65 Bits From 65 Trips

I never thought I’d live this long. I turned 65 on Tuesday. Officially, I’m a Senior. I legitimately qualify for sympathetic elderly discounts, and I’m gonna pocket the 10 percent—not feeling the least bit guilty over getting geezer graft.

I’ve made 65 trips around the sun. Some were easy. Some were hard. One year, I survived three fatal gunfights within two months—one leaving my police partner and best friend dead beside me. And I witnessed two miraculous childbirths within three years—our daughter Emily and our son Alan—one of whose delivery was not at all easy on my wife Rita’s body.

Many of my life experiences, from trauma to triumph, were terrific.

Some I’d love to relive. Some I’d like to reverse. But I’m happy, very happy, to be here and continue enjoying life.

I guess I’ve lived this long because, despite the odds of succumbing to high-risk behavior, the Creator purposely let me trip 65 times around the sun and learn a few bits. I believe in the Creator, and I believe the Creator approves of me passing-on these 65 bits from 65 trips.

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  1. Whatever the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve by taking action with a positive mental attitude. This is the core of Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich personal growth and success philosophy which, in my experience, is pure truth.
  1. You become what you think about most of the time.
  1. Be careful with your thoughts, because your thoughts become your words. Be careful with your words, because your words become your actions. Be careful with your actions, because your actions become your habits. Be careful with your habits, because your habits become your character and your character becomes your destiny.
  1. Dream big. The first step in achieving a big dream is by having one.
  1. It doesn’t matter what came first—the chicken or the egg—as long as you stay alive and remain healthy enough to eat them.
  1. I’ve been rich. I’ve been poor. Rich is better.
  1. Always read the instructions. Twice. Then save them.
  1. Don’t buy extended warranties, timeshares, or cheap tools.
  1. Persistence is to character as carbon is to steel.
  1. If you must read the news, read for fact and data, not for opinions.
  1. Murder doesn’t round out anyone’s life except the murdered’s and sometimes the murderer’s.
  1. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
  1. If you chase a badger across a field and it goes down a hole, don’t follow and poke its backside with a pick handle. Seriously, I tried this and it wasn’t good.
  1. People of accomplishment rarely sit back and let things happen to them. They go out and happen to things.
  1. Do not steal the parking spot reserved for the guy who’s about to interview you for your dream job.
  1. And don’t bother searching for your eyeglasses while wearing them.
  1. Speaking of eyeglasses, when you go searching for your glasses and finally find them, don’t put them back where you found them. Put them where you first looked for them.
  1. Once you get it all down to one shopping cart, you’ve got it made.
  1. The Golden Rule will never fail. It’s the foundation of all other virtues.
  1. I don’t judge your age, race, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, political beliefs, education, occupation, body shape, or any other thing that makes you as a human being. You are you. I am me. I’ll be nice to you even if you’re not nice to me and I’m okay with that.
  1. Never get involved in an Asian land war.
  1. To make mistakes is human. To own your mistakes is divine. Nothing elevates a person higher than quickly admitting to, and taking personal responsibility for, the mistakes you make and then fixing them fairly. If you mess up, fess up. It’s astounding how powerful this ownership is.
  1. Optimize your generosity. No one on their deathbed ever regretted giving away too much.
  1. I’ve never seen a hearse pulling a trailer loaded with a ski-boat, an ATV, or a full-dresser Harley.
  1. A vacation + a disaster = an adventure.
  1. Ancient Jewish wisdom says not to argue to win the argument. Argue to discover the truth.
  1. The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.
  1. The best way to have good ideas is to have a lot of ideas and then discard the bad ideas.
  1. Seek to be the wisest in the room, not the loudest, and never miss a good chance to shut up.
  1. Never take down a fence until you know why it was put up.
  1. If you have to convince someone to stay with you, then they’ve already left.
  1. You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book is too difficult for adults, then write it for children.
  1. No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer. No surprise in the reader.
  1. Always apply the duck test.
  1. The past is behind, learn from it. The future is ahead, prepare for it. The present is here, live it.
  1. The two founding points of human existence are consciousness and entropy.
  1. Everything in moderation, including moderation.
  1. Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, bad and good, and see how they do it. Just like a stonemason who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window and write something else.
  1. Carl Sagan said, “A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called leaves) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you’ll hear the voice of another person, perhaps a person who’s been dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time—proof that humans can work magic.”
  1. And Lady Gaga said, “When you make music or write or create, it’s really your job to have mind-blowing, irresponsible, condomless sex with whatever idea it is you’re writing about at the time.”
  1. There are old pilots and there are bold pilots but there are no old bold pilots.
  1. You don’t stop flying when you get old. You get old when you stop flying.
  1. A ride in a US Navy F-18 Hornet flight simulator is a mind-blowing and condomless, sexual experience. Been there. Done that. MUST do again.
  1. A business rule: Pay every invoice within 48 hours. You’ll be amazed at how many people give your work top priority.
  1. Ungulates like deer, moose, elk, and caribou have antlers for a reason.
  1. Bears have claws and teeth for a reason, too. Don’t poke the bear like I poked the badger.
  1. The cost of perfection is inaction, but boring progress produces exceptional results.
  1. The less you need the approval of others, the easier it is to get what is right rather than what is easy.
  1. “I don’t pay no attention to no kind of critics about nothing. If they knew as much as they claim about what they’re criticizing, then they ought to be doing that instead of standing on the sidelines using their mouth.” ~Muhammad Ali.
  1. Multitasking is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. You do your best thinking by slowing down and concentrating.
  1. Ninety percent of success can be boiled down to consistently doing the obvious thing for an uncommonly long time without convincing yourself that you’re smarter than you are.
  2. That thing that made you weird as a kid could make you great as an adult—provided you don’t lose it.
  1. If someone tries to convince you it’s not a pyramid scheme, it’s a pyramid scheme.
  1. If you have any doubts about your ability to carry a load in one trip, do yourself a favor and make two trips.
  1. Anything real begins with the fiction of what it could be. Imagination is the most potent force in the universe, and a skill you can get better at. It’s the one skill in life that benefits from ignoring what everyone else knows.
  1. For every dollar you spend on something substantial, expect to pay another dollar in repair, maintenance, and disposal fees by the end of its serviceable life.
  1. Eliminating clutter makes room for your true treasures.
  1. Art is in what you leave out.
  1. Never start a fight. Like, don’t get in a pissing match with a skunk, because you’re going to end up taking a tomato juice bath while the skunk reloads and carries on to defeat the next idiot.
  1. A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
  1. People shouldn’t look for perfect leaders. They should look for authentic leaders with human-flawed competence and integrity, not consumed with presenting their title’s self-importance.
  1. Near the end of his life, Steve Jobs said, “I learned that life is like a river. At first, you think that if you’re successful, you get to take many things from that river… products people have made or ideas people have come up with. But, eventually, in life you realize that it’s not what you take from the river, it’s what you get to put into that river.”
  1. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not their facts.
  1. Learning is not compulsory. Neither is survival.
  1. When you die, you take nothing with you except your reputation.

Bonus Bit: When playing Monopoly, spend all you have to buy, barter, or trade for the strategic orange properties at the end of the second stretch just before Free Parking. Don’t bother with Utilities or Railroads.

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What about you Kill Zoners? Whether you have more or less than 65 trips under your hat, how about sharing life bits you’ve found?

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Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective and coroner with over three decades of experience in human death investigation. Now, Garry has reincarnated as a crime writer who regularly contributes to the Kill Zone.

Garry Rodgers also runs his own blog at DyingWords.net where he provokes thoughts on life, death, and writing. Check it out. You can also follow Garry at GarryRodgers1 on Twitter.

The Excruciating Death of Mister Red Pepper Paste Man

Coroners are different folk. A coroner requires a blend of things. Investigative skill, comprehensive training, personality quirk, life experience, legal and forensic knowledge, compassion, empathy, curiosity, gray or white hair, strong stomach, and a good sense of black humor. I guess I was a good fit as a coroner.

I was involved in around 2,500 human death investigations during my run as a coroner. That’s an approximation because I never kept track. I could go back through my notebooks and count but, at my stage, I really don’t care about stats.

I can’t possibly remember them all. Nor can I remember names. What I remember are unique cases which we, in the Coroner Service, appropriately nicknamed according to their death circumstances.

For instance, I distinctly recall Betty Cutter, not Betty Crocker. She cut her own throat with her kitchen’s electric carving knife and her name was Elizabeth. Same with The Flying Dutchman— a guy named Hoogenstratten (sp?) who, with an alcohol level three times the legal driving limit, crashed his sizzled ultralight after buzzing into high-voltage power lines. Then there was Grizzly Adam whose name was Adam and was mauled to death by a grizzly bear.

Who could forget Dallas? He doused himself with gasoline, lit himself on fire, and blazingly ran around in a snowy backyard until he extinguished for good. To establish time of death, I canvassed a neighbor. She watched it all from her kitchen window and timed her snackage interruption as being the commercial break three-quarters through watching the TV show Dallas.

And I’ll never forget another case. I was a junior, understudying with a coroner who I describe as like travelling with Yoda. Barbara McCormick was, without a doubt, the highest IQ person I ever encountered. And it was Barb who monickered the death victim Mister Red Pepper Paste Man. Let me tell you his story that I once posted in my blog at DyingWords.net.

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“Sounded like someone was skinning a live cat,” the next-door lady told us. She sniffed, wiping her eyes. “Then loud crashing and banging, then… everything went quiet. I waited a while, didn’t hear nothing more, so I went and checked and found him dead on the floor.”

I was in my first year of coroner service and shadowing my mentor, senior coroner Barbara McCormick. We were in the kitchen of a tiny suite at the low rent side of town, standing over this skinny, old guy who was in a semi-fetal position with one arm wrapped around his abdomen and his other hand clutching his throat. I’ll never forget his wide-open eyes or the gritting grimace of teeth—the expression of excruciating pain etched in a cold, deathly stare.

“Heart attack or brain aneurysm, Barb?” I asked, ready to flip a coin. I was new to the coroner service, but no stranger to dead bodies after a career as a homicide cop. There was zero sign of foul play at this scene, and my experience told me people usually drop dead from one of these two natural events.

Barb was bent over, starting the head-to-toe examination that coroners do before removing a body for a thorough autopsy back at the morgue. “Wouldn’t bet on either.” Barb was trying to pry his jaw for a look down the throat. “Check his color. Blue-gray. Looks like he’s asphyxiated. I’m thinking he might have choked on something but, for the life of me, I don’t know how he could let out a curdling cat-scream if something was stuck in his yap.”

While Barb was messing with his head, I snooped around. It was typical digs for a single pensioner—a bachelor suite crammed with junk. Empty booze bottles and overflowing ashtrays testified to a lifestyle that suggested he should be dead of something by now. I checked for meds, which was routine. The pathologist would want to know what was likely in his system and the toxicology lab would want it for sure.

I found the usual pill vials indicating treatment for coronary and respiratory ailments that heavy drinkers and smokers all have. The place was relatively clean, although cluttered, and didn’t reek of garbage and bodily waste like most of these places do. I saw a part-eaten sandwich on the table and a freshly cracked beer—seemed like the old boy was doing lunch when violently seized by the death monster and taken down hard to the mat.

Barb stood up. She was puzzled. “I have no idea. Should be an interesting postmortem.” We finished photographs, bagged the man, then stretchered him out to the transport van and drove him off to the morgue.

We’d recorded his personal details, which is part of a death investigation, but his real name never stayed with me. Most are like that. In the death business it’s not a good idea to get too close to your clients, but some you never forget because of how they checked out.

It’s normal—in black humor behind the scenes—for coroners to name their files by earned handles. I’ll always remember Capn’ Crab Bait, Voltage Vern, Methlab Mikey, Arachnoid Ann, Lawn Tractor Guy, Tarzan of the Caterpillars, Freight Train Ference, The Krosswalk Kidd, The Drill Sergeant, Pole Dancer, Cats-Sup, and… as long as I live… I’ll never forget Betty – the Electric Carving Knife Lady.

And, it came to pass, I’ll also never forget the dead little man we’d just rolled into the cooler.

Next morning my favorite pathologist, Dr. Elvira Esikanian, was on the roster to autopsy our guy from the kitchen floor. I loved dealing with Elvira. She’s Bosnian with a wicked sense of dry humor and an equally wicked curriculum vitae, including exhuming mass graves for the UN and serving in some of the busiest morgues around the world where she’d often do a dozen different cuttings per day.

Although Elvira was exceptionally thorough, she was a go-to-the-throat prosector. She’d assess the circumstances, then head straight to the most likely cause.

“I’m suspecting an acute respiratory event,” Elvira stated. “Note the petechiae in the eyes.” She pointed to pricks of blood in his whites. “We normally see petechiae in cases of sudden and severe loss of oxygen, such as in strangulation, although on this man I see no sign of exterior trauma.”

We Y-incisioned the thorax/abdominal cavities and began removing organs.

“His lungs are clear, with the exception of tobacco effects.” Elvira had cross-sectioned them. “And his airway is unobstructed. This man did not choke, nor was he suffocated by fluid.” She examined the heart, which showed expected signs of advanced coronary artery disease. “And he did not suffer a heart attack.” Elvira placed the gastro-intestinal tract in a plastic tub and set it aside on her bench.

She proceeded straight to a cranial exam, inspecting for the tell-tale bleed of a cerebral hemorrhage. “Nothing obvious here.” Elvira put the brain in a stainless bowl. “You indicated this man was eating lunch when he expired.” She looked at me. I nodded. She reached for her plastic tub. “I’m going to examine the stomach.”

For most pathologists and coroners, digging in the digestive tract is the most unpleasant part of the job. It was no different with this man. Elvira incised the stomach and poured its contents into a clear, glass tray. She flipped on her magnifiers and bent a gooseneck light overtop. Immediately, she let out a wolf-whistle. “Look at this!”

To me, it was a messy slime-goo of chewed bread mixed with some rude and red, pasty substance.

To Elvira, it was the smoking gun.

I watched Elvira excise a culture, fix it in a slide, and examine it under her microscope.

“Have a look.” She directed me to the eyepieces.

What I saw was a squiggling biological mass of sub-terrain aliens—looking out-of-this-world like agitated, animated, turquoise tampons breathlessly mingling in a magnified mess of greenish-gray snot.

I swear they had heads, horns, and hoofs.

“Clostridium  Botulinum,” Elvira announced. “Botulism. I’m sure this man died from the deadliest food poison known.”

Now, I’d heard of botulism. Everyone has. That’s why my mum would sniff the tin cans when she opened them and why she’d boiled preserves for four hours. But this was the first time I’d seen a real case of botulism.

“We won’t know the strain or the severity level until we get toxicology results but I can tell you, given how quickly this poor fellow expired, it must be an extremely toxic ratio.”

Elvira went on. “What happens is the neurotoxin produced by the botulinum bacteria acts as a blocking agent preventing neurotransmitters from issuing instructions to the muscles. Once this poison hit his system, every nerve in his body would have felt on fire and he’d quickly fall into total paralysis. That would soon stop his lungs and he’d fall into a state of anoxia, or lack of oxygenated blood to the brain. He’d be conscious throughout and would feel everything… but would be unable to react.”

She glanced at the cut-open cadaver on her examining table. “What a positively excruciating way to die.”

Barb McCormick already had her digital camera out and was scrolling through shots from the scene. “This might be it.” Barb enlarged a photo showing the kitchen. Evident was a jar with its top off, containing a reddish substance.

Realizing the lethality of the situation and the danger to others, Barb and I immediately went back to the apartment. There, on the counter, was a jar of red pepper paste with a label indicating it originated in China and was far past its expiry date. A tag showed it’d been purchased at the Dollar Store.

Cautiously, we peered inside.

And—I’m here to tell you—that red, peppery, pasty scum was actually moving.

It took over a month for the toxicology results to come back. They proved positive for Botulinum toxin—Type E—and the dosage was staggering.

Toxicology measures the presumed lethal dose of a substance in digital units of LD50/ (mg/kg) which translates to the Lethal Dose (LD) required to kill half of the tested laboratory animals in a controlled volume and time.

The LD for Botulinum toxin is 0.00001. Our red pepper paste man’s reading was over 0.02000—two thousand times the amount needed to kill a human being.

———

It’s been a few years since the red pepper paste case and I thought I’d review the pathology around Botulinum toxin. Here’s a quote from a paper by the World Health Organization on the medical process of how botulism works on the human body:

To understand the role of Botulinum toxin, it is necessary first to understand how the brain initiates a muscle contraction as it is in this process that Botulinum toxin intervenes.

Muscles are connected to the brain by the nervous system which is a complex network of neurons – these are long cells that can pass information using either electrical or chemical signals. Chemical signals pass between neurons and muscles through synapses, which are specialized connections linking cells. The chemicals that are used to pass these messages are called neurotransmitters.

In the case of a muscle contraction, the chemical signal is passed using a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. This sits in the neuron in a vesicle, a small bubble surrounded by a membrane, until it is required. When the neuron receives a message from the nervous system to initiate a muscle contraction, the acetylcholine is released from the vesicle and passes through the synapse into the muscle fiber.

To achieve this, the vesicles need to be transported to, and fuse with, the neuron membrane that adjoins the synapse between the nerve and the muscle. This process is controlled by a group of proteins called the SNARE complex.

The three main proteins involved are Syntaxin (which connects to the nerve membrane), Synaptobrevin (which connects to the vesicle) and SNAP-25 (which helps the other SNARE proteins link up). These proteins join together to cause the vesicle to move to the nerve membrane and fuse with it. The acetylcholine can then be released across the synapse and pass into the muscle. This then triggers a chain of events that causes the muscle contraction.

Botulinum toxin prevents the release of acetylcholine through the synapse.

Botulinum toxin is produced by a bacterium called Clostridium Botulinum. This bacterium is associated with causing botulism, a rare but deadly form of food poisoning.

Botulinum toxin is exceptionally toxic but, when purified and used in tiny, medically controlled doses, it can be used effectively to relax excessive muscle contraction and is now commonly used in cosmetic surgery.

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Hmmm… BOtulinum TOXin… BoTox.

The same gruesome stuff in the red pepper paste that painfully killed our old man is commonly stuck into people’s faces to make them look younger and pretty.

I’m sure, for the most part, BoTox injections are perfectly safe. But… if you’re thinking of cosmetically shedding some years, remember the Excruciating Death of Mister Red Pepper Paste Man.

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What about you Kill Zoners? Would you take Botox injections? And does this post make you wanna check expiration dates in your fridge and in your cupboard? BTW, feel free to use this toxin to kill off your characters.

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Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective and coroner. Now he’s reinvented himself as a crime writer and deadly blogger. Probably an upcoming podcaster, too. 😉

Garry has a popular website at Dyingwords.net and a Twitter handle—@GarryRodgers1  Followers say Garry Rodgers is cool so be like Garry.

My 50-Cent Masters Degree in English Language

Earning your Masters Degree in English Language takes intense concentration, five years of dedicated study, social-avoidant application, and plain old hard work. It also takes considerable funding—around $117,421.65. Mine cost 50 cents.

Now, I’m not knocking formal education from a reputable and prestigious institute of higher learning. No. Not at all. Nothing compares to personal exposure from profs and peers. But the end result, knowing linguistic principles and how to find/use English writing resources to polish your prose, is what an English language degree is all about.

Let me tell you where I’m coming from.

I’m a cheap SOB. I rarely pay full pop for anything, including books. The other week, I was snooping in a thrift shop and checking their used book section. There it was. This behemoth titled The New Lexicon Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language.

It was on an upper shelf and darn near took out my rotator cuff lifting it down. Whoa! This thing is like new! It was hard covered, bound in faux leather with faux gold-gilded page ends, and—I swear to God—had nearly two thousand of them chocked-full of every detail on the English language you can imagine.

I set it on a display counter and browsed. The copyright page said 1988, but that didn’t worry me none about being outa date. We’re talkin’ English here. Surely the words and structures haven’t changed much in thirty-three years except for some new-fangled lingo like “smartphone”, “pumpkin spice”, and “Covid19”. Let’s look at the good stuff—timeless stuff—like gerunds, compound predicates, interjections, inverted orders, irregular comparison of adjectives, prepositional phrases, and that elusive eunuch called a dangling modifier.

There’s something about a book of quality. You know. The paper book that’s perfectly typeset—bound so you can lay its front cover-spine-back cover on a surface and each page, as you turn, lies perfectly flat without having to weight one side and the other with a cordless drill and a ceramic garden gnome.

This is exquisite. The table of contents aroused me. Preface. Staff. History of the English Language. Languages of the World. Guide and Use of the Dictionary. Editorial Abbreviations. Pronunciation Key. English Handbook. An 1144 page dictionary?  If I knew everything in here, it’d be like having a masters degree in the English language.

With both hands that should’ve been in white gloves, I carried this treasure to the till. “I don’t see any price marked,” I said to the till-lady who looked like a hard-core, 50’s librarian crossed with an inked biker-chick, reluctantly volunteering at the hospital auxiliary store or maybe completing a plea-bargained, community work service program.

Anxiously, I awaited her answer.

Over cat-eye glasses, she read a corrugated poster board suspended from the ceiling by thick butcher twine. It stated their general price assignments. “Let’s see… looks like all our books are fifty cents apiece.” She cat-eyed at me. “No dickering, though.”

My vitals reacted. “You… you… you only want fifty cents for this?”

“Says fifty cents for all books.” She looked at something below the cat eyes. “Looks like you found yourself a bargain.”

Start The Car!  I did. I got the equivalent of a Masters Degree in English Language for a half-buck. Call it two quarters or a fifty-cent piece. Far, far less than a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte or the ridiculous rate for the parking ticket pinned to my windshield.

I took her home, this big book of English language. I call her “her” because I think English gets the Germanic short schtick from romance languages like French which is my wife, Rita’s, first language and I try to be romantic with Rita because being romantic with Rita usually pays off even though I don’t speak more than five words of proper French nor does Rita want me to.

I poured two fingers of Scotch and sat down to enjoy her. Her title somewhat perplexed me—The New Lexicon Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language. Now, everybody’s heard of Noah Webster, and everyone’s got his dictionary. Encyclopedia? Duh. Remember back in grade school when you were either on Team Britannica or Team World Book?

Hmmm… I see what they’re doing here. They’re blending an all-encompassing dictionary in with an encyclopedia strictly dedicated to English language structure. Right on! But, what’s a Lexicon?

I was tempted to Google it. However, the answer was right in the preface. “Lexicon can be a book containing an alphabetical arrangement of the words in a language and their definitions; the vocabulary of a language, an individual speaker or group of speakers, or a subject; or the total stock of morphemes in a language.”

Morphemes? I had to Google that one, and I suppose that anyone with a Masters Degree in English Language would know that “a morpheme is the smallest meaningful lexical item in a language. A morpheme is not necessarily the same as a word. The main difference between a morpheme and a word is that a morpheme sometimes does not stand alone, but a word, by definition, always stands alone.”

I didn’t know that. I found out there were a lot of things I didn’t know about the English language as I paged through her, The New Lexicon Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language. There was a short history lesson that clearly documented our language’s evolution from Old English through Middle English and on to Early Modern English. I especially got a kick out of the spelling and sound of the West Saxon version of the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6 of the Bible’s King James Version. It’s impossible to reproduce on my modern keyboard so I’ve attached a photo/screen shot.

Try pronouncing this gibberish after a few triple whiskeys. Reminds me of a guy named Rod Tubbs who was in our police poker club. Tubbs spoke like this halfway and worse through every evening.

Enough sidetrack. English study is a serious business and, if I wanted to get my money’s worth, I needed to keep paging. I’ll save you from regurgitating the 1144 page dictionary, but I do say the Practical English Handbook part was fascinating. I didn’t think it could happen, but it blows Elements Of Style out of the water. Here’s the prelude to the most concise, 45-page guide I’ve ever read:

The purpose of this Handbook is to provide a quick, easy-to-use guide to grammar, correct usage, and punctuation. It is intended for use in the business office, in the home, and in school. Secretaries, writers, teachers, and students will find it especially useful. The Handbook is divided into 25 sections or chapters each covering an important aspect or problem in English. The book is designed so that it may be used as a step-by-step complete self-study English review. But, in addition, it is a complete reference handbook for day-to-day use whenever a question arises concerning English useage or punctuation.”

I’m not going to list each chapter, as I don’t want to write an encyclopedic post full of lexiconal morphemes. But I do want to highlight the Parts Of Speech chapter, the Sentence Patterns chapter, and the Punctuation Review chapter. There were more goods packed in short spaces than I could ever imagine. Just the information on commas alone was worth my price of tuition.

Speaking of the price of tuition, you’re probably wondering how I came up with the Masters Degree in English Language figure of $117,421.65. Well, I went to the University of British Columbia’s website and looked up the details of their Masters of Arts — English Language program. Here’s a snippet from the UBC MAEL page:

The UBC English Graduate Program, one of the most vibrant and wide-ranging in Canada, has been awarding the M.A. degree since 1919. Students may earn the degree in each of two areas: English Literature and English Language. Indeed, the UBC English Department is one of the few departments in North America to offer a language program in addition to its literary programs.

The English Language program includes specializations in history and structure of language, discourse and genre analysis, and history and theory of rhetoric. Faculty members in the Language program teach and supervise research in descriptive linguistics, historical linguistics, cognitive linguistics, functional grammar, semantics, pragmatics, discourse analysis, stylistics, genre studies, and history and theory of rhetoric. Students in the English Literature program can take advantage of Language graduate courses; recent offerings include courses on reported speech and its rhetorical versatility across genres; the uses of classical rhetoric for contemporary critical practice; and cognitive approaches to the language of literature. By the same token, Language students can take advantage of the wide variety of Literature courses our department offers.”

Below this pitch is their rates. Basic tuition is $6,358.13 per year and their living-within costs are starting at $17,126.20 per year. That adds to a total yearly amount of $23,484.13. Seeing as it takes five years to earn an MA, that means getting a Masters Degree of English Language will set you back $117,421.65.

Now, I’m not naïve enough to think I really can get the equivalent of an expensive, five-year university program by reading my fifty-cent book. I have a high regard for education and highly educated people, and I truly respect their degrees. But what I did buy with my half dollar was access to a wealth of knowledge in The New Lexicon Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language.

I don’t know if you can stumble upon this language beauty in a used book store. If you can, by all means grab it. I do know, however, that you can get copies on Amazon. They list a used hardcover for a very reasonable $15.68.

Okay, Kill Zoners. Have any of you got a copy of The New Lexicon Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language? And what English language resources do you recommend? The University of Kill Zone floor’s mic is now open.

——

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective with a second career as a coroner in the Province of British Columbia. Now, he’s an indie writer with an eight-part series of based-on-true-crime stories as well as many stand alones.

Garry also hosts a popular blog on his website at DyingWords.net. You can follow GarryRodgers1 on Twitter or follow him around in his boat floating on the Pacific saltwater at Vancouver Island.

Pixar’s 22 Storytelling Rules

When it comes to pure storytelling, is there a company doing better than Pixar? Pixar Animation Studios is a Disney subsidiary based in California and, since 1979, has produced some of the best-ever, film-presented stories. Part of Pixar’s success was thanks to early influence from George Lucas’s vision and Steve Jobs’s money, but much of their ongoing success comes from 22 storytelling rules Pixar writers religiously follow.

Toy Story. Finding Nemo. Dory. The Incredibles. Wall-E. A Bug’s Life. Monsters, Inc. Cars. And now Luca, to name just a few. What these blockbusters have in common is storytelling. Pure storytelling. But storytelling that follows Pixar’s rules.

 

Here at the Kill Zone, we have storytelling in common. Whether we’ve got our writing hat on or our reading hat off, at the end of the day, on the bottom line (insert your own concluding cliché here), we all love good stories well told. Must be something in our ancestral DNA.

Let me go around the Kill Zone room and spec out people’s storytelling style / rule adherence. (Sorry if I miss one or more of the usual suspects, but there’re only so many musical chairs at this party.)

Let’s see. Gonna start with JSB. Jim’s a crime guy, now working on a great hardboiled series starring Mike Romeo and HB has genre rules that Jim well knows, but probably breaks. Terry writes mystery & romance series. Same with her, she probably rule breaks. Debbie? She’s into action mysteries, I’d call them. John cranks out high octane thrillers; reportedly doing well. Kay and Ruth are traditional cozy gals with rules of their own while Deb does tall tales and short stories of redemption. Dale. Where’s Dale? He’s got his niche in empowered library cozies which, I’m sure, has its unique genre rules.

Joe’s retired from the contributing mill but always has time for an insightful and highly intelligent comment. Plus, he’s first to get up in the morning. Dr. Steve is building a legacy with middle-grade fantasies while Harald writes about Neanderthals who could be plucked straight from the Canadian Senate.

Sue—your crime works are so bloody powerful that if they get any stronger you’ll need to be institutionalized. Harvey writes right across the board. He’s, by far, the most prolific among us, and I think should be tested for meth. And Reavis Z is in a league all his own, making up rules as he writes along, and up there with GOATs like Brady.

Yeah, we’re a diverse pack, us Kill Zoners. But we’re storytelling fans and creatives at heart with one more thing in common. We understand there are storytelling rules. (I think it was Somerset Maugham who said, “There are only three rules to writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”)

And we’re a delinquent bunch here at the Kill Zone. As much as we respect “the rules”, we know rules are supposed to be broken. Provided, that is, we know what rules to broke and do so intentionally at potential peril of killing our darlings.

Pixar calls BS on the 3-rule crap. They have 22 rules their screenwriters follow, and they’re generous enough to share these storytelling rules with us lowly novelists.

What got me going on this post was a piece on Jane Friedman’s site the other morning titled Why Write This Book? The contributor, Jennie Nash, opened by stating that in 2013 Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats wrote down the 22 rules her collaboration team used to generate content—Academy Award-winning content. Ms. Coats shared them on Twitter, to which they went viral, and are now quoted so often that they’ve taken a life of their own. In no particular order, here are Pixar’s storytelling rules (guidelines, if you’d like):

1.  You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

2.  You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.

3.  Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

4.  Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

5.  Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

6.  What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

7.  Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

8.  Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

9.  When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

10.  Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

11.  Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

12.  Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

13.  Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

14.  Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

15.  If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

16.  What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

17.  No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

18.  You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

19.  Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

20.  Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

21.  You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

22.  What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Kill Zoners — What Pixar storytelling rules hit home to you?  And what rule or rules could you add to the Pixar list? Don’t be shy. Let us know in the comments!

——

Garry Rodgers is a retired murder cop and coroner who specialized in forensic death investigation. Now, Garry’s reinvented himself as an indie crime writer working on a new hardboiled detective fiction series titled City Of Danger.

Outside of crime-style storytelling, Garry Rodgers hosts a popular website and blog at DyingWords.net. Garry’s also a Transport Canada certified marine captain. Sometimes he putts around the Pacific saltwater near his home on Vancouver Island at British Columbia’s west coast.

 

 

Hunting The Horny Back Toad

Elton John’s God-given vocals and Bernie Taupin’s songwriting genius shine in the classic hit Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Recorded in 1973, the namesake album sold over 30 million copies and the individual song remains one of the most recognizable tunes ever. However, the lyrics might not be well known including the significance of the line, “hunting the horny back toad”.

A few nights ago my daughter, Emily, sent me an email  “Dad, you gotta listen to this. It’s Sara Bareilles covering Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. She’s one of the only few people I’ve ever heard that can do Elton John properly.”

Note: Before you read any more of this post, click on this link and listen to this beautiful voice:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ozd2ja7mAgM&list=RDOzd2ja7mAgM&start_radio=1

Do it. Click now.

My wife, Rita, and I listened to Sara Bareilles sing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road twice and once more. Then we YouTubed a live concert version from Elton John himself. I had to agree with Emily. Sara Bareilles was just that good in her cover.

Her version earwormed me, and the words, “back to the howling old owl in the woods hunting the horny back toad” kept repeating. So I Googled the lyrics to see if I was hearing that right.

Sure enough, the chorus goes:

So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl
You can’t plant me in your penthouse
I’m going back to my plough

Back to the howling old owl in the woods
Hunting the horny back toad
Oh, I’ve finally decided my future lies
Beyond the yellow brick road

I asked Rita, “What do you think the significance of hunting the horny back toad is?”

She said, “Well, it’s figurative language. Most songwriters, probably all, use figurative language to express their idea or deliver the song’s meaning.”

“Figurative language,” I replied. “The more I do this writing thing, the more I realize how much I don’t know about figurative language. Or basic English for that matter. I just want to know what a horny back toad is and why Elton John wants to go back to whatever the howling old owl in the woods is and why the owl wants to hunt the horny back toad and what’s in it for him, the owl. Like, it all has to mean something.”

Rita smiled. She said, “You were an investigator. Figure it out.”

I said, “Yeah, though I wasn’t a very good investigator.” But I took the challenge and dug in. First thing I did was Google Horny Back Toad. I quickly found out there was no such animal. Reptile, that is. The closest creature I could find was a horn back lizard and it wasn’t technically a toad. My suspicion deepened that the horny back toad must be some kind of metaphor or simile or symbol described through figurative language.

So being the detective that I was, I went toad hunting through rabbit hole research. I learned stuff. Figurative language stuff. Stuff writers should know.

I found this quote: “Figurative language is the color we use to amplify our writing. It takes an ordinary statement and dresses it up in an evocative frock. It gently alludes to something without directly stating it. Figurative language is a way to engage your readers, guiding them through your writing with a more creative tone. Any time your writing goes beyond the actual meaning of your words, you’re using figurative language. That allows your reader to gain new insights into your work.”

I read more figurative language stuff. I’m well familiar with the basics such as metaphors, similes, and symbolism. But I wasn’t that familiar with was figurative language sub-categories, and it kept me hunting for the toad in the rabbit hole. I leaned there’s a big world out there in semantic stuff that supports figurative language, such as:

Personification — comparing animals or inanimate objects with people.

Zoomorphism — comparing people with animals, sorry, reptiles like horny back toads.

Synecdoche — exemplifying parts of an object (a subset of metaphors).

Metonymy — substituting a name to shift focus.

Clichés — overused sayings (also called dead metaphors).

Connotations — a feeling a word invokes in addition to its literal or primary meaning.

Phonology — the sounds produced by language.

Syntax — the structure of words, sentences, paragraphs, and so forth.

Idioms — descriptive word groups like raining cats and dogs.

Ambiguity — words with two or more outward ways of meaning.

Polysemy — several meanings in the same word.

Homonymy — different words with same sound (to, too, two).

Hyperbole — exaggerated words and phrases.

Understatement — presenting something as being smaller, worse, or less important.

Synonyms — alike descriptors.

Antonyms — opposite descriptors.

Proverbs — short pithy saying in general use, stating a general truth or piece of advice.

Onomatopoeia — formation of a word from a sound associated with what is (cuckoo).

Alliteration — same letter/sound beginning or adjacent to or closely connected words.

Oxymoron — figure of speech which contradicts terms (military intelligence).

Paradox — seemingly absurd statement that turns out to be true.

Allusion — expression calling something to mind without explicitly mentioning it .

Pun — the pigs were a squeal (if you’ll forgive the pun).

I found more figurative examples of semantics, and I learned some things about this peculiar language called English. I’m sure this clarity will help improve my writing craft skills which is a good thing. But I came no closer to understanding how the horny back toad fell into any of these figurative speech categories.

I popped outa the rabbit hole, toadless, and thought this out. There has to be something simple here. Probably hiding in plain sight. I’ll take the song apart, bit by bit.

Okay, “yellow brick road” I get. It’s the fast life and Bernie wants Elton to leave it for a simpler life like going back to his “plough” at his “old man’s farm” whose earlier advice he should’ve taken. That’s pretty clear. So is “not signed up with you” and “I’m not a present for your friends to open” which are very powerful statements when you dwell on them.

“This boy’s too young to be singing the blues”? I think I understand that figurative reference. Same with “the dogs of society howl.” And “can’t plant me in your penthouse” really adds to the story – greatly helps to paint the big picture.

“Shoot down the plane”, “couple of vodka and tonics”, and “set you on your feet again” make things clearer yet as to what Bernie Taupin was saying through Elton John’s voice. ‘Get a replacement”, “plenty like me to be found”, “mongrels who ain’t got a penny sniffing for tidbits on the ground” — I get it all.

But what I still didn’t get was, “back to the howling old owl in the woods hunting the horny back toad.” What am I missing? Let me dissect this some more.

To start with, owls hoot. They don’t howl. And Bernie broke a main writing rule where he used the same two strong descriptors close together on two different subjects—dogs of society howling and the old owl in the woods howling. If I tried that, I’d get 1-Starred on Amazon. But he’s Bernie F’n Taupin so he can do whatever he wants with figurative speech. Sorta like what Stephen King gets away with.

Okay, we got this old owl howling and hunting in the woods. I’ll take that at face value, but it circles to the horny back toad issue. Maybe I’m reading this wrong, like there’s a punctuation error. A missing comma, maybe. It might be a horny, back toad—not a toad with protective protuberances permeating on its back at all. Maybe it’s a back toad that’s just plain horny—as in sexually excited. If the horny, back toad is a male, like most males in any species that get into the rut or swept away in breeding season or liquored-up on a road trip in an out-of-town bar, then it has only one thing on its mind which would cause it to drop its guard. The wise old owl would know this and that the horny, back toad was—in that state—an easy target to glean as a food source thereby assuring the ongoing survival of this owl’s sub-species vis-à-vis the toad’s sexually-indulgent and self-destructing demise.

I ran this by Rita. She said, “No. That’s silly. It makes no sense whatsoever within the context and elements of the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road story. What’s that thing you always preach from your detective days? Occam’s razor? Where the simplest answer is usually the correct answer? Go back to basics and think it through.”

I did.

So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl
You can’t plant me in your penthouse
I’m going back to my plough

Back to the howling old owl in the woods
Hunting the horny back toad
Oh, I’ve finally decided my future lies
Beyond the yellow brick road

Then it hit me. What if there was absolutely no meaning to a howling old owl out there in the woods bent on murdering some poor, defenseless, and aroused toad schmuck? What if Bernie Taupin simply had writer’s block and struggled with something to rhyme with “road” and the word “toad” suddenly popped into his mind? Then Bernie grabbed a random owl to go along with it, added some adjective and adverb figurative descriptors that had to work with the phonology of his lyrics and made Elton John’s voice flow?

Kill Zoners? Can things sometimes be simply this simple? What’s your figurative language interpretation of “hunting the horny back toad”?

Attitude

Attitude. It’s the one thing you have total control over. Your own mental attitude.

That’s your attitude toward your writing. Your attitude toward your writing community. Your attitude toward society at large. And your attitude toward life overall.

This post is short. Recently, I was told I write encyclopedic posts (not mentioning names, Steve) but that was meant in a positive way, just like I try to keep my attitude – positive.

I’m a life-long Napoleon Hill student. If you don’t know of Napoleon Hill and his classic self-development treasure Think and Grow Rich, go read it. The core of Napoleon Hill’s Science of Personal Achievement is “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve with positive mental attitude.” PMA, for short. Here’s a clip from T&GR:

Your own mental attitude is your real boss. While your time and your labor may be subject to the demands of your employer and others, your mind is the one thing that cannot be controlled by anyone but you. The thoughts you think, your attitude toward your job, and what you are willing to give in exchange for the compensation you are paid are entirely up to you. It is up to you to determine whether you will be a slave to a negative attitude or the master of a positive one. Your attitude, your only master in life, is entirely within your control. When you control your attitude toward events, you control the eventual implication of those events.”

Attitude. You can have a negative mental attitude. Or, you can decide to have a positive mental attitude. I won’t go into all the pros and cons of good vs bad mental attitudes because I don’t want to write an encyclopedic post. So, I’ll keep this short at 382 words.

Attitude. The word is eight letters long. Our English alphabet has 26 letters, and each has a numeric value as they progress along the alphabetic table.

Attitude

A =    1
T =  20
T =  20
I =     9
T =  20
U =  21
D =    4
E =    5
      100

Kill Zoners? On a scale of 1 to 100, from negative to positive, how’s your attitude today? Mine usually runs in the 90s, and I have a safety net built into the system if it drops below 80. That’s my positive wife of 38 years, Rita, who keeps me in check and makes my life wonderful.

That New and Fresh Voice

Agents, editors, and publishers always watch for that new and fresh voice. They believe the next bestseller—the next blockbusting author—is out there, a voice just waiting discovery.

Voice is a hard animal to describe. It has various definitions. Technically, (in writing school 101) voice refers to “the rhetorical mixture of vocabulary, tone, point of view, and syntax that makes phrases, sentences, and paragraphs flow in a particular manner.” Non-technically, it’s like a Supreme Court judge said in a ruling on pornography, “It’s hard to describe in words, but I know it when I see it.”

New and fresh are easier concepts to grasp, and I recently connected with a lady who I sincerely believe has a great voice—a new and fresh voice—and has the whole package to become a highly successful crime writer. Normally, a writer’s bio would appear at the end of their article but, in this case, you’ll better appreciate her voice by me introducing her first.

Jennifer Pound is a recently retired police officer where she thrived in various traditional and non-traditional policing roles. She spent years as the face of the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) as a communications director. Her recent role was with IHIT, Vancouver’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team — the largest homicide unit in Canada — where she saw the worst of people and helped to bring justice for the victims that died at the hands of evil.

As a result of her time on the job, and the darkness that comes with it, Jennifer suffered with PTSD. She continues managing this daily. Writing is part of her healing. It’s her outlet—a way to connect with others. As a forum for mental health support and awareness, Jennifer created a blog for all first responders fighting the same battle.

Through this blog, Jennifer Pound realizes her passion for writing and the vulnerability needed to share such personal stories. This passion continues with healing through a focus on crime writing, and she’s currently working on her first novel. It’ll showcase how endless homicides take their toll on even the strongest cops, and sometimes the effects are difficult to recognize — they’re dangerous and lingering…

Please welcome my friend, Jennifer Pound, to the Kill Zone with a post she wrote on her personal blog at STAY ON THE LINE — Social Support for all First Responders.

— — —

The Lasting Effects by Jennifer Pound

The lasting effects of the job, I believe, is an area where first responders suffer in silence. Right out of the gate, recruits/cadets should know what to expect potentially.

We’re trained extensively and continuously for physical combat. We can negotiate and manipulate various situations to uphold the security of our country. We even know that, should we have to use deadly force, it could have the potential to sit with us in ways that are ugly and altering.

But what about the day-to-day stressors of the job that we carry with us, even when off duty?

The damaging and lasting effects run deep.

Hypervigilance is a bitch. I haven’t known a retired police officer yet who hasn’t carried it into retirement. It’s ingrained into us. Always look for the threat. Always look for evidence of evil. Trust no one. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s the reality and it’s exhausting.

Retired — I find myself trying to enjoy things I once really enjoyed. Hikes, bike rides, walks, swims, nature. I will force myself to do it because my body likes it, but my head is on a swivel, and my imagination is like a kid in a candy store, although, unlike the candy store, my mind runs rampant looking for the next magnificent piece of disaster.

Many police officers think the absolute worst; it’s a gift we’ve so graciously received, or perhaps more like a curse. Few of us can drive by a bag of garbage or a rolled-up carpet on the highway and not think about the nightmare that must live within. I’ve often wondered if it was just me, but I know with certainty, it’s not.

I’ve been working hard on trying to negate these feelings. I force myself to tell a positive story about what I see. Maybe the rolled-up carpet is to give a little extra decor to the highway, or the garbage bag is full of bustling butterflies that are ready to wow the world, or maybe it’s just a bunch of assholes littering. Sadly, my brain quickly tells me to ease up on the bullshit, and the worst-case scenario wins out most of the time.

During my hikes lately, I’ve been forcing myself to tackle my demons. I see a sock in the bush, a garbage bag torn and tattered, an abandoned baby stroller, or a single shoe. For the rest of the hike, I get lost in negative, unhealthy thoughts or memories of terrible moments throughout my career. This past month I’ve switched it around a bit, and during my walks, I’ve taken photos of the things that look sketchy and cause concern. When I get home, I study these photos to a point where I feel ridiculous for letting my mind wander, (except the baby stroller, I can’t spin any good into that one.)

The part that saddens me is this. Seeing the beauty of a park or enjoying a nature walk or ravine hike has not been standard practice for me for quite some time. I will not enter these places and feel the serenity that, for many, nature represents. It will rest in the back of my mind that darkness is there somewhere, lurking, waiting for an opportunity to prove my paranoid, pessimistic self, right.

I force myself to make decisions that I feel are “normal,” particularly around my kids. I don’t want to raise paranoid kids. I want them to be smart, safe, and savvy but not neurotic and scared of the world through the eyes of their Mother.

I remember just a few months back; I had an appointment in the morning during school drop off so I couldn’t drive my kids to school. I reluctantly let my two younger girls, 12 and 10, walk the near-mile to school. This distance pales in comparison to the walk I would do to get to elementary school. It felt like I left at 3 am to make it on time.

Ted Bundy’s VW Beetle

One morning, when I was about 11 years old, I woke up, got myself breakfast, scurried out the door, and at the halfway mark my brother and friend (for the sake of their privacy we’ll call them Brad and Todd) drove by me just about the same time I was avoiding a British Columbia puddle after a week’s worth of rain. They drove through the pooling puddle, leaving me soaked, muddy, and cold. After that, I always kept an eye out for that stupid, orange Volkswagen. The joys of older brothers, but I digress.

My girls ended up walking to school, and when I made it home from my appointment, at about 8:30 am, I realized I had missed a call from my daughter. In her message, she told me someone followed her and her sister to school, or so she thought. Her message then said she had to go because the bell rang.

The BELL!!??

How could the bell be relevant right now??

At this point, I had already geared up in what camo I had left in my closet. It turns out it was just a belt and some PJ’s, but I wore it anyway, and I jetted out the door to talk to her. Thankfully she called me back and filled me in on the rest before I had to get out of my car. The details… she provided… were as follows:

My girls left home and noticed a man following them a short time later. He followed them a good while when the oldest started to wonder if it was just her imagination. Maybe he was just an ordinary hoodie-wearing man, carrying a hubcap, walking through our neighborhood before school.

To test the theory, she made a bit of a detour. She turned down a cul-de-sac with few homes that only residents that lived there would need to access. She walked for a bit and then did an about-face, like she forgot something, crossed the road, and turned back. Hub cab carrying, douchebag guy continued to follow them. At this point, she was terrified. She grabbed her sister’s hand, and she ran. They ran until they reached the school and she lost sight of him. That’s when she called me.

Now, it took me quite some time to process this. My immediate thought was she’s F#$%ing with me because she’s mad I couldn’t drive them this morning, Once she mentioned him carrying what she described as the silver part of the inside of a tire, I knew it was no story. I felt guilt and fear for not trusting my gut, which initially told me walking to school equals danger.

My brain rewarded me by keeping me awake all night to play over the what-ifs in my mind—a super non-restful night.

I woke up looking and sounding like the chain-smoking aunts, Patty and Selma, from the Simpson’s cartoon. The next morning my husband and I provided the girls with a double police escort, followed by surveillance and light interviewing. I was now in a place to say to my positive, trusting self, “I told you so!!” The world is full of trauma, just waiting to happen.

As you can imagine, this all required an expedited visit to Mark, my psychologist, to let him know that he’d been wrong all this time and I knew I was right all along. The world truly has no good. I intended to leave his office feeling vindicated. But instead, I went with a sense of peace and realization that my girls, all my children, are way smarter than me. It was one of my favorite sessions, one where I learned so much in one little hour.

He helped me realize my girls knew what to do and then some. Their actions exceeded my expectations for grown-ups, let alone children. It turns out my daughter gave a rockstar statement and a substantial description of the guy when the police came to our house to interview them.

What Mark had made me realize is that they are okay; they are smart and full of common sense and ability and fight. I never once factored any of those things into my fear, and my fear is what has the potential to hinder my children’s growth and my own.

My perspective changed that day.

Yes, I was terrified and vengeful, but I didn’t let the fear catastrophize. I didn’t create the movie reel in my head that always ended badly. I stopped thinking about what-ifs and concentrated on how proud and relieved I was to know that they negotiated that situation beautifully, and I was so proud of them.

Don’t get me wrong, I still sit in my car every morning waiting to jump douchebag guy, but that’s for a different post. A big part of my recovery has been retelling the story. Had that incident happened a year ago, my reaction would have been much different and lasting, and my girls would still be locked in the house and homeschooled.

Much like my nature photos, I’ve created a movie reel that is more based on reality rather than my own knowledge and work experience. I’ve shifted my movie reel from say, a Quentin Tarantino film to a James Cameron film. It’s much easier on the soul.

For those of you who connect with these words, and are driven slightly crazy by your mind and anxiety-inducing moving reels, I offer the above, not as a solution, but as a step in the right direction towards a more peaceful you. If you are looking to ease the anxiety and decrease your racing brain’s impact, then work on retelling your story. Your mind, body, and soul will thank you for it, well into your deserved retirement.

From The Kill Zone’s Garry Rodgers: In my opinion, that’s voice. Jennifer Pound is fresh and new to the crime writing world, and I know she’ll kill it with her debut novel. Let’s welcome Jenn into our Kill Zone family, and I’m sure supportive comments are coming.    ~Garry

How To *Easily* Publish On Apple Books

“Going wide” is a hostile issue for indies. It’s somewhere up there with the duke-it-out debate on plotting vs pantsing and the never-ending fight over show vs tell. For me, going wide was a no-brainer once a much-more-successful indie friend said, “Garry, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table by remaining exclusive on Amazon.”

So it was that last year, in the year whose name shall not be mentioned, I took the leap of faith and published my ebooks on Kobo and Nook. (Best damn book business decision I ever made.) I’m still with Amazon, though, and I freely admit I still make the most money letting the Zon pimp me out. However, Kobo is great, simple to use, and gives me a wider exposure than AZ. I’ve had Kobo downloads in 66 different countries. Nook, on the other hand, is barely worth the bother.

I couldn’t go wide on Apple until recently. That’s because I’m a PC guy and Apple publishing was exclusive to Mac users. That changed when Apple completely remodeled their ebook and audio book store and opened its Apple Books For Authors membership to PCers.

I bit into the Apple platform over the last few weeks and moved 8 publications in my based-on-true-crime series over to Apple Books. They’re now up and available if anyone wants to take a look. Publishing on Apple took a bit of time and, from the stats so far, seems to be worth it. But… there are a few things I’ve learned about Apple that I wish someone would have told me at the start. Hopefully this post will help someone who wants to know how to easily publish on Apple Books.

The Big Difference Between Apple Books and the Other E-Tailers

I’m probably like you in that I research things before I take them on. Publishing on Apple Books was no different than any other new venture, so I did my diligent homework before the dive. I read some blogs, watched a few videos, and took an Apple-sponsored webinar hosted on Alli – the Alliance of Independent Authors. All good stuff, but all failed to explain the big difference between Apple Books and the other e-tailers. And I had to find out a vital secret — the hard way.

Before exposing this vital secret, let me point you to a few good Apple Books publishing resources. First, go right through the Apple Books For Authors website and absorb it. It’ll take a while. There’s a lot there, but you’ll be poorly equipped for the trip unless you do so.

Second, check out these helpful articles:

David Gaughranhttps://davidgaughran.com/apple-books-for-authors-launches-pc/

Reedsyhttps://blog.reedsy.com/how-to-publish-on-apple-books/

Written Word Mediahttps://www.writtenwordmedia.com/how-to-self-publish-on-apple-books/

So these links, plus the info in this post, should get you onto Apple Books as smoothly and painlessly as possible. Something nobody tells you (the big difference between Apple Books For Authors and the other e-tailers) is that Apple has two separate publishing interfaces. Unlike Amazon, Kobo, and Nook, Apple has Apple Books For Authors as the mechanical part of publishing (uploading files, covers, metadata, etc.) and iTunes Connect as the financial end (setting up an account, setting prices, stores, tracking stats, getting paid, etc.).

Now for the hidden vital secret. There’s a glitch in the iTunes Connect interface that defies all logic and common sense. However, it’s there and if you don’t know about it, ITunes Connect won’t let you go forward with the Apple Books publishing side. Basically, you’re screwed unless you know the trick.

Once I found this out and cleared the incredibly frustrating roadblock apparently intentionally set-up to peeve-off a poor person like me, it was clear driving all the way to the Apple Store. Here’s a step-by-step hand-hold with applicable screenshots on how to easily publish on Apple Books. And a story to go with it.

Step 1 — Deal with iTunes Connect

Create an iTunes Connect account (if you don’t already have one). I didn’t have one because I don’t have a Mac device. BTW, the Alli webinar reported there are 1.5 billion Apple devices worldwide so you can imagine the depth of the Apple Books market.

Now the trouble started. Dave Gaughran said the iTunes Connect interface was “a bit clunky”. For me, it was a rattletrap. Simple things like entering your username (my email address) and my password were seamless. So was declaring myself as an individual as opposed to an organization. I clicked Accept on the Terms Of Service without reading them. Seriously, does anyone other than a Philadelphia lawyer ever read all that BS?

I moved on to the Complete The Agreement part. Here was the tax section which took a bit of figuring out but I struggled though it by telling the IRS that I was Canadian and to go talk to Revenue Canada about bloodsucking matters. They bought it and I made it to the next iTunes Connect round called Add New Bank Account.

It’ll be easy, they said. Just enter your chosen currency (Tip—enter USD because it’s going to make it easier when you get through this part, sent over to Apple Books Publishing, and then get rerouted back to iTunes Connect to list your ebook pricing and the countries you’re selling to. Whatever country you bank in will have its own par-value to the United States Dollar and will do the current currency exchange. Trust me on this. Do your Apple business in USD.

Then you enter your banking institution name. For me, it’s TD (Toronto Dominion) Canada Trust which is a top-ten North American financial institute. Easy enough, I thought. This should be a breeze—just like entering my name here.  No problem again, same with my account number, and the last step was putting in the Transit Number or what’s also called the ABA Routing Number.

I entered 92220 which is my bank’s transit/routing number. A pop-up with a large yellow exclamation mark appeared and said “The Transit Number Is Invalid”. Hokay. Let’s try this again. Same thing. “The Transit Number Is Invalid”. I got up and got my file stashed away from when I opened my TD account, blew off the dust, and checked the information. There it was in faded black and white: Transit Number 92220. I went back to my PC and told iTunes Connect on its Apple interface that I was right and they were wrong.

Once more, “The Transit Number Is Invalid”. My wife heard my cursing. Rita had five years in the banking industry back when I first met the pretty little dish so she tried troubleshooting the matter. “They might want both the transit number and the institution number,” she said. “Here. Try entering 92220 followed by 004.” I did. Once more: “The Transit Number Is Invalid”.

The pop-up had me hostage. There was no way it was letting me past this gatekeeper, and there was no way I was ever going to get paid for selling on Apple Books without iTunes Connect brokering the deal which was the whole point of this entire exercise. “I know,” I told Rita. “I’ll go down to the bank. They’ll figure this out.” So I took a screenshot of this pesky pop-up, printed it out, and walked downtown.

With luck, my favorite teller was open. I showed Amy-Beth my sorrows. She checked the transit number, institution number, the account number, and even my name. “I don’t know, Garry.” Amy-Beth smiled a sweet smile that suited her name and shook her head. “Everything is in order. You shouldn’t be having this problem.”

“Did you, like, recently change your transit and institution numbers?” I struggled for answers.

Amy–Beth smiled less. “No, Garry. We’ve been in business since 1855. We’ve had the same numbers for a hundred and sixty-six years. They’re a standard in the international banking industry. Some things never change.”

I thanked Amy-Beth for her time and walked home. Rita had a suggestion. “Why don’t you call Apple Support? You can’t be the only one who’s had this difficulty.”

Good idea. I dialed 1-800-MY-APPLE. A service rep came on. Now, I live in North America. The service rep didn’t. I speak fairly fluent English. The service rep didn’t. I knew what my problem was. The service rep didn’t. Try as I might, there was no resolving it with the service rep.

I was frustrated as hell. Rita wasn’t. She came up with another idea. “Why don’t you ask Rachel? She’s a whiz at all things technical.”

FYI, Rachel is my close indie writer friend in the UK and the one who told me I was leaving a lot of money on the table by not going wide. By my reasoning, Rachel was the reason I was in this trouble with Apple so it was her responsibility to get me out. I emailed Rachel the situation.

Rachel replied right away. (British accent) “Blimey. I remember that snafu. If I reckon right, you have to put a zero in front of the transit number and the institution number. So it has to appear as 0XXXXXYYY. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But that’s the secret. A silly little zero.”

I asked Rachel how she found this out. She replied, “I had the same trouble, so I called Apple Support and they immediately solved it for me. Lovely folk, those blokes at Apple they are.”

So there you have it, Kill Zoners. The vital secret. A silly little zero, and you’re through the banking information turnstile and away you go. To clarify, my transit number looked like this and it worked.

092220004

In what universe this makes sense, I don’t know. But I know I’ll never have to deal with this strangeness again, and I’m happy to say the rest of the Apple publishing experience was excellent.

Step 2 — Publish on Apple Books For Authors

To start this step, as soon as you log onto your newly-created account at Apple Books For Authors, iTunes Connect will text you a one-time, six-figure, two-step verification code. Note: This happens every time you work with Apple Books For Authors and iTunes Connect, so get used to it.

Once you’re in the Apple Books For Authors portal you’ll see a screen titled Choose How To Publish. You have three options — Submit a New Book, Update a Previously Submitted Book, and Setup a Pre-Order. Click Submit a New Book, and follow along while I upload At The Cabin which is the 8th book in my Based-On-True Crime Series.

I’ve got to stop the slideshow for a sec and say something about the book description section. Writing book descriptions, jacket copy, blurbs, or whatever you call them is an art on its own. That’s for another day, but I will say that Apple’s window is a bit tight to work in. It doesn’t like paragraph spaces and will look like a picket fence in real time if you try it. Also, it doesn’t have HTML features like some of the other e-platforms do. So if you want to use bold and/or italics, you’ll have to handwrite HTML code the old fashioned way like this: <b>bold</b> & <i>italics</i>.

That’s it! It’s just that easy, and Apple walks you right through it. All you do now is click the blue bar Upload Book to iTunes Connect and you’re going to head back to the interface that sells your book and pays you.

I’m going to back up and cover two important points in the first step where you upload your e-file and your cover art. Apple works off an ePub file, not Mobi like Amazon’s proprietary file. I write my manuscripts in MS Word.docx and convert them to ePub files through Calibre. From my experience (over 20 publications now on four platforms) I firmly believe the key to clean productions (other than proper editing /proofreading) is to format your Word.docx file properly. I wrote a Kill Zone post titled Top Ten Tips on Formatting eBooks from MS Word. Top take-away from that is never use Tabs or even the dog won’t like your e-file for breakfast.

I see Apple has an auto-convert feature built in that bypasses a specialized e-file converting software like Calibre. I didn’t try it, but I’ve gone that route on Kindle and Kobo and wasn’t satisfied with the final product. I’m very comfortable with converting MSWord.docx to EPub and Mobi on Calibre and it only takes two minutes. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it but you can try the built-in conversion because, one way or the other, you’ll have to upload an ePub file to Apple.

Changing the subject to covers. It’s something for an upcoming post where I’ll have my cover designer, Elle Rossi of Evernight Designs, join the Kill Zone crowd for cover lessons. Apple has a specific artwork image requirement. They want a jpeg file in size 1400 x 2100 (same as Kobo).

Step 3 — Back to iTunes Connect

I promise you – no more monkey business once you’re back on the iTunes Connect interface. Once you’re past that @#$%^& Zero thing, it’s user-friendly. Here’s what happens:

That’s it! Hit done and iTunes Connect and Apple Books For Authors will do the rest for you. It takes a few hours to a day for your new book to go live in the Apple Book Store. They’ll send you an email confirmation with the website link.

Just a few comments about completing the metadata on iTunes Connect. (Metadata is just a fancy word for information.) DRM (Digital Rights Management) is an option you have and every source I’ve ever listened to all says to leave DRM off. I don’t exactly know what it entails, but I understand by opting in you somehow limits your exposure.

Speaking of exposure, make sure you click on the Select All for Countries and Regions. Seeing as Apple currently has 51 worldwide stores, I can’t imagine why any self-respecting indie would not want to be in every store. Sidenote: Since I went wide on Kobo last year, I’ve had eBook downloads in 66 different countries. It’ll be interesting to see how Apple’s performance compares.

One final thought is on pricing. My experience is that $2.99 USD is the sweet spot for my crime genre books. But you can price anywhere up or down the scale you want, and with Apple — unlike Amazon — you don’t take a royalty beating for going below $2.99 or above $9.99.

Okay. On to pubbing on Google Play! How about you Kill Zoners? Anything you’d like to add on this or any other subject that’s on your evil minds?

———

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective and coroner. Now, Garry has reinvented himself as an indie-published crime writer whose books can be downloaded on Apple, Amazon, Kobo, and Nook. Soon they’ll be out on Google Play.

Vancouver Island in British Columbia is home for Garry Rodgers. Garry lives there because he’s a wuss and it’s the warmest year-round place in Canada. You can reach him at garry.rodgers@shaw.ca, at his website DyingWords.net, or on Twitter (@GarryRodgers1).

Thriller Writing Advice From James Bond’s Creator, Ian Fleming — Circa 1963

If I could host one guest on The Kill Zone, it’d be Stephen King. That’s not likely to happen, just as it’s not going to happen that I live-host Ian Fleming who created the immensely successful James Bond spy thriller brand. Ian Fleming has been gone from our writing, reading, and viewing world since 1964 — one year after he wrote a masterful essay on his commercial writing approach.

However, I was net-surfing the other night when I stumbled upon this 58-year-old gem titled Ian Fleming Explains How To Write A Thriller, Circa 1963. I read it, reread it, and read it again. “This has to be shared on TKZ,” I said to myself. Then I mumbled about being criticized for plagiarism, so I thought I’d paraphrase it, or edit it, or modify it in some way to maybe shorten it up or put my own twist to it.

“Hang on here!” I said with second thoughts. “Who the hell am I to interfere with thriller writing advice taught by Ian Fleming, told directly in Ian Fleming’s voice, that he intentionally left for the world?” So whack my pee-pee for cut & paste violation, but this piece needs sharing. Here’s the complete and unabridged (shaken, not stirred) 1963 version of How To Write A Thriller by the one and only Ian Fleming:

— — —

“The craft of writing sophisticated thrillers is almost dead. Writers seem to be ashamed of inventing heroes who are white, villains who are black, and heroines who are a delicate shade of pink.

I am not an angry young, or even middle-aged, man. I am not “involved.” My books are not “engaged.” I have no message for suffering humanity and, though I was bullied at school and lost my virginity like so many of us used to do in the old days, I have never been tempted to foist these and other harrowing personal experiences on the public. My opuscula do not aim at changing people or making them go out and do something. They are written for warm-blooded heterosexuals in railway trains, airplanes and beds.

I have a charming relative who is an angry young littérateur of renown. He is maddened by the fact that more people read my books than his. Not long ago we had semi-friendly words on the subject and I tried to cool his boiling ego by saying that his artistic purpose was far, far higher than mine. He was engaged in “The Shakespeare Stakes.” The target of his books was the head and, to some extent at least, the heart. The target of my books, I said, lay somewhere between the solar plexus and, well, the upper thigh.

These self-deprecatory remarks did nothing to mollify him and finally, with some impatience and perhaps with something of an ironical glint in my eye, I asked him how he described himself on his passport. “I bet you call yourself an Author,” I said. He agreed, with a shade of reluctance, perhaps because he scented sarcasm on the way. “Just so,” I said. “Well, I describe myself as a Writer. There are authors and artists, and then again there are writers and painters.”

This rather spiteful jibe, which forced him, most unwillingly, into the ranks of the Establishment, whilst stealing for myself the halo of a simple craftsman of the people, made the angry young man angrier than ever and I don’t now see him as often as I used to. But the point I wish to make is that if you decide to become a professional writer, you must, broadly speaking, decide whether you wish to write for fame, for pleasure or for money. I write, unashamedly, for pleasure and money.

I also feel that, while thrillers may not be Literature with a capital L, it is possible to write what I can best describe as “Thrillers designed to be read as literature,” the practitioners of which have included such as Edgar Allan Poe, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Eric Ambler and Graham Greene. I see nothing shameful in aiming as high as these.

All right then, so we have decided to write for money and to aim at certain standards in our writing. These standards will include an unmannered prose style, unexceptional grammar and a certain integrity in our narrative.

But these qualities will not make a best seller. There is only one recipe for a best seller and it is a very simple one. You have to get the reader to turn over the page.

If you look back on the best sellers you have read, you will find that they all have this quality. You simply have to turn over the page.

Nothing must be allowed to interfere with this essential dynamic of the thriller. This is why I said that your prose must be simple and unmannered. You cannot linger too long over descriptive passages.

There must be no complications in names, relationships, journeys or geographical settings to confuse or irritate the reader. He must never ask himself “Where am I? Who is this person? What the hell are they all doing?” Above all there must never be those maddening recaps where the hero maunders about his unhappy fate, goes over in his mind a list of suspects, or reflects what he might have done or what he proposes to do next. By all means, set the scene or enumerate the heroine’s measurements as lovingly as you wish, but in doing so, each word must tell, and interest or titillate the reader before the action hurries on.

I confess that I often sin grievously in this respect. I am excited by the poetry of things and places, and the pace of my stories sometimes suffers while I take the reader by the throat and stuff him with great gobbets of what I consider should interest him, at the same time shaking him and shouting, “Like this, damn you!” about something that has caught my particular fancy. But this is a sad lapse, and I must confess that in one of my books, Goldfinger, three whole chapters were devoted to a single game of golf.

Well, having achieved a workmanlike style and the all-essential pace of narrative, what are we to put in the book—what are the ingredients of a thriller?

Briefly, the ingredients are anything that will thrill any of the human senses—absolutely anything.

In this department, my contribution to the art of thriller-writing has been to attempt the total stimulation of the reader all the way through, even to his taste buds. For instance, I have never understood why people in books have to eat such sketchy and indifferent meals. English heroes seem to live on cups of tea and glasses of beer, and when they do get a square meal we never hear what it consists of.

Personally, I am not a gourmet and I abhor food-and-winemanship. My favorite food is scrambled eggs. In the original typescript of Live and Let Die, James Bond consumed scrambled eggs so often that a perceptive proof-reader suggested that this rigid pattern of life must be becoming a security risk for Bond. If he was being followed, his tail would only have to go into restaurants and say “Was there a man here eating scrambled eggs?” to know whether he was on the right track or not. So I had to go through the book changing the menus.

It must surely be more stimulating to the reader’s senses if, instead of writing “He made a hurried meal off the Plat du Jour—excellent cottage pie and vegetables, followed by home-made trifle” (I think this is a fair English menu without burlesque) you write “Being instinctively mistrustful of all Plats du Jour, he ordered four fried eggs cooked on both sides, hot buttered toast and a large cup of black coffee.” No difference in price here, but the following points should be noted: firstly, we all prefer breakfast foods to the sort of food one usually gets at luncheon and dinner; secondly, this is an independent character who knows what he wants and gets it; thirdly, four fried eggs has the sound of a real man’s meal and, in our imagination, a large cup of black coffee sits well on our taste buds after the rich, buttery sound of the fried eggs and the hot buttered toast.

What I aim at is a certain disciplined exoticism. I have not re-read any of my books to see if this stands up to close examination, but I think you will find that the sun is always shining in my books—a state of affairs which minutely lifts the spirit of the English reader—that most of the settings of my books are in themselves interesting and pleasurable, taking the reader to exciting places around the world, and that, in general, a strong hedonistic streak is always there to offset the grimmer side of Bond’s adventures. This, so to speak, “pleasures” the reader . . .

At this stage let me pause for a moment and assure you that, while all this sounds devilish crafty, it has only been by endeavoring to analyze the success of my books for the purpose of this essay that I have come to these conclusions. In fact, I write about what pleases and stimulates me.

My plots are fantastic, while being often based upon truth. They go wildly beyond the probable but not, I think, beyond the possible. . . . Even so, they would stick in the gullet of the reader and make him throw the book angrily aside—for a reader particularly hates feeling he is being hoaxed—but for two further technical devices, if you like to call them that.

First of all, the aforesaid speed of the narrative, which hustles the reader quickly beyond each danger point of mockery and, secondly, the constant use of familiar household names and objects which reassure him that he and the writer have still got their feet on the ground. This is where the real names of things come in useful. A Ronson lighter, a 4.5 litre Bentley with an Amherst-Villiers supercharger (please note the solid exactitude), the Ritz Hotel in London, the 21 Club in New York, the exact names of flora and fauna, even James Bond’s Sea Island cotton shirts with short sleeves. All these details are points de repère to comfort and reassure the reader on his journey into fantastic adventure.

Well, I seem to be getting on very well with picking my books to pieces, so we might as well pick still deeper. People often ask me, “How do you manage to think of that? What an extraordinary (or sometimes extraordinarily dirty) mind you must have.”

I certainly have got vivid powers of imagination, but I don’t think there is anything very odd about that. We are all fed fairy stories and adventure stories and ghost stories for the first 20 years of our lives, and the only difference between me and perhaps you is that my imagination earns me money. But, to revert to my first book, Casino Royale, there are strong incidents in the book which are all based on fact. I extracted them from my wartime memories of the Naval Intelligence Division of the Admiralty, dolled them up, attached a hero, a villain and a heroine, and there was the book.

The first was the attempt on Bond’s life outside the Hotel Splendide. SMERSH had given two Bulgarian assassins box camera cases to hang over their shoulders. One was of red leather and the other one blue. SMERSH told the Bulgarians that the red one contained a bomb and the blue one a powerful smoke screen, under cover of which they could escape.

One was to throw the red bomb and the other was then to press the button on the blue case. But the Bulgars mistrusted the plan and decided to press the button on the blue case and envelop themselves in the smoke screen before throwing the bomb. In fact, the blue case also contained a bomb powerful enough to blow both the Bulgars to fragments and remove all evidence which might point to SMERSH.

Farfetched, you might say. In fact, this was the method used in the Russian attempt on Von Papen’s life in Ankara in the middle of the war. On that occasion the assassins were also Bulgarians and they were blown to nothing while Von Papen and his wife, walking from their house to the embassy; were only bruised by the blast.

As to the gambling scene, this grew in my mind from the following incident. I and my chief, the Director of Naval Intelligence—Admiral Godfrey—in plain clothes, were flying to Washington in 1941 for secret talks with the American Office of Naval Intelligence, before America came into the war. Our seaplane touched down at Lisbon for an overnight stop, and our Intelligence people told us how Lisbon was crawling with German secret agents. The chief of these and his two assistants gambled every night in the casino at the neighboring Estoril. I suggested to the DNI that he and I should have a look at these people. We went, and there were the three men, playing at the high chemin de fer table. Then the feverish idea came to me that I would sit down and gamble against these men and defeat them, thereby reducing the funds of the German Secret Service.

It was a foolhardy plan which would have needed a golden streak of luck. I had £50 in travel money. The chief German agent had run a bank three times. I bancoed it and lost. I suivied and lost again, and suivied a third time and was cleaned out, a humiliating experience which added to the sinews of war of the German Secret Service and reduced me sharply in my chief’s estimation.

It was this true incident which is the kernel of Bond’s great gamble against Le Chiffre.

Finally, the torture scene. What I described in Casino Royale was a greatly watered-down version of a French-Moroccan torture known as passer á la mandoline, which was practiced on several of our agents during the war.

So you see the line between fact and fantasy is a very narrow one. I think I could trace most of the central incidents in my books to some real happenings.

We thus come to the final and supreme hurdle in the writing of a thriller. You must know thrilling things before you can write about them. Imagination alone isn’t enough, but stories you hear from friends or read in the papers can be built up by a fertile imagination and a certain amount of research and documentation into incidents that will also ring true in fiction.

Having assimilated all this encouraging advice, your heart will nevertheless quail at the physical effort involved in writing even a thriller. I warmly sympathize with you. I too, am lazy. My heart sinks when I contemplate the two or three hundred virgin sheets of foolscap I have to besmirch with more or less well-chosen words in order to produce a 60,000 word book.

Ian Fleming’s Goldeneye House, Jamaica

In my case, one of the first essentials is to create a vacuum in my life which can only be satisfactorily filled by some form of creative work, whether it be writing, painting, sculpting, composing or just building a boat. I am fortunate in this respect. I built a small house on the north shore of Jamaica in 1946 and arranged my life so I could spend at least two months of the winter there. For the first six years I had plenty to do during these months exploring Jamaica, coping with staff and getting to know the locals, and minutely examining the underwater terrain within my reef.

But by the sixth year I had exhausted all these possibilities, and I was about to get married – a prospect which filled me with terror and mental fidget. To give my idle hands something to do, and as an antibody to my qualms about the marriage state after 43 years as a bachelor, I decided one day to damned well sit down and write a book. The therapy was successful. And while I still do a certain amount of writing in the midst of my London Life, it is on my annual visits to Jamaica that all my books have been written.

But, failing a hideaway such as I possess, I can recommend hotel bedrooms as far removed from your usual “life” as possible. Your anonymity in these drab surroundings and your lack of friends and distractions in the strange locale will create a vacuum which should force you into a writing mood and, if your pocket is shallow, into a mood which will also make you write fast and with application.

So far as the physical act of writing is concerned, the method I have devised is this. I do it all on the typewriter, using six fingers. The act of typing is far less exhausting than the act of writing, and you end up with a more or less clean manuscript. The next essential is to keep strictly to a routine—and I mean strictly. I write for about three hours in the morning—from about 9:30 till 12:30—and I do another hour’s work between 6 and 7 in the evening. At the end of this I reward myself by numbering the pages and putting them away in a spring-back folder. The whole of this four hours of daily work is devoted to writing narrative.

I never correct anything and I never go back to what I have written, except to the foot of the last page to see where I have got to. If you once look back, you are lost. How could you have written this drivel? How could you have used “terrible” six times on one page? And so forth. If you interrupt the writing of fast narrative with too much introspection and self-criticism, you will be lucky if you write 500 words a day and you will be disgusted with them into the bargain.

By following my formula, you write 2,000 words a day and you aren’t disgusted with them until the book is finished, which will be, and is, in my case, in about six weeks.

I don’t even pause from writing to choose the right word or to verify spelling or a fact. All this can be done when your book is finished.

When my book is finished I spend about a week going through it and correcting the most glaring errors and rewriting passages. I then have it properly typed with chapter headings and all the rest of the trimmings. I then go through it again, have the worst pages retyped and send it off to my publisher.

They are a sharp-eyed bunch at Jonathan Cape and, apart from commenting on the book as a whole, they make detailed suggestions which I either embody or discard. Then the final typescript goes to the printer and in due course the galley or page proofs are there and you can go over them with a fresh eye. Then the book is published and you start getting letters from people saying that Vent Vert is made by Balmain and not by Dior, that the Orient Express has vacuum and not hydraulic brakes, and that you have mousseline sauce and not Béarnaise with asparagus.

Such mistakes are really nobody’s fault except the author’s, and they make him blush furiously when he sees them in print. But the majority of the public does not mind them or, worse, does not even notice them, and it is a salutary dig at the author’s vanity to realize how quickly the reader’s eye skips across the words which it has taken him so many months to try to arrange in the right sequence.

But what, after all these labors, are the rewards of writing and, in my case, of writing thrillers?

First of all, they are financial. You don’t make a great deal of money from royalties and translation rights and so forth and, unless you are very industrious and successful, you could only just about live on these profits, but if you sell the serial rights and the film rights, you do very well.

Above all, being a comparatively successful writer is a good life. You don’t have to work at it all the time and you carry your office around in your head. And you are far more aware of the world around you.

Writing makes you more alive to your surroundings and, since the main ingredient of living, though you might not think so to look at most human beings, is to be alive, this is quite a worthwhile by-product of writing, even if you only write thrillers, whose heroes are white, the villains black, and the heroines a delicate shade of pink.”

— — —

My takeaways? Too many to mention. Over to you Kill Zoners. What’d you get from this essay? And what’s the best thriller writing advice you’ve ever received (or could give, for that matter)?

— — —

Garry Rodgers has never met a spy. (Not that he knows of.) In fact, he’s never met anyone all that thrilling except, of course, his wife Rita. But Garry has had a few thrilling adventures during his three decades as a homicide detective and coroner. He’s no stranger to baggin’ the bodies.

Now in mid-stride, Garry Rodgers reinvented himself as a crime writer who’s creating an upcoming series titled City Of Danger. It’s a different (but not too different) new take on old hardboiled detective fiction he’s writing in net-streaming style. Garry also hosts a popular blog at DyingWords.net and psychopathically tweets on Twitter. Check him out.

How Web Content Writing Will Make You a Far Better Writer

Word of Warning: This is a long, drawn out post of nearly 6,000 words. It’s not that I went to a lot of work today to cook something new. No. Far from it. In fact, I’m really lazy at the moment and decided to regurgitate something I wrote a few years ago when I produced commercial web content articles full-time. Hopefully, this piece I published on my personal blog at DyingWords.net is still relevant and might be useful to other writers & readers who hang around the Kill Zone. BTW, this piece is designed to be scanned, not painfully read word-by-word. Here goes:

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Web content writing is a different skillset than conventional writing. Most writers are taught to write linearly. We follow a rigid format flowing from basic idea through wordy and detailed exposition, then summarizing with forgone conclusion. I’m guilty of this. Likely you are, too. But it’s not how modern web writing goes.

The internet changed the game. The world wide web impacts every published piece you write. Fortunately, learning how to write effective website content makes you a more practical, productive, and prosperous writer regardless of your niche or genre. And understanding why proper web content writing is different will make you a far better writer in today’s digital world.

How do I know this will improve your writing? Because for the past 9 months, you haven’t seen much of me around the DyingWords blog. I’ve been busy learning a new skillset. That’s writing content for commercial websites. Working with my daughter, Emily Rodgers and her HealthyContentAgency.com online business, I’ve written over 350,000 words for 279 web content pieces. 87 have been longform articles averaging 2850 words. 192 have been shortforms between 500 and 600 in word count. This experience made me a far better writer.

I’m a far better writer because I’m forced to economize words and time while being internet friendly. I take foreign concepts (to me) and formulate them into understandable explanations with definite purpose. To get paid, my articles must inform, educate, or entertain readers. Deadlines are strict. Pieces have to deliver value for paying clients. They also have to be found on the internet. That involves accurate research, drafting in a search engine recognition format, and maximizing your proof/ship time. Although commercial web content writing is highly specialized, the techniques are also useful for writing novels and non-fiction.

Web Writing Techniques also Work for Novels and Non-Fiction

Learning web content writing is a large learning curve but definitely pays off. And I know it’ll pay off for you. If you let me show you how, I promise practical information on how to write professional webpage content and blog posts that’ll improve your overall writing skills. That includes purpose, clarity, and—most importantly—your productivity. This translates to pay. It means making money from freelance internet business writing if that’s your interest. Or, you can apply these constructive tips to any of your writings.

Writing good website content is not the same as producing old-style material for print magazine articles, news pieces, marketing hype, technical documents, or internal memos. Even if you’re already a successful novelist or have numerous publication credits in mainstream journalism, you’ll up your writing game by learning what’s required in producing today’s proper online content material. It’s especially relevant to bloggers and authors who host their own websites.

Here’s practical advice—not general theory—that’s guaranteed to improve your writing and make you a far better writer.

Understand What Makes Effective Web Content Writing

Web content writing is all about helping people easily understand and retain information on topics they’re actively seeking. It’s also about being found on the net. Good webpages for commercial application are carefully designed to give prospective buyers useful detail about products for sale or information offered. It’s not about direct selling, though.

The idea is to give readers sufficient reason to pursue actions without being pushy. It’s education. Not pure promotion. That might encourage a purchase directly online, visiting a physical retail site, or contacting the vendor directly to acquire a product, service, or information relevant to their needs. It’s also about giving readers a reason to stay on the site, return, and recommend it to others.

Writing effective web content is hard work. It involves three separate sub-skillsets employed in three equal parts.

Research is the first part of developing content. You can expect research to take over one-third of your project time. This is unavoidable as you’ll be given topics you have limited or no personal knowledge about. Then you have to make your words portray intelligent thoughts.

Science is the second part. You need to know how basic technology applies to building an article designed for Search Engine Optimization or SEO. It’s a skill beyond understanding Word or surfing the net. You have to work within Google’s rules of computer science.

Creativity is the third ingredient. You need to put researched material into a clearly readable scientific application that meets client needs. It must be original. It cannot remotely resemble plagiarism as Google will spot that instantly and punish your sins. Besides, your client is paying for fresh content—not cut & paste.

This is as close to a magic formula for web content writing as there is. It’s the combination of factors that resonate with Google, show your work, and let time-pressed readers stay with your article from start to finish. It needs to be relevant, readable, and retrievable. That takes some drilling down to pull off.

Website Content’s Goal is to be Found

There’s far more to effective content writing than setting a hook and reeling a fish. First, your bait has to be found. This is where Google comes in. Understanding how Google works is the key to knowing how to draft, formulate, and execute a web page or post that does its job. That’s to be discovered and convert readers into taking action. Fortunately, there’s not a big mystery around how Google’s search engine works.

Before taking an in-depth look at Google’s operation, let’s review the main elements of properly written web content. “Content” is the term for your combination of words that deliver a message. It also goes further to include everything you do to make a piece internet friendly. Years of writing experience can be good or bad for content writers. I certainly had old habits to break and lots to learn when I branched into building web content. But it’s made me an all-around better writer.

Good content writing is clear and concise. It’s aimed at a specific audience. Content writing is not the same as “copywriting” or “market writing”. These specialties are hard-sell focused. They’re meant to quickly persuade a defined target market into buying.

Product descriptions and feature/benefit lists are good examples of copywriting. Content writing takes a softer, rounded approach to conversion. Content writers are good explainers. We take difficult, complex concepts or mundane information and make it digestible.

Think USB — Unique, Specific, Beneficial

The acronym USB in web content writing doesn’t mean your flash drive though it’s sage advice to back your work up. USB is a framework to formulate your content so it works for your audience. Once you know the intent of your piece, you need the information to provide solutions for whoever is reading it.

For instance, you’re likely looking for the solution to being a better writer.  That’s why you’re reading this. There’s nothing for sale here. The information’s free. Specifically, I just want to share my unique experience for your benefit.

The best approach in helping others is to make sure all content is:

Unique, where it’s not ripping off other sites. It’s fine to convey the same ideas or general information but it has to dig into sources and be an original presentation.

Specific, where it’s not just a general overview of the topic. Rather, it’s non-general and specifically includes relevant information the reader can use.

Beneficial, where the content has some take-away value. It’s more than just telling the reader. It’s showing them something and allows them to take action.

Content writing is entirely strategic. Before anything is written, content writers develop a series of objectives that form critical goals. This includes a researched understanding of the target market and material specific to the topic. This can be time-consuming. However, it’s crucial to success. It’s specific to the audience and the goals of the client who commissioned your writing the piece.

Before Writing Web Content, You Need to Consider:

Who your target audience is including gender, age range, location, and education.
What the website visitor’s mindset is when they enter the site.
What the audience can learn or achieve from the visit.
What the primary business goal is.
What the secondary business goals are.

The universal truth of all web users is they require something when they visit a website. They have a need. Your job as a content writer is to fill it. It’s vital—absolutely critical—that content not be written for content’s sake only.

It has to be clear, engaging, understandable, and useful to them. Good webpage content has strategically placed keywords and key phrases but they can’t be so artificially stuffed that they won’t make sense or read smoothly. That’s a turn-off and a sure-fire recipe for click-aways.

Remember, people normally visit websites for one of three reasons:

  1. Information
  2. Education
  3. Entertainment

What you’re doing with content writing is solving problems for people. Knowing your target audience lets you develop the style and breadth your content will take. This is where your personal voice makes a huge difference in setting the tone. It’s like the difference between talking to a bubbly teen and conversing with a pompous Ph.D. It depends on who you’re writing to.

The approach is to be yourself, yet be in tune and respectful with the audience you’re speaking with. It’s also extremely important to consider how internet users or online audiences prefer to read. Internet audiences scan content. They don’t really read.

Consider How Online Audiences Read

Capturing an online reader’s attention is challenging, to say the least. Chartbeat, an internet analytics service, reports that 55 percent of visitors spend fewer than 15 seconds on a webpage before they click away. And Internet Live Stats state there are more than 900 million active websites on the net with 3.5 billion Googles searches done per day.

Getting the right reader to find your content is tough. Having them stick around long enough to absorb your information and then take the desired action is even tougher. We’ll discuss getting them onto your webpage in a bit. Right now, let’s talk about how online audiences read.

The vast majority of internet users don’t actually read webpages. Not in the conventional word-by-word sense that novel or magazine article readers do. Internet readers are conditioned to scan material. Their eyes dart about the page searching for relevant words suggesting links to information they’re after.

This is the main factor that makes web content writing so different from composing and constructing content for printed publications. Google Analytics says that 79 percent of web readers scan instead of closely reading. They skip what they perceive as unnecessary as they’re literally hunting for what they regard as useful. Subconsciously, you’re doing this right now.

Studies repeatedly show scanners take in the first two or three words in a sentence. They ignore the center, then grab the final few words. Scanners do this with paragraphs, as well. But scanners are highly attracted by breaks in information blocks done by imbedded formatting.

Highly Effective Imbedded Formats Appealing to Scanners are:

—Text formatting with bolds, italics and underlining
—Short paragraphs and abrupt sentences
—Word count applicable to subjects
—Highlighted paragraph headers
—H1, h2, h3, h4, heading tags
—Bullet and numbered lists
—Still and video images
—Tables & graphics
—Color variation
—Block quotes
—Whitespace
—Visual flow
—Hyperlinks

Effective content writing is formatted with Google in mind. Don’t think you can trick Google when you’re writing webpage content. This search engine has been around too long and is far too sophisticated for that. You need to understand how to work with Google through Search Engine Optimization or SEO.

The trick is to take SEO principles and work them into your format. You optimize content to get Google’s attention. That means everything you do. Format. Links. Images. Key material. Paragraphs. Sentences. Grammar infractions. Headers. Quotes. Colors. Lists. Bolds. Bullets. Italics. Underlines. Tags. Whitespace. And Words. It’s a holistic concept and it works.  All information must be relevant to your topic information. You need to draft it into engaging words that are attractive to Google. It’s the world’s largest search engine and you have to feed Google what it likes.

How Google Finds Attractive Content

They use Googlebots. Ever hear of them? Well, Googlebots have heard of you. Googlebots are probably the most important information invention since the big bang of the internet itself. They’re responsible for making Google a multi-billion dollar international conglomerate.

Think of the internet as a beach and the web content piece you’re writing as a grain of sand. You need to make your writing grain shine among billions of grains in the sand. You do that by understanding what the Googlebots are looking for and position yourself to be found.

Search engines like Google constantly look for good content to hit on. That’s the purpose of their existence. They want to help people find what they’re looking for on the web and report it on Search Engine Response Pages or SERPs.

Inserting Key Words and Key Phrases

Googlebots are incredibly sophisticated. They’re able to filter through trillions of information bits and sort what they feel a Googler truly wants. It’s all about determining relevancy to the end user. Google’s search engine does this partly by identifying keywords and key phrases the searcher inputs.

It could be something like writing web contentweb writinghow to write effective website contentproper web content writing, writing content for commercial websitesweb content piecesweb content writinghow to write professional webpage content and blog postsimprove your overall writing skillsmaking money from freelance internet business writingtips on web content writingwriting good website contentproper online content material and practical advice.

Or, it could be any combination of these 27 different keywords that were carefully selected and strategically placed as key phrases in the first 7 paragraphs and 457 words of this article. That’s a total of 62 combined words for a ratio of 1 in 7 or 14% of the opening content being key material and I bet you didn’t recognize the technique on first read. And it’s not “keyword stuffing” because the written content is readable, informative, offers value, and not obviously repetitive.

That’s the difference between artificially-stuffed material that Google passes over and properly written content that Google recommends. If Google senses you’re salting or stuffing key material just for the sake of tricking the search engine into giving your piece a higher SERP rating, it’ll send you to the back of the same bus plagiarism hitched a ride on. You might as well walk than mess up key material.

What are the Best Web Content Keyword and Key Phrase Practices?

—Keys sound best when natural and not “stuffy”
—Make sure keys read naturally for the human audience
—Keys don’t have to be exactly as the best ratings indicate
—Main keys should appear within the first two paragraphs
—Imbed the best key in metadata description
—Keys should appear twice if they don’t seem repetitive
—Use keys in titles and subheadings
—Use variations of keys throughout the content
—Integrate short keywords and longtail key phrases
—Question-based keys are effective but tricky to write
—Question-based keys work best in headings
—Web content keywords and key phrases work well as bullet points

Don’t make your keywords and key phrases too rigid. “Stop words” are just fine in planning your keys. They’re the filler and connector words like “what”, “are”, “the” & “and” in the preceding subheader question. Google will skip right by them and for good reason. They’re looking for good, readable content and the header “Best Web Content Keyword Phrase Practices” just seems a bit stiff and salted.

The trick to keywords is carefully researching what your target audience is looking for and what they’re likely going to plug into the search bar. In this case, I’m specifically targeting writers who want to improve their skills by applying techniques used in producing excellent online content. I’m betting that many readers host their own blogs/websites and want to up their traffic.

I’m also doing shameless promotion by adding links to Emily’s HealthyContentAgency.com business and my resources page at DyingWords.net. Don’t be afraid to page through our sites and get tips on writing website content writing. And feel free to follow the hyperlinks to other great web content.

Google Loves Hyperlinks as much as Keywords

Google also loves fresh, original content that has value. Google’s technology is approaching spooky artificial intelligence, and it can instantly recognize a good piece of content that will help the user. It also knows what’s shit, clickbait, and plagiarized. Google’s primary mission is to search the net and be helpful. Hyperlinks from one good site to another are highly helpful as long as they’re staying on the same relative trail.

Hyperlinks or backlinks really unlock the power of the internet. Search engines recognize this information sharing device that you’ve helped them with and will reward you with higher rankings as long as your imbedded links are to other credible content. Links don’t have to be just to written content on websites. Google loves visuals so YouTube links, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever site you can work into being relevant is fair game.

An excellent example of relevant linking is to Google itself. Google AdSense has a thing called Keyword Planner. It a key phrase analyzing tool where you plug in and play with key material you suspect may be best for your content. It’ll give you advice and ratings on what works best according to Google’s search history. Here’s a trade secret. You can also do similar key material searches at Amazon who has the world’s second largest search engine. And a little known but super site is SERPS that works great in rating key words and phrases.

Relevant hyperlinks are a value-added feature in good web content that works to Google’s favor. You’ll increase your overall SERP performance by using valid hyperlinks just as you’ll increase SERP standings by taking a holistic approach to building the entire content in your piece using proper web content techniques. It’s the entire composition that Google assesses and a real case that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Googlebots Look at the Total Content Package

Primarily, they love to find information that many people will find useful. Google measures this with a complex algorithm that calculates many details—website visits, page views, lengths of stays, links to other similar content, social media likes—and recommends relevancy of content. It becomes a vicious circle where good content generates large traffic and this cycle grows with Google’s promotion.

Goggle recognizes the entire picture of how web content pieces are formatted. They see and rate formatting, graphics, headers, sentence and paragraph structures, bullets, graphs, whitespace, images, and highlights. Google’s not just looking for a factual read. They’re looking for fun, too. Google knows how internet readers scan, and they want to recommend the best overall reading experience.

And there’s speculation that Google’s becoming a Grammar-Nazi. They’re rating style and substance as well as spelling, grammar, and proper punctuation just like Amazon is now doing when you upload a manuscript. That’s why it’s so important your writing be shipped at the highest standard—a modern internet standard—because Google is watching how you’re optimizing its search engine.

Search Engine Optimization for Google Content

Google’s trade secrets are seriously guarded. Its technology is ever-evolving but generally involves four separate areas that good web content writers need to know. All four should be addressed when drafting a web content page. That applies to all forms of content—short and long form pages, feature articles, static web pages, and even your books.

Your novels and non-fiction books that are published on Amazon are just as vulnerable to Googlebot sniffing as your own writer website and weekly blog posts. Think of the times you’ve entered a search phrase on Google and how it’s identified an Amazon publication. That’s no accident. The same thing’s going on with your blogs and guest posts, and it’s a fact of life for your author site.

You can’t hide on the net so the best thing you can do is work with it. That’s the value in understanding how good web content will make you a far better writer. This isn’t new fad or a current trend. It’s a long-tern reality that the internet has changed the way we write to do business. Fortunately, it’s not a hard game to learn how to play.

Four Main SEO Parts for Content Writers to Know

There are 4 main parts in SEO for content writers to know—written, media, tags and authorship. Each one is a separate entity but vital to balance if you want to increase web content exposure and rank high in search results. Let’s look at what each part is.

Written is the core of your internet content writing piece. It’s substance over style every time because Google can’t yet recognize what makes a writer great but it sure tells when writing is bad. A unique voice is desirable but for content it has to deliver information and substance that fits the topic and is helpful. Good content has solid sentence structure, grammar, and sound reasoning. It’s not cutesy and requiring someone to “get it”.

Media refers to visuals. That can be photo images, infographics, illustrations, tables, video, or anything that Google can see. The old saying, “A picture is worth 1,000 words” is so true in boosting your content recognition. Again, it has to be relevant and useful. There are technical tips to know about media insertion such as Alt Tags that briefly define what the picture is. That’s more for the webmaster to worry about, but a content writer needs to be aware of the importance.

Tags go with meta descriptions in getting identified on the web. They also relate to website layout as opposed to content writing. But tags and meta descriptions are hugely important in building an overall effective website or post. The difference between tags and description are tags are visual on the actual piece as it appears on the web and meta description is how it’s presented on SERPs.

Authorship is the authority behind the content. The author’s credentials are attached to the article and give it street creds. The higher profile the content writer has, the better the SEO chance the piece has. An example is my HuffPost profile. I might not get paid for most of these pieces but my SEO ranking is far better because of my authorship on the Huff. Take advantage of every authorship exposure you can. Build a professional profile with a good headshot and link it to every content piece you write. Your SERPs will reward you.

Good Headlines are Highly Important

I’ve found writing effective headlines one of the trickiest parts of content writing—whether for a commissioned client or my own blog posts. There’s an art to this, so I turn to my internet friend Jeff Goins who’s one of the best content writers on the market today. Jeff’s TribeWriters course is excellent value, and he really puts headline writing into perspective.

“Headlines are the first thing people see,” Jeff says. “They need to be attractive, interesting, and descriptive. Headlines should be objective and transform the reader from a browser to being engaged. You need a trigger word such as ‘how’ or ‘why’, a keyword like ‘ways’ or ‘techniques’, a promise like ‘will’ or ‘fix’, and an adjective such as ‘important or quickly’.”

Let’s analyze this blog post’s headline.

“How Web Content Writing Will Make You a Far Better Writer”

Trigger Word — “How”

Keywords — “Web, Content, Writing, Writer”

Promise — “Will Make You”

Adjective — “A Far Better”

Jeff Goins also says there are three basic types of headlines.

World View — “Why Every —— Should ——”

Establish Authority — “What I Know About ——”

Achievement — “ How I ——”

Blogging king Jon Morrow of Smart Blogger has another take on effective headlines in his free pdf download Headline Hacks — A Cheat Sheet For Writing Blog Posts That Go Viral. Jon breaks down good headlines into three simple categories.

The How-To — “How To —— A Million Dollars”

The List — “17 —— To Make Money”

The Bonus — “Get Rich While You ——“

There are excellent web-based headline analyzing tools available. When I was struggling with this blog post’s caption, I threw at least a dozen combinations into CoSchedule and it liked “Web Content Writing Will Make You a Far Better Writer” the best. Check the screenshot image (left) and note how it fits into Jeff Goins’s concept.

If you’re handed commercial pieces like Emily administers in HealthyContentAgency.com, you’ll probably have the headlines pre-assigned. That’s good because you can burn up a lot of valuable research, writing, and proofing time struggling for headlines that work. Speaking of researching, writing, and proofing, I’ll show you my actual process that’s let me become proficient in putting out web content pieces at a commercial pace.

First, I’d like to share some general tips for web content writing.

General Tips for Writing Web Content

No doubt there’s a knack to web writing just as there is with every other form of written communication. Top fiction genre writers have their tricks. So do front-line journalists. While these high-profile pen monkeys get their share of glory, there’s not much in it for lowly web scribes. We just put out volume that works on the internet and we stay in the shadows. Most commercial content is ghost-written, anyway.

But there are a number of tips that can help you fine tune web content writing. You can take them over to your own particular brand of wordsmithing. Or, you can leave them as you wish. In no particular order, here are twenty-one content writing ideas I’ve picked up and found to work.

1. Use an active, informal voice. Ditch the passive, formal. Make it personal but not too slick. Find a balance but don’t kill yourself if you use the passive voice, We all speak that way. Being aware is the main thing.

2. Use a mix of short and long sentences. Try not to use more than one conjunction for independent clauses. Yes. There’s nothing wrong with one-word sentences.

3. Use 3-4 sentences per paragraph.

4. Make whitespace your friend. It makes scanning easier.

5. Use a subheading or bold highlight every 5-10 paragraphs.

6. Place keywords in headings and subheadings.

7. Don’t use fancy words. If you need a thesaurus or dictionary, you’re struggling with the wrong word.

8. Write toward a lower-grade audience. I ran the first four paragraphs of this post through the Readability Analyzer app and it rates this content at a Grade 6 reading level. That’s cool!

9. Careful with acronyms. Spell out the entire phrase first, then use the acronym or abbreviation.

10. Work with strong nouns and verbs. Minimize adverbs and adjectives. But not always.

11. Exclamation marks are for 11-year-olds!!!

12. Know grammar rules so when your break ‘em you do so intentionally.

13. You’ll never learn how to properly use commas so don’t sweat it.

14. Invest in The Elements of Style by Strunk & White.

15. Read lots of web articles and blog posts. Learn from the good. Chuck the bad.

16. Never ship work without proofreading. Never. Never. Never. Full stop.

17. Use self-editing tools like Grammarly but there’s no replacing a human eye.

18. Shortform content pieces have their place, but longforms are preferred by Google.

19. Shortforms are between 500-900 words. Longforms are 2300+.

20. Today, a rule of thumb is “the longer, the better”. This post is 5932 words.

21. Always use a Call To Action (CTA) at the end of your content. It’s a must.

Putting Web Content Researching, Writing, and Proofing into Practice

Here’s where the ink hits the page or the images hit the screen in the web writing world. I mentioned that I’ve cranked out over a third of a million commercial web words in three-quarters of a year. That’s not counting all the personal blog posts I’ve written, books I’m working on, and a pile of email messages.

I’ve worked out a system and recorded some stats that I’d like to share with you. I’m not saying it’s the best way to research, draft, and proof/ship web content pieces. It just works for me and is the best use of time I can make. I also analyzed the last ten pieces and took an average of time spent in each category and how that displays as a time and effort percentage. I’ll show it to you, but first here’s how I put content writing into practice.

Research

I probably spend too much time researching a topic. But in order to sensibly draft it, I have to understand it. Then the words flow and I can make my words per hour (WPH) cost effective. In other words, it has to return a decent dollar per hour (DPH) because all web content assignments are paid on a flat rate, not by the actual time they take to complete.

I start research by Googling the meat of the topic and see what comes up. For instance, “How To Write Web Content” has 38,800,000 results. That’s a whack of stuff to pour through. Fortunately, Google ranks the best links on the top SERPs so I go from there. (Hmm… I wonder if these content writers intentionally wrote the pieces with SEO in mind to score high rankings…)

Once I find existing content that seems useful, I copy and paste it to a Word.doc and then format it to Ariel 10-point in black on white with 1.15 line spacing and 6-after paragraph spacing. This makes for easy reading and a minimal amount of paper and ink used when printed. I find around 10 articles and stop. Then I print them to hard copy and go over them with a yellow highlighter and a red pen. That’s my code system for identifying pertinent info and facts.

Drafting

Now it’s time to switch hats and start the creative process of drafting the piece. I also switch locations. I do research and reading at home where I have an internet connection but to be time effective, I leave the house and go to the nearby university where I’ve claimed a quiet place in the library. It’s my spot. This change of location changes my mindset. I’m far more productive than at home and not distracted by the phone, door bell, or sneaking peeks at pets on the net.

I’m nearly twice as efficient at the library. It gets me out and around young, vibrant people as well as being surrounded by thousands of books and millions upon millions of knowledgeable words produced over hundreds of years of researching and writing by some of the brightest minds the world has ever known. Plus, I like it there and it’s quiet.

I’m not a fast writer, but I’m clean. I do a bare-bones outline with the introduction, the main points, and the call to action.

Then I start writing. Again, I use Arial font but in 12-point. It’s easier to see on the screen for an old guy like me. The first 500 words are slow and then it takes off. I take a 10-15 minute break once per hour or so, get up, and walk around. This is really important. I rarely go back and review during the draft stage. When the word count for the assignment is reached, I save and go home.

Proofing/Shipping

Now comes the proof/ship phase and it’s quick. I paste the Word.doc into Grammarly and go through it. Grammarly’s great, but it can’t read your mind. Once I catch mistakes like typos, spacing, and bad form, I take the amended Word.doc and change the font to Tahoma 10-point. This proofreading trick really helps to look through a different perspective. Then I scan the document rather than read it word by word. Over the years I’ve developed an ability to speed read. I can accurately cover a 3K word doc in about 10 minutes. And under my breath, I’m reading it out loud.

Once the Word.doc is as clean as I can get it, it’s time to ship. There’s no point beating this thing because it goes to another set of eyes before delivering to the client. I simply ship an email attachment and save it to a folder. Then it’s out of sight, out of mind, and on to the next. I find one longform of around 3K words is enough for one day but it depends on what has to be done and by when.

Something I’ve really learned is how to work within deadlines.

Consistently researching, writing, and shipping within a limited time frame really boosts productivity. It also boosts confidence. That applies to all other forms of writing including my own blog posts and novels. That’s the biggest takeaway I’ve gained from learning how to write web content—applying web content writing principles to novel writing. Overall, it’s made me a far better writer.

I record exact stats on how my research, draft, and proof/ship time efficiency works out. I carefully record my time into blocks rounded off to 5 minutes. When the piece is shipped, I divide the total time by 60 for an hourly calculation. Then I work it into the percentage of time it took for each phase as well as dividing the total word count (WC) by the actual writing time for the number of words per hour (WPH). I also divide the total project time by the flat fee for the return on overall dollars per hour (DPH).

Some days production and pay are good. Some days, not so good. That’s how the web content writing business goes. Here are the stats for the average of my last 10 longform assignments.

Total Project Time — 5.83 hr
Total Research Time — 2.0 hr
Average Research Percentage — 36.2%
Total Drafting Time — 3.28 hr
Average Drafting Percentage — 59.3%
Total Proof/Ship Time — 0.25 hr
Average Proof/Ship Percentage — 4.5%
Average Word Count (WC) — 2990
Average Words Per Hour (WPH) — 912

I also keep precise track of the dollar per hour return, but I’m reluctant to share specifics to protect confidential pricing structure. It all depends on the amount charged to a client and how efficient my time is. You can make decent money ($50/hr+) from content writing if you get good assignments and produce quality work fast. Generally, a flat rate will be a set for the article and you can break that down to a certain fraction of a cent per word.

I don’t think I can speed up my drafting time, but I probably do too much researching. However, to cut this down, I probably wouldn’t get sufficient knowledge to write an informative and valuable piece that’d be found on Google. That’s the whole point of the exercise. And it’s why I’m getting paid for web content writing.

I hope you’ve got some decent information and tips on how to write effective web content from this. I sincerely believe it’ll help make you an overall better writer. And here’s the call to action:

Please share this article on social media and email it to friends who’ll benefit.

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Over to you Kill Zoners. At least the ones who’ve managed to stick with and stay awake in this class. Have you done commercial web content writing? Do you write personal blog posts and web-style pieces? How does this piece relate to your work? And what do you have to share with the rest of us? The floor is open for comments.

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Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective and coroner who reincarnated as a crime writer and indie publisher. Garry’s based-on-true-crime series are an 8-book run on real cases he worked on (or real cases that worked on him). Now, Garry’s onto a new venture—a hardboiled detective fiction series called City Of Danger.

Aside from telling lies on Amazon, Kobo, and Nook, Garry Rodgers is also an old boat skipper with a 60-tonne Marine Captain ticket to prove it. He puts it to use around his home on Vancouver Island in British Columbia on Canada’s west coast.