True Crime Thursday – 911 Pizza Emergency

Photo credit: In memorium: Mr. Ducke, Visual Hunt

By Debbie Burke


On a dreary winter night when hunger pangs strike, the craving for a thick-crust pepperoni pizza with double cheese might FEEL like an emergency.

But in this True Crime Thursday case, a 911 dispatcher in Oregon, Ohio answered a call from a woman ordering a pizza that turned out to be a bona fide emergency.

Tim Teneyck, a 14-year veteran at the 911 center, at first thought the call was a prank. But the woman was insistent and repeated her address, tipping Tim off to a problem at that location. He asked if someone was threatening her. She answered yes. He asked more questions and determined she was in danger even though she couldn’t say so directly.

He dispatched officers to the address. Inside the residence, they found a drunk man menacing the caller’s 57-year-old mother. The man was the mother’s live-in boyfriend who had a history of domestic abuse. He was arrested, averting a possible tragedy.

From time to time, social media spreads the word that there is a “secret code” for domestic abuse victims. Supposedly, if they call 911 and order a pepperoni pizza, that indicates they are in danger but cannot talk. According to law enforcement, this code is neither standard nor official.

But quick-thinking 911 dispatchers recognize signs of stress in a caller’s voice and will prolong the conversation, as Tim did, until help arrives.

Thank you to the unsung heroes who answer frantic calls to 911.


TKZers, do you have an unusual or interesting 911 story to share in the comments? Some regular TKZ readers are dispatchers or connected to law enforcement. Please chime in with your anecdotes.




Please check out Debbie Burke’s new release, Eyes in the Sky, book 3 in her Thrillers with a Heart Series. You can read a sample here.


First Page Critique ‘The False Curtain’:
Alone Again…Unnaturally

By PJ Parrish

Why is January feeling like it’s lasting forever? And I don’t even have to deal with snow.  I just wanted to get that off my chest. Now, let’s have some fun and read a First Pager.  Thank you, dear submitting writer, for giving me some diversion this week as I fill out the scary questionaire in preparation for possible grand jury duty next week. If you don’t see me for a couple months, send out the search party to the Tallahassee courthouse.


A suspense novel

The small, windowless room felt more like a place for an interrogation than a meeting.

Although two plastic chairs sat side-by-side in the middle, I stood. Actually, I paced. It’s what I do whenever I’m uneasy. Mimi had said there was nothing to be nervous about. My appointment with Mr. Smith, the man she owed money to, should be simple and quick.

Finally I heard the doorknob turn. I watched as the door opened. It took a moment for me to realize who stood in the doorway.

I had no idea Mimi’s Mr. Smith was Davey Smith. I never would have put the two together.

I recognized Davey only because I saw him at our 25th high school reunion last year. Back in the day he’d been the quiet, studious kid who tutored math dummies, like me. Someone said he’d done well for himself and he looked it. Seeing him again—now—totally surprised me. He showed no indication of feeling the same.

He took a couple steps forward, stopping just inches away. He cupped my face with both hands and tilted it upward. I watched his face come close. His kiss was soft and persuasive.

After releasing me, he said, “Good to see you again, Lindsey. Sorry we didn’t get to talk at the reunion.”

“Davey, I—”

“I prefer my friends call me David.”

“David. I—.”

“…and my business associates call me Mr. Smith. I haven’t decided which category you’ll be in.” He smiled, just a little, then abruptly turned and walked to the door. “About that kiss. Don’t take it too seriously. You still have to do everything I say. If you don’t, you won’t like what happens to your cousin. You also won’t like what will happen to you.” With that, he left.

I stared at the closed door, stunned.

Davey was no longer the sweet boy I knew in high school.

His attitude….

His threats….

I wanted to start pacing again, but I was too scared to move.


After a while, I sat. I don’t know how much time passed because I didn’t have my purse or phone. A man had taken them before I was shown into the room. That was my first clue the meeting wasn’t going to be simple or quick.

My meeting with Mr. Smith was supposed to be a discussion of how I could pay back Mimi’s debt—


I’m back. Well, what do we think? I think there’s some good stuff here that, with a little tweaking, could be the beginnings of what the writer subtitles “A suspense novel.” (Which I think is superfluous, by the way. Your back copy can carry that load for a potential reader. But that’s a nit.)

What’s good here: We’re picking up the story in a good active moment — a somewhat mysterious meeting that has the protag on edge. There is just enough backstory hints to ground us but no info dumps. I like the way the writer told us who Mimi is — not through a narrative tag (“My cousin Mimi had told me…”) but letting the relationship emerge through dialogue a couple beats later. Smoothly done.  I think the dialogue itself is handled cleanly and reads as believable. David’s kiss is a big creepy surprise, especially when he backs it up with a threat. (More on that in a sec). So, all in all, not a bad opening at all. I would read on.


And this is a caveat I often give. When the writing is solid, I want it to be better. Because good isn’t good enough in today’s market. When you’re as close as this submission is, you need to push yourself even harder to make your story stand out  from the madding crowd.

I try not to rethink a writer’s approach or question their style. But here’s a few suggestions, just one reader’s perspective.

The opening line isn’t bad. But it’s a good example of telling instead of showing. I think you could use a few more choice details to SHOW us this room rather than TELL us it “felt more like a place for an interrogation than a meeting.”

Windowless, small, plastic chairs is not enough, imo. Use description to enhance the MOOD, the apprehension she feels. You won’t lose your momentum by slowing down just a little. How big is this room, exactly? (Calling a room small is like calling a man handsome — It has no currency in our imaginations). What’s the lighting — glaring fluorescent with maybe one bulb giving off that annoying buzzing just before it dies? Industrial carpeting with an odd stain? What color are the walls? Does it smell? It also might not be a bad idea to hint somewhere where we are exactly. Your description is so spare we could be in anything from downtown Houston skyscraper to an anteroom in a airplane hangar meth lab. Make your description make us FEEL something.

Ditto when you get to Davey/David. I like this line: “Someone said he’d done well for himself and he looked it.” But again, that’s telling instead of showing. Does this mean he has money? Is he wearing a Brioni suit and silk tie? Again, you’re missing an opportunity to not only ground your reader in detail but to reveal something about your protagonist by filtering description through her PERCEPTIONS and BACKGROUND. You can tell us a lot about your protag (and help us bond with her) at the same time you tell us something about David. Don’t let these opportunities go by.

Because…right now Lindsey is sort of a cipher. Granted, it is hard for you the writer to give us a sense of her physically when you’re in the first person. But a simple line like “I watched his face come close” gives you a chance to add detail — a small shaving nick on his chin? The smell of clove after-shave? Are his hands, cupping her face, rough or smooth?

One thing that kind of doesn’t make sense. She seems to be surprised by his appearance (ie, the line, someone had said he had made good for himself…). But she saw him herself just a year ago at a reunion. So she would already know he was successful and/or handsome? People at reunions talk about who made it, who failed, who died, etc. You say they didn’t talk at the reunion but did she see him from afar? You say he is NOT surprised to see her. You need to reconcile this.

The kiss is interesting. But the fact she has no reaction or thought (other than saying it was “soft and persuasive”) struck me as odd. Unless these two have a romantic past, it comes across as somewhat unrealistic and weirdly submissive on her part. What is “persuasive” about it? It made me flash back to the dynamic between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Ickiness. Lindsey is, given the 25th reunion time line, about 43 years old and there on some kind of financial mission (ex math dummie or not). Do you really want to paint her as so passive?

That passivity is echoed, too, in these lines after David leaves:

Davey was no longer the sweet boy I knew in high school.

His attitude….

His threats….

I wanted to start pacing again, but I was too scared to move.

The guy just planted a predatory kiss on her, threatened her and her cousin, and left the room with nothing resolved. And this is all she feels and thinks? Now, maybe this is a calculated character arc for Lindsey on your part. Mousy CPA encounters a mystery man from her past and she eventually grows and rises to some challenge? (You titled this a suspense novel, not a romance).  But Lindsey, in this opening at least, doesn’t strike me as a woman who will take her destiny into her own hands. She recalls all the tropes of a bad 1950s bodice ripper).

Which leads me to the last paragraph. (By the way, you don’t need the * * * designation. It is used only when you have a legitimate scene break, not when you don’t know how to transition from one moment in your story to another)

After a while, I sat. I don’t know how much time passed because I didn’t have my purse or phone. A man had taken them before I was shown into the room. That was my first clue the meeting wasn’t going to be simple or quick.

Why did she just sit there? Again, this is passive and not very interesting. And the fact that someone took her phone and purse when she came in should have been in the first graph — it ups the stakes immediately. But unless you set this up better, it isn’t believable. Maybe if you had described this place better in her thoughts — that when she entered the building, she went through a metal detector or given us details about the circumstances of surrendering her purse and phone, I might buy it. But again, she does this without question or even a thought — which makes her passive and almost juvenile.

So, there we are, alone in a windowless room, with a faceless protagonist. Where does Lindsey — and this story — go from here? As I said, I think this set-up has potential and the writer has a decent grasp of craft.  But it doesn’t read real and it feels unnatural, like the weird kiss and threat came out of nowhere, not organically from the situation. Also, we need some flesh on these bones. Create a mood. Give us some details to fire up our imaginations. And most important, give us good reason to want to follow Lindsey for 300 suspenseful pages.

Thank you, dear writer, for letting us see your work. I hope you find this one person’s opinion this helpful. And others here, as always, might have different takes. What say you all?

Lessons Learned from Writing True Crime


Have you ever considered writing true crime? With five days left of my deadline, I’ve finished the manuscript of Pretty Evil New England and am now just tightening the writing and gathering my photographs for the book. The hard part is behind me.


While on this journey into true crime I learned a few lessons that might interest you.

Would I recommend true crime to new writers? The only honest answer I can give is, it depends.

The truth is, this work isn’t for everyone. Writing true crime is a huge undertaking that requires months of intense research and deep concentration. Some days I swear my brain had caught fire from overuse. Seriously, it can be physically draining to live inside a real killer’s head for months on end, never mind five killers’ heads, or the victims and their families. At the same time, my passion and excitement for the project kept me racing to work every single day, and the day after that, and the day after that.

Please indulge me for a moment. I do have a point, but you’ll need context to understand what I’m talking about. When the publisher approached me about writing Pretty Evil New England, they asked me to include 10 +/- female serial killer stories.

But I didn’t want to write 10 short stories. What fun is that? If I was to veer out of my comfort zone (psychological thrillers and mysteries), then I needed to write a story that mattered, a story that readers could sink into, spend time in the story world, and experience a visceral thrill ride. What I failed to realize at the time was that the publisher’s idea would’ve been a cakewalk compared to my over-eager proposition. But hey, I was never one to shy away from a challenge. Why start now?

In my book proposal, I outlined the book in four Parts. Part I – III focused on one female serial killer at a time, with each Part dedicated to the subject’s case, all four Parts the length of a novella. In Part IV, I zeroed in on two female serial killers — one poor, one “lady of influence” — who committed almost identical crimes. They both claimed to experience visions and prophetic dreams, both murdered the people they loved most, and both stunned the public with their heartless crimes. Yet, after they were exposed as killers, the two women’s lives ran in opposite directions. Even more shocking were the outcomes at trial. So, Part IV became not only two intriguing storylines that intertwined but it shined a (subtle) light on fairness and equality.

Not conforming to the publisher’s original vision for the book was a risk, but I backed up my argument with facts from various sources that proved true crime readers prefer quality over quantity.

Lesson #1: When pushing for your own concept, you need to provide proof that your idea will be more profitable and enjoyable than the one posed by the publisher.

Once I found my five cases, I delved into research. Now, I had no idea what to look for, so I researched everything… life in nineteenth century New England, nursing requirements back then, forensics of yesteryear, how trials worked back then, the gallows… you name it, I researched the topic to death (no pun intended). I had no direction, except for my five ladies, two of which had practically no online footprint and one who had too many articles written about her, and many with conflicting accounts that didn’t align with my early research. Which is worse, actually. It’s much more time-consuming to wade through conflicting information than to research a bare bones case.

Lesson #2: Have a plan of attack. Meaning, before you start to research plan what you’ll need for the story, like dialogue and a sense of place.

Being a fiction writer helped a lot, because I viewed the cases from a storyteller’s point of view. The worse thing we can do is to just report facts. Boring! Instead, we need to find that perfect balance between journalism and engaging storytelling. But, and this is key, we cannot change or embellish to enhance the story.

What I discovered is, there are numerous ways to write true crime. Each of my four Parts are written differently. Why? Because no true story is the same. Thus, it’s our job to be able to adapt according to the case. For example, in Part I, I used the killer’s confession and dialogue to write scenes from her perspective, the victims’ perspectives, and the dogged investigators who caught her. Using a backdrop of the historical Eastern Heatwave of 1901 enhanced the atmosphere in a creepy way. Which brings me to…

Lesson #3: Look outside the case for a sense of place. What else is happening at that time, in that area?

Lesson #4: No amount of online research can replace real-world experience.

Even if we’re writing historical true crime, we still need to visit the crime scenes, grave sites, walk where the killer walked, visit the town, or the murder house, if you’re really lucky. In my research I stumbled across a third floor that was perfectly preserved from 1881. I walked where the killer walked (in Part III of Pretty Evil), I sat where the victims sat, I laid my finger on the ivory keys of their piano and perused their bookshelves. What an incredible find! It’s an experience I will never forget. If you’d like to see the photos, I blogged about it.

The most important lesson I learned was this. Before choosing a subject to write about, ask yourself, why does this story interest me? What is it about this crime that makes it unique?

We, as writers, need to be passionate about all our projects. For true crime writers, we need to be doubly sure, because we can’t change real life. The true crime writer lives with the case for a long time… many months, sometimes years. If the writer isn’t passionate about the story, chances are readers won’t care, either. Same goes for fiction. Hence why TKZ members have written umpteen posts on concept, premise, when to keep a story idea and when to trash it.

By the time I wrote the final sentence of Part IV of Pretty Evil, I couldn’t wait to go back to page one. I missed my “characters” from Part I-III. And now that I’m just tidying up the manuscript, I feel like I’m visiting old friends, even if they are psychopaths. 😉 Their stories are part of me now, and hopefully, will become part of my readers’ lives as well.

Have you ever considered writing true crime? If you already do, please share your tips.


PRETTY EVIL NEW ENGLAND: True Stories of Violent Vixens and Murderous Matriarchs hits bookstores Sept. 1, 2020. Can’t wait!


Further Reflections on the Mirror Moment

by James Scott Bell

I enjoy getting emails and tweets from writers regarding the “mirror moment,” which is the subject of my book, Write Your Novel From the Middle. Recently I received two that I thought would make good fodder for a post (we at TKZ are always looking for good fodder).

The first email was a great question from someone who asked about the mirror moment in a long series. She used Sue Grafton’s alphabet series as an example. Should each book have a mirror moment? How can a series character go through so many changes?

I wrote back reminding her that there are two kinds of mirror moments. The first kind is about identity. It asks questions like, “Who am I? Why am I this way? What must I become?” It’s Rick in Casablanca.

The second kind is about death. It is the realization, “I’m probably going to die. The opposition is too great. How can I possibly survive?” That’s Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive.

So I suggested that in any Kinsey Millhone mystery (and in mystery series in general), there could always be a realization in the middle that this case, this puzzle, this villain is the most perplexing or dangerous of their career. It looks like they could “die” (professionally) this time.

But that is not to say the character in any given book in a series cannot have a personal crisis of identity, too. Exhibit A would be the Harry Bosch books by Michael Connelly.

C is for confession: I have not read all of the alphabet books by Sue Grafton. I think I may have stopped around F. But the question intrigued me, so I went to the library and picked one of the later books at random—Q is For Quarry. I sat down and, as is my practice when mirror hunting, turned to the physical center of the book and just started looking around. Was there anything relating to identity? Or anything indicating this was the biggest challenge of her career?

Lo and behold, I found that it was about identity. Kinsey, who lost both her parents in a car accident when she was very young, has had a hole in her identity ever since. In this scene from the middle of the book, she is looking at a photograph of her mother. You don’t even have to know the details of the plot to know that this is the language of an identity-type of mirror moment:

I placed the frame on my desk, sitting back in my swivel chair with my feet propped up. Several things occurred to me that I hadn’t thought of before. I was now twice my mother’s age the day the photograph was taken. Within four months of that date, my parents would be married, and by the time she was my age, she’d have a daughter three years old. By then my parents would have had only another two years to live. It occurred to me that if my mother had survived, she’d be seventy. I tried to imagine what it would be like to have a mother in my life—the phone calls, the visits and shopping trips, holiday rituals so alien to me. I’d been resistant to the Kinseys, feeling not only adamant but hostile to the idea of continued contact. Now I wondered why the offer of simple comfort felt like such a threat. Wasn’t it possible that I could establish a connection with my mother through her two surviving sisters? Surely, Maura and Susanna shared many of her traits—gestures and phrases, values and attitudes ingrained in them since birth. While my mother was gone, couldn’t I experience some small fragment of her love through my cousins and aunts? It didn’t seem too much to ask, although I still wasn’t clear what price I might be expected to pay.

I locked the office early, leaving the photo of my mother in the center of my desk. Driving home, I couldn’t resist touching on the issue, much in the same way the tongue seeks the socket from which a tooth has just been pulled. The compulsion resulted in the same shudder-producing blend of satisfaction and repugnance.

Thus, any book in a long-running series can include subplot elements that relate to the hero’s identity and transformation.

Shortly after this I got an email from my friend, writer Rich Bullock. He told me he’d been watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and in the chapter titled “The Mirror Cave” Rey is being tempted by the dark side (what a shock) and challenged by Kylo Ren on her true identity. Rich told me it was smack dab in the middle.

So I checked out the DVD from the library, chucked in the player, and went to the scene. Rey has fallen into this mirror cave, and is hoping it will give her a clue about who she truly is. Kylo Ren is somewhere else, but able to communicate with her:

KYLO REN: Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.

REY: No! No!

REY (VOICE OVER): I should have felt trapped or panicked. But I didn’t. This didn’t go on forever, I knew it was leading somewhere. And that, at the end, it would show me what I came to see.

REY: Let me see them. My parents … please.

She touches the mirror. Two shadowy figures approach from the other side of the glass. But when the frost clears, Rey is looking at … herself!

I took a look at the DVD timeline:

Hmm, we’re 1:16 into a 2:32 movie. I’m no math whiz, but I believe you can’t get any more middle than that!

The mirror moment works every time.

(For more on this, see my post “Revisiting the Mirror Moment”.)

That’s it for today, kids. I’m on the road most of the day, but will try to check in later. Talk amongst yourselves, esp. those of you writing series characters. How do you handle any inner transformation?

Setting Yourself Up for Success

It is happenstance that I follow the excellent question posed by James Scott Bell yesterday in this space about the concept for writers of “Failing Up” with some thoughts on success and how to achieve it. The collection of individuals known as “writers” and “authors” have any number of motives for writing. One of the ones at the top of this list hopefully would be that each and all of them want to do so. Those of us who show up every week or two at this space with a post that we have written do so because we want to do it. We seek to help others, hope to entertain, and/or wish to sound off, among other things. The big one, however, is that we want to write. 

Some authors have reached the enviable point in their careers where they are under contract and must write in order to fulfill a contractual obligation, but wanting to do it is hopefully still their primary motivation. Sitting in front of a screen trying to fill a space beats looking forward to a day where a shovel and a ditch constitute the primary scenery and the scenery never changes. Others are trying to get to the point where someone is willing to pay them to write. They are honing their work in hope of piercing the hardened heart and mind of an editor. Again, however, they have to want to. And so it goes. In each case, a writer assembles the tools, skills, and ideas at hand and gets to work. 

It sometimes helps, however, to sit back for a moment (as opposed to a week, or a month, or longer) to discern what is one’s prime motivator, regardless of what they are trying to accomplish. I was reminded of this last week as I listened to a lecture titled “Counseling Your Client to Reduce Stress & Succeed in Litigation” given by Alan S. Fanger, Esq., as part of the legal education series. Mr. Fanger, the president of EmpowerLegal, Inc. touched upon many subjects dealing with how to prepare a client for trial.  My major takeaway from his presentation, however, was a discussion concerning how to successfully accomplish a task. Mr. Fanger put forth the proposition that it is more important to focus upon what needs to be done to perform the task successfully than upon the consequences of the failure to do so. He concluded that focusing on consequences rather than how to do the job will guarantee failure.  

Mr. Fanger used an example from the world of professional football to illustrate his point. You don’t have to be a football fan to appreciate it.  There was a cringe-inducing moment during the 2016 NFC Wild Card playoff between the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks. A Vikings player named Blair Walsh was tasked near the end of the game with kicking a field goal which would have, all other factors being equal, won the game for Minnesota. It was a short kick (for a professional football player) of twenty-seven yards. Walsh missed it, in front of God and everybody. It wasn’t as if Walsh was pulled out of the stands to make the effort, either. The game in question was a low scoring one. Walsh had actually scored all nine of Minnesota’s points during that game by kicking field goals from longer distances. He missed that last one, however. It was indeed a bitter pill to swallow, one that some football fans remember to this day. While none of us can accurately predict what goes through anyone’s mind in the moments before making an attempt at a task, Mr. Fanger submitted that perhaps Blair Walsh was more focused on the enormity of what would happen if he failed — losing the game and thus failing to advance to the Super Bowl that year — than upon what he needed to do to succeed. 

That conclusion may or may not be true. It makes sense, however. You may have heard of something which is currently called “analysis paralysis.” It’s a term applied to overthinking, which is easy to do because in a very subtle way it delays the need to make a decision as to what to do. Let’s look at a very famous incident that required immediate decision and focused implementation. I am sure that the name Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is familiar to all of you. Captain Sullenberger was piloting a commercial airliner when a bird strike shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport disabled his aircraft’s engines. Captain Sullenberger, a veteran Air Force and commercial pilot, made some calculations and concluded that landing at an airport wasn’t an option. He made a decision and told his control tower, “We’ll be in the Hudson.” That is where he landed his plane. The conclusion of that particular incident would have been quite different if Captain Sullenberger had focused upon and overwhelmed by the consequences of failure — job loss, destruction of property, and, oh yeah, loss of life — instead of upon the best method (under the circumstances ) of landing the plane and the passengers with which he had been entrusted. He made a decision and acted on it, focusing on what he needed to do to succeed. “We’ll be in the Hudson,” Just so. 

Think about Captain Sullenberger the next time you sit down to write and find that the old bugaboo — “I gotta finish this” — gets in the way. You probably have near at hand everything you need to succeed, including writing instruments, a command of language, imagination, the will to start, and your own mind.  I had all of those within reach when I began writing today’s post. I didn’t consider what would happen if I didn’t. It was more constructive and more fun, actually, to start writing and see, to paraphrase Dorothy Sayers, where my whimsy would take me. The finished product is just a bit different than what I had envisioned it would be, but that’s okay, too. I’m happy with it. I don’t know if I kicked it between the goalposts, but I think I landed in the Hudson, and I hope I didn’t lose anyone.  

Thank you for stopping by. Enjoy your weekend.

Reader Friday: Failing Up

“In both life and football, failure is inevitable. You dont always win. You can, however, learn from that failure, pick yourself up with great enthusiasm, and place yourself in the arena again. And that’s right where you will find me. Because I know I still have more to prove.” — Tom Brady

Applies to writers, too?

True Crime Thursday – Snowballing Out of Control

Photo credit: Annatsach

By Debbie Burke

In the dead of winter, here’s a selection of true crime stories about snowballs.

In December, 2019, the Wisconsin town of Wausau outlawed throwing snowballs, classifying them in the same category of weapons as “arrows, stones, or other missiles or projectiles.”


A Douglas, North Dakota man, 68, was charged with felony aggravated assault of a victim under the age of 12. The man was walking his dog in the vicinity of snowball fight among a group of children. He was hit by a stray snowball and allegedly pursued a 9-year-old boy, knocking him to the ground and kicking him.


In a triumph of youthful activism, a 9-year-old mover-and-shaker from Severance, Colorado convinced members of the town meeting to overturn an ordinance banning snowball fights. Now that the activity is legal, young influencer Dane Best intends to throw his first snowball at an appropriate target—his little brother.

Photo credit: Visual Hunt

Next, Dane may tackle reforming other Severance ordinances–specifically a definition that currently limits “pets” to cats and dogs, which means his guinea pig is technically illegal. Go, Dane! 

TKZers: Should snowball fights be outlawed?




Debbie Burke’s new thriller, Eyes in the Sky, includes many crimes but no illegal snowball fights. It’s book 3 in the Tawny Lindholm series Thrillers with a Heart. Please check out the preview at this link.




Stalking Midas, book 2 in the series, is specially sale priced until January 28. Please check it out here.

Is There Such A Thing As Too Many Books?



At our house, we’re still in the midst of The Never-ending Remodel. The good news is that we finally have access to five renewed closets with actual shelves, rather than wire, shelf-like surfaces through which our belongings dangled for thirteen years. The other news is that the piles of unshelved belongings that remain are made up mostly of books. A lot of books.

Husband, also a writer, has never been sentimental about printed books. Without my, um, encouragement, we wouldn’t own more than two copies of any of his published books. (We long ago lost track of all the books in which his work is anthologized.) A frequent quote: “If I need a copy, I can get it off Ebay.” Did I say he was unsentimental? My mind is searching for another word that better expresses the gravity of his position. Maybe something in the blasphemy neighborhood. But he is also a creative writing professor who teaches his students how to tell compelling stories in arenas that didn’t exist a decade ago–from podcasting to virtual reality. And some of his third year graduate students already have (ironically enough) book deals and jobs in publishing awaiting them.

I love our books. I love the books I brought with me when we married, and the books we bought along the way. I love all the books with our writer friends’ names on their spines. I love having the books we’ve written. I love the books we read to our kids. I love the books we own that I’ve never read. I love the books I used to homeschool our kids. I love the books we received as gifts–even if they aren’t books we might have chosen. Together, that’s a lot of books.

We’ve given away many hundreds of books over the years. Mostly to libraries for book sales. Though the newer books we’ve donated from the many competitions we’ve judged often find new life on our local library’s underfunded shelves. It’s always a joy to hear when that happens.

Does the above establish me as a book lover? I hope so.

Publishing paper books is big business. In 2017, 675 million print books were sold in the U.S. alone. (I didn’t dig too deeply for this number. Your result may differ.) What about all those books that are printed by traditional publishers and never leave the warehouse? That’s a lot of books, a lot of paper.

Sometimes I feel guilty about all the paper we use for books. If you’re a person concerned with carbon footprints, this post has some interesting comparisons on the impact of ereaders vs. paper books, and even includes the surprising news that reading on a phone has considerably less environmental impact than reading on an ereader. It also mentions something I’ve long suspected: reading comprehension is notably higher with paper books than digital books. (FWIW, the post has a disturbing number of exclamation points, which, despite the piece’s footnotes, makes its conclusions seem suspect. Punctuation matters, kids.)

Book publishing creates jobs, beginning with the writer. Also: librarians, travel companies, snack food companies, coffee companies, agents, therapists, phone and data companies, office supplies, delivery companies, the postal service, bars, editors, receptionists, cover artists, layout artists, paper suppliers, printers, copy editors, publicity people, restaurants for meetings, carry-out food for exhausted writer/editor/publicity/production folks, book and warehouse-store employees…the list goes on.

You lose quite a few of these folks with ebooks–or even audiobooks.

If I see someone reading a paper book, I’m immediately interested. Doesn’t matter if it’s not my kind of book. I still feel a kind of kinship. Hey, you’re cool, reading that book there. I have a book, too. WE ARE BOTH COOL AND SPECIAL!” Mostly I see people reading on airplanes. Occasionally I’ll observe someone reading a book in a restaurant. Many, many people stare at phones, so I don’t know what they’re looking at. Could be WAR AND PEACE, could be porn. I guess it’s not my business, even though I still wonder.

No kidding that I’m sentimental about paper books. They were my closest friends when I was a kid. They never let me down, even when they weren’t great. Not only could I hide behind them–I could brandish them as weapons, or hold them out just far enough to read as I walked so that they would bump into things first. It’s easy to fetishize things that made a big difference for us as kids.


Yet sometimes, I can see Husband’s point. A story is a story no matter what format it’s in. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the presence of so much paper. I often feel guilty when I look at a book on the shelf that I know I’ll probably never read. That fantasy about how books might somehow disappear in the greater world, and we’ll be sitting pretty because we have enough books to last us years should we need them? Oh, yes. I’ve had that one. And also the one about how if I pass on too many of our books, and come to rely mostly on ebooks and audiobooks as Husband does (insert reminder that I listen to 4-5 audiobooks a week, myself), there will be a coincidental electronic disaster that will make all digital content disappear.

Apparently I’m not only sentimental about books, I’m superstitious.

When my first hardcover novel was finally remaindered, I bought 125 copies because I got them for $4 apiece. Do you know how many books that is? It’s 125! There are perhaps 15 or 20 left. I confess I felt a lightening with each one I gave away. 9 years of giving them away.

I’ve never been able to figure out how many of my own books I should keep. As I’m no legendary bestseller, it’s not like I’ll be leaving the to Harvard or Yale or even the University of Missouri-St. Louis for their archives. Paper rots eventually. I don’t want my legacy to my kids to be a dozen totes of decaying books with my name on them. To future generations, my career–such as it is–will only be a footnote in the family trivia trove. That idea is pretty humbling. Ashes to ashes, and all that.

In the end, we are all going to be the victims of rot. As with books, we will all get cracked and yellowed around the edges and probably smell old. Not unpleasantly, I hope. (Am reminded of the wi-fi network name OLD PEOPLE SMELL that comes up on my phone when we drive by a certain senior living community in our town.)

I won’t insist that this piece has had much of a point, except to say that I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by the number of books we own. It still remains to be seen how many of my own books I should keep. Who said it? Books furnish a room. Will my home be soulless if I give away a dozen too many?

Tell us about your relationship with your books. Is it complicated? And if it’s simple, tell us your secret.


LinkedIn Tied to Book Piracy

By Debbie Burke

Photo credit: dolldreamer

A hot topic recently caught fire at the Author’s Guild discussion site: the embarrassing connection between social media giant LinkedIn and book piracy.

LinkedIn owns Slideshare, a knowledge-sharing site. Slideshare is also a popular venue for free downloads of books without the permission of the authors.

In other words, book piracy.

In September, 2019, Margaret Atwood’s highly-anticipated sequel, The Testaments, appeared on Slideshare for free, covered in this article.

Screenshot of my book on Slideshare without my permission



Thousands of other books, from famous to obscure, show up on Slideshare without the author’s permission or approval, including my own thriller, Stalking Midas.


How, you ask, do pirates make money from free book downloads?

They don’t…directly.

If you click on those teasers, you’ll likely wind up at phishing sites that contain malware and viruses. Their purpose is to mine credit card data and personal information. You might get free books but lose your identity or worse.

The Digital Millennial Copyright Act (DMCA) made such copyright violations illegal. Authors can demand illicit copies of their work be taken down. The procedure to file complaints is described here.

Photo credit: sasatro on Visual Hunt



But pirates aren’t exactly quaking in fear of punishment for their theft.




The fastest way for authors to find if their books are listed is to search, using book title and author name. 

LinkedIn, of course, is facing criticism for their tacit enabling of the crime. Here is their policy, which includes a complaint form to report copyright violations.

Although the form asks for the copyright number, that number is not necessary to register a complaint.

The form also requests URLs of the offending sites. Some books appear in hundreds of places. Tracking them all down further burdens authors, taking precious time away from writing to search for pirates.

Authors Guild members report mixed results after filing complaints with Slideshare. Some say the illicit links have been removed within a short time; others claim that, despite repeated complaints and takedown requests, the links remain up for months; still others report the links are removed but new ones pop up again.

Many authors believe LinkedIn–owned by tech giant Microsoft–should be sophisticated enough to flag repeat offenders and block pirate sites.

Romy Wyllie, author of several architecture books, was shocked to find those books as well as her memoir, Loving Andrew – A Fifty-Two-Year Story of Down Syndrome, on Slideshare. “I never thought of LinkedIn except as a professional social media site.  I am considering cancelling my membership in LinkedIn.”

Whack a Mole
Photo credit: Eric Parker, Visual Hunt

Author Chris Dickon was dismayed to find four of his books on Slideshare. “I can deal with the problem as prescribed, though others have reported it to be a game of whack a mole, but my real question was – Linked In?? which purports to exist to help us all to develop and realize our professional and creative goals, economic progress, etc. but is corporately involved in the theft of our creative product and income, Linked In!?!

Chris didn’t simply fill out the standard complaint form—he went straight to the top and contacted the CEO and co-CEO of LinkedIn. That resulted in a long phone conversation between LI representatives and Chris: “Linked In…presents itself as a friend and supporter of our professional well being, its very raison d’etre, [but is] involved in stealing from us.”

LI personnel indicated to him that, although they were aware of the problem, they didn’t realize the level of outrage it is causing among authors. 

It really should come as no surprise to LinkedIn that authors are angry our work is being stolen via a supposedly legitimate platform. 

LI followed up with Chris and invited him to stay in touch. At this point, he is satisfied with their handling of his complaint.

Other authors are publicizing the problem through social media.

William H. Reid, MD, MPH, tweeted: “SHAME on LinkedIn & subsidiary for letting book pirate scum distribute many of my books and thousands of others with no royalties to authors or publishers. Thanks for buying A Dark Night in Aurora from Amazon, B&N, & local bookstores! #LinkedIn #authorsguild”

Mary Rasenberger, Executive Director of the Authors Guild, is in discussions with Microsoft and urges all affected authors to file complaints to put LI on notice.

At this point, LinkedIn is hiding behind the safe harbor provision in DMCA, a loophole that protects online service providers (OSP).  There are “two ways in which an OSP can be put on notice of infringing material on its system: 1) notice from the copyright owner, known as notice and take down, and 2) the existence of ‘red flags.'” 

If an OSP ignores repeat offenders, they can lose their safe harbor status. Many aggrieved authors believe LI no longer deserves that protection.

Five days after filing my complaint and takedown notice with LI, I received an auto-reply of their action. Stalking Midas has been removed…for now.

As an aside, LinkedIn proudly touts their executive who holds the position of Head of Mindfulness and Compassion. The question is: when will LI become mindful of widespread, blatant copyright violation and show compassion toward authors who are being victimized?

When supposedly legitimate corporations like LinkedIn and Microsoft enable theft, all authors suffer.


TKZers: Do your books show up on Slideshare? If so, what action did you take? What were the results? 




Debbie Burke will be watching to see if her new thriller, Eyes in the Sky, shows up on pirate sites. Publication date January 23, 2020, now available for pre-order here.