I can imagine a list of possibilities: publishing that first book, securing an agent, receiving an award. But every time one goal is met, another rises up to take its place. I was having a hard time understanding exactly how to define success in my own writing, so I sought wisdom from that most knowledgeable of twenty-first-century oracles: the internet.

People who are famous must be successful, right? So they would be the logical ones to provide us with clues into what it was that helped them attain their status. I began my quest at medium.com and brainyquote.com, and I roamed around in their quote galleries, moving from room to room looking for the perfect definition of success. I found an enormous variety of ideas, and I’ve listed some of the quotes below for your enjoyment. I’ve also provided an occasional thought or two of my own in bold.

* * *

I started out with a couple of simple statements.

Reaching the goal is not success; success is moving toward the goal. –Bob Proctor  So it’s the journey, not the destination?

Eighty percent of success is showing up. –Woody Allen Well, that’s encouraging, but I’m not convinced.

I moved on and found some quotes that were more to my liking.

Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure. –Confucius

Success is dependent on effort. –Sophocles

Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it. –Dalai Lama XIV

Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome. –Booker T. Washington

So it has to do with hard work and overcoming obstacles. But that’s not to say happiness doesn’t play a part.

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful. –Albert Schweitzer

Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get. –Dale Carnegie

All of these were good, but I soldiered on and found a group of fascinating (and confusing) quotes that mentioned the part failure plays in success. 

Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm. –Winston Churchill  I usually like quotes by Winston Churchill, but this one left me scratching my head.

Success is falling nine times and getting up 10. –Jon Bon Jovi  I don’t understand this. How can you get up ten times if you only fell nine times?

Failure is success if we learn from it. –Malcolm Forbes  It seems like this would depend on what we learn from it.

Success is often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable. –Coco Chanel  I read this one over about ten times, and I still don’t understand what it means.

Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom. –George S. Patton  Once again, failure plays a part, and General Patton gives us a nice image to go along with it. 

Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time. –George Bernard Shaw  This one made sense to me.

Then I found a surprising quote from Andrew Carnegie who was once the richest man in the world. His net worth in today’s dollars would be over $300 billion.

There is little success where there is little laughter. –Andrew Carnegie   I bet Mr. Carnegie was laughing all the way to the bank.

Speaking of laughter, here are a couple of quotes that had me chuckling.

All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure. –Mark Twain

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it. –W.C. Fields

* * *

All of the quotes were interesting, and different people clearly have different measures for accomplishment, but I still hadn’t come up with a definition of success in my writing. Then I realized success may not be what I was looking for after all. I remembered this quote by Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning:

“Don’t aim at success. …For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication.”

Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere. 

Interesting note: James Scott Bell’s TKZ post yesterday quoted Louise Parr, an author who had contributed to On the Art of Writing Fiction, published in 1894. Ms. Parr observed

there is a moral satisfaction in having done good work which no one can rob us of.

That was written 130 years ago, and it’s still as fresh and meaningful as it was then.

* * *

So TKZers: What is your definition of success in your writing? Is it one over-arching achievement or many goalposts along the way? Do you consider doing good work independent of recognition or success? Do any of the quotes in this post appeal to you?

* * *

Private pilot Cassie Deakin has one measure of success: to find the culprits who assaulted her uncle. But when she achieves that goal, she faces a much more difficult challenge.

Buy on AmazonBarnes & NobleKoboGoogle Play, or Apple Books.

Timeless Writing Advice

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Louisa Parr (1848 – 1903), via Wikipedia

I’m a fan of Gutenberg.org, which comes out with digitized versions of public domain works every day. I get their alerts, and the other day was interested to see On The Art of Writing Fiction, published in 1894.

It’s a series of chapters written by various authors, one of whom was Louisa Parr, an English novelist of some repute. I found her advice rather contemporary. Here is some of it:

To start, then, we will suppose that you are the possessor of a story which for some time has dwelt in your mind, and has taken such a hold of you, that you are engrossed with the plot and the actors in it. These creatures of your brain become so familiar to you, that they stand out in your imagination like real persons. You give them names, you invest them with qualities, you decree that they shall be happy or miserable, and, having sealed their fate, you are seized with the desire to make others acquainted with them.

Here Mrs. Parr advises the writer not sit down to write a novel until “possessed” of the potential story. That means both plot and characters, to the extent that you are “seized” by the desire to bring both alive on the page. I think she’s on to something. Unless and until you are “possessed” or “seized” by the story possibilities, you’re not going to bring anything original or vital to the page.

For some of us, setting out to write without a plan often leads to that state of possession—and should, if we’re to keep on going. For others, myself included, a time of brainstorming and writing a “white hot” document gets us to that place faster. It may also tell us we’re not ready to start that novel (without writing 20k words first).

Too frequently the young writer is not content to set down what is to be said with the straightforward simplicity that would be used if this story had to be told vivâ voce. There is a desire to explain, to digress, to elaborate. It is thought necessary to tell the reader that this person is very clever and witty, that that one is stupid and odious, much in the same way that a child draws some strange creature, under which it writes, “this is a cow—this is a horse.” We smile at its being necessary to inform us of what we ought to see for ourselves. Yet it is the same in fiction—the dramatis personæ of your tale should themselves discover to us their idiosyncrasies, and by their actions and conversation reveal to the reader their dispositions and characters.

This is great and modern advice, such as we dispense on TKZ frequently in our first-page critiques. It’s warning against the dreaded info dump. Better to “act first, explain later.”

Starting with the supposition that you have well thought out your plot, have conceived your characters, and some of the situations in which they are to be placed, my advice is that you endeavour to give a graphic relation of your story in words to a friend, so that you may hear how the arrangement of the incidents and events stand…

Interesting! A bit of market research to see if you’ve got enough for a complete story. When I was in film school the writer-director Paul Schrader came up for a lecture, and told us would-be screenwriters to gather some friends, make them spaghetti, then tell them your story and see if their “butts start to move” (meaning, they’re getting bored). I’ve never tried this because I don’t like talking about my story-in-progress with anyone. That’s why I’ve never been in a critique group. But I’m not dead set against them, either. What do you think?

About the length of a novel it is best that you should not trouble. When you feel that you have told all you have to tell, the book should come to an end. New pens should know nothing of padding, which is distasteful to every good writer and reader.

Hey, sounds like the discussion we recently had here.

If you are a true author your creation will have become very dear to you, and in launching it into the world you will suffer a hundred hopes and fears, and, perhaps, disappointments.

We’ve all been there! She ends with this:

The clouds of distrust are certain to cast their shadows over you, but if you have the assurance that you have spared no pains, that you have given your best, do not fear that they will overwhelm you; there is a moral satisfaction in having done good work which no one can rob us of.

There really is “moral satisfaction” in knowing you’ve done the best you can with what you have (this was the legendary basketball coach John Wooden’s definition of success).

I’ve never quite bought the idea of “Do what you love, the money will follow.” Rather, if you love what you do and work at it, day by day (and when you love it, such work is fun and satisfying) then the dough will rise. Maybe not enough to buy a yacht, but surely enough to fund a latte habit and a buy some writing books.

Comments welcome.

 

Finishing the First Draft Words of Wisdom

Like many writers, for years I had trouble finishing a novel draft. I had a lot of starts, and one half-completed novel. It wasn’t until I sat down with another partially written novel, and decided to write through to the end that I finally finished a first draft. I gave myself a three-month deadline, and wrote the remaining three-quarters of the novel in long hand. I repeated the feat a couple of years later by writing two short novels back to back in the space of two months, the second during National Novel Writing Month.

At last I’d figured out how to write a first draft all the way to “The End.” Learning how to write a novel that worked took longer, and only happened after an intense few years spent studying storytelling craft. At the same time, I’ve found there are always obstacles to overcome in finishing a first draft.

Today’s Words of Wisdom looks at that challenge, with excerpts from posts by Mark Alpert, Clare Langley Hawthorne, and James Scott Bell.

[F]iction-wise, it was a wonderful week for me, because I completed the first draft of my next novel. My daily word count always rises to extraordinary (at least for me) levels when I’m nearing the end, partly because I get caught up in the climax of the book and partly because I just want to finish the darn thing. I love writing 2,000 words a day, but it also makes me feel bad about how little I write at other times. I say to myself, “Why can’t you write this much all the time? Then you could knock off a novel in two months and spend the rest of the year on your tennis game.”

I can’t reveal any details about the book because I hate talking about my novels while I’m still writing them. And I know I’ll be revising this book for the next few months, so it’s not really finished. But completing the first draft is a big milestone for me. At least I know now how the book will end. I had a vague idea of the ending while I was writing the manuscript, but I wasn’t sure how it would all come together until I started the final chapter. Before that moment I worried I would hit some unforeseen obstacle — a logical inconsistency, or maybe a hopelessly implausible plot twist — and the whole enterprise would fall apart.

But it didn’t. At this point I have no idea whether the book is any good, but at least it hangs together. Now I have to wait to hear from my editor. He already read the beginning of the book, and he liked it, but I don’t know how he’ll feel about the end. I’m not even sure how I feel about it. I’m too close to the thing. But I’m cautiously optimistic. The reason for my optimism: bullet ants. The ending has a scene featuring bullet ants. You see, I just broke my rule about never revealing details of a novel-in-progress, but I couldn’t help it. Bullet ants are fascinating creatures.

Although I still have lots of work to do on the book, I decided to reward myself for finishing the first draft. So I spent three days biking and playing tennis. (I have to work off the five pounds I gained while writing the novel.) The best reward, though, was simply writing THE END at the bottom of the last page of the manuscript. I have no idea how many times I’ll be able to write those words in my life, so I intend to enjoy the experience as much as possible every time it happens.

Mark Alpert—April 20, 2013

 

I can’t count the number of people who have expressed how much they want to be a writer but cannot seem to actually finish writing a book – they have parts and bits in a drawer but nothing complete – either for further editing, submission or publication. I sympathize because this was me for many, many years.

I always wanted to be a writer, or at least I expressed that desire, but, apart from half written pieces, drafts and jottings, I somehow never managed to actually finish a project. This all changed when, though some weird serendipity/alignment of the stars, I quit my job in anticipation of starting a Ph.D and then discovered my brain was finally free to do what I had always wanted to do – write a novel. I was extremely lucky to have found an agent interested in my work at my first writer’s conference and this undoubtedly spurred me on to finish the project she and I discussed. (Who knows, if I hadn’t had this impetus, maybe Ursula’s first mystery would still be half-finished and languishing in a drawer…)

So what are the many impediments to actually sitting down and completing a manuscript? There’s the time factor obviously – but this is an excuse which wears thin as even established novelists have to carve out time from their lives (a task which is never easy) and most have balanced other careers, families and other commitments in order to complete the task ahead. For me, I think the impediment was always internal, rather than external. I lacked the confidence to complete a novel, and I spent more time self-censoring myself in some elusive quest to be ‘literary’ enough (a standard I set that could never be attained). Even today I still question my ability to complete the task, but I am fortunate enough to have the motivation and the support of family, fellow writers, editors and my agent to continue to write. Now I suspect it’s a mixture of stubbornness, accountability and ambition that keeps me writing – but that doesn’t mean it gets any easier to complete the task!

Clare Langley-Hawthorne—May 25, 2015

 

What is it that keeps us from finishing a project?

It could be fear … that we haven’t got a handle on the story.

It could be perfectionism … we want the story to be excellent, but sense it isn’t the best it can be.

It could be laziness … it’s easier to tell someone who doesn’t write just how hard it is to write, than it is to actually write.

Whatever it is, it holds us up. And that’s bad for everyone, including your characters.

I find endings to be the hardest part of the craft. They have to do so much–leave the reader satisfied or, better, grateful. Wrap up the story questions. Deliver a certain resonance.

And we all know a lousy ending can ruin an otherwise great reading experience.

My own approach to endings is to have a climactic scene in mind from the start, even though it is subject to change without notice. It usually does change, because as your book grows, unplanned things start to happen. Characters develop in surprising ways; a plot twist takes you around an unforeseen corner. I’ve even had characters refuse to leave a scene when I’ve told them to. I always try to incorporate these things because, as Madeleine L’Engle once said, “If the book tells me to do something completely unexpected, I heed it. The book is usually right.”

As you make these changes in your plot, the ripples go forward in time to affect how the book will end.

So you adjust. When I get to the point where I’m going to write my ending scenes, I follow a plan I call Stew, Brew, Accrue and Do.

I think hard about the ending for half an hour or so, then take a long walk, letting the story “stew” in my subconscious. My walk inevitably hits a Starbucks, because you can’t walk in any direction on earth for very long before hitting a Starbucks.

Inside I go and order an espresso. Brew.

I sip the espresso and take out a little notebook and pen. That’s when I Accrue. I jot idea after idea, image after image, doodle after doodle. I’m not writing the words of the ending, I’m just capturing all the stuff the Boys in the Basement are throwing out at me because they are hopped up on caffeine.

Then it’s back to my office where I actually Do–write the blasted thing until it’s done!

James Scott Bell—April 3, 2016

***

There you have it, advice on finishing the first draft.

  1. Do you write at a steady pace while drafting, or do you have a big push of words to finish your draft?
  2. Do you reward yourself when you finish?
  3. What is your biggest obstacle to finishing your first draft?
  4. Does your ending change as you draft?

Highway to the Danger Zone – Dark, Dirty, and Dangerous

Scenes That Grab You and Won’t Let Go

As readers we want scenes that grab us as the MC struggles with the villain and adversity. As writers we want to create scenes that are filled with emotion, rivet the reader to the book, and keep them turning pages, especially on the road to the final battle

So, today, let’s discuss some of the best “approaching-danger” scenes we’ve read or written. Whether it’s conflict building in a dark cluttered alley, an empty warehouse, a haunted house, a bar full of the enemy, a secluded dark country road, a cemetery on a moonlit night, a garbage dump, mob headquarters, or a sky cluttered with enemy jets, show us, or describe in a few paragraphs, a scene you’ve written in one of your books, or a tension-building scene in a book you particularly liked.

And, if you feel extremely creative, you can write one for us today. Here’s some high-energy music to get you in the mood:

Highway to the Danger Zone sound track

 In two or three paragraphs:

  1. Show or describe a tension-building scene in one of your books.
  2. Show or describe one of your favorite tension-building scenes in books you have read.
  3. Write one for us today.

True Crime Thursday – Investing in Blueskycoin

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Meet Sophie and Fred, both 59. Fred has a good job with the county and hopes to retire in a few years. Sophie’s job as an administrator pays well but she recently had to cut back to part-time to care for her mother who has cancer.

Their mortgage is paid off but this year property taxes on their home jumped by a third. They no longer have weekly date nights because restaurant prices have increased. They’re helping their adult son Bobby with rent and car payments because he’s paying back student loans. Plus, he recently told them he and his girlfriend are having a baby. Even though that means more expenses, Sophie and Fred are ecstatic and post the ultrasound image of their granddaughter on Facebook. They also regularly post photos of their entertaining dog.

Then Sophie’s mom gets worse. Sophie quits her job to be a full-time caregiver. Inflation strains their budget. Their income is reduced. Bills increase. Fred must continue to work and retirement is pushed far into the future. Just to survive, they may have to sell their home.

They are not wild speculators or greedy Wall Street wolves. They are regular folks feeling desperate about money.

Enter Amelia. 

Amelia is a high school classmate whom they hadn’t heard from in years. She reaches out to them on social media.

[Alarm bell #1]

Just for fun, let’s have a quiz. Where alarm bells are noted in red, what are reasons for them to ring? Answers at the end of the post.  

Sorry to miss our 40th reunion but I was on a cruise in Bermuda. How are you guys doin’? Excited about your new granddaughter! Do you still have that adorable little cockapoo Sniffy?

They message back and forth, catching up.

Then Amelia admits she’s had money problems–her employer went bankrupt, taking down her 401K and pension accounts. She lost her home to foreclosure and her car was repossessed.

“How can she afford a Bermuda cruise?” Sophie asks Fred.

“Hope she doesn’t hit us up for a loan,” he answers.

But that doesn’t happen. In fact, Amelia’s next communication is just the opposite.

The good news is, Amelia made an amazing recovery by investing in a new cryptocurrency, BlueSkycoin (fictitious name). In just over a year, thanks to her investment “coach”, her initial investment of $20,000 is now worth $432,497.

[Alarm bell #2]

She sends screenshots showing the meteoric rise in value. Her statements also show large withdrawals she’d made to buy a new home and a Tesla.

Sounds kinda risky, Fred messages back. Are you sure it’s legal? 

Absolutely! Totally legal with a guaranteed return. You can take your profits out anytime

[Alarm bell #3]

Amelia was always at the top of their class and earned an MBA from Wharton. Fred and Sophie figure she must know what she’s talking about. Now they’re curious.

Amelia directs them to a glamorous, professional website with testimonials from renowned financial gurus and celebrities. Even Elon touts this cryptocurrency platform.

[Alarm bell #4]

Amelia explains “Investment Coach” Victoria is very picky about whom she accepts as clients and needs to check people out before she agrees to let them into the exclusive limited pool of investors.

[Alarm bell #5]

When Sophie and Fred email Victoria for more information, she asks them to demonstrate they’re serious by opening an online account with a good faith deposit of $5000, along with a processing fee of $500, all refundable of course once they’re approved.

[Alarm bell #6]

She conveniently provides a link to set up the account and their digital wallet.

[Alarm bell #7] 

And there’s one more detail for security purposes. She needs to positively verify their identities.

On the link, Fred and Sophie are asked to send photos of their Social Security cards, passports, driver’s licenses, and bank account numbers to prove their creditworthiness. For added safeguards to protect their investments, they need to make videos of themselves for biometric verification and facial recognition to prevent unauthorized access to their digital wallet.

[By now, the alarm bells are deafening]

Fred and Sophie comply with the requests.

A few days later, Victoria sends screenshots showing their $5000 has already grown to $19,286.

Weeks later, their BlueSkycoin portfolio is worth $77,894.

More good news. A special limited new issue of BlueSkycoin is being offered to a select group of Victoria’s clients. For only a $15,000 deposit, Sophie and Fred will receive $45,000 worth of BlueSkycoin. Further growth is not only projected but guaranteed.

They deposit $15K more from savings and watch their earnings grow day by day.

[Each additional request for money is another alarm bell. Notice Sophie and Fred keep putting money in but have not actually taken out any of their supposed earnings. Their profit shows only onscreen] 

They promise to help Bobby and his girlfriend move to a larger apartment and they buy baby furniture. Sophie hires a helper for her mother.

Now they are committed. Even if they suspect something is amiss, they don’t feel they can back out.

When the value of their BlueSkycoin reaches $175K, Fred suggests they celebrate by taking their long-postponed dream vacation to Tahiti.

They request funds from their digital wallet. Victoria says no problem. However, before withdrawal, there are taxes and handling fees that must be paid. That requires an additional $20K deposit to their account.

[More requests for money equal more alarm bells]

Of course, Victoria promises, they’ll quickly make that up because BlueSkycoin is set to run up even higher in value.

Sophie deposits money to cover the taxes.

Then the blue sky falls.

Overnight, Sophie and Fred are blocked from accessing their Blueskycoin account. The digital wallet they believed contained $175K is nonexistent. The trading platform vanishes, along with Victoria’s glamorous website.

Forwarding address: EffU.com

Fred and Sophie are victims of a “rug pull” which is exactly what it sounds like.

The glowing testimonial on Victoria’s website was delivered by a deepfake Elon.

Further, the rest of their savings were drained from their real bank account by “Fred” and “Sophie” imposters masquerading with stolen identification and login credentials to make withdrawals. A bank employee even talked to “Sophie” on Zoom.

Sophie could be a victim of revolutionary new malware called GoldPickAxe.

Phil Muncaster of Infosecurity Magazine describes GoldPickaxe as:

“…a sophisticated new Trojan designed to steal facial biometric data and use it to produce deepfakes of victims which can bypass banking logins.

“[The malicious app] prompts the victim to record a video as a ‘confirmation method’ in the fake app. This is then used to create a deepfake video, which can be deployed in addition to the other collected data to enable a cybercriminal to bypass banking logins.”

Who are Amelia and Victoria?

Credit: Wikimedia

Chatbots.

The real Amelia has no idea of the mischief being done in her name because her social media account was cloned. A bot is using her account to impersonate her. Personal details, like the new granddaughter and Sniffy the cockapoo, were scraped from the internet.

Chatbots are ideal employees. They don’t call in sick; they don’t complain about working graveyard shift; they don’t demand raises.

In fact, they don’t even have to be paid.

Photo credit: CCA by SA 4.0 International, https://www.bybit.com/en-US/

Fred and Sophie are not real people, but rather composites of actual victims of cryptocurrency scams perpetrated by fraudsters assisted by AI chatbots.

They are victims of pig-butchering, defined by trendmicro.com as the way “scammers fatten up their victims with the promise of lucrative returns before ‘slaughtering’ them for their money.”

The State of California’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation runs a scam tracking website that contains an ever-growing list of complaints about cryptocurrency scams.

In broad generalities, cryptocurrency is virtual money.

According to Investopedia:

“Virtual currencies are digital representations of value whose transactions are conducted only through electronic networks or the internet. They do not have a physical incarnation.”

In other words, you can’t put bitcoin in a vending machine and buy a soda, nor can you flip it and call heads or tails.

Investopedia goes on to say:

“Virtual currencies are a novel form of currency and, as such, are mostly unregulated. But that situation is changing, and an increasing number of government agencies and countries are considering the implications of introducing virtual currencies into their economies.”

According to Statista.com, revenue from the global cryptocurrency trading market is estimated at $51.5 billion for 2024. The number of users is projected to be 992.5 million by 2028.

Trading bots use artificial intelligence to predict where crypto markets are going. Some trading bots are legitimate; some are not.

SEON.io offers fraud prevention to online businesses and cryptocurrency platforms. According to their site:

“Bots are particularly useful to newbies and inexperienced traders. Many rely on trading bot platforms not just to trade fast and tirelessly but also to cover gaps in their knowledge as they learn the ropes. This is because bots use artificial intelligence to deliver insights as well as automation.

“The bots can react faster than humans and they never sleep. This means they can make split-second decisions that make traders more money.”

If you say so. To me, investing in financial transactions I don’t understand is bad enough; making them at lightning speed sounds, well, worse.

Here’s a formula for fraud: Take an investment that almost no one understands. Promise fabulous returns. Add AI technology to make money manipulation easy. Use AI chatbots to scale up to reach more victims. 

That adds up to a scammer’s bonanza.

What is the best protection against cryptocurrency scams?

Follow the immortal advice of Bernie Madoff:

“If you don’t understand the investment, don’t put your money there.” 

And,

“If it sounds too good to be true, it is.” 

~~~

Time for answers to the alarm bell quiz – what is the reason for each alarm? 

  1. Contact out of the blue. Scammers frequently impersonate friends, family, banks, government agencies and law enforcement. Always verify if the person on the other end of a private message, text, or email is actually who they say they are.
  2. Too good to be true. No legal, legitimate investment yields returns like this.
  3. Profits on investments are NOT guaranteed. 
  4. Fake celebrity endorsements are a growing trend. Just ask Elon, Oprah, and Taylor. Recently deepfake images of them have been used to sell products the celebrities didn’t endorse.
  5. False exclusivity. Scammers use this psychological trick to convince victims they are  lucky to be among the few members of an exclusive club.
  6. Money demand. As soon as the victim delivers money, the scammer wins.
  7. Clicking on an unverified link is dangerous. The scammer has control of the account and any money in it. Plus they can upload malware to your computer, phone, or other device.

Deafening alarm bells from here on. Victims have given scammers free rein to steal their identities and sell the info on the dark web. With GoldPickAxe software, they can create deep fakes of victims for endless nefarious purposes.

~~~

TKZers: How many answers did you get right? What additional reasons for alarm bells can you think of?

~~~

 

Deep fake videos are weaponized as false evidence against an innocent woman. When Tawny and Tillman try to help her, they’re sucked into a dangerous world of deception where only death is real. 

Deep Fake Double Down, BookLife Prize Finalist for Mystery/Thriller

Buy at this link

Banning Obscenity

By John Gilstrap

The West Virginia House of Delegates is making news by passing a bill that removes an exemption for schools and libraries from long-existing laws that punish the intentional distribution of obscene materials to minors. Under the law, adults who willfully and knowingly distribute “obscene” materials to minors can be held criminally liable for up to $25,000 in fines and up to five years’ imprisonment. The justification behind the bill that has forwarded to the West Virginia Senate lies in the question of why would adults whose job description is teacher or librarian be treated differently than any other adult in the state?

To be clear, nothing in the new law in any way prohibits parents from buying “obscene” materials for their children, and the definition of obscenity (see link above) is clear enough and graphic enough that it is not suitable for presentation here in this post. This is not the pornography that Justice Stewart would famously know when he saw it. The definition is really pretty clear. Libraries in West Virginia will be free to have in their stacks as many lascivious materials as they wish; they just have to make sure that minors can’t get their hands on it.

As the author of Nathan’s Run, one of the 100 most banned books in America, I feel that I have a dog in this fight, but I’m not sure who I want the dog to bite. To be honest, while the story features a 12-year-old boy, I never intended that it be considered a book that was appropriate for children. It wasn’t until the American Library Association bestowed the book with an Alex Award that school librarians placed orders for their shelves. Many, many parents were offended by some of the plot points and dialogue, and I understand why.

That said, we’re not talking American Psycho here. There’s graphic violence and bad language (409 bad words according to one letter I received) but there’s no gore porn. Still, I would never question the choices parents make on behalf of their children’s book shelves–or those of the libraries in the schools their children attend.

What I don’t understand is the perceived harm of kids seeing pictures or reading stories that Mommy and Daddy don’t want them to see–presuming that the materials are themselves legal to possess. I learned a lot when my next door neighbor, Sharon, showed me her father’s Playboys behind the hedges in front of their house. Would my mom have been upset if she found out? Oh, yeah, but how would she have found out? And where was the harm?

Reading is one of the finest ways to discover the world, and reading some of my mother’s romance novels during my adolescence cleared up a few important details while raising lots of new questions which I dared not ever ask. That was an essential part of my childhood.

The recent societal emphasis on inclusion and diversity has catapulted new angles on behavior and sexuality that has left many of my generation stunned and dizzy. “Why on earth should we be talking about that in third grade? What happened to innocence?” Change the timeframe to sixth grade, and I’m confident that that’s what Mom would have wondered if she’d found out about Sharon and I behind the hedges, and what happened was the kind of frightened fumbling nothingness that is the very definition of innocence.

The imagery and angry discourse of social media has, I believe, done more to shatter the old notions of childhood innocence than any library could possibly do. Instead of scouring literature to hunt down and identify racial stereotypes and gender roles that offend us, perhaps we should accept the notion that being offended is a part of life that each of us has to work through. Rather than getting wrapped around the axle about the epithets Huck Finn uses to refer to Jim, we should learn from the adventures these great friends shared together.

My question to you, dear Killzone family, is where do we find the balance between parental authority and librarian responsibility? Please keep politics out of it.

 

 

 

When Death Becomes Real

Dear readers: I had my second eyeball surgery yesterday (run of the mill cataracts) and can’t see the computer screen quite yet. Well, I can see it if I cover the “new” eye but that’s makes it hard to type with one hand and my head hurts a little. Plus I just want to lay around, feel sorry for myself and watch Project Runway reruns. Actually, I feel pretty good because for the first time in 15 years, I can see without glasses. So considering how squeamish I was about having Dr. Louis slice off my lens and sew on a new one, I am pretty darn happy. If you are facing cataract surgery, buck up and do it.  

My sister Kelly is stepping in for me today. She’s working on a project helping a cop-friend write a non-fiction book. The experience has granted her some insights we crime dogs maybe don’t normally think about. Be back soon. — Kris

By Kelly (PJ Parrish)

We write about crime, death, torture, corpses, graveyards and cops and we do it very often with a glass of wine near our keyboards or across from each other at a restaurant table. It’s pretty easy for us to use our purple Post-Its to move one murder from chapter forty to chapter thirty five, because, when you write fiction, you can kill anyone you want whenever you want and then finish off the wine and go to bed.

Sometimes, with enough wine or after a particularly gruesome scene, Kris and I would wonder what kind of people we are to be able to write this stuff, and almost always, the answer is that no matter how graphic we may get, in the end, we know none of it is real.

But I have learned it’s far different when it is real.

I have had both the pleasure and discomfort in recent months of assisting a new author on a true crime novel. He is a police officer and he had a story he wanted to tell but he had no idea where to start. As writer of police procedurals, I needed technical information about his department. Outside a bowling alley one night, we struck a deal. I would do a little editing for him. He would answer my police questions.

I thought it would be easy. Like many authors, we have frequently done light editing and critiquing for charity auctions and occasionally for friends, and I suspected this would be no different. There were things I didn’t anticipate.

First was the author’s passion for his story. His need to tell the story eliminated any of the usual author ego issues and it made the editing more honest and easier. Second, I did not realize how different it would be writing about events and people that were real.

Over the next few months, as the story unfolded on my laptop, I found myself weighed down by the sadness of it. I started to think about the victim at the oddest times. I even found myself playing the “what if” game on the crime, building on the tragedy of a murdered police officer and making the nagging sense of loss for a man I never knew even deeper.

Now driven with a duel passion, we kept on.

But even as the chapters went back and forth over the internet, and the scenes started to come alive with more vivid images, and I began to see the finished project as publishable, the late night haunting continued.

I expected at some point, that the repeated exchanges of the same chapters and scenes would work to dull the emotional impact. But it didn’t. It got to the point where I would postpone sitting down to edit until I knew I had two days to be depressed afterwards.

Then I was allowed access to the crime scene photos. And I looked.

Now everything was real.

The project is nearly completed now. The author’s passion has not waned, and except for his heavy work schedule, I am sure he would prefer to write until dawn, even as he wraps up the final chapters. On my end, I continue to fill his pages with red ink, and the learning process for both of us goes on as a book is nurtured to maturity. And as strange as it sounds, when it is complete, I know I will miss it. I will miss the author’s passion and dedication and I will miss the people in the book, because in a way, telling the story allowed the victim to live once again, if only on pages and if only for a few months. I hope we have done him justice in our efforts.

I have thought recently about what I will ultimately take away from this experience. It is a complicated answer because I know I will reap some sense of satisfaction from helping a new author, and as someone who deeply respects law enforcement, there’s a part of me that is honored to have even penned a single word.

But I suspect that in the end, what I take away from this will be something far different and more meaningful.

#BookTok Tips for Writers

Last week, Steve asked for a post about #BookTok on TikTok. Since I wrote an article for Anne R. Allen’s blog in October 2022, I’ll repost it here so all of TKZ can benefit. I’ve included 2024 updates in bold.

When the buzz of TikTok started spreading, I wanted no part of it. With two Facebook accounts, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, Goodreads, etc. the last thing I needed was another social media site. I could barely juggle the audience I’d amassed on social media over the last twelve years. Then I discovered #BookTok, and my outlook changed.

#BookTok

The hashtag #BookTok opens a doorway to a subsection of TikTok where thousands of voracious readers spend their time, along with #WriterTok and a host of genre hashtags. #BookTok exploded over the last two years. In fact, #BookTokers call the dancing/singing videos “the wrong side of TikTok.” Rarely, if ever, do we venture outside of #BookTok — a loyal, generous community bonded by our love of the written word.

Remember when social media was your guilty pleasure, your happy place, and you looked forward to hopping online? For many of us, that drive faded away when politics and rants filled our timelines.

Yet, having a social media presence is a vital part of an author’s career. The problem is, once we form the emotional connection between social media and publishing, engaging with readers can start to feel a lot like work. #BookTok reignited my spark, and it can do the same for you. Not only is it a blast, TikTok in general is a selling machine.

WHAT IS TIKTOK?

TikTok calls itself an “entertainment platform.” Statistics show people spend more time watching TikTok videos than Netflix. Shocking, right? By its very nature, TikTok is a storytelling platform. The videos that reign supreme tell some sort of story, engaging the viewer through drama, comedy, or bewilderment.

The beauty of TikTok is that even with only a handful of followers, content can still go viral. I’ve personally witnessed new accounts gain 20-30K views on one video. Romance (all genres) do the best, followed by fantasy/sci-fi, mystery/thriller/suspense, YA, paranormal, and horror. True crime and nonfiction have their own massive audience. No matter what genre you write in, your audience is on #BookTok. All ages, all genres.

TIKTOK MYTHS

  1. I’m too old for TikTok.

As someone in their — ahem — mid-fifties, I thought the same thing. Nothing could be farther from the truth. When TikTok hit the scene, it did cater to a younger demographic. That’s changed over the years. #BookTokers range from 20s to 80s.

  1. I refuse to make a fool of myself to sell books.

Sure, there’s a lot of silliness on TikTok, but you don’t need to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Be your beautiful, reserved, crazy, funny, introverted, or extroverted self. That’s who readers want to know, not some made-up version of yourself. Although, if you write spicy romance and want to conceal your identity, that’s okay, too.

  1. I don’t have time to learn another social media site that’ll probably disappear in a few years.

All writers suffer with the same issue. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Here’s a cold, hard truth: sooner or later authors won’t have a choice about joining TikTok. Our audience is turning away from Facebook and Twitter. At the end of last year (2021), Facebook reported its lowest daily views yet, and they attributed the loss to TikTok.

Of all the social media sites, X-Twitter has the lowest ROI for selling books. Do you know who has the highest? TikTok. Why? Because it’s unlike any other social media site.

  1. You must be tech-savvy to create videos.

TikTok does have an advanced video creator built into the app, but it’s very easy to use. They also provide video tutorials. If you still have trouble, head to YouTube. Creators post step-by-step instructions that anyone can follow.

  1. You must be comfortable in front of the camera to use TikTok.

I’ll tell you a little secret. The thought of shooting videos scared me half to death. The few videos I posted on social media took me forever to create, obsessing over every tiny detail, and I still wasn’t happy with the end result. Before I jumped on TikTok I froze in front of the camera. I wasn’t a fan of public speaking, either. Sure, I could hold my own at a book event, but I still trembled inside.

#BookTok helped me overcome that heart-stopping fear. And tomorrow, I fly out to film three episodes of a true crime series for TV (UPDATE: They’ve aired. Check out A Time to Kill, Season 6, on Investigation Discovery). Guess how the producers found me? Initially through my website — I still say authors need a home base — but they got a feel of my personality through my TikToks (videos). I can’t say that sealed the deal — they also read my books — but it definitely helped.

HOW DO AUTHORS START ON #BOOKTOK?

Download the app and setup an account. I started with a business account, but that was a mistake. Personal accounts get more views. Be sure to use your author name. If you use more than one pen name, then either create an account for each or umbrella them all under your real name. Choice is yours.

All you’ll be doing at first is lurking. Let me warn you. TikTok may seem overwhelming at first. You can spend hours watching talking dog videos, cooking videos, and any other passion you may have. Here’s the thing. The more content you watch that’s not book related the more you’ll confuse the algorithm. Learned that lesson the hard way.

Once you gain a thousand followers, the link in your bio becomes clickable. Still include one, though. People know to copy/paste a dead link. I use LinkTree. Back in 2016, LinkTree solved social media’s most annoying problem — only allowing one link in bios. Now, all your social media, newsletter sign-up page, website, blog(s), books, giveaways, etc. can be housed under one LinkTree link. And it’s free!

THE TIKTOK ALGORITHM

TikTok’s secret algorithm far exceeds all its competitors. When a new user signs up, it throws all kinds of videos at you, then watches and learns which ones you react to or re-watch. If you stop at every talking dog, the algorithm will flood your For You Page (timeline) with more talking animals. The longer you watch, the more it thinks that’s what you want. I can’t resist anything animal related. Hence why it took me a while to train the algorithm to gain more #BookTok followers.

Some authors advise to create two accounts. One to watch animals or whatever. The second for book related content. Alas, I use one account for everything, but I’m cognizant of the type of videos I watch. The algorithm has figured out that I love books and animals. Since I include animals in my books, I feel it’s related.

Pay close attention to authors in your genre.

  • What type of content do they create?
  • Do their videos get a lot of interaction?
  • Do they post only book content?
  • What other type of content do they post?
  • How does their audience react?

CREATING YOUR FIRST TIKTOK

Once you get comfortable with the app, you’ll feel the urge to jump in. Resist that urge for another week. I did nothing but lurk for a solid month. By the time I created my first TikTok *cringe* I felt I knew the rhythm of #BookTok. I didn’t. And neither will you. But that’s okay. The only way to learn the ins and out of #BookTok is to jump in headfirst.

Then why did you tell us to lurk first?

Because you’ll be ahead of the game if you do. All that knowledge you’ve acquired will benefit you when you’re ready. Think about this… You’re in #BookTok and stumble across a how-to video. If you don’t know what they’re talking about, you’ve wasted valuable information. For example, Trending Sounds or “how to invert” the title on your cover so it’s not a mirrored image.

WHAT IS A TRENDING SOUND?

A Trending Sound could be a fragment of music or a voiceover that helps you connect with an audience. All of TikTok uses Trends. You’ve probably seen the dance videos that everyone copies. Well, #BookTok has their own Trends and Trending Sounds.

2024 UPDATE: TikTok also owns CapCut, a video software app. If you use a trending CapCut, you’ll get more views. This video sold 100 books in one day. Why? Because I used a trending CapCut. When’s the last time one of your Facebook or Twitter posts sold that many books in a day? A video, I might add, that took me less than one minute to create.

It’s fantastic exposure. TikTok content lives forever. Unlike other social media sites, the algorithm constantly pushes old TikToks to new people.

Early on, I created a video of calling “my” murder of crows for breakfast. I showed the empty trees, me calling for Poe (the alpha), and the crows flying in moments later. That one video has over 5K views and climbing (2024 UPDATE: 31K views and climbing). It relates to my books because in my Mayhem Series, my antihero has three wild crow companions (Poe, Allan, and Edgar).

DUETS

Duets are when you, well, duet someone else’s video. Here’s an example of me duetting a cop’s video.

It works for my audience because I’m a crime writer. Romance writers duet male models, and their audience goes crazy. Paranormal writers might duet a medium or ghost hunter. If you write cozy mysteries in a library setting, duet a librarian. Write about vampires? No problem. Duet a vampire (yes, they’re on TikTok). Serial killer thriller author? Duet videos about serial killers. Think outside the box.

FINDING YOUR AUDIENCE

Are your books geared toward an older audience? Use the #GenX hashtag along with a genre hashtag. Are you targeting millennials? Use #GenY. Knowing who your audience is the key to finding potential readers. Niche down from there.

Some authors say never to follow other authors, but that’s a mistake. Writers are your people, your tribe. We learn from each other. We help boost each other’s views. #BookTok wouldn’t be nearly as fun without other writers. And we read, too!

TRENDS

We also start our own Trends, and they’re hilarious. Last week, a writer friend used the videotape filter. I’d need a whole other post to discuss filters. Suffice it to say, the TikTok looks like you’re being videotaped by someone else. In this case, the police were searching for a missing person: Grammarly. She was Suspect #1. In her video, she named me and a slew of other mystery/thriller authors as possible suspects, and we all created videos of being interrogated by the cops. Mystery & thriller readers loved it! We all gained new followers and sold books from that one idea.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the genius behind #BookTok. It’s marketing that doesn’t feel like marketing. Some savvy authors sell between 200-600 books per week from #BookTok alone. Still think it’s a waste of time?

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’m not sayin’ it’s easy to get started. Finding your groove takes time. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll find your audience much faster than any other social media site. If you’ve never watched a video review of one of your books, you’re missing out on something special. It’s humbling to witness the reaction of a reader who just closed the cover, tears still in her eyes while she gushes about how much she loved your characters or the story, and how she felt while reading.

Duet every review.

Authors can either “blind react” to a review or prepare themselves first, both done via the Duet feature, helping the review reach more and more readers. After watching a particularly emotional review of I AM MAYHEM, my son said to me, “Imagine how many other readers you’ve touched in the same way?” He’s right. Before #BookTok, authors never had the pleasure of witnessing immediate reactions from readers. Now we do.

Have you considered joining TikTok? Has this post inspired you to see if you’d be happy there? What are your biggest concerns?

A Villain’s Charm Offensive

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Snidely Whiplash

We all know the first rule (wink) about villains is to not make them like Snidely Whiplash. Those of you too young to understand this reference are culturally bereft, so I’m here to help. Snidely was the name of the foil for Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties, a cartoon character who first appeared on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, which was the creation of the great Jay Ward staff of writers. Both Dudley and Snidely were caricatures from the days of silent movie serials, where the mustache-twirling bad guy tied the girl to the railroad tracks and other nasty things.

Pure evil villains are, therefore, stereotypical and boring. We need to give them a backstory, a justification (they think they are in the right), and even a little sympathy.

What I want to consider today is charm. For me, the most memorable villains are those whose personalities attract rather than repel. For as the Bible notes, Satan may appear as “an angel of light.”

My top two villains in this regard are:

  1. Iago

We’ve all heard of Shakespeare’s Iago, and perhaps picture him as a conniving, nasty reprobate. But that’s not how the characters in the play see him. Othello himself calls him “honest, honest Iago.” Cassio trusts him implicitly, would like to be like him. Harold Bloom brings out the obvious comparison to Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, the latter undoubtedly inspired by the former.

I always wanted to play Iago. Earle Hyman, a great Othello, told me I’d be perfect because of my open, honest face (ha! I became a lawyer instead). Iago drives the play. He has eight soliloquies (Othello has but three) and they are valid insights into human nature, twisted to suit Iago’s purposes. In one famous speech he tells the love-struck Roderigo to get over it through the power of his will:

Virtue? A fig! ’Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners. So that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness or manured with industry, why the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most prepost’rous conclusions. But we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts—whereof I take this that you call love to be a sect, or scion.

He goes on to tell Roderigo that what he calls love “is merely a lust of the blood and a permission of the will.” Iago then appeals to his manhood: “Come, be a man!” and “Put money in thy purse.” When Roderigo toddles off to do as Iago suggests, Iago faces the audience and says he has “made my fool my purse.”

Great villains have the charm to turn people into fools.

  1. Harry Lime

Lime is the villain in Carol Reed’s classic The Third Man (1949). Played by Orson Welles, Lime dominates the film even though, for the first hour, he’s not even seen! When he first appears, one can see immediately why the beautiful Anna (Valli) loves him and why his best friend Holly (Joseph Cotten) wants so badly to find him. His magnetism radiates off the screen. Watch his duly famous intro:

Holly learns that Harry is running a black market business in diluted penicillin. At first he refuses to believe it, but Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) shows him the undeniable evidence at the children’s hospital. One of the dark consequences of Lime’s penicillin are the horrible outcomes to children who got dosed for meningitis. As Calloway says, “The lucky ones died.”

So here you have the most heinous of crimes, done by the most charming of evil doers. What does that do to us? The emotional cross-currents take us more deeply into the story than we can experience any other way.

Thus, I have advised writers to give their villains a closing argument, as if standing in front of a jury. Lime actually has one and delivers it to Holly. They are in a car on a Ferris wheel and, looking down at the ant-like people, Lime asks:

Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you 20,000 pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spend? Free of income tax, old man, free of income tax.

As they are about to part, Lime gives him the conclusion to his closing argument:

Who isn’t charmed by that? The audience certainly was, and the fan letters came pouring in…for Welles! So much so that they created a radio show called The Adventures of Harry Lime. It was a prequel to the movie, with Welles reprising his role and playing it more as a lovable rogue than an evil black marketeer.

Thus, the charming villain is the most dangerous villain of all.