What’s That Doing There?

Finishing up a novel this week, I went back and read through it one last time before sending the manuscript on to my agent. This one wrote itself fast, and I was confident there were few issues to deal with in post.

Ummm hummm.

The entire novel takes place in 24 hours, and as usual for me, contains many moving parts and a lot more characters than I expected. The Bride read it at the same time and we compared notes to find there were a couple of continuity issues.

Those were cured by simply deleting specific references in dialogue. I talked by my protagonist Ridge about that. “Ridge, in Chapter 15, you were on the far end of the street how long ago?”

“I said twenty minutes when I was talking to Zeke.”

“At the same time you were talking with the antagonist at the opposite end of town, and then got in a fight.”

Ridge paused, considering our dilemma. “Dang it. How’re we gonna fix that?”

“Don’t make any more specific references to time and we can smooth this one over. I’ll move that scene and it all should mesh.”

“Good,” Ridge glanced over his shoulder. “Now, can I get back to trying to avoid those people who’re chasing me?”

“Go on, we’re good now, but I still have to do something about Chapter 22.”

That one was the real problem, because when I went back and read Chapter 22, it contained brilliant dialogue and an excellent sense of place but did nothing to move the story forward.

It was a rookie mistake, and I am ashamed.

Chapters might be hard for some folks, but I’ve never given them much thought.

I don’t consciously think about how long they are, but after going back and re-reading my work, I find the first two or three are somewhat short, establishing scenes and characters, and setting the tempo.

They become longer as the story arcs develop, and then in the third act, as the climax nears, they grow progressively shorter, adding to the quickening pace of the action. They end when they should, sometimes with cliffhangers, or times after a character says something thoughtful, or foreshadowing.

But what does a chapter do? The Chicago Manual of Style Shop Talk says. “A chapter accomplishes something. It might develop a character, or a relationship between characters; it might build a world or set a scene, it might tell a shorter story that moves the larger story forward.”

But it has to do something.

This is where some authors dig in their heels. “I liked that chapter. The dialogue was great and the interaction between the two characters just makes me feel all sparkly and now I need a tasty beverage.”

Okay. Finish your drink and then delete the chapter. If you can’t bring yourself to send it to the electronic netherworld, cut and paste it into a blank document somewhere and when you read the manuscript again, you’ll find it wasn’t the least bit necessary.

I just finished a book by a well-known and respected author, the sequel to one of his most popular novels. It seemed to have been written by committee, and a third of the chapters failed to carry the story forward. Instead, the protagonist thought, considered, wandered from place to place, ate (and it sometimes felt as if I was reading a menu), drank, and slept. In fact, had he taken out those static chapters, he would have finished with a novella.

If you still can’t part with all the offending chapter, consider pulling some of the dialogue and plugging it in somewhere else (note I said “some” of the dialogue).

In any case, there are no rules for what’s found in a chapter. Use them to set the pace, move the action forward, advance conflict, reveal information or twists, and increase tension. Think of it as a mini story that takes us forward.

Your readers will love you for it.

Amazon’s Read Sample – What is your opinion?

Amazon’s “Read Sample” – Too long or too short? Any potential use as a marketing tool? Any tips on how to change its length?

You’re familiar with Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature that allows you to preview the beginning of the book. KDP calls it the “read sample.” Did you know that the sample is set by default at 10% for eBooks, with the ability to be changed from 5% to 40% in 5% increments. Hard cover and paperbacks are set at 20% by default with the ability to be changed from 10% to 80% in 10% increments. Of course, if you have Kindle Unlimited and are looking at a book that is in Kindle Unlimited, the entire book is free. But, today, let’s look at books that are not in Kindle Unlimited.

N.B. A search on Google for instructions for how to change the read sample length provides instructions for doing it through the KDP bookshelf with editing book details. It doesn’t work. According to a KDP discussion group, it must be done by contacting support and asking them to make the change. However, good luck with contacting Kindle support. I finally reached a person. She didn’t have an answer. Nor did her support have an answer. I was referred back to the page where I had just come from. An eternal loop. Ugh!!!

Now that I have cooled off, here are the questions:

As a Reader: When you are considering a book to purchase on Amazon, how would you rank the importance of the cover vs. the book description vs. the read sample? Do you wish the read sample were longer, or shorter?

As a Writer/Publisher of a book: Do you think the read sample is too long or too short. Do you ever change the length of the read sample for your books. Were you able to do so through the KDP bookshelf, or did you have to contact support? What are the advantages or disadvantages of a long or short sample? And, have you ever thought of using the read sample as marketing tool with a plot twist or cliffhanger at the end of the read sample?

Please give us your opinions: Any and all thoughts on the read sample are invited and appreciated. Also, any thoughts on Kindle support are also welcome.


What Makes a Good Action Scene?

What Makes a Good Action Scene?
Terry Odell

Image by Dean Moriarty from Pixabay

We don’t go out to movies anymore, and don’t watch too many on TV, either. But one thing I know is that prolonged “action” scenes, be they gunfights, fistfights, or car chases, have me thinking one thing … “the scriptwriters ran out of dialogue, so they’re filling in much needed minutes of screen time with bells and whistles.” Worse for me is when they come at the beginning of a movie and the viewer has no idea who’s who, or what the stakes are.

Who’s the good guy? Do I care yet? Probably not. Opening books with battle scenes isn’t a good idea, either.

“Action” doesn’t mean people have to be killing each other.

I’m not a violent person (coming of age in the 60’s—make love, not war), but I frequently have to include action scenes in my books, especially the Blackthorne, Inc., covert ops series. I’ve opened a good number of the books in that series with an action scene that may or may not be closely attached to the plot. My daughter calls them my “MacGyver Opening Gambits.” My little secret—because I’m not fond of writing violence, these gambits more often than not result in a character being called on the carpet and assigned to non-combat type duty, which gets me back into my comfort zone.

What elements are needed to make a good action scene? My search for “action scenes” resulted in link after link to “fight scenes.” Fight scenes might be action scenes, but are all action scenes fight scenes? I think not. I kept digging.

According to The Writing Cooperative, “An action scene is any scene where physical events flow at a rapid clip.

Janice Hardy, in  her Fiction University site, gives these elements for writing effective action scenes:

  1. Get in a Character’s Head – show some thoughts and feelings of the character to connect the reader.
  2. Let it Get Personal – what are the stakes?
  3. Add a Surprise or Revelation – if the outcome is predictable, why read on? Even if it is, reveal something about the character, or something that affects the plot
  4. Pace Yourself – short sentences, smooth flowing text.

You don’t want to write an action scene that is nothing more than a blow-by-blow (no pun intended) description of each move—Sue had an excellent post about writing a dance scene. Just including the individual steps makes for a yawner. Add the character’s thoughts. A bit of dialogue.

How does this scene (can I call it a ‘classic’ at this point?) fit Hardy’s elements?

Would it have been nearly as effective if it had been the opening scene of the movie? Would the scene have been as effective without the cutaways? Without the dialogue?

What about this? (From Rooted in Danger)

Setup: Fozzie and his covert ops team are in the company’s private jet en route to rescue a teammate.

Fozzie snapped awake when he heard a loud boom, followed by equally loud, “Oh shit,” from the pilot over the PA.

He had his seatbelt unfastened before he heard Hotshot call, “Fozzie, up front. Now.”

“On it.” Fozzie rushed forward. The right side of the sky glowed through the porthole. The plane tipped in that direction, and he grabbed the nearest seatback to keep his balance. He felt the plane losing airspeed.

“Bad Thing. Number two engine,” Cheese said. “Need some help.”

Fozzie slid into the second seat and slapped on a headset. The plane yawed more toward the right. The red master warning light came on. In too-rapid succession, the displays showed systems shutting down.

“We’re flying heavy,” Cheese said. “We need both engines or we’ll have to go down.”

Ditching was definitely not an option. Fozzie knew they carried extra fuel to cover the distance. Any delays might cost Grinch his life. But now, Fozzie was more focused on his own.

“Shut off the damn buzzers,” Cheese said. “Can you get a visual on the engine? See anything?”

Fozzie glanced out of the cockpit seeing individual blades where there should have been a blur of propellers. “No obvious damage.”

Cheese’s hand grabbed the lever beside the throttle. Fozzie watched the angle of the propeller blades shift as Cheese feathered them to reduce drag.

“Trying a restart,” Cheese said.

“No worries,” Fozzie said, sweat filming his palms.

Cheese flipped the starter switch. Nothing.

Lots of worries.

“Okay, let’s go to plan B,” Cheese said. “Restart protocol. Book’s behind my seat.”

Fozzie snagged the notebook. Quickly flipped to the emergency section. Read each step aloud. Focused on Cheese’s “Rogers.”

“Need more airspeed,” Cheese said. “Watch the N1 indicator and tell me as soon as it hits twelve.”

Fozzie glued his gaze to the small circular gauge. Instead of a healthy ninety-five, the needle hovered at the four percent mark.

“Hang tight,” Cheese announced. “We’re going to play roller coaster. The E-ticket kind.”

Fozzie tightened his harness as Cheese tilted the plane’s nose down. He concentrated on keeping his breathing steady as his stomach plunged. He watched the needle creep across the dial. Six. Eight. Ten. Eleven.
“Now,” he said as soon as it hit twelve.

Cheese pushed up on the fuel condition lever.

Fozzie heard the engine whine as it came back to life. Outside, the propellers shifted angle and picked up speed. He fought the increasing g-forces and his stomach did a reverse trip as Cheese pulled out of the dive and brought the plane to altitude.

After several reverent moments contemplating the familiar sounds and vibrations of normal flight, Fozzie turned to Cheese and slipped the notebook back into its pocket. “Good onya, mate.”

“Would rather not have to do it again,” Cheese said, rubbing his thigh. “Man, keeping her steady is a bitch on the quads.” Sweat trickled down his face. He ran his fingers over the instrument panel as if stroking a lover. “That’s my girl.”

Can you share “non-fight” action scenes that have been done well?

And, on another note, I recently had my website completely overhauled. I’d say it’s 98.7% done (although they’re never really done. What do you think?

How can he solve crimes if he’s not allowed to investigate?

Gordon Hepler, Mapleton’s Chief of Police, has his hands full. A murder, followed by several assaults. Are they related to the expansion of the community center? Or could it be the upcoming election? Gordon and mayor wannabe Nelson Manning have never seen eye to eye. Gordon’s frustrations build as the crimes cover numerous jurisdictions, effectively tying his hands.
Available now.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

The Meaning of Success

Dictionary.com defines success as

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

* * *

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

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

* * *

I started out with a couple of simple statements.

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

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

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

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

Success is dependent on effort. –Sophocles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere. 

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

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

Buy on AmazonBarnes & NobleKoboGoogle Play, or Apple Books.

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

Scenes That Grab You and Won’t Let Go

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

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

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

Highway to the Danger Zone sound track

 In two or three paragraphs:

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

True Crime Thursday – Investing in Blueskycoin

by Debbie Burke


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

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

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

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

Enter Amelia. 

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

[Alarm bell #1]

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

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

They message back and forth, catching up.

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

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

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

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

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

[Alarm bell #2]

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

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

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

[Alarm bell #3]

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

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

[Alarm bell #4]

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

[Alarm bell #5]

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

[Alarm bell #6]

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

[Alarm bell #7] 

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

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

[By now, the alarm bells are deafening]

Fred and Sophie comply with the requests.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[More requests for money equal more alarm bells]

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

Sophie deposits money to cover the taxes.

Then the blue sky falls.

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

Forwarding address: EffU.com

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

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

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

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

Phil Muncaster of Infosecurity Magazine describes GoldPickaxe as:

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

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

Who are Amelia and Victoria?

Credit: Wikimedia


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In broad generalities, cryptocurrency is virtual money.

According to Investopedia:

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

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

Investopedia goes on to say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That adds up to a scammer’s bonanza.

What is the best protection against cryptocurrency scams?

Follow the immortal advice of Bernie Madoff:

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


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


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

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

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


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



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

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

Buy at this link

Banning Obscenity

By John Gilstrap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




When Death Becomes Real

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

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

By Kelly (PJ Parrish)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now driven with a duel passion, we kept on.

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

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

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

Now everything was real.

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

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

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

Does Size, ahem, Length Matter?

Faithful readers might recall that a couple of weeks ago my blog post revolved around how books were once sold on display racks or shelves in drugstores, bookstores, and department stores. As a young reader back in the 1960s, the length of a novel wasn’t high on my somewhat limited radar.

I still have paperbacks purchased off those racks with the price tag of 35 cents stamped in the upper right-hand corner. Prices changed though the years. They rose to 75 cents, 95 cents, and ultimately cracked the one-dollar ceiling. At the same time, the length and page count of those pocketbooks didn’t seem to budge.

For full disclosure here, ninety-nine percent of my reading material came from libraries and was in a variety of genres from science fiction, history, anything else that caught my eye. Most of those novels I spent money on and collected back then were westerns by Louis L’Amour and a stable of similar artists.

Cranked out in a matter of weeks, or months, the vast majority of these books ranged from 28,750 words for Shalako, to 60,000 for one of his most popular releases, Hondo. Despite their length, both books, and many more by this prolific author became successful movies. In his later year, L’Amour’s novels became heavier and some even broke that 124,000 mark.

Short novels back then weren’t limited to paperbacks, or westerns. Like most boys, I finally got my hands on those wonderful hardboiled books by Micky Spillane and absolutely absorbed them. One I, the Jury comes in at slightly more than 53,000 words, and the hard-hitting sequel, My Gun is Quick is slightly longer.

My point here is that the length of a novel doesn’t determine the quality or success of the work. Take a look at the length of these million-selling books from years past that were eventually filmed.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 208 pages, 47,094

Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie: 336 pages, 58,514 words

Double Indemnity, by James M. Cain: 115 pages, 30,072 words

Rosemary’s Baby, Ira Levin: 245 pages, 56,044

The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain: 116 pages, 35,000 words

The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler: 234 pages, 56,955 words

The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle: 128 pages, 57,689 words

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger: 234 pages, 73,404

A Farewell to Arms, Earnest Hemingway: 332 pages, 74,240

Carrie, Stephen King: 320 pages, 61,343

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling: 309 pages, 77,325

Things, they are a-changin’. My first manuscript weighed in at 140,000 words before my editor at Poisoned Pen Press, Annette Rogers, suggested (no, ordered) that I cut 50,000 of those little gems. I did, crying great crocodile tears, until The Rock Hole was 90,000 words, the length of the average novel. When I was finished, I didn’t miss a thing and the work read much better.

My contracts today specify the work’s length from 90,000 to 100,000 words for all mysteries, westerns, and contemporary thrillers. Some authors struggle to reach the lower end, while others routinely crack the 110-120,000 ceiling or more without breaking a sweat.

One of my publishers recently told me that he prefers a novel to register at 90,000 words, because it’s only fair to the reader, since the price for paperbacks have increased and they want to give readers their money’s worth.

That also works great for those who embrace technology, because there’s no printing cost in this new media and readers don’t have to lug around doorstops that can be ten times the length of a Stephen King novel. In a similar vein, I’ve talked to consumers who say that because hardcovers are more expensive, readers tend to gravitate toward meatier publications. More bang for their buck(s), I guess.

But is it length that makes a successful novel? Those listed above, and millions more, fall well below the average length and to me, that’s just fine. I recently finished writing a novel that originally topped out at 80,000 words. At that count, the fast-paced story was told, complete with plenty of tension, red herrings, and a satisfying plot that surprised even me.

But my contract required that holy grail of 90,000 words, so I went back and lo, the count rose and the novel came in at the appointed amount. Did those extra words make it better? Were they a determent to the finished product? That’ll be up to my readers to determine.

Maybe those additional pages filled out some descriptions, or detailed the five senses we should all include. I wonder.

On the other hand, I recently sold a short story that was too long, more of a novella, and the publisher is going to serialize it, because the new up and coming magazine is looking for something completely different in westerns and that story filled the bill. Here’s an interesting point, the story is the first act of a short novel I wrote decades ago that finished up at 50,000 words.

As I dug around the internet to find titles and their length for this piece, I came across the website, Book Riot, that asks this question that I couldn’t phrase any better. “Have consumer tastes and habits changed that much in 100 years? Have authors themselves changed in the last 100 years? Why has the big book come to outweigh the short book in the hearts and minds of readers? Is the short book dead? Or just on a reprieve?”

So I wonder about this magic 90,000-word target. What do you think?

The Case of the Forgotten Files

No, we’re not discussing politics, classified documents, or dementia. The discussion today is about the forgotten literary treasure (written and then set aside) stashed in boxes in your closet, or tucked away on flash drives, or even CD’s, or even floppy drives. How many years ago would that have been?

I recently glanced back through the files on my Scrivener app as I began to work on my WIP. I noticed a story that I had written a couple years ago as an experiment, to try Kindle’s Vella (serialized fiction). My story was never noticed. I was told that I would need to make a fool of myself on TikTok if I wanted to make any sales. I took down the story, and thought I would publish it as an eBook, then realized I would need a cover. I set the project aside and forgot it.

As I began reading through the Scrivener file, I felt the excitement I had when I first wrote it. I thought, “This isn’t bad.” And I continued to read. I set aside my WIP, began to edit, and have now decided to publish it “properly.” I have my first beta reader reviewing the story, and am setting up a meeting with my cover artist. I wonder how many other experiments are buried on flash drives that are worthy of being reviewed.

So, TKZ community, what literary gold is buried in your boxes and flash drives, CDs, and floppies? What stories excited you in the past and have the kernel of a great idea that needs to be germinated and grown with your expanded toolbox of writing skills?

  1. Do you have any stories you initially set aside, then rewrote/edited and published later?
  2. Do you have any stories that are hiding in your files that deserve to be reworked and published?
  3. Tell us about them.