About Debbie Burke

Debbie writes the Tawny Lindholm series, Montana thrillers infused with psychological suspense. Her books have won the Kindle Scout contest, the Zebulon Award, and were finalists for the Eric Hoffer Book Award and BestThrillers.com. Her articles received journalism awards in international publications. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers. http://www.debbieburkewriter.com

True Crime Thursday – Investing in Blueskycoin

by Debbie Burke


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


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.” 


“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

Grand Opening!

by Debbie Burke


In 1988, when we moved to Flathead County, Montana, the population was 57K. There were more than 10 bookstores within a 25-mile radius of Kalispell. Except for Waldenbooks in the mall, all were independently owned. They happily coexisted, each with its own quirky personality, specialties, and customer base.

Fast forward a few years when a behemoth named Borders came to Kalispell. Readers loved the huge selection, the cafe, and ample parking lot, unlike downtown where parking has been a problem since horse and buggy days. My critique group met at Borders in cozy nooks with comfy chairs.

But, there was a downside: one by one, the neat, quirky, little indie bookstores went out of business.

Fast forward a few more years and an even bigger behemoth named Amazon took over domination of the book market.

What goes around, comes around.

Where Borders had once put mom-and-pop bookstores out of business, now Amazon gobbled up Borders. In 2011, 400 Borders stores closed, including the one in Kalispell.

Meanwhile the county’s population swelled. As of 2023, it’s 114K folks. For years, a handful of used bookstores and one small indie that had survived were the only brick-and-mortar options. Browsing thumbnails onscreen just isn’t the same as wandering the aisles and spotting something that strikes your fancy. Readers were living in a literary desert.

Then, on January 31, 2024, a new Barnes & Noble opened in Kalispell.

A week before opening, B&N CEO James Daunt said in a press release:

“The positive feedback we have received since announcing this new Barnes & Noble has been astounding. It has been a long time since Borders had their bookstore just across the parking lot and it is a particular pleasure to bring a major new bookstore back to U.S. 93.”

If Mr. Daunt had any doubts about this new location, opening day quickly erased them.

It was a mob scene. Vehicles circled the jammed parking lot like vultures waiting for someone to pull out. Hundreds of long-famished book lovers roamed through the store. I don’t remember this much excitement about a retail store opening since 1993 when Costco arrived.

One of the most frequent comments as customers walked through B&N’s doors: “It’s wonderful to smell new books.”

The arrangement is an attractive, intriguing labyrinth. Walls of books divide the space into discrete sections: fiction, new releases, mystery-thriller, sweet or spicy romance, westerns, nonfiction, history, religion, self-help, children’s and YA, Manga, graphic novels, and more.

On one table, a sign announces “Banned Books.” Many titles had been required reading when I was in school.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl;

Of Mice and Men;

The Great Gatsby;

For Whom the Bell Tolls;

To Kill a Mockingbird;

Catcher in the Rye;

Fahrenheit 451;

  1. 1984.

Also there are more recent titles like:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings;

The Hunger Games;

The Handmaid’s Tale;

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest;

The Color Purple.

One large wall displays books about Montana, from hiking guides to history to Glacier National Park to bison, wolves, and grizzlies to mining and logging to pioneer memoirs.

Each new cubby in the maze features more products: games, gifts, cards, beautiful bound journals, vinyl records, turntables, magazines.


Especially encouraging are expansive sections devoted to young readers, covering the range from picture books to YA novels.

A reader’s oasis appeared in what was once a literary wasteland. On opening day, people waited in line for up to 45 minutes to pay for their armloads of purchases.


There’s an old saying that you can’t throw a typewriter in Montana without hitting a writer. Dozens live in my immediate area, hundreds within a tankful of gas. And no one is more excited about the new B&N than we authors are.

Local authors Dr. Betty Kuffel, Barbara Schiffman, Debbie Burke, Jess Owen Kara

The manager, Daniel, put out the welcome mat for us, hosting book signings not only for traditionally published authors but also indie-pubbed authors on consignment.

My slot was at noon on the Sunday after opening day. A few days before, I brought in two boxes of books. By that weekend, crowds were still large, but not quite as overwhelming.

The signing table was set up just inside the front entrance. Daniel had stacks of my books ready, along with stickers that read “Signed Edition.” I waved at him across the store, but he barely had time to nod because he was so busy ringing up sales with two other cashiers.

Families streamed through the door with toddlers to college-age kids, adult mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, grandparents and grandchildren. The interest among young readers was heartening.

I must have talked with more than 100 people. All were excited about books and reading.

Some chats were brief: “I’ve missed Borders. Glad this new store is here.”

Others lasted much longer: “You wrote all these books? Wow. What are they about?”

“Which book should I start with in your series?”

“My fifth-grade students are learning to write stories. Would you come and talk to them?”

“I want to be a writer. Can you give me advice?”

“I like to support local authors.”

And they did support this local author. I sold 17 books on consignment.

I also learned insights into B&N’s book ordering process. They can’t order or stock books that don’t show up in their computer system. As mentioned in this post, they don’t order from Amazon KDP Print-on-Demand (POD).

However, there’s a workaround for Create Space POD books:

Amazon/CreateSpace authors have the ability to choose the extended distribution option for their titles.  By choosing this option, their books automatically become available through Lightning Source.

Lightning Source is Ingram Book Company’s print-on-demand division, and they make CreateSpace titles (as well as other POD titles) available to Barnes & Noble and other retailers.

Barnes & Noble will only sell CreateSpace titles through BN.com and customer orders, not through in-store stocking and replenishment.


That’s how Daniel was able to order and stock Instrument of the Devil and Crowded Hearts – A Novella, but not the rest of my titles. Those sales he handled through consignment.

Another alternative is to upload directly to BN.com. However, there’s a catch: for a store to order them, books need to be returnable. But, according to a knowledgeable author with many self-pubbed books, BN.com POD books are not returnable. Huh?

Confused? Me, too.

My conclusion is that the best option for me as a self-pubbed author is to upload to Draft2Digital and Ingram Spark (I’m in that process now). That makes ordering clear and direct.

Because CEO Daunt gives individual local managers autonomy and latitude for ordering, I’m hopeful Daniel will keep my books in stock once they’re available on D2D and Ingram Spark.

What happens to our little locally-owned shops now?

I’m not about to turn my back on the Book Shelf and Bad Rock Books (with three friendly resident cats!). They’ve supported me for years. When I spoke with Stephanie, the Book Shelf owner, she was excited about B&N’s opening: “There are never enough bookstores!”

Existing stores cater to different niches than B&N. At this point, the area’s population is large enough to sustain all of them.

When many retailers are closing stores because of the shift to online, readers prove they still love to sniff the aroma of new books and wander aisles in search of serendipitous finds. How’s this for an intriguing title? It begged me to pick it up.

Barnes & Noble, welcome to the neighborhood! 


TKZers: Which physical bookstores do you visit? What’s your favorite way to buy books–online, in a bricks-and-mortar store, or both?



Three Things I Wish I’d Known Before Self-Publishing

by Debbie Burke


We don’t know what we don’t know.

After self-publishing eight books in six years, I can definitively say, no matter how much knowledge I think I have, there’s always waaaaay more to learn.

Here are three things I wish I’d known when I started.

1. Exclusive or wide? The decision whether to publish exclusive or wide is a complicated choice without clear answers. But it’s also one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Give it serious consideration.

First, let’s translate terms in the language of self-pub speak.

Exclusive means you publish and sell your books solely through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

Going wide means, in addition to Amazon, you sell your books through other distributors (Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, etc.).

The self-pub learning curve is steep and it’s a good idea to become familiar with the basic process first before you consider branching out. There’s a reference list at the end of this post to help. 

Because Amazon is the major marketplace, I recommend starting with them for your first self-publication. But be careful you don’t inadvertently make choices that might cause problems if you later decide to go wide. The devil is in the details which I’ll expand on in a minute.

Here are some KDP pros:

  • The majority of self-published books are sold through Amazon, so it makes economic sense to go with the biggest marketplace. Many authors build entire careers creating, publishing, and selling their books only through Amazon. TKZ’s own Jim Bell has done well by staying exclusive.
  • KDP provides an excellent system that walks the author through the steps. One doesn’t need to be a tech-savvy programmer to produce an attractive professional-looking book using their Kindle Create program.
  • Through KDP, you can publish ebooks, print, hardcover, audio, and additional options. Paperbacks are good quality and author copies are at a reasonable cost.
  • Their market reach is second to none.
  • They offer exclusive promotions via Kindle Select to encourage the author to stay within their universe.

However, that universe has drawbacks. Here are a few cons:

  • They change rules without notice, often in ways that seem capricious and punitive.
  • An author’s account may be suspended or terminated for violating their lengthy terms and conditions. Sometimes algorithms make the decision and bots don’t offer explanations. Recourse is difficult.  If an author can’t sell books, they are out of business.
  • KDP doesn’t allow you to offer a book for free (as a reader magnet) without a complicated workaround that requires frequent updating.
  • Most independent booksellers will not deal with Amazon.

KDP’s “Expanded Distribution” is one of the devilish details mentioned above. The terms imply the ability to distribute to markets outside of Amazon.

This is their explanation:

“Booksellers and libraries purchase paperbacks from large distributors. If you enroll your paperback in Expanded Distribution, we’ll make your book available to distributors so booksellers and libraries can find your book and order it…Booksellers and libraries around the world may purchase books from these distributors. It’s free to enroll your paperback in Expanded Distribution, and it allows your book to be made broadly available outside of Amazon.”

Sound great, right? But notice the wording (the emphasis is mine). They “make your book available to distributors so booksellers and libraries can find your book and order it.” They “may” purchase your books.

That doesn’t mean they will. 

The reality is most bookstores are unlikely to purchase books from the source that threatens their ability to stay in business. Can you blame them for not buying bullets from an enemy that wants to shoot them?

Additionally, bookstore and library computer systems are set up to order books through distributors like Ingram, not Amazon. Even if patrons request your book, a library will likely say no because it’s more time and trouble than it’s worth.

So, if you click  the “expanded distribution” button, you actually lose some ability to sell through other distributors.

Fortunately, this is easy to reverse: if you clicked the expanded distribution button (as I did originally), simply unclick it.

After several years of exclusivity with Amazon, I decided to go wide. Most sales still come from Amazon but I prefer to have eggs in several different baskets.

KDP is a good, easy-to-learn system to get your started in self-publishing but you may decide not to spend the rest of your career there. The lesson is to leave your options open. Terms and conditions change over time and what sounds fine today may not work for you in the future.

2. Amazon isn’t the only game in town. There are many self-publishing alternatives: Ingram Spark, Draft2Digital (D2D), BookBaby, Lulu, Smashwords (now merged with D2D), Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc. All those choices can overwhelm a new self-publisher.

Fasten your seatbelts. This next section is complicated.

Since I’d rather write than learn about different self-pubbing systems, initially I took the path of least resistance and stayed exclusive with Amazon. I used their Kindle Create program to design and format.

But…you can use Create files only on KDP. If you want to go wide, you can’t take those files to different distributors. To reach other markets, you have to create different file versions of your books.

For several years, the need to learn additional programs intimidated me and prevented me from going wide.

Then I read Terry’s excellent 2020 post about Draft2Digital.

At last, here was a publishing system easy enough for the tech-challenged writer! With Terry’s coaching, I went wide using D2D.

With Draft2Digital, you upload a Word file to their system. Then use their excellent templates to design and format a professional-looking ebook, paperback, or both. There is no cost to use their formatting service. Free really is free.

D2D creates formatted book files that can then be uploaded to B&N, Apple, Kobo, etc.

Since I’m too lazy to learn the quirks of each market’s system, I let D2D do the distribution. I select markets where I want to sell and D2D takes care of the rest, uploading the files to each market’s particular specifications. They also keep track of and pay royalties. For that service, they take a percentage of sales. Because they provide great value with free formatting, I don’t mind paying 10%. For me, it’s worth it.

You can also upload files directly to the various markets and save the fee.

However, I don’t recommend using D2D distribute to Amazon. In fact, Amazon erects so many roadblocks, D2D provides a checklist to overcome them:

“In order to better serve our authors, Draft2Digital first requires that you take steps to gain access to Amazon as a digital store option. As soon as each step is verified by our team, Amazon will be activated as an option for your account.”

I should have listened to those warning bells before I tried an experiment with the seventh book in my series, Until Proven Guilty.

At that time, with six self-published books under my belt, I felt pretty comfortable and confident about the process.

You know what they say about pride going before the fall.

Instead of the usual process of uploading the book to Amazon first, then uploading to D2D, I chose to have D2D distribute UPG to Amazon, along with the other markets. That way, I figured, only one sales link was needed. Easy peasy, right?


Using D2D as the distributor caused problems with Amazon that I’d never encountered before.

Normally a new book in a series is automatically linked to the other books in the series. But this time, the new book wouldn’t link. That glitch required repeated contacts with KDP.

An even worse obstacle cropped up. For several weeks after publication, customers couldn’t find the book. Even when they typedUntil Proven Guilty by Debbie Burke” directly into the Amazon search box, a message said that title couldn’t be located. Many more contacts with KDP finally resolved the problem.

But that delay was especially bad for a new book launch.

I’m guessing the reason for these problems is because KDP prefers the author chooses Amazon as their primary distributor. Using D2D as the distributor disrupts their system and makes the bots cranky.

Lesson learned. Now, I upload to Amazon first. Then I upload to D2D for other markets. That means two sales link buttons, one for Amazon and one for everyone else, but that’s a small inconvenience. The problems have not recurred since.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say a few words about Ingram. They are biggest distributor and the one used by most booksellers and libraries. Ingram Spark (IS) is their branch for self-published books. Through them, your physical books can be ordered by any store, including retailers like Walmart and Target.

IS books are print on demand (POD) and the quality is excellent although their prices are a little higher than KDP’s POD.

At some point, you may want to upload your books to IS because that gives your books the widest distribution.

But… their system is somewhat difficult to navigate, according to discussions among various writing groups I belong to. For now Ingram is a task I’ll put off for the future.

Since I haven’t used other self-pub options (Book Baby, Lulu, etc.), I didn’t address them. The above only describes my personal experience with KDP and D2D. YMMV.

3. ISBNs. When I first published, ISBNs seemed like a trivial detail, but I later discovered they are important for distribution and sales of print books.

Although ebooks generally sell the most, a significant number of readers prefer a physical book. Paperbacks account for a quarter to a third of my sales. 

KDP produces a good quality print-on-demand book at a reasonable price, so I used them.

But…I ran into problems with ISBNs.

What are ISBNs? This is the American Library Association explanation:

“The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a 13-digit number that uniquely identifies books and book-like products published internationally.”

Why does the ISBN matter? That is essentially your book’s unique fingerprint and how it’s located in the Books in Print database. If you want bookstores and libraries to be able to order physical copies of your books, you need ISBNs.

Side note: ISBNs aren’t necessary for ebooks.

How do you get ISBNs?

The official supplier of ISBNs is Bowker. They are pricy: $125 for one, $295 for ten, $575 for 100. You must use a different ISBN for each format of the same book. In other words, if you publish paperback, hardback, large print, and audiobook editions, each requires a separate ISBN. That expense adds up quickly, which is daunting for a new self-publisher.

The other option: use the free ISBNs provided by KDP. However…that leads to another devilish detail.

Trying to save money, I used KDP’s free ISBNs. Later I learned free comes with a price.

The price is:

Those numbers can only be used within the Amazon system. The free ISBN from KDP can only be used on KDP for distribution to Amazon and its distributors. It cannot be used with another publisher or self-publishing service.”

When I decided to go wide, those free ISBNs from KDP didn’t work for other markets like Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo.

Even if your books are published using a business name (e.g. XYZ Thriller Press), the ISBN still identifies it as originating from KDP. Bookstores can recognize those free numbers and often will not order from them.

Case in point: in this year’s Christmas card from my college roommate, she mentioned she’d tried to buy my latest book Deep Fake Double Down in paperback from B&N. The ebook was available from B&N but not a print book. She prefers to purchase from B&N  but, being a good friend, she went ahead and bought the paperback from Amazon.

My ISBN mistake really hit home with the opening of a new B&N store in my town. The manager offered to feature local authors but their computer system can’t order my books using KDP’s ISBN. He graciously agreed to take books on consignment but that is only a temporary arrangement for the grand opening. In the future, I will need to publish updated paperback versions with my own ISBNs so B&N can order them.

D2D can also provide a free ISBN. This is how they handle it:

Draft2Digital will automatically assign an ISBN to any book published through our system free of charge.

The ISBN recording agency will denote Draft2Digital as the “vendor of record” on their website for any ISBN D2D purchases, but that label does not give us any rights to your work nor will it show publicly. All of our digital stores will continue to show the publisher name you choose (or, if you left the publisher name blank, it will show your author name).

In retrospect, I wish I had bitten that expensive bullet at the outset and bought my own ISBNs from Bowker. After all, that’s part of the cost of doing business and self-publishing is a business.


None of my errors has proved fatal (yet!). I’m sure I’ll make new ones in the future. Thankfully most mistakes or wrong choices can be reversed. Fixing them just takes time…time you’d rather spend writing.

Fortunately, lots of solid information about self-publishing is available. Here are several sources I trust:

Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi);

Dave Chesson (excellent advice about Kindle Direct Publishing);

Joanna Penn (tenured, respected expert);

Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) offers this comprehensive resource list.

We don’t know what we don’t know but, with time, we learn.

Then we learn there’s always more to learn.


TKZers: if you self-pub, what do you wish you’d known when you started?

If you haven’t self-pubbed yet, what question concerns you the most?


True Crime Thursday – How Many Times Can the Same Vehicle Be Sold?

Photo credit: Shuservice-Wikimedia Commons CC by SA4.0 DEED

by Debbie Burke


Let’s say you’re an individual who needs a van that’s wheelchair accessible, or a medical facility or senior community that requires a mobility-accessible vehicle.

Custom vehicles are expensive–ranging from $80-100K plus for new models. Therefore, many buyers opt for used ones.

Because such vehicles are relatively rare and hard to find, choices are limited.

So, you go online.

There you find a van that fits your needs. You sign a contract, send payment, receive a bill of sale, and arrange delivery for a van you’ve never actually seen.

If all goes well, the van arrives as promised and you go merrily on your way.

However, if you bought that vehicle from an unscrupulous party or dealership, you may never see the van and you may be out the money.

In December 2023, Edward Scott Rock, 47, a Philadelphia used car dealer, was indicted on charges of mail and wire fraud. According to the U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of Pennsylvania, Rock allegedly “accepted payment for, but failed to deliver, automobiles to approximately 120 purchasers.”   

“The Indictment alleges that between 2019 and 2023, Edward Scott Rock obtained used vehicles from automobile auctions, and then listed and advertised them for sale on the Internet. The majority of vehicles sold by Rock to victims were accessible vehicles equipped for wheelchair-users or people with disabilities. Despite signing bills of sale for the vehicles, and accepting payment, Rock did not deliver the vehicles as agreed upon. In total, Rock defrauded approximately 120 victims across 36 states, and caused losses exceeding $2.5 million. Approximately two-thirds of Rock’s victims were persons with a physical or mobility disability, persons over the age of 65, or businesses which provided transportation services to those populations.”

According to Jalopnik.com, “a 2017 Ford T150 van [was] sold to 13 different people over 11 months...Rock took in $260,000 for the previously mentioned wheelchair-accessible T150 before handing over the van to one of the buyers, without a title.”

In another example from wift.org, a Tempe, AZ dealer wired $25,000 to Rock to purchase two Ford cargo vans. Several months later, the vans had not been delivered and the dealer demanded a refund. Excuses and more delays followed. After two years and threats of legal action, Rock finally refunded the money.

In other cases, “Rock sometimes sent refund checks, but he’d either stop payment on them or they would bounce, the indictment said.”

The U.S. Attorney states: “If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum possible sentence of 170 years’ imprisonment, a 5-year period of supervised release, a $2,750,000 fine, and restitution and forfeiture.”

Motorfinanceonline.com quotes a March 2023 survey in which 21% of buyers have purchased a vehicle online, sight unseen. This is an increase from 2021 when only 10% did so.

Scammers are quick to jump on new opportunities to part unsuspecting victims from their money.

Caveat emptor.


TKZers: Would you ever buy a vehicle sight unseen? If you have, what was your experience?

Are Writing Contests Worth It?

Photo credit: Danny Howe-Unsplash

by Debbie Burke


I’ll confess right up front. I like writing contests. A lot. 

They’re not for everyone but they’ve helped my career.

Why enter writing contests? Here are six reasons:

  1. Contests are incentives to finish your work and submit it to the outside world;
  2. Some offer valuable critique and feedback;
  3. Encouragement, recognition, and validation;
  4. Money and/or prizes;
  5. Awards help marketing;
  6. Intangible rewards.

Writers are often timid about sending their stories out into the world.

Contests however aren’t quite as scary as cold-submitting to agents and editors. You pay an entry fee and judges read your short story, novel excerpt, or screenplay. Some contests offer critiques to improve your craft and pinpoint what needs work.

If you don’t win, heck, neither did most other entrants so it’s not that humiliating.

Photo credit: Museums Victoria-Unsplash

If you do win, terrific! That recognition boosts confidence and increases credibility when you approach agents and publishers.

There are many reputable contests, but others are questionable or downright dodgy. 

Please note: contests mentioned in this post are not endorsements or recommendations.

Contests may be opportunities for the sponsor to expand their mailing list, offering their advertising and marketing services.

Some competitions require the author to give up all rights to their work. What happens if you create a character who later becomes a merchandising goldmine? Depending on contest terms, your earnings may be limited to a  one-time cash prize with no rights to future royalties. Victoria Strauss’s article cites a contest that solicits writers who want to become Manga scriptwriters. She writes:

Copyright surrender in a work-for-hire situation isn’t necessarily a “beware”, as long as the contract terms aren’t exploitative and you understand the implications of what you’re agreeing to.

In this case, however, the one-time money prize is the sole compensation you’ll receive for your copyright transfer, from which [the sponsor] can then profit indefinitely. Be aware also that if you win and your script does not get developed into a series, [sponsor] will still own your work. Winning, therefore, has potential benefits–but also potential costs.

Before entering, check out contests with reliable sources like Writer Beware, The Write Life, Poets & Writers, ProWritingAid (this list is a year old and may be out of date), Kindlepreneur, Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).

Run a Google search entering “[name of contest] scam” and look for red flags.

Before entering, always, always, always read the fine print.

What about entry fees? They typically range from free to $100+.

High entry fees raise questions:

  • Is the contest’s purpose to recognize excellence?
  • Or is this another scheme to take advantage of writers?

Valid reasons for higher fees are:

  • Pay honorariums to judges;
  • Fund prizes;
  • Support nonprofit organizations that help writers.

Research the contest, then use your own judgment whether or not the fee is worth it.

On the other end of the spectrum, “free” isn’t necessarily free.

You’ve seen the ads in magazines and online popups. Aspiring writers, especially poets, are seduced by dreams of publication and thousands of dollars in prizes.

Reality check: nobody, nowhere, nohow pays big bucks for poetry.

But it doesn’t cost anything so why not?

When you enter these contests, sponsors are thrilled to notify you that your outstanding poem was one of a select few that will be featured in their anthology. And…a beautiful gold-embossed hardcover with your published poem only costs $59.95. You can proudly pass this heirloom down to your grandchildren. In fact, buy a copy for each grandchild! And the rest of your family, and friends, and neighbors, and coworkers, and the mail carrier…

You get the idea. Such contests have endured for generations. Why? Because they make money from the dreams of writers who are hungry to be published.

Many legitimate contests are out there. Here’s the Urban Writer’s list of most prestigious awards.

Contests affiliated with writing organizations and conferences can be great career springboards because judges are often agents and editors. Examples:

Speaking of judges, here’s a little-known trick to give you insight into contests.

Volunteer to be a judge.

You don’t have to be Margaret Atwood or Dean Koontz to judge. Some writing organizations actively solicit their members to be volunteer judges. If you are a member of a group, you may qualify.

Reading and assessing entries takes a lot of time. Some contests pay small honorariums.

A few contests I’ve judged are Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Pikes Peak Writers, Authors of the Flathead Student contest, etc. Several TKZers have judged the Edgars, Agathas, and Nebulas. Please chime in with your experience.

As a judge, you’ll receive score sheets of criteria that show exactly what qualities and skills contests are looking for. Not coincidentally, those are the same qualities and skills editors and agents seek.

Scoring may be done numerically, by written critiques, or a combination of both.

As a judge, you gain a much broader perspective than the writer’s often-narrow point of view.

After reading a few entries, you notice a wide disparity among them, ranging from:

  • Downright awful, sloppy ones that weren’t even run through spellcheck;
  • Grammar? I don’t need no stinkin’ grammar;
  • Needs work but shows promise;
  • Professionally presented with competent writing skills but not compelling or imaginative;
  • A very few are OMG WOW!!!

Reading entries gives you a taste of what editors and agents go through every day when reviewing submissions. That added insight will help you pitch and submit more effectively.

Especially study the OMG WOWs. Figure out what the author did and how they did it. Learn from their strengths. Analyze how they handle pacing, point of view, and critical scenes. What makes their voice special and unique? How do they create a character you’re eager to spend time with and get to know better?

Then apply those lessons to your own writing.

My personal experience with contests began in the 1990s, when I entered the Colorado Gold contest, sponsored by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. I won the mystery category. As a result, an agent at the conference offered representation. Although we later parted ways and that book was never published, winning the contest was a major boost for my career that led to freelance work, editing jobs, and great friendships (more about intangible rewards in a minute).

In 2016, I entered the contest sponsored by the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. My thriller, Instrument of the Devil, won the mystery/suspense category.

Momentum from that propelled me to enter the Kindle Scout contest, sponsored by Amazon. Book excerpts were posted online, and readers voted for ones they wanted to see published. IOTD was selected. I received an advance and Kindle Press published the book that became a bestseller in Women’s Adventure. I

I was on my way to fame and fortune, right?

Uh, no. A few months later, Amazon closed down the Scout contest and the Kindle Press imprint was shuttered, leaving me orphaned.

But I’ll always remember they gave me that opportunity and I’m grateful.

My other books have been finalists for the Eric Hoffer award (Flight to Forever) and Best.Thrillers.com (Until Proven Guilty).

Can you tell I like contests?

Most recently, I entered my latest thriller Deep Fake Double Down in the BookLife Prize contest sponsored by Publisher’s Weekly for indie books.

The contest receives hundreds of entries in five categories: general fiction, romance, YA, sci-fi/fantasy/horror, and mystery/thriller. Entry fee of $119 is high but includes a critique that authors are free to use for their own promotion.

The grand prize is $5000. Finalists in each category receive a $1000 marketing package.

Photo credit: Joyful-Unsplash


In November, Deep Fake Double Down advanced from quarterfinals to semifinals. Yaay!

Then in December I learned DFDD was the mystery/thriller finalist. BookLife magazine featured interviews with each of the genre finalists.

Although I don’t generally count my chickens until they’re fried, I started to fantasize about how I’d spend $5000. Hire a publicist for dreaded marketing. Go on book tours. Attend Thrillerfest in NYC.



Deep Fake Double Down didn’t win the grand prize. The winner was Downpour, a horror novel by Christopher Hawkins. I just read it and it’s beautifully written, compelling, and terrifying, Congratulations, Chris!

Bu I gotta confess a little envy. I really would’ve liked to attend Thrillerfest.

However, I’ll still receive the $1000 marketing package. In the long run, that might be more valuable since I need all the help I can get with marketing.

Now, about those intangible rewards I mentioned earlier. Through contests, I’ve met writers who became friends, made lasting contacts with editors and agents, received invitations to speak, etc. When you put your work out in the world, you never know where it may take you.

Back in the ’90s when my book was a finalist for Colorado Gold, I flew to Denver for my first Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference. At that time, it was biggest writing event I’d ever attended. I was intimidated, not knowing a soul among 400+ attendees. 

One of the anonymous judges had scored my book a perfect 10. At the conference, I learned her name was Julie Kaewert, author of the Alex Plumtree series and a novelization of The Avengers movie. She graciously introduced me to many fellow mystery authors and her critique buddies who made me feel welcome and right at home.

At the banquet dinner, winners were announced in various categories and all received applause.

Then my name was announced. Wild whoops, hollers, and whistles erupted from tables full of my new friends.

I turned redder than the tomatoes on the salad.

I still cherish the memory.

From that contest, close friendships were born that endure to this day. Several became trusted critique partners and beta readers.

Contests give me much-needed reassurance that writing is worthwhile in spite of disappointments and setbacks. 

Are contests good for you? Enter a couple and find out. Then come back to TKZ and share your news.

A big thank you to Elaine Viets who suggested this post!


TKZers: What contests have you entered? Did they change your writing? Which contests do you recommend?


Read the mystery/thriller finalist for the BookLife Prize at this link.

One New Year’s Resolution

by Debbie Burke


Welcome back to another year in The Kill Zone!

Yesterday, Kay compiled a great collection of various new year’s resolutions.

Today, I’d like to share a different slant on resolutions, courtesy of bestselling author Eric Barker. For years, I’ve followed Eric’s “Barking Up the Wrong Tree” blog because of his witty, ironic take on human foibles.

Here’s Eric’s humorous perspective about New Year’s resolutions:

Cynically, you could see these resolutions as a yearly exercise in self-delusion. The tradition where we all collectively decide to lie to ourselves in a more structured format. Often, they’re like annual subscriptions we buy for a better version of ourselves… only to realize we’re more into the free trial.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson, Unsplash


Eric suggests we tackle this new year differently: Make ONLY ONE RESOLUTION.

That’s right. ONE RESOLUTION.

Eric kindly granted permission to share reasons why a single resolution can be effective and methods to keep that single resolution.

How can writers apply his advice? 


Photo credit: RDNE Stock Project, Pexels


Stop fantasizing: Year after year, we writers let our imaginations overload us with unrealistic fantasies. We waste energy dreaming about what we can’t possibly achieve.

I’m going to turn out as many books as James Patterson.

I’m going to score interviews on NPR, Good Morning America, and Drew’s TV book club.  

 Lofty goals but, for most of us, not likely.

Better to make one writing resolution that can you have a realistic chance of achieving.

My resolution: Publish the ninth book in my Tawny Lindholm Thriller series.

For some writers, a goal like this is not ambitious enough; for others, it’s too much.

Before you decide on your resolution, examine your individual circumstances. Be honest. 

Do you work long hours at a stressful job? Do you have children and/or aging parents to care for?

Do you have limited physical or mental energy? Do you struggle to concentrate? Are you easily distracted?

Are you a procrastinator? Do you love the idea of writing more than you love actual writing?

After a realistic self-assessment, choose a resolution that’s not a fantasy.

Make a plan: Right now, I’m 170 pages into the above-mentioned ninth book. My goal is to release it for sale by March or April. Based on that timeline, here’s the plan:

  1. Complete the draft;
  2. Think of a title;
  3. Send the manuscript to beta readers then incorporate their suggestions;
  4. Edit;
  5. Have cover art designed;
  6. Format, upload, and proof;
  7. Do pre-release publicity.

Following a step-by-step plan means there’s a good chance I’ll achieve my resolution.

Whether your plan is three steps or 300, if you take one step at a time, you’ll eventually arrive at your destination.

Do the minimum: Eric says, “When we’re too ambitious we’re much more likely to give up altogether.”

After assessing your individual circumstances, set the bar so low, you can’t help but trip over it.

Say you’re a writer who works full-time, cares for family, and lives with long Covid. What is a realistic resolution? Write one paragraph a day. 

RDNE Stock Project, Pexels

Doesn’t sound like much until you add it up.

If a paragraph is 50 words, that’s 18,000+ words in a year. Not bad!

Most important, it’s a resolution that can be kept despite an overwhelmingly busy life. 

That doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to one paragraph. If the words are flowing, keep going. Write a page, a scene, a chapter.

At one page a day, by the end of 2024, that’s 365 pages.  


Make bad habits hard: Eric suggests erecting roadblocks to discourage bad habits. For instance, if you waste too much time on social media, delete distracting apps and shortcuts from your devices. You can still enjoy Instagram or goat yoga sites, but you’ll probably do it less often if you must first enter tedious login credentials every time.

Exception: Keep The Kill Zone readily accessible.

Make good habits easy: When Eric resolved to play his guitar more, he took it out of the closet and set it on a stand in the living room. Cutting time and effort made it easier to strum.

Make the habit of writing easy by keeping your tools accessible.

My laptop is on the dining table where I can’t possibly avoid it. If an idea occurs to me while cooking dinner, the computer is only steps away. HGTV decorators would shudder and our home won’t be featured in House Beautiful. But I get more work done than if it were in the office upstairs.

Leverage friends: Eric says, “Peer pressure can be a good thing.”

Hang out with people who encourage your resolution. Surround yourself with friends and family who will cheer you toward your goal. They pump you up when you doubt your ability or when your resolve falters. They help you over roadblocks.

Real life also includes negative peer pressure from snarky in-laws or jealous coworkers. But strive to spend less time with detractors and more time with positive influencers.

Commitment Devices: Eric’s suggestion below makes me smile because it sums up human nature so well. 

Give $100 to a trusted friend. If you stick to your resolution, you get your money back. Fail, and that money gets donated to the opposing political party’s reelection fund.

Photo credit: Jonathan Borba, Pexels

Instead of kicking off the new year with unrealistic fantasies that are doomed to fail, choose ONLY ONE RESOLUTION that you know you can keep.

Then keep it.

It’s that simple. Really.

Here’s a link to Eric’s full article.


TKZers: What is your SINGLE RESOLUTION for 2024?



Holiday gift cards burning a hole in your pocket? Please check out Deep Fake Double DownFinalist for the BookLife Prize. Sales link.

Slang Fun Facts

by Debbie Burke


The saying “two countries divided by a common language” certainly applies to slang.

American and British slang are confusing enough. Throw in Australian slang and one needs a translator with a doctorate in linguistics to interpret.

Here’s an example I recently ran across in an Aussie news story: Dob in a hoon.

Translation: to report a driver who’s reckless and dangerous.

The story reported that the Greater Shepperton City Council and police have a “Dob in a Hoon” tip line where citizens can call in tips about dangerous drivers.

Being a writer fascinated by word origins, I headed down the rabbit hole to learn about this unusual phrase.

Hoon driving means driving recklessly, quickly, and irresponsibly. It includes street racing, fishtailing, burnouts, excessive noise to draw attention of bystanders.

Digging a little deeper into origins, I discovered the word hoon was coined by Aussie author Xavier Herbert in the 1930s and means a “hooligan” or “lout.”

What about the rest of the phrase dob in?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, dob in means to “secretly tell someone in authority that someone else has done something wrong.”

Quick grammar review from Grammarly:

transitive verb needs to transfer its action to something or someone—an object. In essence, transitive means “affecting something else.”

transitive verb is one that makes sense only if it exerts its action on an object.

An intransitive verb will make sense without an object.

That makes dob in a transitive verb, where the verb action of dob in passes to the object noun hoon.

In Australian slang, dob in is comparable to the American slang terms rat out or squeal on.

The person who dobs in someone is often called a stool pigeon, canary, cheese eater, rat, informant, squealer, fink, narc.

While rooting around in the research rabbit hole, more Aussie slang sidetracked me. Here are a few examples:

If someone imbibes too much from the Bottle-O (liquor store) then gets behind the wheel, they could wind up riding in the Booze Bus (police vehicle that chases drunk drivers).

If you visit Australia, beware of the dreaded Drop Bear. This mythical beast is a carnivorous Koala-type bear that drops from trees to prey on creatures walking below.

Drop Bear attack
Photo credit: wikipedia

Aussies enjoy warning unsuspecting tourists about the Drop Bear, along with other fun Furphies (plural).

A Furphy (singular) is defined by Dictionary.com as “a false report or improbable story; rumor.”


Furphy water cart, ca 1905

Furphy is an actual brand name for traveling water tanks and sanitary disposal carts manufactured by the Furphy family of Victoria. During World War I, soldiers gathered around Furphies to gossip and spin yarns. That led to widespread slang usage of telling a furphy.

Do you think “sanitary disposal” could have inspired the term? 


Those friendly, helpful Aussies also suggest repellants that supposedly protect from Drop Bear attacks. One method is to spread Vegemite behind the ears.

Vegemite isn’t slang but is an actual food product created and produced in Australia. It is made from leftover byproducts from brewing beer.

Here is a description of Vegemite from thetraveltart.com: “It looks like tar, has the consistency of thick paste, and has a salty/malty/yeasty taste to it that sounds just a bit weird but actually works – if you don’t plaster it too much!”

Applied behind the ears, Vegemite not only protects from Drop Bears, it makes a memorable cologne that’s also edible.

Those Aussies have a wicked sense of humor.

Photo credit: Sultan 11 cc-by-sa-4.0

The Drop Bear is similar to the North American “Jackalope”, another mythical creature with origins in folklore. Imagine a cross between an antelope and a jackrabbit.

Which brings me back to rabbits and falling down the rabbit hole. 

Here’s an entertaining article by Elaine Zelby about the origins and usage of that particular slang.

TKZ emeritus Clare Langley-Hawthorne was raised in Australia. If Clare is online, maybe she’ll chime in with her favorite Aussie slang terms.


Pros of using slang in fiction:

  • Adds authenticity;
  • Adds regional color;
  • Gives deeper dimension to characters and makes them unique and memorable.


  • Slang changes with the times. Twentieth century meaning may be totally different in the 21st century;
  • The same slang can have different meanings in different cultures, causing reader confusion;
  • May require explanation to the reader. Anything that takes them out of the story can be a problem;
  • Overuse of slang is distracting and annoying.

A taste of slang in fiction goes a long way. Like Vegemite, don’t spread it too thickly.


This is my last post for 2023 before TKZ’s annual break. I’m honored to be part of this vibrant writing/reading community.

Warm wishes for a joyous holiday season with family and friends!


TKZers: How much slang do you use in your stories?

What is the most unusual slang term you’ve run across?

Do you research the origins of slang words?  

Please share a few of your favorites.




Deep fakes lead to deep trouble in Debbie Burke’s thriller, Deep Fake Double Down, BookLIfe Prize FinalistClick on the cover for the sales link. 

True Crime Thursday – Assault with a Deadly Turkey

by Debbie Burke


True Crime Thursday always falls on Thanksgiving Day. That gives me a great opportunity to search out crimes related to the holiday.

Here are the top six crimes committed on/around Thanksgiving:

  1. Domestic violence – Long-simmering family tensions, often combined with alcohol, can turn violent, like this case of a woman who stabbed her half-brother with a two-tined carving fork.
  2. Speeding and traffic offenses – Although the period between Christmas and New Year’s sees the most traffic, Thanksgiving comes in second with an estimated 55 million travelers on the road.
  3. Driving while under the influence – Binge drinking often starts on the appropriately named “Blackout Wednesday” and continues over the four-day weekend.
  4. Theft – Retail thefts and thefts from vehicles spike during the holidays but cargo theft also rises. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is a particularly busy day for thieves because truck drivers often leave loads unattended while they go home for the holiday.
  5. Disorderly conduct – While most of us are eating the bird, some are flipping the bird, which could mean a charge of disorderly conduct in Texas.
  6. Vandalism – This crime category includes egging cars and houses, graffiti, breaking windows, stealing or destroying decorations, and other low-grade mischief most commonly committed by juveniles. Kids, please stay home and have another piece of pie instead.

In case your turkey doesn’t thaw in time to cook, here’s a great alternate use for a frozen bird:

In 2008 in North Carolina, a man stole money from a gas station then assaulted a woman while trying to jack her car. A Good Samaritan grabbed a frozen turkey from the woman’s groceries and clobbered the attacker on the head several times. The attacker fled with the woman’s car and crashed into several vehicles. He was later arrested, treated at a hospital for serious head injuries, and charged with numerous felonies.

To wrap up on a positive note, here’s a photo of volunteers working to ensure a Happy Thanksgiving for service members during the annual Turkey Drop at Fort Lewis McChord Air Force base in Washington.

Annual Volunteer Turkey Drop
Photo credit: Joint Base Lewis McChord

Hope your Thanksgiving is crime-free!

TKZers: What are you thankful for?

I give thanks for TKZ’s community that generously shares their knowledge to help other writers!


Dead Right – Guest Post by Dr. Betty Kuffel

by Debbie Burke


Dr. Betty Kuffel

In 2004, a small plane carrying Dr. Betty Kuffel, her husband, and their dog crashed into a remote, snowy Idaho mountain, leaving her leg crushed and dangling with bones exposed.

Where most people would be consumed by helpless panic, Betty stayed calm.

With her husband trapped in the inverted cockpit and the frightened dog circling the wreckage, Betty eased herself through the broken windshield to the icy ground.

She used the radio headset and wires to align her multiple fractures and tied the wires to hold the leg in place.

Yeah, she set her own broken leg.

Yeah, she’s Superwoman.

(Happy ending—all were rescued and survived.)

This example is one of many reasons why Betty has been my trusted medical advisor, critique partner, and dear friend for 30 years. Today, I’m happy to welcome her to TKZ with her guest post entitled:

Death and Dying for Authors

I had a plan for killing someone in one of my novels and wanted to make the death look natural with no discernible cause even with detailed postmortem forensics. To validate my plan, I called a forensic pathologist friend and said, “Dale, I want to kill someone, and I need your help.” He laughed, listened to my scenario, and confirmed my plan was correct. The cause of death would be indeterminate.

Writing accurate medical scenes is as important in fiction as it is in nonfiction. You can’t “just make it up” and make it believable. Research may save you from deadly reviews. Some experts may initially be taken aback by your questions but, in my experience, they love to help.

My background is ER medicine, wilderness hiking, climbing, dog sled racing and flying, which provided personal exposure to gruesome injuries and medical emergencies. Writing some scenes is easy because I’ve observed emotional reactions of patients and families affected by a heart attack, severe trauma from violence, gunshot wounds, and even bear mauling victims. But many writers may not have that firsthand experience.

Understanding “normal” body functions as a baseline is a great help to writers when designing a health-related scene.

First, identify your goal. Are you looking for a health challenge for your character to make him unique, a chronic disease perhaps? Or does your storyline require something acute, painful, or disfiguring? Or is this a climactic scene of violence and death?

To write the end, you need the beginning.

Basics of Life:  Average adult vital signs are a blood pressure of 120/80, heart rate of 70 beats per minute, respiratory rate of 15 times per minute, and temperature 98.6 F. Blood volume: 5 liters for about a 150-pound person. At a heartrate of 70/minute with a stroke volume of 70 ml (volume pumped with each beat) = 4,900 ml ~ 5 liters. This means the entire blood volume is pumped each minute.

Basics of Death: There is wide variation in vital signs with normal activity. With smart watches and wrist exercise monitors, most writers know exercise or stress change the baseline measurements. Running up a flight of stairs will spike both heart rate and blood pressure, but they normalize with a few minutes of rest. What if they don’t normalize? How long will it take to die without oxygen, or to bleed out? You need to know some details to write an accurate life and death scenario.

Having norms in mind for comparison, you are ready to alter them to your character’s detriment and your scene’s enhancement.

It’s time to create a crisis involving (A) the airway, (B) breathing, (C) cardiac function or (N) Neuro/Brain function.

Anyone who has taken a CPR class knows these ABCs. Interruption of airway, breathing or heart function can create a crisis. Brain injury can maim or kill. So, what do you need in your scene?

A Few ABC Scenarios

Airway and Breathing:

Airway obstruction using a ligature around the neck takes moments to interrupt blood flow to the brain and cause loss of consciousness: if not released, it causes death. It’s silent and fast. A shoelace, cable ties, fish line or luxurious silk scarf will do.

The scene can start calmly but quickly change to deadly, requiring immediate interventions to save a life. During a romantic candlelight dinner in an elegant restaurant, choking causes chaos in public and brings paramedics to the scene. Is it an unexpected aspiration of a bite of steak that occludes the airway? Or did the perpetrator know about the victim’s deadly allergy to penicillin and slipped it into their food, causing death from airway swelling and hypotension?

A penicillin-sensitive person who has intercourse with someone who has taken penicillin can result in anaphylaxis and death. The lover with that knowledge can turn a romantic interlude into murder.

Drug overdoses, sedatives (ex. Valium, Ativan, Xanax) and opiates (ex. heroin, fentanyl, morphine, oxycodone), slow respiratory rate, leading to unconsciousness, airway compromise, and death. The drug Narcan (naloxone) can be given as a nasal spray or injected, reversing opioid effects within minutes. So, from unconsciousness and near death, a victim can become alert and fighting medics.

However, Narcan does not reverse the effects of sedatives.

Rapid breathing of 40 times a minute or more can be caused by a collapsed lung, chronic lung disease with failure, asthma, fright and panic attacks. All have unique causes and need interventions to control the symptoms. Some are scary but not fatal. Others are life threatening. Symptoms with impending death include rapid breathing with gasping, holding the chest or throat, being unable to speak. Skin may be mottled and bluish followed by unconsciousness.

Blood Pressure

Lowering blood pressure is an easy way to cause loss of consciousness due to reduced blood flow to the brain. Without reversal this will be fatal.

Hemorrhagic shock can result from a stabbing or gunshot wound. How long will it take to bleed out?

Hemorrhagic shock is determined by volume lost. A blood donation is Class I shock. Class II is 750-1500 ml and is initially treated with high volume IV saline, but as loss progresses fluids and blood must be pumped in. Class IV occurs when 40% of blood is lost. Unless blood loss is stopped and high-volume blood is transfused, loss of consciousness occurs. The pulse becomes rapid, then fades as the blood pressure drops into the 70s. The skin pales, pupils dilate, and the heart stops.

Here’s another way to reduce blood pressure:

The victim takes an erectile dysfunction drug like Cialis and the killer slips a few nitroglycerin tablets into his wine. He loses consciousness during intercourse because this deadly combination results in irreversible low blood pressure, shock and death. Who would know but the perpetrator?

Heart Function

A cardiac arrest means the heart stopped beating. This can result for many reasons. It is not a “cause of death.” Even young healthy athletes drop dead, but the most common cause of sudden death is narrowing of the coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with oxygenated blood.

Heart muscle cells become unstable with lack of adequate oxygenated blood. The irritability results in loss of an organized rhythm and no contractions to pump the blood. CPR with external compressions of the chest and rapid use of an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) can save lives which is why AEDs are available in public venues like malls, airplanes, and football fields.

Cardiac arrest is the most likely scenario to result in death or brain injury due to lack of oxygen.

What does sudden death look like?

No matter what the cause–a blow to the chest or a heart attack from cholesterol narrowing of a heart artery–when the heart stops, symptom onset is abrupt and often follows this pattern: Slump, fall, with rapid total muscle relaxation; a generalized seizure due to lack of brain oxygen; mouth and eyes may be partially open; no pulse; no breathing; skin, pale, then lips and nailbeds turn blue; no movement; pupils dilate widely, fish-eyes.

Rapid Ways to Kill

A few drugs that work rapidly are easily available in medical facilities, veterinary clinics, and ambulances: Succinylcholine is a paralytic. Potassium intravenous stops the heart. Nitroglycerine overdose under the tongue drops blood pressure. Intravenous insulin overdose results in unconsciousness and death.

Drug or alcohol intoxication and exposure to cold that causes hypothermia hasten death.

Strangulation with hands or a ligature is close, personal, fast and quiet.

Slashing through neck vessels and trachea results in airway interruption and rapid hemorrhagic death.

Ways to do research:

Interview experts such as physicians and even morticians.

Google reputable sites such as universities and NIH.

Consider going on ambulance and police ride-alongs for firsthand information.


A writer doesn’t need to include too many details or the story risks sounding like a textbook. Choose the means of death, then incorporate enough information to be accurate but not overwhelming. 


Betty, you “killed it “with that comprehensive overview. Thanks for sharing your extensive knowledge! 


TKZers: Does this post help you write about dying and death? Will the information alter how you commit fictional crimes?


Dr. Betty Kuffel is a retired ER physician who lives in Montana. Medical and wilderness experiences, flying, dog sled racing in Alaska, and surviving a plane crash in the mountains of Idaho fuel her writing. She writes across genres, including a medical thriller series and True Crime.


Villain Survey

by Debbie Burke


Readers love a good, juicy, memorable villain.

Villains come in more flavors than Baskin-Robbins features: sinister, seductive, calculating, bumbling, scary, funny, tortured, etc.

Who can forget Danny DeVito as the Penguin; the bunny-boiling “Alex” played by Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction; The Wicked Witch of the West who frightened generations of children with her threat, “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too.”

As writers, we’d love to create a character who endures for years, like Professor Moriarty, Nurse Ratched, Darth Vader, Cruella de Vil, Hannibal Lecter. 

Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey and Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey-Mythic Structure for Writers examines the hero.

Riffing on that structure, I’m working on a writing craft book that follows a similar theme but instead takes readers on The Villain’s Journey.

I deconstruct various villains by asking questions. What are their origin stories? What are their needs and desires? Are they psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists? What drives them to do antisocial acts? Are they forced by circumstances to step over the moral line from ordinary to evil? How far will they go to achieve their goals?

What are qualities that make a villain memorable? Here is a partial list:

1. Powerful – They are in control of their situation and the people around them. They are stronger than the hero, at least initially.

President Snow in The Hunger Games keeps his districts impoverished, desperate, and fearful to the point that people accept the cruel practice of children murdering each other for rewards.

2. Cunning – They use intelligence, guile, and manipulation to achieve what they want.

In several Arthur Conan Doyle stories, detective Sherlock Holmes dubs  Professor James Moriarty “the Napoleon of crime.” Moriarty is the only person who can match wits with the brilliant Holmes and best him.

3. Ruthless – They are willing, sometimes even eager, to harm others and cause destruction to achieve their goals.

In The Godfather I, the climactic baptism scene shows Michael Corleone becoming the godfather to his sister’s son at the same time his henchmen kill the leaders of all the rival families. That clean sweep elevates Michael to reign as the undisputed Godfather of crime. 

4. Terrifying – They exploit deep human fears like helplessness, pain, and death to overwhelm their victims with physical, psychological, or emotional threats.

Agatha Trunchbull is the sadistic, bullying headmistress in Roald Dahl’s Matilda. The 1996 film was rated R because of scary (although absurd) violence like the pigtail hammer throw scene.

5. Ordinary – On the surface, villains can seem like regular people. They blend in with normal society and don’t attract attention to themselves. That’s how they get away with immoral acts. Their invisibility makes them chilling.

In Catherine Ryan Howard’s The Nothing Man, the murderer of Eve Black’s family is a supermarket security guard living an inconspicuous life until Eve writes a true crime book that taunts him with threats to reveal his identity.

6. Reluctant – circumstances may force a law-abiding person into committing crimes. Their reasons may be justifiable but the acts are evil. 

In Death Wish, Charles Bronson plays a grieving widower whose wife was killed by thugs. He takes justice into his own hands, becoming a vigilante. 

7.  Persistent – They may appear to be vanquished but they don’t give up. Remember the Terminator’s immortal line, “I’ll be back.”

Now I’d like to ask readers of TKZ to participate in a survey for The Villain’s Journey.

Who is your favorite fictional villain?

Why is s/he compelling and memorable to you?

Please answer in the comments. Your response could be included in the book (with permission).

Thanks for your help!!!



Please check out the manipulative, seductive, ruthless, cunning, ordinary, persistent villains in the Tawny Lindholm Thriller series