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 – John Bozeman’s Unsolved Homicide from 1867


John Bozeman

By Debbie Burke


Bozeman, Montana is known for Montana State University, world-class outdoor recreation, expensive homes (median price is $845,000), and the unsolved homicide of the city’s founder more than 150 years ago.

John Bozeman was a pioneer who blazed the Bozeman Trail as a shortcut from Wyoming to the Montana Territory gold fields, although he was unsuccessful at gold prospecting.

In 1867, he became a murder victim.

In the Montana Territory, tension existed between white settlers moving west and Native tribes who, despite treaties, were displaced.

In April, 1867, Bozeman and mill owner Thomas Cover were on their way to Fort C.F. Smith to secure a flour contract for Cover. They spent a night at a cattle ranch belonging to wealthy Nelson Story, Sr.

For unknown reasons, Bozeman was concerned for his safety and expressed his worry in a letter. That night, he shared a room with W.S. McKenzie and “begged” McKenzie to take his place on the journey, even offering his clothes and boots.

Thomas Cover

One possible reason for Bozeman’s fear is that he evidently had made advances on Cover’s wife, Mary, according to this article from The Sherman Room. 

However, the next day, Bozeman and Cover resumed their journey together. According to Cover, when they stopped for a meal near the Yellowstone River, five Native men approached.

A shootout ensued in which Bozeman was struck twice in the chest, killing him. Cover claimed he had been shot once in the shoulder from the rear. He also said Blackfeet men stole their horses. He escaped and returned to the ranch for help.

The next day, Nelson Story arrived at the ranch and sent a trusted guide to study the murder scene. Story examined Cover’s wound, noticed powder burns indicating a shot from close range, and was suspicious that the bullet had entered from the front, contrary to Cover’s claim.

The guide returned and said he’d found Bozeman’s body, along with his valuables, undermining Cover’s claim that theft was the motive for the murder. He found tracks of only Bozeman’s and Cover’s horses, with no indication of five Native men Cover claimed had shot them.

However, soldiers from Fort C.F. Smith later encountered a camp where five outcast Natives bragged that they had killed Bozeman and had his horse.

Shortly after Bozeman’s murder, Cover moved to California and, for a time, successfully raised navel oranges in San Bernardino. In 1884, while searching for gold in the desert between Los Angeles and Yuma, Cover disappeared and was never found.

Years later, Nelson Story’s son said his father told him Cover had killed Bozeman then shot himself in the shoulder to disguise his guilt.

Another version of the murder surfaced when a man named Thomas Kent claimed Nelson Story, Sr. hired him to kill Bozeman.

Hearsay, rumors, and gossip promoted various theories but none of the possible scenarios could be proven with evidence.

John Bozeman’s murder remains a fabled but unsolved mystery.

Renee Carlson’s well-researched article about the homicide was published in Distinctly Montana magazine. Here’s a link to her story.


TKZers: Any theories about this very cold case?



A young Native inmate shouldn’t have gone to prison. Now he’s dead and video evidence is overwhelming against a female guard who swears she’s innocent. Investigator Tawny Lindholm plunges into the sinister world of deep fakes where “proof” isn’t truth.

Available at Amazon and major online booksellers. 

How to Measure Writing Progress


Photo credit: Eskay Lim – Unsplash

By Debbie Burke


Recently my computer spent a couple of days in the shop. No social media? No problem! But no internet and no email—that was difficult.

Unable to write or research, I cast around looking for a project to fill normal writing hours. My gaze fell upon the two-drawer filing cabinet crammed with writing stuff.

For years, I’ve invented delays to avoid going through those files: I’ll organize them as soon as I finish this book; as soon as I finish beta reading a colleague’s manuscript; as soon as I give that PowerPoint presentation; as soon as I meet this article deadline; and so on and so on…

Embarrassing confession: The last time I purged writing files was in 2003. Twenty years ago!

Lately, though, it had become increasingly difficult to stuff even one additional sheet of paper into the crammed Pendaflex dividers. Searching in the folders not only caused bleeding paper cuts but bruises on the back of my hand. The two drawers of the filing cabinet haven’t been able to close completely for quite a while.

With the computer in the shop, it was finally time. No more excuses.

I yanked out a stack of files and spread them across the dining table. The top drawer was supposed to contain current work that I need easy access to—ISBN numbers, income and expenses, marketing, recently published articles, WIPs, classes I teach, etc.

Also priority items in the top drawer are Merriam-Webster’s Pocket Dictionary, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and printouts of Jodie Renner’s editing tips.

Each book in my Tawny Lindholm Thriller series has its own folder of research, notes, beta feedback, etc. I’ve finished eight books—why are there only seven folders? Oh yeah, #8 is on the kitchen counter because it couldn’t fit in the drawer. Also on the counter are marketing to-do lists for #8.

Farther down in the pile were files from classes and conferences I attended. For 30+ years, I’ve been involved in planning our local Flathead River Writers Conference. Did I really need to keep notes of organizational meetings for all those years? Flight schedules of guest speakers I picked up from the airport? Menus and budgets? Nope. Into the trash.

But then I started reading the copious notes I took from the presentations.

And remembering.

That’s where this cleaning-out business gets tricky.

Pretty quickly I wandered down memory lane into a twisting rabbit warren of education and experience. Easy enough to discard handouts of social media tips from 2013 because that’s changed so much. But what about the 2016 Pikes Peak Writers Conference, a major turning point in my writing career?

For sure, I had to save my notes from Kevin J. Anderson, bestselling author of spin-offs for Star Trek, Dune, and X-Files. He gave a fabulous talk about world-building and illustrated the process with vivid sensory details about growing up in a little Wisconsin town that’s the sauerkraut capital of the world. His descriptions of smells are still imprinted in my memory. In a one-hour presentation, he literally revolutionized the way I work setting into my stories.

That triggered another recollection from later during the same conference. In a room packed with 100 attendees, there was a first-page read-aloud session. Kevin, along with another author and an agent, read the first page of my then-unpublished novel, Instrument of the Devil. Kevin heaped glowing praise on it.

THE Kevin J. Anderson, mega-million bestseller, was intrigued by my first page. I still remember sitting in a chair in the third row, overcome by feverish blushing that made me feel as if I were melting.

Also in that same folder was the certificate awarded at the banquet that night. IOTD won the best thriller/mystery category.

Gotta keep that and the warm memories from the conference that led to my first published book.

Next was a folder marked “TKZ.” It contained emails starting in 2015 between Kathryn Lilley and me where she invited me to guest post for the first time. More emails and more guest posts. Then, while we were at a vacation condo in Florida, I remember breathlessly reading Kathryn’s message out loud to my husband when she asked me to be a regular TKZ contributor.

Another major turning point in my career.

Gotta save those emails.

I time-traveled deeper into the past, uncovering drafts from 2007 of my tenth “practice” novel (the previous nine “practice” novels went out in the 2003 purge). Nice comments from my critique group but I barely remembered the mystery and tossed it without a twinge. Not compelling then and even less so today.

Found a stack of different-colored index cards from an even older mystery. The manuscript was gone so why did I keep the cards? Then the memory came back—I’d struggled with that timeline. A wise teacher suggested the index card system: write a single scene on each card then lay the cards out on the floor. Rearrange, add, or subtract scenes until the timeline makes sense. This was long before the invention of software that allows scene rearrangement onscreen. Wish I could remember who taught me the trick because I owe them thanks.

Buried even deeper in the pile were pages of 13-column ledger paper from the 1990s where I tracked submissions. Hundreds of them. To agents, editors, magazines, newspapers. One column recorded the dates of rejections. Early on, those outpaced acceptances tenfold. Later, acceptances increased, and rejections decreased.

Other columns logged dates of publication and payments, if any. Sometimes payments were simply copies of the magazine, if it survived long enough to publish. I personally take credit for putting at least 20 little literary magazines out of business in the ’90s.

Back in snail mail days, the process moved slowly. From the time of submission to the magazine hitting the stands could stretch six months, a year, or even longer. Payment was sometimes upon publication, other times after publication.

But gradually the acceptances increased. I found emails from editors who contacted me offering assignments that paid $25, then $100, then $400 plus mileage.

In the back of the drawer were three-ring binders full of published clips also dating back to the early 1990s. In those days, you saved “tear sheets”—actual pages of published articles torn from magazines or newspapers. When querying, you’d send them as samples of your work for the editor to judge.

By now, you’re wondering if I’ll ever get to the point of this post.

This is it.

Writing has never been a profession that delivers immediate gratification.

Measuring one’s writing progress is tough to quantify. In a regular job, a paycheck every week or two proves the worker’s worth and skills.

In writing, months and years may go by without a “paycheck.”

Even when your career reaches a point where you receive advances and royalties, the income probably won’t support you in the style you’d like to become accustomed to.

If you can’t measure your writing progress in a tangible monetary way, how do you know if you’re improving?

Your best yardstick is yourself.

Look back at what you wrote six months ago, a year, five years, or 20 years ago. Have your skills improved? Have you learned new craft techniques?

Did a class or workshop change the way you create characters, or handle action scenes, or infuse emotion into your stories? Has your pacing improved? Did you head-hop in the past but now you’ve finally mastered point of view (POV)?

Do readers and other writers notice improvement in your work?

Do you waste less time floundering around trying to find a story? Do you have more focus and better concentration when you write? Do you feel more confident about showing your writing to others?

Do you have goals? Have you achieved some of them? Then do you set higher goals?

Writing is a ladder without end. No one knows everything about writing. We all need to work continuously to improve our craft, master more complicated skills, and produce more words.

When I finished clearing old stuff from the file drawers, the discards in the wastebasket weighed about 50 pounds. I filled one banker’s box with conference highlights, published articles, old references I might someday need, and mementoes. That box went into storage in the spare bedroom.

The bottom drawer of the file cabinet now contains only the past three years of published articles and the first seven novels in my thriller series. Deep Fake Double Down, #8, is in the top drawer while I’m actively marketing and promoting. The top also contains daily business files and current to-do projects like uploading my books to Ingram Spark.

No more writing files on the kitchen counter. Whew.

Now the cabinet has plenty of room for new projects, including a nonfiction book proposal I’m working on. I can slip my hand between folders without tearing off layers of skin.

Cleaning out the files gave me the chance to reassess the progress of my writing career. I reviewed lessons learned during this never-ending apprenticeship.

photo credit: Vincent Van Zalinge, Unsplash

My goals back then were different. Did I achieve my dream of winning an Edgar for “Best First Novel”? Nope. A few friends earned six-figure advances for debut books. Did I? Nope. And that’s okay because, sadly, their careers went downhill after their initial one-hit wonders.

Today’s goals? Would I like to publish as many books as Nora Roberts? Sure. Make as many sales as James Patterson? Absolutely.

Photo credit: Aron Visuals, unsplash

Will I ever achieve those goals? Probably not. But I’ll keep plodding along like a tortoise, creating more words and stringing them together in better sentences and stories.

Those old files showed slow, steady progress through the decades.

That’s not glamorous or exciting but it is satisfying.



TKZers: How do you measure your writing progress?

What are your goals for the next year?


For my new thriller, Deep Fake Double Down, Steve Hooley created a custom Deep Fake Sapphire collector’s pen. Visit my website to enter a free drawing for the pen and a signed book.

Deep Fake Double Down is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.

Writers and Age


Photo credit: Pexels -Vlada Karpovich

By Debbie Burke



A February 2023 article in The Guardian gives hope to us writers of a certain age. According to the story, “older, unpublished writers are now at a premium – with radical, edgy women aged into their 80s particularly sought-after.”

During the economic downturn that began in 2008, mergers and downsizing of publishing companies led to many older, experienced editors being culled to reduce costs. If they were replaced, new hires were younger people willing to work for less money.

Because of that, publishing tended toward a youth-oriented culture. Many agents and editors are Millennials (1981-1996). That led to significant ageism, with older writers being shoved aside unless they were already big-money successes.

I know of one seasoned author who reported a rejection where the agent said, “Your turn is past.”


At a conference several years ago, I pitched a twentyish agent with a book in my Tawny Lindholm Thriller series that stars characters in their 50s. In conversation, there was a passing mention of AARP. She authoritatively informed me, “You can’t join AARP at fifty.”

Oh really? That’s news to all the people who receive solicitations to join around their 50th birthday. 

Her incorrect statement was one reason I decided to end the quest for traditional publication and self-publish instead. I didn’t need to fight another uphill battle in the face of arrogant ignorance.

But recently “old” has become cool.

A prime reading demographic are Boomers (born between 1946-1964). They are retiring at increasing rates, have discretionary income to buy books, and time to read them. And they are interested in substantive topics of health, family, giving to others, and quality of life, rather than the celebrity scandal du jour.

Lisa Highton, an associate agent at Jenny Brown Associates, says: “The vast majority of books are bought by women aged 45 and above. They’re a hugely important demographic and increasingly, want to see themselves represented in books.” She adds, there is “value [in] their collected, distilled wisdom, their lifetime of reading and radicalism that is not possible for younger writers.

According to Cherry Potts, Arachne Press, there is a “very willing readership” for the work of older women “including that most elusive of reader: the white middle-aged man”.

Leading the trend are a number of recent bestsellers by older women like the debut novel by Bonnie Garmus, Lessons in Chemistry and The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller. The latter book features characters in their 50s and addresses the long-taboo subject of senior sexuality. 

An 81-year-old friend, Marie F. Martin, just completed her seventh novel, a mystery set in 1952 on a Montana farm. She didn’t start writing until she was 70 and has learned, refined, and honed her craft to a high gloss. The latest is her best book yet.

Marie caught the self-publishing trend early on and did well with six books. For her seventh, she decided to query agents and publishers. Again, she’s on the leading edge of a trend. I hope she’s accepted and achieves success—she’s earned it. But, if not, she won’t be disappointed. She’ll self-publish again. Marie’s equanimity carries her over the rollercoaster of despair and elation that goes with a writing career.

In my last post, Editor/Janitor”, I mentioned retired newspaperman George Ostrom.

Since then, I saw George and his wife having dinner at the senior community where they live. He’s now almost 95 and in declining health. During his long newspaper career, he had a reputation for calling out BS, sometimes to the angry dismay of prominent citizens.

That evening, I went over to their table, introduced myself, and kiddingly asked him, “Are you the Editor/Janitor of the Kalispell Weekly News?” 

An awkward hesitation followed.

Uh-oh. By trying to be funny, had I inadvertently embarrassed him?

“Why?” he finally asked. “Do you wanna hit me?”

To my great relief, his humorous spirit remains intact.

Like wine, writers improve with age. Unlike athletes, writers don’t peak in their 20s and 30s then go downhill.

The longer writers live, the more problems we’ve had to solve, the more fascinating and frustrating people we’ve known, the more experiences we’ve enjoyed or suffered. That huge reservoir adds richness, texture, and depth to the stories we create.

Insight and wisdom are hard-earned. By sharing those gifts with readers in books, articles, and blog posts, writers can shine a light on truths that lead to realization, understanding, and empathy for the human condition. Those truths endure through time.

Take heart, senior writers. Contrary to the rejection cited above, our turn is not past.


TKZers: Have you experienced ageism when submitting to editors and agents?

Who’s your favorite senior writer?




The lead characters in the Tawny Lindholm Thriller series are still kicking ass in their 50s. Please check out the new release Deep Fake Double Down, on sale now at Amazon and other major booksellers.

True Crime Thursday – Vicious Vishing by Voice Cloning

Photo credit: Jason Rosewell, Unsplash

By Debbie Burke


Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.

That saying has been attributed to sources like Benjamin Franklin and Edgar Allen Poe. It’s appeared in song lyrics like Leon Haywood’s “Believe Half of What You See (and None of What You Hear)” and the third verse of the immortal Marvin Gaye classic, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”

Today, those wise words are even truer because of Voice Cloning, a new tool created by Artificial Intelligence (AI) for the cyber-scammer’s toolkit.

Phishing and Vishing are scams where criminals contact victims, often posing as a bank, reputable business, government agency, hospital, law enforcement, or other entity in order to gain access to your personal and/or financial information.

Phishing contacts victims by email, urging you to open an infected attachment or click on a link that downloads malware. Phishing attacks are generally sophisticated and massive in scale, targeting thousands of businesses and individuals at a time using automation.

Reportedly 74% of organizations in the US have been successfully targeted by phishing attacks.

Vishing (AKA voice phishing) is when a scammer contacts the victim by phone, impersonating a law officer, banker, charity, etc. who convinces you to verbally share your confidential information. The caller ID is spoofed, making the call appear to come from a legitimate source like a bank, Social Security Administration, credit card company, etc.

Vishing requires a scammer to contact one victim at a time, to persuade them to give up sensitive personal and financial information on the phone, making it less efficient than phishing.

However, vishing can still be devastatingly effective, especially now thanks to Voice Cloning. AI can take a sample of someone’s voice and create speech that’s impossible to tell from the real person.

Voice cloning is a boon for scams like Family Emergency, Friend Stranded Overseas, or Grandchild in Trouble. Scammers harvest voice samples of your loved one from YouTube, TikTok, and other online sources.

They can also call the person to record their voice or even use their outgoing voicemail message.

In a few seconds, criminals can download enough of a person’s voice to create a convincing imitation.

Now when “Johnny” calls Grandma saying he was in a car accident and needs bail money, the voice is identical to the real Johnny. That triggers panic, and the victim is more likely to act without thinking. And lose money in the process.

“Johnny” will ask for gift cards, cryptocurrency, or want you to wire money. Once you do, the funds are instantly transferred to the scammer and the transaction can’t be reversed.

Your money is gone.

How do you protect yourself against a voice that sounds exactly like your loved one?

The FTC advises:

“Don’t trust the voice. Call the person who supposedly contacted you and verify the story. Use a phone number you know is theirs. If you can’t reach your loved one, try to get in touch with them through another family member or their friends.”

A simple low-tech safeguard is to have a password or code that only you and your family knows. If something about a call with a loved one sounds suspicious, ask them for the password.

But be careful how you select a code. Criminals often scour social media accounts for clues to possible passwords.

If you post a photo of “my dog Spot” and choose that for your password, it could be guessed.

Speaking of Spot, to wrap up this post on a light note, does anyone remember the old Cal Worthington TV commercials that always featured “My Dog Spot”?

The last Worthington family car dealership was sold in February, 2023. End of an era but Cal’s jingle lives on.


TKZers: Has someone you know been taken in by voice cloning?

Can you think of ways to use Voice Cloning in mystery, suspense, or thriller fiction?



Investigator Tawny Lindholm plunges into an alternate reality where video is fake but death is real.

Please check out my new thriller Deep Fake Double Down.


By Debbie Burke


From 1965 to 1985, the Kalispell Weekly News was great regional paper in northwest Montana. It was owned and operated by George Ostrom, a colorful character who’d been a smokejumper, mountain climber, journalist, author, radio personality, and legendary raconteur. His stories and op-eds were always entertaining and full of folksy, rustic humor.

The masthead of his newspaper read:

George Ostrom, Editor/Janitor.

That masthead always made me smile because it perfectly sums up the life of a small business owner. The title “owner” may sound impressive but that’s also the poor schlub who gets called in the middle of the night when the plumbing stops up.

Indie authors are small business owners and monarchs over their writing realm. My kingdom consists of a messy dining room table, littered with sticky notes, piled with draft manuscripts, cluttered with invoices, ISBN records, etc. My throne is a secretary chair on casters with a donut cushion. The royal duties are a to-do list that grows longer every day. As fast as I cross off one task, five more are added, each requiring a different skillset.

Today is launch day for Deep Fake Double Down, # 8 in my Tawny Lindholm Thriller series. By the eighth book, the publication process should be polished, refined, and trouble-free, right?

Wrong, dead wrong.

Each new book presents its own set of unforeseen and unforeseeable problems.

Deep Fake Double Down had its fair share of (mis)adventures.

Here’s a synopsis: A corrupt prison warden covers up the murder of an inmate by creating deep fake “evidence” against an innocent female corrections officer. The videos go viral on social media and soon every cop in Montana is gunning for her. 

Initial drafts went well with encouraging comments from critique groups.

Target release date was January, 2023. Notice the past tense.

The story was on a roll, about 75% done. Then in December, my beloved Windows 7 computer died. Here is the obituary.

Now I had to learn a new Mac computer with unfamiliar commands. At the same time, the all-important third-act climax of the story needed to be written. The process forced me to reach deep inside my creative soul…

…to come up with adequate curse words to express my frustration!

The working title “Deep Fake” was dramatic, punchy, and hinted at the story conflict. My initial research found only a few books using “Deep Fake” in the title. All were several years old, and one was categorized as “humorous erotica.” Whatever that is, it wasn’t a comparable for my story.

My talented cover artist Brian Hoffman designed an excellent cover here:

I checked off those tasks on the to-do list…or so I thought.

Now to research. Artificial intelligence and deep fakes are complex and rapidly changing. The more research I did, the more I knew I was over my head. I had to find experts to guide me. The story needed enough detail to give readers a taste of technology but without slowing down the momentum of a fast-paced thriller.

With seven previous books, I’d been fortunate to find experts easily. From drones to elder fraud watchdogs to fire lookout towers, specialists were willing and generous about sharing their knowledge.

Not this time.

I reached out to authors, engineers, and software designers whose articles I’d studied. I explained I was writing a thriller about deep fakes and asked if they’d review passages for accuracy and authenticity.

Two initially agreed. A month later, the first one ghosted me. Two months later, the other one, from a major university, unexpectedly had to clear it with the “compliance department.” She wrote back that the compliance department told her manuscript review was not permissible because they were an “FFRD center.”

What’s FFRD? I had to look it up.

Turns out it’s “federally funded research and development.” Not sure what that has to do with a fictional story but no means no. Scratch that source.

Contacted more experts in the field. No responses. Clock ticking.

Back to the title. If my book had launched in January as originally planned, the title Deep Fake would have been fine. But…

…in March, bestseller Ward Larsen released his new political thriller entitled…Deep Fake. With deep fakes prominent in the news, obviously I wasn’t the only writer eager to tackle the subject. Ward beat me to the punch and I’m glad he’s doing well with his book.

However, now my book needed a new title. I enlisted help from a focus group of trusted writing colleagues. They came up with a slew of good alternatives. Brian created a new cover with the new title, Deep Fake Double Down.

A month before release, I put the book up for pre-order, certain I could finish the remaining items on the to-do list before the deadline to upload the final manuscript.

Some parts of the process fell into perfect alignment. Steve Hooley came up with a terrific marketing idea. Recently he wrote about side hustles for writers, including his own hand-crafted legacy wood pens.

The McGuffin in my story is a secret mine of rare Montana Yogo sapphires, a treasure that’s worth killing for.

Deep Fake Sapphire Pen by Steve Hooley

Steve kindly offered to create a custom design as a marketing premium: the “Deep Fake Sapphire pen.” What a thrill when these arrived in the mail! For a chance to win a beautiful pen and a signed paperback, please visit my website.

Other marketing opportunities arose, including several speaking invitations, a magazine interview, and a radio chat with TKZ’s own John Gilstrap and his cohorts, retired Admiral Bill Stubblefield and Rob Mario.  Many thanks, John!

Meanwhile, the clock was ticking but I still hadn’t connected with any deep fake/AI experts.

Finally, an astrophysicist friend connected me with TED fellow Peter Haas, but he wasn’t available to talk until a week before the deadline. Gulp.

Peter’s input was worth the wait. He corrected info that was outdated because of new developments. He taught me cool new jargon like NerF (neural radiance field, not to be confused with those squishy game balls), Tor (a web browser that makes you anonymous), and exit node (a relay to anonymously send and receive traffic on the net).

The explosion of deep fakes has understandably led to increasing distrust of news sources. Peter talked about two groups with the mission to protect provenance of information. Content Authenticity Initiative and Project Origin are supported by Adobe and Microsoft/EDC/New York Times respectively, using digital watermarks to verify that videos, photos, and other digital data do indeed come from the sources they are purported to be from.

Don’t worry—the above won’t be on the test!

Needless to say, Peter’s input required frantic rewrites of several scenes.

At the dizzying rate that AI is changing, it’s impossible to stay current. The best a writer can do is choose a moment in time and set the story at that moment.

Remaining tasks on the to-do list:

  1. Read the entire book out loud.
  2. Final, final, final proofread (this occurs after copyeditor proofreads).
  3. Format the ebook. Here are screen shots of two formatting styles offered by Draft2Digital and Kindle Create.

Side note: you can format with D2D then upload the epub or pdf to Kindle. Although I prefer the appearance of D2D templates (this example is called “Grime”), the Amazon process goes smoother if you use Create to format the Kindle version.







4 Final, final, final read-through of the preview.

5. Upload to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

6. Upload to other markets through D2D (using the Grime template).

Another side note: In a perfect world, the ebook and paperback would go on sale the same day. Rather than delay release until the paperback was ready, I decided it was more important to meet the April 25 launch date for the ebook.

  1. Format the paperback (formatting for ebook and print book are different).
  2. Upload the paperback to KDP.
  3. Order a proof copy, which is scheduled to arrive in a few days.

Two days before the deadline, I crossed off the remaining items on the to-do list except for:

10, After reviewing the paperback proof, hit the final “Publish paperback” button.

11. Order a box of author copies.

12. Stock the warehouse (otherwise known as the fireplace hearth in our home).

Yes, I proudly wear the crown of Queen in this Publishing Empire. My masthead reads: Author/editor/researcher/spell-checker/formatter/publisher/marketer/inventory control/warehouse stocker/bookkeeper/janitor.

Excuse me, Her Highness must now go vacuum.


TKZers: what are your various job titles? Which is your favorite? Which is the one you dread?




For a chance to win the Deep Fake Sapphire pen and a signed copy of Deep Fake Double Down, please join my mailing list here.

Buy links for Amazon      Other online booksellers


First Page Critique – Special Agent Jonas Stone

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


By Debbie Burke


Welcome to another Brave Author who’s submitted a first page for critique. The story is untitled so I used the name of the likely main character.

Please read and enjoy then we’ll discuss.


2 years ago, Port of Chicago

“All positions report in,” Special Agent Jonas Stone released the transmission button on the communicator attached to his wrist.

“Sierra 6, good to go,” the team leader of the Special Weapons and Tactics Team sounded off from their tactical vehicle.

“Sierra 3, on station and sighted in,” the sniper team responded.

“Sierra 5, off the shore and set up in case they try to break out of the port,” the Marine Unit called in.

The rest of the perimeter posts completed their check in.

“That’s all of them,” Jonas looked over at his partner in the passenger seat of their SUV.  Special Agent Michael Lock had been with Jonas since the beginning of their time together with the Secret Service.  These last twelve years Mike had become like a brother, something Jonas missed from his time in the military.

“Let’s just hope everything is going as planned for Eddie,” Mike said, the worry etched on his face.  “I don’t want to face the wrath of Linda if something happens to him.”

Jonas shook his head thinking about the firecracker that was Eddie’s wife.  The old adage of Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong,” reared its ugly head right from the beginning of the operation.  The transmission wire set up on their snitch, or confidential informant as Mike liked to correct Jonas when talking about Eddie, completely malfunctioned.  Mike had a soft spot for Eddie, more so than even Jonas.

“What time is it?” Jonas asked.

“2200 hours.”

Eddie has always been reliable.  When it came to snitching, he was the best Jonas’ had ever worked with, the gold standard.  Some of the biggest cases in the Chicago Field Office, dealing with everything from counterfeit U.S. currency to child pornography cases, were thanks to Eddie.  Jonas and Mike looked out for him and made sure he got paid handsomely for his contributions over the years.

“It’s been over an hour, and we haven’t heard any word from him,” Jonas pressed, knowing the success of the operation will come down to the signal from Eddie.

This wasn’t just another case for Jonas.  This was personal.

“It’ll work out, Jonas,” Mike seemed to pick up on his anxiety.  “Eddie will come through, he always does.  Today, we will take down the bastards that killed Jade.”

Jonas’ eyes misted over, and he couldn’t speak.  He had investigated this human smuggling ring for the last six months.  They had been responsible for his daughter’s disappearance and heinous death, but the evidence was lacking.  The case finally got a shot in the arm thanks to Eddie.  He had provided information that there was a vessel in one of the harbors of the Port of Chicago that was going to be loaded with two CONEX boxes containing local kidnapped girls bound for New York City.


Okay, let’s get started.

2 years ago, Port of Chicago – This is evidently a chapter heading for what appears to be a prologue. It suggests within a few pages the story will jump forward to present day.

Some readers love prologues, some hate ’em. I don’t care either way. But consider deleting “2 years ago” and just use “Port of Chicago.” Then, if the story does jump forward, the heading of the next section could be, “Two years later.”

This story is about human trafficking and features a Secret Service team poised to arrest perpetrators in the Port of Chicago. The subject is timely and compelling, making it a good choice for what sounds like a thriller or police procedural.

Featuring the Secret Service as the lead agency is another good choice because it hasn’t been used as frequently as the FBI and other police agencies. That makes it stand out among other books in the genre, especially if the Brave Author adds fresh insights to the Secret Service’s particular duties, like counterfeiting and child pornography, that are also mentioned.

The Port of Chicago is a dramatic setting because it offers plenty of dangerous backdrops for action to unfold.

I had to look up CONEX boxes but that’s okay because the use of a specific type of shipping container lends authenticity.

When balancing between too much description vs. not enough, I believe it’s better to err on the side of not enough, especially at the beginning of the story, to not slow the action. However, BA might consider adding more setting details a bit later to bring the locale to noisy, colorful, smelly, vivid life.

BA selected an effective point to begin the story. The agents are in the middle of a tense operation, in media res, and they have a problem—their most reliable snitch hasn’t been heard from. The success of the mission rests on him and his wire isn’t working. The stakes are upped even higher because the villains are responsible for the death of the daughter of the POV character, Special Agent Jonas Stone.

Good job setting up the story problem and stakes!

A small aside: names that end with “s” can be inconvenient. You have to decide if the possessive is Jonas’s or Jonas’ (either is correct) then remain consistent. Also, it can lead to unneeded apostrophes such as the best Jonas’ had ever…

One last consideration: this might eventually become an audiobook. Jonas Stone is a mouthful for the narrator.

This doesn’t mean BA shouldn’t use the name, simply to consider it can add small problems.

Let’s look at characterization. Jonas Stone has been partnered for 12 years with Mike Lock and they are like brothers. Jonas was formerly in the military. Jonas cares about his “snitch” Eddie but not as much as Mike does. Jonas lost his daughter Jade to the traffickers they are now targeting.

This is all good background information, but it is TOLD to the reader, rather than SHOWN. Showing engages the reader more with Jonas.

Use the first eight lines then try reworking their conversation. Here’s a sample of SHOWING (in blue) more than TELLING.

“Everyone’s checked in.” Jonas glanced at Mike Lock, his partner of twelve years, sitting in the passenger seat of their unmarked Secret Service SUV. Jonas gnashed his chewing gum. “Still, this operation has Murphy’s Law written all over it.

“Tell me about it,” Mike answered. “If something goes wrong, I don’t want to be the one to explain to Eddie’s wife that his wire didn’t work.”

“Yeah, he’s helped us close a lot of cases. Best snitch I ever worked with.”

Mike looked down his nose. “That’s confidential informant.”

“All right, all right, I get it,” Jonas snapped then regretted his sharpness.

Mike was right—some of the biggest cases in the Chicago Field Office, everything from counterfeit U.S. currency to child pornography cases, were thanks to Eddie. Jonas and Mike made sure he was paid well, and he always delivered.

After a few seconds of silence, Mike’s elbow nudged Jonas’s shoulder. “You OK, buddy?”

“Yeah.” No, Jonas wasn’t OK. This case was personal. These same traffickers had murdered his daughter, Jade.

“Eddie will come through for us. He always does.” Mike cuffed Jonas’s arm. “Today we’re gonna get the evidence to take the bastards down. For Jade.”

Same info but it’s SHOWN with dialogue, tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, and internal monologue.

To ramp up an already-tense situation, consider adding a ticking clock. For instance:

Jonas asked, “What time is it?” 

“Twenty-two hundred hours.” 

“Wonder how long those kidnapped girls can survive in CONEX containers. Aren’t they air-tight?” 

A few typos and minor nits:

“2200 hours.” – Spell out numbers in dialogue: “Twenty-two hundred hours.”

Eddie has always been reliable. – Change of tense. Eddie had always been reliable.

…the best Jonashad ever worked with – delete apostrophe.

…word from him,” Jonas pressed, – pressed isn’t a normal verb to describe speech. Maybe stick with said but add a physical gesture like: Jonas clutched the steering wheel. 

…the operation will come down to the signal from Eddie. – change to the operation would come down.

Brave Author, you chose a timely crime with high stakes. The story starts with action, tension, and suspense. Putting your characters in the Secret Service offers a chance to explore their special duties that aren’t widely known to the public—a value-added bonus for the reader.

The main character has an urgent, driving need to put his daughter’s killers behind bars. If BA moves a little deeper into Jonas’s head and heart, the reader feels his loss more intensely and roots harder for his success.

This is a strong start that can be improved with minor tweaking. Good work and good luck with this, Brave Author!


TKZers: What suggestions do you have for the Brave Author? Would you turn the page?



Deep Fakes are illusion but death is real.

Debbie Burke’s new thriller Deep Fake Double Down launches on April 25, 2023. Available for pre-order now at Amazon.

Subtext – Guest Post by Karen Albright Lin

By Debbie Burke



Karen Albright Lin

Back in the 1990s, author/editor Karen Lin and I met at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference. We hit it off immediately and have remained good friends even though we rarely see each other except via Zoom.

Karen is the author of American Moon, a moving saga about the immigration of her Chinese in-laws, and MuShu Mac & Cheese, a humorous mash-up of Julia Child and My Big Fat Chinese Wedding.

She also teaches writing online, at conferences, and even on cruise ships–a tough gig but somebody’s gotta do it!

The following is an excerpt from a two-week class on Subtext that Karen will teach beginning April 10th through Scribophile. Membership to the huge online critique group is free.

Subtext is an advanced technique that adds depth and resonance to writing. I invited Karen to share her excellent tips with TKZ.

Welcome, Karen!


Subtext in Dialogue /Body Language — Gestures/Posture/Mannerisms/Actions/Facial Expressions

Photo credit: Pexels

 Simply stated:

If dialogue is about what the dialogue is about, you’re in trouble.

People don’t always say what they mean outright. In fact sometimes the words are in direct opposition to body language. Body language includes gestures, facial expressions, posture, mannerisms, and actions that communicate without words.

Subtext can come in the form of understatement, sarcasm, or a witty punchline, a result, often, of backloading your sentence. That means putting the most powerful word at the end of the sentence, or sentence at the end of a paragraph, or paragraph at the end of a chapter. Backloading is powerful for narrative also. It makes your words lean forward into the next thing. It teases and says to the reader, “Come along with me on this adventure.”

I mentioned punchlines; I should also warn you about them. If they aren’t really great and cleverly pulled off, they can fall flat.

Comedy is all about subtext turned inside out. A joke says what we’re all thinking. Comedic details are the key. Outlandish adjectives and sarcastic barbs right in the middle of a monologue are fun examples.

Dialogue can mask the character’s desires and necessities, but it still leaves clues about what is really meant behind the words. Sarcasm, Freudian slips, unexpected words, and irony are all techniques that can be used to hint at the truth.

Let’s look at an example of emotionally charged dialogue in the movie Carol, Cate Blanchett’s character doesn’t come right out and ask if Therese finds her pretty.

Carol asks, “Were those pictures of me you were taking at the tree lot?” (Subtext: “You find me beautiful?”)

Therese replies, “Sorry, I should have asked.” (Subtext: “Is it OK for me to be attracted to you?”)

Carol says, “Don’t apologize,” (Subtext: “You don’t need to ask for permission to be attracted to me, even though I’m a woman”)

On the surface it is a conversation about photos. It is actually about their sexual desire for each other. The secondary message doesn’t tell it directly.

Use vernacular to tell us about a person. Is he educated? Irish? a braggart?

The most common flaw I see in dialogue is when the characters speak in robotic information-load rather than how real people talk. It suggests the reader wouldn’t get it otherwise. Trust your reader. The challenge is to NOT write “on-the-nose” dialogue, while still revealing important information to the audience. Resist spelling everything out in an expository way. You encourage the readers to come to you BECAUSE you are giving them credit.

For the perfect lesson on subtext in dialogue watch Annie Hall, written by Woody Allen. As Annie and Alvie talk, the subtext in their discussion is written on the screen with subtitles. Their verbal discussion is about photography. In the subtext she’s wondering if she’s smart enough for him. He’s wondering if he’s too shallow. She wonders if he’s a shmuck like other men. He wonders what she looks like naked.

Woody Allen teaches us that characters can talk about anything as long as the true message comes across, as long as the scene accomplishes its purpose. First understand the intention of the scene, then write the dialogue with rich subtext to fulfill that need.

In a real conversation and excellent dialogue (with no subtitles for comic effect) ideas are not spelled out directly, every thought, every feeling stated. Good dialogue reveals without doing that.

Does a person’s private life and public life look the same? Will they say the opposite of what they mean to disguise who they are?

Dialogue was never intended to replicate real speech. It represents attitudes and what the character wants, an outpouring of secrets the character wishes not to disclose.

If you want to study good dialogue, study successful plays. Imagine a middle-aged couple arguing over whether to outfit their new bedroom with two single beds or their old double bed. On the surface the fight is over beds. But in subtext, they reveal their whole marriage, facing what has happened to their lives and love over so many years.

Here are two bits of dialogue. This conversation is between two wealthy friends, one unsure about his future. Which version draws you in as a reader? Which one spells out too much, unsubtly, doing all the work for the reader?

Jack lined up another shot as Kyle looked on. “Dad wants me to take over his backup generator company.”

Vincent smirked as Jack’s ball spun down into the billiards pocket.So? What’s the problem?”

“Everything! I know he wants to keep it all in the family but I just graduated from CU with honors. I want to make my way in the world on my own.”

Now read this version:

 Vincent looked on as Jack pummeled a ball into the pocket. ”Something bothering you, man?”

“Four years gone.” Jack frowned. “And for what? Okay, it was fun, but…”

“At least Daddy’ll give you a nice office.”

The reader must infer information in the second version. In the first version the writer outright states it upfront in an on-the-nose way. It can be a tough skill to master. When reading a good quality novel, notice how a character is revealed through dialogue and how short and sharp most conversations are.

As suggested by our parents and kindergarten teachers, often actions speak louder than words. Experiment with this. Don’t state your point.

In Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities a character volunteers to be beheaded. That is how he says “I love you.” Much more powerful, right?

Some things go without saying. They are inferred rather than spoken. Don’t discount the powerful sound of silence.

Body Language

Photo credit: Pexels

That brings us to the subject of body language. Just as in real life, one can say a lot through their gestures, posture, actions, facial expressions, and mannerisms. Think of it as coded language.

These are also fun ways to create dynamic dialogue tags. You could use a plain simple tag:

“You don’t really care about my headache,” she said.

Or you could try:

“You don’t really care about my headache.” She turned, tempted to throw a few pieces of fine china at him.

In Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t say, “Watch your back. I’m still a threat to you.” Instead he says, “I’ll be back.” (The subtext: remember I’m a threat as you learned from my previous actions and dialogue) These three words add tension, raise questions about the future, and make the audience hungry for more, especially into the sequel. You want to do that with your novel, especially if you are writing a series.

The dialogue is snappy and indirect. If it had been on-the-nose, it wouldn’t be as powerful. It would have spit the meaning at the audience rather than engaging them. “I’ll be back” stayed one step away from the actual meaning.

In The Great Gatsby we have this slice of dialogue:

“I’ve got a man in England who buys me clothes.  He sends over a selection of things at the beginning of each season, spring and fall.”

Is this really about clothes? No. It is about wealth.

Another example:

A 4th grade boy trudges his way to the front of the room and slips his paper onto Ms. Garcia’s desk.

After looking through two pages, she asks, “Are you sure you want to turn this in?”

What’s the subtext?  What’s the trudging mean? What does the teacher’s dialogue mean?


Karen, thanks for guesting and for giving TKZ an advance peek!


TKZers: Do you use subtext in your writing? How do you avoid on-the-nose dialogue?

True Crime Thursday – Baby Formula Fraud


Photo credit – Pexels Public Domain

By Debbie Burke


When there’s a chance for profit, fraudsters never let a crisis go to waste.

One recent emergency was the 2022 shortage of infant formula, especially worrisome for parents of babies who have allergies or who need medical specialty formulas.

Vladislov Kotlyer, 43, of Staten Island, NY, saw the crisis as a profit opportunity. From March 2019 to October 2022, he collected $1.9 million from fraudulent claims to medical insurers and formula suppliers.

The Justice Department Criminal Division, the FBI, and US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York reported:

According to court filings, Kotlyar submitted forged prescriptions and medical records for specialty baby formula that was paid for by health insurers. Kotlyar obtained prescriptions and medical records for infants who were prescribed specialty baby formula and forged those records to obtain additional specialty baby formula. After receiving the specialty baby formula, Kotlyar fabricated issues with the shipments, including falsely claiming they were damaged or the incorrect formula in order to obtain additional formula at no additional cost. As part of the scheme, Kotlyar and his co-conspirators submitted more than $1.9 million in fraudulent claims to health insurers, including during a national shortage of baby formula.

On March 16, 2023, in federal court, Kotlyar pleaded guilty to fraud, agreed to forfeit $1 million, and pay more than $738,000 in restitution. He faces up to 20 years in prison for mail fraud. 

No word about what happened to the baby formula that he obtained as a result of his false claims.

The CDC cautions: “If you buy infant formula online, only purchase from well-recognized distributors and pharmacies (not individual people or auction sites).”

TKZers: Anyone want to guess what happened to the extra formula?

Donated to an orphanage?

Sold out of a car trunk in a Walmart parking lot?

A really splashy gift for a baby shower?

Or something else?





By Debbie Burke


This is an elegy to a dear old friend who’s been with me through more than a decade of writing trials, tribulations, and triumphs.

Assisted by this helpmate, I wrote guest posts that led to becoming a regular at TKZ (the best gig I’ve ever had) along with countless nonfiction articles.

This same friend worked quietly, patiently, and tirelessly with me as I wrote a thriller series that started with Instrument of the Devil. That book fulfilled a 30+-year dream of having a novel traditionally published.

The same friend stayed beside me through the seven novels in the series, but finally, tragically, faltered near the end of the eighth book.

I’m talking about my beloved, dependable, familiar Windows 7 laptop.

Okay, stop laughing about my anachronism. I never claimed to be on the leading edge of technology.

I don’t usually get attached to inanimate objects, but, from the beginning, this computer was different, special.

Back in 2012, the computer I was using quit, and I needed a new one. I was happy with the Windows 7 system.  But, at that time, Microsoft was launching Windows 8 with lots of fanfare.

8 received many jeering reviews and complaints. I decided it wasn’t for me. Turned out 8 wasn’t for anyone else either.

Dang it, I wanted another Windows 7 laptop.

My terrific husband knows how important writing is to me and he was going to make sure I had what I wanted. He went on a quest to buy one.

But…after combing numerous stores in northwest Montana, he learned all current laptop stock had been ordered back to Microsoft to be retrofitted with 8. Despite customer dissatisfaction, they were determined to ram their new system down consumers’ throats…or maybe up where the sun doesn’t shine.

Because my husband believes the impossible only takes a little longer, he refused to concede defeat and continued his search. At one store, he persuaded an employee to climb up a ladder to the rafters (where they stored extra stock) on the off chance that a 7 laptop had been overlooked. Amazingly, he found the last 7 in northwest Montana, probably the entire state, maybe even the continent. 

He brought it home and presented it to me. I couldn’t have been happier or more touched if he’d given me a diamond ring.

Because of his extra effort, right out of the box, that Windows 7 laptop was precious.

For the next decade, it worked its little hard drive out with nary a blip or crash. From time to time, a virus wormed past security software but, after a few sick days in the shop, it was back on the job. Even when Microsoft ended support for Windows 7 in 2020, it continued to function as dependably and trouble-free as ever.

Then, early one morning this past December, disaster struck.

I was about three-quarters of the way through Deep Fake, the eighth book in my series, working hard to finish it for January release.

Without warning, the screen on the 7 went black. Rebooted. It started, worked for a short time, then went black. The hard drive felt unusually warm. After it cooled down, my husband rebooted and managed to run tests before it went black again.

Diagnosis: The hard drive was failing.

As mentioned before, I’m not one who gets attached to inanimate objects. But, that morning, I felt physical grief—a hollow, helpless desperation in the pit of my stomach. As if a beloved friend had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

More than a decade’s worth of my writing life was in that machine. Fortunately, most files were backed up on thumb drives and an external hard drive. You didn’t really expect this dinosaur, stuck in the prehistoric 7 world, to use “the cloud,” did you?

We rushed my 7 to the Staples hospital where a valiant young tech named Will harvested data from the gasping hard drive before it expired for good.

Will performed transplant surgery, trying to save its life with a new drive. We brought it home but, like human terminal illnesses, it went from crisis to crisis, sliding downhill. Back to the hospital for CPR, home again, back for an experimental procedure, home again. For several weeks, Will tried one extraordinary, heroic measure after another.

Finally, I brought 7 home for the last time. My faithful old friend couldn’t be saved.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older but, these days, I cling tighter to loved ones. Losing friends used to mean we’d chosen different life paths or moved away or simply grown apart. Now, more often, losing friends means the final goodbye, never to see them again.

I bid farewell to my beloved 7.

I’ve transitioned to a MacBook Air that had previously been a secondary computer used for Zoom, power points, and social media. Good thing the Mac is not a sentient being. Otherwise, it would feel my seething resentment as I learn to type on its unfamiliar keyboard with unfamiliar commands. File organization is much different on a Mac than the PC operating system I’m used to. My work has slowed to a crawl.

People keep asking when my next book is coming out. Soon, I say.

Yeah, I’ll get used to the Mac…eventually…reluctantly.

Dear old 7, I wish you could have finished one last book with me. But you worked long and hard and deserve to rest in peace.



How important is familiarity to your workflow?

  1. Very
  2. Moderately
  3. Not at all

How much do changes in systems or software disrupt your routine?

  1. Not much
  2. Somewhat affected
  3. I’m jumping off a bridge.



My new thriller, DEEP FAKE, is coming “soon.” Please sign up at my website to be notified when it’s out.

Are Writers Obsolete Yet?

Public Domain -Giulio Bonasone


By Debbie Burke


Recently Garry wrote about an artificial intelligence (AI) tool called ChatGPT. He freely admitted he didn’t actually write it. He provided a prompt and a bot filled in the rest.

Since its release in November 2022, ChatGPT has generated lots of discussion in writing communities. Will writers, voice artists, and other creatives become obsolete? Will we turn into variations of fast-food order takers who check appropriate boxes on the screen?

Want fries with that? Check this box.

No pickles? Check this box.

Extra-large soda, no ice? Check these two boxes.

A 90K-word sci-fi saga of space travel by sentient iguanas? Check this box.

The more detail you provide, the more AI learns to deliver specific, targeted responses.

Say you want a 20K-word romance novella, with explicit sex but no violence, about love between two iguanas, separated by a flash flood in the Alpha Centauri desert with an HFN (happy for now) ending. Check these boxes.

Here’s a recent example of repercussions of AI.

Even though the submission guidelines for ClarkesWorldMagazine specify no content written, co-written, or assisted by AI, the sudden flood of AI-created stories hit them hard. See the chart below that Clarkesworld posted on Twitter:

Graph starts in June 2019 and displays monthly data through February. Minor bars start showing up in April 2020. Mid-21 through Sept 22 are a bit higher, but it starts growing sharply from there out. Where months were typically below 20, it hits 25 in November, 50 in December, over 100 in January, and over 500 so far in February 2023.

As a result, they closed submissions.

ClarkesWorld stated:

Just to be clear, this is NOT the number of submissions we receive by month. This is the number of people we’ve had to ban by month. Prior to late 2022, that was mostly plagiarism. Now it’s machine-generated submissions.

There are few enough outlets for stories now. How many other publications will have to close submissions because of bot overload?

Let’s extrapolate about other potential developments.

What if you submit manuscripts written by AI to agents who are already buried in submissions? The slush pile will soon be higher than Kilimanjaro.

Will agents respond with rejections written by ChatGPT? Or will they simply refuse to accept submissions except for carefully screened personal referrals?

Just for fun, check out this rejection letter to an employment application.

How about people who say, “I’ve always wanted to write a book”? Seems likely they’ll figure ChatGPT makes that as easy as ordering a double cheeseburger, no pickles, an extra-large drink, no ice.

That trend has already started. As of February 23, 2023, Business Insider reported Amazon offers 200 self-published books where ChatGPT is listed as the coauthor.

There’s no way to accurately track the numbers of such books because Amazon doesn’t specifically prohibit books created with AI. There is no necessity for “authors” to reveal its use. 

Discoverability is already daunting for authors when competing for reader attention against an estimated four million new books each year.

Will we who toil the old-fashioned way—using our imaginations and spending years with our butts in the chair—be redefined as “legacy authors”? Do we become quaint, obsolete oddities–verbal buggy whip makers?

How about nonfiction writing? When I Googled “research paper written by ai”, these ads came up:

GoCopy: AI Writing Assistant – Write your article in 1 click


Our writing assistant instantly generates unique text perfect for websites and online ads. oCopy’s AI-powered software creates original and high-quality content instantly.

Sign Up For Free Today · ‎View Pricing · ‎Case Studies · ‎Check Testimonials · ‎Read FAQs

AI articles on any topic – Backed by 10 years AI research


We are the only tool that can research, plan & write long form blog content automatically. Don’t believe us? See it yourself. Start your 5 day trial. 30 day money back guarantee.

How It Works · ‎Case Studies · ‎Pricing Information · ‎Foreign Language · ‎Use Cases · ‎Sign Up

Ai Article – AI-Powered Article Writer


Instantly Create Engaging and Quality Articles & Blog Posts. 100% Unique & Plagiarism-Free. 1 Million+ Users. No Credit Card Required. AI Article Writing At…

AI Blog Writer · ‎Blog Section Generator · ‎Blog Introduction Writer · ‎Blog Conclusion Writer


Starting in November 2022, CNET published numerous financial articles with the byline “CNET Money Staff.” Turns out those articles were written by “automation technology.” Andrew Tarantola reports in Engadget:

It is only after clicking the byline that the site reveals that “This article was generated using automation technology and thoroughly edited and fact-checked by an editor on our editorial staff.”

Well, apparently not thoroughly enough. In January 2023, Igor Bonifacic, also reporting for Engadget, follows up with further information that CNET had to correct many of its articles for problems including parts that were “lifted” from other published articles. Bonifacic makes the observation:

It’s worth noting that AI, as it exists today, can’t be guilty of plagiarism. The software doesn’t know it’s copying something in violation of an ethical rule that humans apply to themselves. If anything, the failure falls on the CNET editors who were supposed to verify the outlet’s AI tool was creating original content.

This article by Almira Osmanovic Thunström in Scientific American describes the remarkable ease of creating an academic paper with AI. Publish or perish has long ruled academia. Now a publishable article is only a few clicks away. How tempting to be seduced by this convenient short cut.

She also explores ethical and legal complexities that arise, such as attribution of sources, credit to coauthors, copyright issues, etc.

She concludes: “It all comes down to how we will value AI in the future: as a partner or as a tool.”

Her last line: “All we know is, we opened a gate. We just hope we didn’t open a Pandora’s box.”

In schools and colleges, teachers are already swamped with work from students who click a few buttons and submit an instant term paper. Many now ban the use of AI for tests and research papers, but they can’t catch all of them.

CNN, Bloomberg, Fortune, and other news outlets report ChatGPT has been able to pass the bar exam and it did well enough on business tests to theoretically earn an MBA.

While proponents describe AI as a collaborative tool used to outline, organize, and brainstorm, others caution it enables students to receive passing grades without truly learning.

Rimac Nevera
Photo credit: Mr Walkr CCA-SA 4.0

New developments in technology catch on with dizzying speed. I feel as if I’m in a Rimac Nevera with 1900 horsepower driven by a teenager on meth. Just because it can fly from zero to 60 in under two seconds, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea.


Sorry to sound like such a curmudgeon. Despite my grousing, I do embrace many aspects of technology.

But I also have to recognize the hill we writers are pushing the boulder up just got a whole lot steeper.

Writers aren’t obsolete yet but don’t look back–AI is gaining on us. 

On a final note, when I type “ChatGPT”, spellcheck helpfully offers this suggestion: 


That seems appropriately ironic.  


TKZers: Please discuss your opinions about using AI for writing. Pro? Con? Never? With reservations?

Readers, would you try a novel written by AI?



Coming soon!

Deep Fake, a new thriller by Debbie Burke with a different slant on AI—how to frame innocent people with fake videos.

Please sign up here to be notified when Deep Fake is released.