True Crime Thursday – Snowballing Out of Control

Photo credit: Annatsach

By Debbie Burke

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Visual Hunt

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

TKZers: Should snowball fights be outlawed?

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

 

 

 

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

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Is There Such A Thing As Too Many Books?

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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LinkedIn Tied to Book Piracy

By Debbie Burke

Photo credit: dolldreamer

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

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

In other words, book piracy.

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

Screenshot of my book on Slideshare without my permission

 

 

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

 

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

They don’t…directly.

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

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

Photo credit: sasatro on Visual Hunt

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whack a Mole
Photo credit: Eric Parker, Visual Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

Other authors are publicizing the problem through social media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More than a Dream

Today as we celebrate the MLK holiday, I find that many of the issues Martin Luther King Jr. espoused seem to resonate even more deeply than they have in the past. Maybe it’s because over the past year or so I have become more involved in state politics providing both volunteer and aide support to one of the few African American senators in Colorado. Maybe it’s because in trying (and often failing) to juggle these commitments and my writing I’ve had to reevaulate my writing ‘dreams’. Or maybe it’s because I celebrated a ‘big’ birthday last year which inevitably meant taking stock of what I’ve achieved so far…whatever the reason, I find myself feeling more philosophical than usual today.

On one hand, I feel I’ve contributed (albeit in a small way) to progressing society towards some of the goals MLK held dear. On the other hand, this work (and my struggle to balance it with my writing goals) helped reinforce the truth that for me, writing really is the dream I cherish. In some ways this was an important lesson to learn – one I could only really learn when my time to write became so compromised that I realized how much I missed it! Unfortunately, since the legislative session just started in Colorado I have been sucked back into a political vortex (the new aide to my senator just resigned…and I stepped back into the breach) – so I feel a little like I’m back where I started… and I need to recommit to my dream once more and find the right work-life/dream balance.

I was mulling over the concept of ‘dream’ when I caught an excerpt from an episode of “How I Built This” on NPR. Guy Raz was asking the founder of an active wear brand how she thought she managed to make her dream a reality. Her answer was one powerful word – ‘persistence’. When you think about all the dreams we have – from the lofty and powerful ones MLK articulated to the smaller, more individualized ones we hold dear – the only way those dreams can become reality is through persistence. So I’m taking this day to try and recalibrate my expectations and recommit to the concept of persistence.

So TKZ, on this MLK holiday, what dream are you committing to? Any guidance on how to  embrace persistence, despite the challenges?

 

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How To Go Viral

By Mark Alpert

Mass-market success is a bewildering thing. There’s no doubt that a well-financed marketing effort can boost the popularity of a movie, book, or television show. Why else would Hollywood spend hundreds of millions of dollars to promote its latest offerings? And yet there are many examples of plucky films and books that unexpectedly gathered wide followings without the aid of any big marketing campaign.

I first analyzed this topic in the late 1980s when I wrote a story about fashion-industry marketing for Fortune magazine. Remember all those goofy 1980s fashion trends? The shoulder-pad craze, for instance? Marketing experts told me it was hard to identify the origins of that particular sartorial mania. Did people instinctively go wild for the linebacker look in a kind of mass hysteria, or were they pushed in that direction by canny advertisers trying to profit from excessively padded blouses? Or, to phrase the question more generally, how much leverage can corporations exert over consumer choice? One of the ways to study this question is to focus on fashions that are adopted more freely — that is, in situations where no one has a financial interest in influencing the public’s tastes.

A good example of this kind of fashion choice is the selection of baby names. No corporation is going to spend its ad dollars trying to convince you to name your kid John or Nancy or Preston. In this situation, the influences are personal and cultural, rather than economically driven. And as we all know, there have been huge changes in the popularity of certain baby names over the past several decades. Does anyone name their kids Seymour or Ida these days? So the marketing experts wanted to study the trends in baby-name popularity to get a better understanding of how consumer choices are made. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the results of those studies, and I can’t even locate the story I wrote on this topic. All this happened before the Internet.

And of course the Internet ushered in a whole new arena of consumer influence. I’m not an expert on viral marketing, but many of my friends are freelance journalists, and as a group they’ve become pretty obsessed with tracking the popularity of the Web articles they write. Some of them have a financial incentive to maximize the readership of their stories, because they’ll get paid more if their articles attract a greater number of clicks. I haven’t done a whole lot of journalism since I sold my first novel, but every once in a while I write stories about science or politics for various websites, and I’ve noticed a few characteristics that seem to enhance the readership of those articles. Those same characteristics, I believe, can also boost the popularity of novels, giving them a better shot at making the bestseller lists.

So what are the keys to viral success? Let me tell you a couple of stories about what’s worked for me.

Back in 2014 I heard something strange about NASA. The space agency was funding research on what was described as a warp-drive technology. Yes, warp-drive, like the engines on the Starship Enterprise. Just in case you’re a little rusty on your Star Trek trivia, I’ll provide a brief explanation of how the Enterprise and all those Klingon and Romulan starships are able to flit across the galaxy so easily. They’re not actually going faster than the speed of light, at least not locally; instead, their warp drives are compressing the spacetime in front of the starships. These drives bend spacetime into an asymmetric bubble around the spacecraft, distorting the fabric of the universe so violently that a trillion miles of interstellar vacuum (as seen from an outsider’s perspective) can shrink to a few inches (as seen from the bridge of the Enterprise). Within this distorted bubble, the spacecraft never exceeds the speed of light, but once it crosses the compressed spacetime and emerges from the bubble it could be hundreds of light-years from its starting point. Take us to Warp Nine, Mr. Sulu.

This technology works great on the television show, but in reality it’s a little more complicated. Bending the spacetime around a real starship would require enormous amounts of an exotic form of energy that may or may not exist in our universe. Nevertheless, a NASA researcher named Harold White thought he could test the principle behind the warp-drive technology in a tabletop experiment, and the space agency agreed to spend $50,000 on the project. (Which is a relatively small investment given the agency’s twenty-billion-dollar annual budget.) That was the gist of the story I wrote for Scientific American’s website, that NASA was willing to take a small gamble on an unlikely hypothesis that most scientists scoffed at. But this little news squib quickly attracted tens of thousands of readers, the great majority of whom were reeled in by the Star Trek references and the accompanying illustration of the Starship Enterprise in flight.

I know that the inherent quality of the story didn’t give it the big boost in readership, because I wrote a very similar article for the same website two years later, a story about a more reasonable, feasible plan for interstellar travel (it’s called the Breakthrough Starshot project), and this second story didn’t attract an extraordinary number of readers. The big difference in popularity was obviously due to the widespread appeal of Star Trek, which continues to be a powerful cultural force 50 years after the original television series went off the air. So the lesson here for fiction writers is that it’s commercially useful to write a novel that piggybacks on an enduringly popular theme, person, place, or period of history. For example, a novel set during the Civil War will likely attract more readers than a novel set during the War of 1812, even if the two books are identical in quality. It’s just a fact of life: there are a lot of Civil War buffs out there. (I happen to be one of them.)

My latest brush with viral fame occurred just a few weeks ago during the holiday break. My new novel SAINT JOAN OF NEW YORK has a nonfiction introduction entitled “Physics and the Search for Meaning,” and I thought it would be cool to put an excerpt from this essay on the Scientific American website. I gave the excerpt a somewhat provocative title — “Can Science Rule Out God?” — and it ran on the website a couple of days before Christmas. I promptly forgot about it because I had to drive the family up to Maine for the holiday, but when I got back to New York and looked at my emails I saw one of those ominous messages from Twitter: “You have 152 notifications” or something like that. My essay had definitely struck a chord. I’d put forth a middle-of-the-road position, arguing that we need to better understand the laws of physics before we could say anything useful about their origins, and I got dozens of impassioned responses from both believers and nonbelievers. Lots of people have strong opinions on the question of God’s existence, and they’re eager to share. These readers want to be part of the conversation. They want to be heard.

The typical experience of reading a novel is more of a one-way communication: the writer tells a story, and the reader listens. But some novels almost demand a response. This kind of book touches on something that the reader cares deeply about, something universal, and the reader wants to prolong that impassioned immersion in the story even after finishing the novel. So a common reaction is to encourage other people to read the book too. Or go online and discuss the plot and characters. These readers get feverish and excitable, and with every breath they spread the ideas that the novel has planted within them.

Just like a virus.

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Speaking of God, I recently wrote another essay related to my new novel SAINT JOAN OF NEW YORK. The heroine of this book is a modern-day version of Joan of Arc, so I did a lot of reading about the original Joan and developed some fervent opinions about her legacy. My essay was published this week in America magazine; you can read it here.

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Cultivate New Readers by Donating Your Books to Worthy Causes

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I accumulate books and they breed on their own when the lights are out. Organizer guru, Marie Kondo, would not approve. During my last move, I downsized. Maintaining a personal library is not practical. With all the guests that come to visit on a regular basis, it is more fun to have an extra bedroom.

That got me thinking about what I could do with the good books I have already read. I have a special collection of signed books I will never donate or share (because sharing can be a one-way trip). These are books I treasure. (They are often written by author friends. Super special.)

For a number of years, before I sold and published, I collected debut books in hardback print. Those books served as inspiration for me that my dream to become a published author could happen. But no matter how much I wanted to keep all the books I’ve read, I also see good reason to donate them to other avid readers. Sharing the joy of reading is a special bond we readers share.

Off the top, there are many great places to donate books to appreciative organizations. Your kids’ school, the local library, homeless shelters, Goodwill, nursing homes (especially if you have audio books or large print reading material). My last donation was to a home for pregnant teen girls where I dropped off young adult novels, my books and other YA author friends’ stories.

Something that I’ve wanted to start in my neighborhood is a Little Free Library. I first saw these when I lived in Wisconsin many years ago, but they are a great way to develop a sense of community and support literacy. Many cities and states have these programs and the little libraries can be constructed in very clever ways. Here is a cute one in Arizona. People leave books for free, readers can take a book and leave one when they are done, for someone else to enjoy. Everything is on the honor system. I love this idea. Here is a LINK on how you can start your own Little Free Library.

Below are some book donation ideas that you might not have thought of before:

1.) Donate Books to Deployed Soldiers – An organization like OPERATION GRATITUDE offers many ways to donate books and more. They serve military families, veterans, first-responders, deployed soldiers, wounded heroes and caregivers, & recruit graduates. Help them fill care packages with your book donations.

OPERATION PAPERBACK takes book donations for troops. (Make a money donation or contribute books.) Operation Paperback started in 1999 and has shipped 2.9 million books to over 30 locations overseas. They have 19,000+ volunteers in all 50 states, who partner with a network of shippers and send 15,000+ books per month.

There might also be local groups where you live that send books to deployed military. Tampa Bay has Books for Troops.

A special program – the USO’s United Through Reading program, helps deployed soldiers read bedtime stories to their kids.

NOTE: Many of these programs have criteria for book donations and some have suggestions for genre and/or specific book titles they are requesting. Be sure to read donation guidelines before you send books.

2.) Think Dogs & Kids – This is a great & creative idea that merges rescue animals and literacy. Some animal shelters are matching up canines, kids and books in an innovative way. At the Humane Society of Missouri, the Shelter Buddies Reading Program gets kids ages 6 to 15 to read to shelter dogs, as a way of getting the dogs ready for adoption.

Another program, Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D) connects children who have difficulties reading with therapy dogs, under the notion that children will find reading to an animal less intimidating. In Connecticut, you can donate books to support the “Read with Me” program out of Pet Partners, a local dog therapy organization that pairs therapy dogs with struggling readers. Talk about a WIN-WIN.

3.) Local Book Lovers – Do you have a local program that needs books? In Los Angeles, for example, there’s a service called Re-Book It. This is a free service hosted by The Last Bookstore. They offer free pickup throughout Los Angeles county, and your donations could benefit libraries, schools, at-risk children, and hospitals. The Last Bookstore does all the work and your books find a new home.

If you don’t have a great organization like this in your area, you may find other groups that do similar work. For example, a book drive through a local church, library, school, or volunteer organization could be a good resource to relocate your books.

Organizations like Better World Books has drop boxes across the country. Enter your zip code into their site search to see if they have a drop box near you.

This time of year, with the tax season looming, I think about ways to make a difference and charitable donations. I hope this post gives you ideas or inspires you to start something new in your area. Happy 2020!

For Discussion:

1.) Do you have good suggestions for places to donate books?

2.) Share a story about one of your book donations. (This could be for your books or for other authors.)

 

The Curse She Wore by Jordan Dane Coming Feb 10, 2020.

ON PRESALE at Amazon (in ebook and print)

They had Death in common…

Homeless on the streets of New Orleans, Trinity LeDoux has nothing to lose when she hands a cursed vintage necklace to a wealthy, yet reclusive clairvoyant.

During a rare public appearance, Hayden Quinn is unexpectedly recruited into Trinity’s perilous mission–a journey back through time to the exact moment of death for two very different victims.

Hayden and Trinity, two broken people with nothing but death in common, pursue the dangerous quest to stop a murderer from emulating the grisly works of a notorious serial killer. But trespassing on Fate’s turf comes with a price–one they never see coming.

GOODREADS GIVEAWAY for The Curse She Wore – Enter for a chance to win.

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Nathan Is Running Again!

By John Gilstrap

Happy New Year, everyone!  Yeah, I know the year is two weeks old, but this is my first post of 2020.

If you’re familiar with the Grave books, that black Lab you see in the picture is the real JoeDog.

This picture of tossing money in the air was the single greatest mistake in the run-out of the book. It alienated most of our neighbors and all of our families.

It’s been a quarter of a century since HarperCollins published my first novel, Nathan’s Run.  (Why does “quarter of a century” sound so much longer than “twenty-five years”?)  The sale made big news in 1995 and upon its initial release, Nathan earned starred reviews in the Big Three of pre-pub review outlets, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus and Library Journal.  People, Entertainment Weekly, Redbook and Washingtonian magazines all ran features on me and the novel.  Even Liz Smith and Larry King talked about it.  A year before it was published, Warner Brothers snatched up the movie rights in a seven-studio bidding war, and foreign rights were sold in 23 countries around the world.  The American Library Association subsequently name Nathan’s Run as the winner of the Alex Award as the best adult-market fiction for young adult readers.

I still hear from people who read the feature story that Writer’s Digest wrote about my rookie year windfall.  It was a hell of a way to launch a new career!  Hand to God: At the time, I had no idea how unusual my experience was.  After all, there was no user-friendly internet yet, at least not in my house, and the only other author I knew at the time was Stephen Hunter, who had just come out with his runaway bestseller, Point of Impact

Nathan’s Run did what it did, and more books followed, but ultimately, the novel went out of print, and in 2007, give or take, all rights reverted to me.  By then, I had just launched my nonfiction book, Six Minutes to Freedom through Citadel Press, an imprint of Kensington, but my Jonathan Grave series hadn’t yet made it to the page.  I essentially was between publishers and between deals, and really didn’t have a place to put a re-release of Nathan.  So, I sat on the rights for a while.  Well, most of the rights.  Over at Recorded Books, George Guidall’s narration of the unabridged Nathan’s Run, had done well for them, so I inked an independent deal to re-up the audio rights with them.  For about four or five years, then, Nathan remained in “print” only as an audio book.

In 2012, having established a nice track record with Kensington through the Grave series, I floated the idea with my agent that we re-sell Nathan to Kensington.  They jumped right on it–along with At All Costs, my second novel (1998) and the first to introduce Irene Rivers, then an FBI agent, and in the Grave books the director of the FBI.  They were very clear during the negotiations that they were mainly interested in publishing the new Nathan as an eBook, and I was fine with that.

And now, effective December 31, 2019, Nathan’s Run is once again available as a premium mass market paperback.  Better still, it’s the “director’s cut” of the story.

I think I posted here before about my decision not to rewrite the story to reflect my storytelling choices of today.  I like the idea of it reflecting my voice and world view at the time I wrote it.  The only changes I made from one version to the next is to clean up the language.  Nathan Bailey, the protagonist of the story is 12 years old and he’s on the run from people who want to kill him.  In the original, when I was in the POV of the bad guys, the narrative language was pretty harsh.  That, combined with the Alex Award, which brought the book into middle school libraries, ultimately led to it being named as one of 100 most banned books in America.

I received a ton of letters and emails from readers who were disappointed that the language prevented them from sharing the story with their kids or their parents of their minister.  So, when I had the opportunity, I cleaned the story of F-bombs and other high-end profanity.  Truth be told, I haven’t dropped an F-bomb in my fiction in over ten years, and no one has ever complained.

The other most frequent topic for complaints from otherwise satisfied readers was the ending, which they felt was too abrupt.  Yeah, me too.  Whereas my original ending–the one I submitted when the publishers bought the book–ended in short coda that tied up loose ends, my editor and agent at the time felt strongly that a degree of ambiguity in the end made the story better.   I never agreed, but it was my first book, and I was dizzy from the whole experience, so I said okay.  I’ve regretted it for 25 years.

So, now, Nathan’s Run ends the way I originally wanted it to, and I think it has legs for young adult readers as well as fans of my thrillers.  There’s also an author’s note at the end that explains a lot of the behind the scenes stuff.  For example, I explain how Nathan Bailey got his name.

Now, in an awkward segue, since this post is all about shameless self-promotion, I’m happy to announce that my YouTube channel, A Writer’s View of Writing and Publishing in closing in on 1,900 subscribers and over 75,000 views.  The channel features short videos (most are 6-8 minutes long) that talk about how the publishing industry works, and provides tips for writers to navigate the waters.  If you get a chance, please pop over and give it a look–and subscribe if you like what you see.

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12 Tips for New Public Speakers

By Debbie Burke

Just before the holiday break, TKZ regular Steve Hooley posed a question about public speaking for new authors. He asked:

“I would love to see some discussions here, by TKZ’ers, on the ins and outs, strategies, fine points, etc. etc. of public speaking as part of the marketing of books.”

Photo credit: Visual Hunt

Glossophobia or the fear of public speaking affects an estimated 75% of people…the other 25% just won’t admit to it!

TKZ’s James Scott Bell and John Gilstrap are seasoned public speaking pros and John discussed the subject in this excellent 2017 post.

I’m writing from a slightly different slant as a relative novice, dealing with newbie problems. I’m fortunate to have a mentor in Susan Purvis, who’s been an educator for decades, speaking on different continents under sometimes primitive circumstances.

Here are a dozen tips I’ve stolen from Susan, mashed up with a few hard lessons I learned myself.

The first six are psychological tricks to ease the anxiety. The rest are practical suggestions to keep presentations running smoothly.

Photo credit: Visual Hunt

1. Start small with audiences that aren’t intimidating.

For years, I’ve taught workshops to other writers. Because I share their concerns and curiosity, I’m comfortable around them. Those talks feel less like public speaking and more like yakking with colleagues, even if they are strangers. That made the transition easier to larger groups.

Ask a group of friends, coworkers, or family to help you hone your presentation. Once you gain confidence, speaking to strangers feels less awkward.

2. Use low attendance to your advantage.

New authors are usually discouraged when they don’t draw crowds. Instead of feeling disappointed, take that opportunity to get to know your readers on a more intimate basis. Ask questions. What are their interests? What are their favorite books? Why do they love them? Listen and learn. Their likes and dislikes will help you slant future talks to engage your audience.

3. Determine who your audience is.

Steve mentioned his books are middle-grade fantasy. He might offer to talk at his grandchildren’s schools. He can discuss the writing process, where the inspiration comes from, how to world-build, etc. Teaching is not only fulfilling but offers students a different experience that opens new doors in their education. Last fall, Susan and I had a blast talking with junior high students about Nanowrimo.

4. Seek out book clubs and offer to speak to them.

Many are eager to meet the author. The book club atmosphere is less intimidating than an auditorium setting, offering a painless way to ease into public speaking, especially if wine is involved!

5. Use the buddy system.

Bring a pal. A friendly face in the audience is a big confidence helper. Start out addressing that friend as if the two of you are having a conversation. Once you overcome initial jitters then expand to eye contact with more people.

6. Tag team.

Do a joint presentation with another author. If you share a good rapport with your co-presenter, the audience picks up on that. Play off each other. Make the time fun and entertaining.

Photo credit: Visual Hunt

Here are the nuts-and-bolts practical tips:

7. Learn Power Point.

It’s an easy program that even non-geeks can figure out. Use lots of photos in the presentation. Audiences enjoy seeing locations of the story, maps of the protagonist’s journey, pictures of models who inspired the physical appearances of characters, etc. Even tables of information or fun facts are interesting.

Pictures serve two purposes: first, they provide visual stimulation to the audience; second, they take some of the pressure off you as the speaker since you’re not the entire focus of their attention.

8. Practice, practice, practice.

Time your presentation with a stopwatch.

While you’re speaking, advance the slides so the mechanics of talking and clicking at the same time become automatic. During the live presentation, you may need to return to earlier slides to make points or answer questions. Know the slide order so you don’t waste time madly clicking to find the right place.

9. Don’t wear pearls.

In my first presentation before a large group, I wanted to make a good appearance and dressed up with jewelry I didn’t normally wear. To my horror, every time I gestured, my pearl necklace clacked against the lapel mic. Lesson learned. Avoid dangling or noisy jewelry that interferes with the mic.

Wear comfortable, non-binding clothes. Practice in front of a mirror. Make sure you’re not flashing underwear as you gesture.

10. Dress rehearsal. Testing, testing, one, two, three.

We’ve all attended presentations where the display screen remains black as the speaker fiddles with slides. Next, he or she keeps asking, “Can you hear me?” The mic either stays silent or lets out an eardrum-splitting screech.

To avoid being that embarrassed speaker, visit the venue prior to the presentation. If possible, I go the day before. At a minimum, arrive 30 minutes early to work out the kinks. Don’t show up three minutes before your scheduled start and trust all will be well. It won’t be…guaranteed. 

Bring a muffin or latte for the tech person. He or she is your new best friend.

If you use your own computer, make sure the cords have the proper connections to hook up to the venue’s system.

If available, a better option is to put your Power Point on a thumb drive. That way you can test its compatibility with the venue’s computer.

Check out the audio options—podium mic, handheld, or lavaliere. Many devices are wireless but not all. Hook up the mic and figure out if you are tethered by wire or if you can walk around.

11. Tie your book talk into a topic of current news interest.

My recent thriller, Stalking Midas, deals with elder fraud–a charming but ruthless con artist preys on seniors and she’s not afraid to kill to get what she wants.

Elder fraud is a growing problem, affecting not only the victim but families trying to protect them. I created a public service talk based on the fraudster who bilked my adopted mother. The presentation included warning signs and tips to protect oneself and loved ones, connecting the subject to parallels in the novel.

The talk has been well-received by senior communities and I plan to branch out to service organizations.

Relating your book to a timely news event accomplishes two goals—you reach audiences beyond the narrow group of your target readers. It also takes the selling pressure off.

I have trouble asking people to buy my books. But if my talk gives them value because they learned something, it’s easier to say, “Oh, by the way, my books are for sale at the table in the back.”

12. Giveaway bonuses.

People love freebies. The prize doesn’t need to be large. Susan brings a bag of wrapped candies to her talks. When she asks questions, she tosses a treat to the person who gives the correct answer. That promotes fun interaction with the audience and loosens them up.

Incorporate a contest into your talk. The winner can be random (“Who has a birthday today?”) or it can be a reward for an audience member who asks a great question or shares a fascinating anecdote.

A signed paperback copy or a gift code for a free download of your book makes a memorable prize.

Generally, the more interaction a speaker has with the audience, the better received the presentation is.

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How about you, TKZers?

What scares you the most about public speaking?

Do you have a favorite tip to ease anxiety?

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M.C. Beaton and Debbie Burke

A memorial shout-out to Scottish-born author M.C. Beaton who passed away on December 30, 2019. She wrote hundreds of novels, from Regency romances to detective series. Her books have sold more than 21 million copies worldwide. Two of her characters, Hamish MacBeth and Agatha Raisin, inspired popular TV series.

I had the good fortune to meet this delightful lady in New York City in 2018. She is an inspiration to us late-blooming authors, proving age is no barrier and can, in fact, be an asset to successful writing.

Per a statement from her publisher Little, Brown: “She hated being referred to as a ‘cosy’ writer, saying that if anyone called her books cosy she’d give them a Glasgow Kiss.

Gotta love that spirit!

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Eyes in the Sky, book #3 in the series Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with a Heart by Debbie Burke, is now available for pre-order (publication date January 23, 2020) at this link.

 

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Everything Old…

Happy 2020! I ushered in the New Year by freefalling into a web research wormhole while educating myself on the subjects of archeology, astronomy, and physics. There are some startling and occasionally frightening discoveries being made in all three fields — particularly astronomy — but today we are going to discuss a recent announcement concerning the significant archeological discovery in Egypt of an illustrated book.

Some of you under the age of twenty may be saying, “Big deal! My grandfather has a first edition of The Watchmen!” I’m talking about something a bit older than that. The book which was discovered is The Book of Two Ways, a work that was well known to historians and archaeologists in its previous editions prior to this latest discovery. It was written as a guide for a deceased individual as they make their journey through the Underworld, with the “two ways” of the title being the options of making the journey by land or by water. The advice presented in the work included spells that could be cast in order that the deceased might ultimately achieve immortality.

What makes this discovery significant is that this edition of The Book of Two Ways, which is estimated to be approximately 4000 years old,  is considered to be the earliest known illustrated copy of the work to date. The location where the book was discovered is particularly interesting, given that it was inscribed on a coffin (rather than being bound or in scroll form) at an Egyptian burial site housing the remains of a woman named Ankh. 

Let’s think about this discovery in modern terms. We have 1)  a coffin dual-purposed as a Kindle 2) containing the first graphic novel 3) which is a distant ancestor of the AAA Travel Guide. With regard to #3, maybe considering The Book of Two Days to be the very first Lonely Planet guide would be more appropriate. Calling it a collection of life hacks due to the spells it contains, however, might be a bridge too far. Still, it makes one wonder whether time truly is a flat circle.

I seriously doubt that the author(s) of the recently discovered edition of The Book of Two Ways considered for even a moment that a few thousand years down the road the discovery of their work would be considered a major archeological event. It goes to show you never can tell. It might be unlikely but the story that you are working on, as humble as it may seem to you now, might get similar treatment. Keep that in mind. As our mothers used to tell us, you only get one chance — if you get a chance at all — to make a first impression. 

The in-depth discussions of this discovery are for the most part buried behind paywalls, but I have ever so thoughtfully provided you with a link to a fairly interesting article here if you should care to read more about this. I also offer a tip of the fedora to Egyptologist Harco Willems, who directed the expedition which led to this discovery. If I had been at the helm I would have discovered nothing but camel spiders and left immediately. 

So…what is the oldest book that you own? Mine is a copy of The Eclectic First Reader by W.H. McGuffey. What is yours? Thanks for stopping by. 

 

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Making Time To Write

 

By Elaine Viets
The cat needs to go to the vet, the repairman is coming at three to fix the light switch, and the dryer is making a shrill squeak. When am I going to find time to write with all these household demands?
This is the writer’s dilemma, and after 35 novels, I’m still coming to terms with it.
Here are some suggestions:
(1) Have a dedicated space to work.
I’m lucky to have an office in our condo, with a view of the Intracoastal Waterway. My husband, bless him, prefers a room with no windows. Don says windows are a distraction. I’d get claustrophobic in his office. The landfill pictured below is my desk.

If you’re serious about writing, you need a place to work. A writer friend with a small apartment uses her daughter’s bedroom while the girl’s away at college – my friend loses her space at Christmas and spring break, but otherwise she has a good writing space. Another has a small desk tucked in a nook in the hallway. A third writes at a kitchen desk. No matter how small it is, stake a claim to some space in your home. And when the going gets tough and you’re overwhelmed by noisy spouses and children, head for the coffee shop or local library.

(2) Know your most creative time.
I get most of my writing done between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. After that, I’ll still write, but my work often feels flat. My brain really sparks during those four peak hours. After that, it’s better for editing.
(3) Seize the time you have.
If your husband takes the kids to McDonald’s, don’t use that time to sort socks. Write!
Romance writer Joan Johnston wrote her way to the New York Times bestseller list by writing her novels between 4 and 6 a.m. – while the kids were asleep. Now, that’s dedication.
What if you have a sick spouse or ailing children – or you don’t feel so well yourself?
That’s where your own determination comes in. I’ve written novels by my husband’s bedside when he was in the hospital, and edited proofs for the next book while waiting to hear from the doctor when he was in surgery.
Am I Super Woman? Heck, no! But I can concentrate for short periods. Writing is a way to escape a painful or scary situation. It can be solace.

(4) Make time
Remember the words of that rabble-rousing journalist, Mary Heaton Vorse: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” You need seat time.
Try to schedule time-sucking activities after your peak writing time. If the cat isn’t deathly ill, make her vet appointment at 4:30 p.m. The repairman – if he deigns to show up – will start the repairs after your peak writing time. And for now, I’m ignoring the squeaky dryer.
Be ruthless when you write. Turn off your cell phone. Ignore the siren call of the internet, tempting you with cat videos, unanswered emails and Kim Kardashian’s latest lingerie photo. Use that time to write.

(5) A writer writes.
Make that your mantra.
I love being a writer. I enjoy talking to other writers at the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime meetings, and hanging out with other writers in the bar at conventions.
But writing is a lonely business. Eventually, I’m going to have to go to my office, all by myself, and write. You will, too. Good luck.

Pre-order A STAR IS DEAD, Elaine Viets’ newest Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery, here.https://www.amazon.com/Angela-Richman-Death-Investigator-mystery/dp/0727890166/ref=sr_1_1?crid=GSRN4WJRG8EV&keywords=a+star+is+dead+elaine+viets&qid=1578517051&s=books&sprefix=a+star+is+dead%2Caps%2C176&sr=1-1

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