Redux: Does Creativity Pass Through Generations via DNA?

With a deadline nipping at my heels, and losing two days to the holiday, I’m sharing a post I wrote in 2018. Still as fascinating today, IMO. Enjoy!

This video sent me down a rabbit hole of research.

As you can imagine, my writer brain lit up. Turns out, the research was even more fascinating than the video. A scientific study showed that a traumatic event could affect the DNA in sperm or eggs and alter the brains and behavior of subsequent generations. This breakthrough is an important discovery in the fight to treat phobias and anxiety.

Do you fear spiders, heights, or small spaces for no apparent reason? This may explain why.

Neuroscientists trained mice to fear a cherry blossom scent prior to copulation. While breeding these mice, the team at the Emory University School of Medicine looked at what was happening inside the sperm. Incredibly, the sperm showed a section of DNA, responsible for sensitivity to the cherry blossom scent, was indeed more active.

The mice’s offspring, and their offspring — the grand-mice, if you will — were all extremely sensitive to cherry blossom and avoided the scent at all costs, despite never experiencing a problem with it in their lives. They also found changes in brain structure.

In the smell-aversion study, scientists believe either some of the odor ended up in the bloodstream, which affected sperm production, or the brain sent a signal to the sperm to alter the DNA.

The report states, “Our findings provide a framework for addressing how environmental information may be inherited transgenerationally at behavioral, neuroanatomical and epigenetic levels.”

Environmental change can also critically affect the lifestyle, reproductive success, and lifespan of adult animals for generations. Exposure to high temperatures led to the expression of endogenously repressed copies of genes — sometimes referred to as “junk” DNA. The changes in chromatin occurred in the early embryo before the onset of transcription and were inherited through eggs and sperm. In mealworms, they traced the DNA changes through 14 generations.

Why mealworms? It’s quicker to test generation after generation on an animal with a short lifespan.

Another study showed that a mouse’s ability to remember can be affected by the presence of immune system factors in their mother’s milk. Chemokines — signaling proteins secreted by cells — carried in a mother’s milk caused changes in the brains of their offspring, affecting their memory later in life.

Memories are passed down through generations via genetic switches that allow offspring to inherit the experience of their ancestors. These switches, however, can be turned on and off, according to Science Daily. Scientists have long assumed that memories and learned experiences must be passed to future generations through personal interactions. However, this research shows that it’s possible for some information to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in DNA.

Creativity counts as a learned behavior, but I also believe it goes deeper than that. Think about how deeply you feel about your writing. For most writers I know, when we’re “in the zone” our soul does the writing. One could argue we’re merely vessels who type. Have you ever read a passage that you don’t remember writing? Our ability to create burrows into the core of who we are, and thus, leaves an indelible mark. How, then, can we not pass that part of ourselves to future generations?

How many of you have creative folks in your family tree, be it writers, artists, musicians, singers, or other forms of creativity?

To test my theory, I asked the same question to my fellow TKZ members. Please note: this revelation occurred to me yesterday, so I’ve only included the members who saw the email in time. Hopefully, the others will add their responses in the comments.

For those I did catch on a Sunday, check out what they said …

Elaine Viets said, “My late cousin Kurt was a talented wood carver, and my grandfather was known as a great story teller in the local saloons.”

I love wood-carved pieces. The smell, the texture, the swirl to the grain. It’s not an easy creative outlet to master.

Jordan Dane comes from a long line of creative people. Here’s her answer: “My paternal grandfather was a writer for a Hispanic newspaper. My dad was an architect and artist (painter), my older brother went into architecture too, specializing in hospital design. My dad is a real renaissance guy. He could sculpt, paint, draw and he has a passion for cooking. My older brother Ed and I share a love for singing. I sang in competitive ensemble groups. He played in a popular area band and has sung in barbershop quartets. My mom was the original singer in our family. She has a great voice.”

Joe Hartlaub has two talented children. Here’s what he said, “Annalisa Hartlaub, my youngest daughter, is a photographer. My oldest son Joe is also a highly regarded bass guitar player locally.”

He’s being modest. When I checked out Annalisa’s photographs on Facebook and Instagram they blew me away. A photography project she created at 15 years old also went viral.

When I prodded further, Joe added, “My maternal grandfather played guitar, but we never knew it until we came across a picture of him taken at a large Italian social club gathering where he was strumming away. He was in his twenties at the time. As far as the source of Annalisa’s talent goes…her mother is a terrific photographer. The conclusion is that Annalisa gets the form of the art from her mother and her creativeness from me.”

Laura Benedict stunned me with her answer. “Someone doing genealogy linked my maternal grandfather’s family to Johann Sebastian Bach.”

Talk about a creative genius!

Laura added, “I remember a few very small watercolors that I believe my maternal grandmother painted. Trees and houses. But while we were close, we never talked about art. My aunt also did some drawing.”

John Gilstrap also came from a long line of creative people. Here’s his answer…

“My paternal extended family has always been fairly artistic.  My grandfather, I am told–he died long before I was born–had a beautiful singing voice, and for a period of time worked whatever the Midwest version of the Vaudeville circuit was.  My father, a career Naval aviator, wrote the Navy’s textbook, The Principles of Helicopter Flight, and had two patents on helicopter cargo handling operations.  He passed away in 2006.

My brother, four years older than I, plays a number of instruments, but his primary proficiency is the piano.  His daughter is a very accomplished cellist who makes her living as the director of a high school orchestra that consistently kills at competitions.
Closer to home, my only musical talent is to be a passable tenor in the choir.  For years, I sang with a choral group that performed all over the DC area, including a number of gigs at The Kennedy Center.  As a high schooler, our son was a pretty good cellist, but he walked away from it in college and never really looked back.”

Although I wasn’t able to catch her in time, PJ Parrish is the sister team of Kris Montee and Kelly Nichols.

As for me, my maternal grandfather was a highly regarded artist (painter) in his time. My mother was a beautiful writer, even though I never knew it while she was alive. After she passed, I discovered notebooks full of her writing. UPDATE: In 2020, two years after I wrote this post, I found out she worked as an editor for many years.

So, can creativity be passed through our DNA? Judging by this small pool of writers, I find it hard not to entertain the possibility.

I’m betting the same holds true if I expand the test subjects to include you, my beloved TKZers. How many of you have creative folks in your family tree?

Wings of Mayhem by Sue Coletta

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When the cat burglar and the serial killer collide, HE looks forward to breaking her will, but SHE never gives up. Not ever. And especially not for him.

Negotiation Secrets for Writers

 

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

“Make him an offer he cannot refuse.”
Vector image CC BY 4.0

Whether you’re buying a car, arguing with a boss, or making a deal with your kids to do their homework, most interactions in life are negotiations. Each of us wants to get our own way.

Humans live in a constant state of imbalance, jockeying back and forth to gain the upper hand.

That usually translates into attaining power over someone else. That power can be immense or tiny.

Learning to exploit power imbalances is an effective technique for writers to ramp up the tension in fiction.

In most stories, one character has certain goals while another character has different, conflicting goals. That leads to negotiations between characters that can be physical, verbal, social, or psychological.

The goal can be large scale (world domination) or small scale (spouses arguing whether the toilet seat should be up or down).

One character usually starts out dominant; the other is in an inferior position and wants to rise to the superior position. Their struggle creates tension and suspense as the reader wonders who will prevail.

Each scene in a novel is a micro power struggle between characters. Those struggles can be shown in different ways:

  1. A character has superior knowledge, ability, or position that the other character attempts to gain.
  2. One character wants to control another.
  3. A character takes action that appears to mean one thing but actually means something different.
  4. A character’s dialogue is different from what they’re actually thinking.

Seller says: “I’m offering you a fabulous deal on this 911 Porsche.” Seller thinks: The price is ten grand higher than market but he’s salivating. He won’t leave without the car.

Buyer says: “Forget it. I won’t pay a dime over $$.” But Buyer thinks: I’ve always wanted a 911. If he comes down a grand, I’m snapping it up.

Boss says: “Management told me to cut expenses ten percent across the board including your salary.” Boss thinks: With three kids, she doesn’t dare quit. A ten percent cut means a bigger bonus for me.

Worker says: “That’s unacceptable. Besides, I have a better offer with a twenty percent increase and three weeks paid vacation.” Worker thinks: Can she tell I’m bluffing? What if she fires me?

Anyone who’s ever been a parent can fill in their own examples of negotiations with their kids!

In thrillers, mystery, suspense, sci-fi, and fantasy, typically the antagonist is stronger, richer, smarter, more ruthless, or more determined than the protagonist. The protagonist spends much of the story trying to keep from being squashed and defeated.

Character A may start out in control at the beginning of a scene but Character B has leverage because of superior knowledge or ability that reverses the power by the end of the scene. Then in subsequent scenes, A must scramble and come up with new strategies to regain control while B fends off efforts to topple him/her.

One of my favorite stories is O. Henry’s “Ransom of Red Chief,” first published in the Saturday Evening Post. [Note: some language from 1907 is no longer acceptable today]. It is a detailed blueprint of negotiation among characters who jockey back and forth for power. Demands are made. Counteroffers follow. Demands change, resulting in counter-counteroffers and counter-counter-counteroffers.

Here’s the story premise: Two ruthless criminals, Sam and Bill, decide to kidnap the only son of wealthy Ebenezer Dorset and hold him for a ransom of $2000. Surely Mr. Dorset will immediately cave into their demands and pay. Sam and Bill believe their scheme can’t lose.

When the redheaded ten-year-old victim beans Bill in the head with a brick, that physical act is the first hint of a potential power shift. Nevertheless, Sam and Bill are still in control as they subdue him and spirit him off to a cave hideaway.

However, in the cave, the kidnappers discover their hostage is a handful and they must maneuver to maintain physical and verbal control over him. Bill plays a game of make-believe with the boy, who’s dubbed himself “Red Chief.” In the game, Red Chief captures Bill and ties him up. Soon the kid “…seemed to be having the time of his life. The fun of camping out in a cave had made him forget that he was a captive himself.”

“Red Chief,” says I to the kid, “would you like to go home?”

“Aw, what for?” says he. “I don’t have any fun at home. I hate to go to school. I like to camp out. You won’t take me back home again, will you?”

We weren’t afraid he’d run away.

Although Red Chief remains their prisoner and no longer resists, he has verbally prevailed over Sam and Bill.

Red Chief’s physical harassment of them escalates. The kidnappers’ confidence begins to crack.

During the first night, Sam has a dream that illustrates Red Chief’s growing psychological power: “I had been kidnapped and chained to a tree by a ferocious pirate with red hair.”

Later, terrified screaming wakes Sam.

“Red Chief was sitting on Bill’s chest, with one hand twined in Bill’s hair. In the other he had the sharp case-knife we used for slicing bacon; and he was industriously and realistically trying to take Bill’s scalp.”

Red Chief’s attack demoralizes Bill who asks Sam, “Do you think anybody will pay out money to get a little imp like that back home?”

Their prisoner has taken psychological control of the situation.

Sam leaves the hideout and returns to town, expecting to find villagers in an uproar and frantically searching for the missing boy. He had anticipated the kidnapping would give the criminals social control over the community. Instead, all is calm. Their original premise, that Mr. Dorset will be desperate to get his son back, isn’t happening as planned.

Uh-oh.

Back at the cave, Sam finds Red Chief has further injured poor Bill. Sam tries to regain physical and verbal control.

I went out and caught that boy and shook him until his freckles rattled. “If you don’t behave,” says I, “I’ll take you straight home. Now, are you going to be good, or not?”

Red Chief appears contrite and apologizes. Sam believes he and Bill are back in the driver’s seat.

But the kidnappers’ determination falters when Bill, who can’t take any more abuse, begins to negotiate with Sam to reduce the ransom terms.

“…it ain’t human for anybody to give up two thousand dollars for that forty-pound chunk of freckled wildcat. I’m willing to take a chance at fifteen hundred dollars. You can charge the difference up to me.”

They agree to lower the ransom. Their foolproof, get-rich scheme is losing ground.

Next, Sam delivers the threatening note:

If you attempt any treachery or fail to comply with our demand as stated, you will never see your boy again. If you pay the money as demanded, he will be returned to you safe and well within three hours. These terms are final, and if you do not accede to them no further communication will be attempted. Two Desperate Men.

Although battered, the disheartened criminals are still holding onto their victim and believe Red Chief’s father will agree.

Instead, Mr. Dorset responds with a counteroffer:

I think you are a little high in your demands, and I hereby make you a counter-proposition, which I am inclined to believe you will accept. You bring Johnny home and pay me two hundred and fifty dollars in cash, and I agree to take him off your hands. You had better come at night, for the neighbours believe he is lost, and I couldn’t be responsible for what they would do to anybody they saw bringing him back. Very respectfully, Ebenezer Dorset.

With a classic O. Henry twist at the end of the story, Bill and Sam are out-negotiated. The kidnappers become the victims and must pay Mr. Dorset to take back Red Chief.

To incorporate negotiation in your own stories, ask these questions:

  1. What are each character’s goals?
  2. Which character is in a stronger position and which is weaker?
  3. How do they negotiate with each other to shift power to achieve their goals?
  4. Do they ask, plead, implore, barter, demand, or threaten?
  5. Do they slyly seduce their opponent? Or beat the snot out of them?
  6. Do they feign defeat to fool their opponent into dropping their guard?
  7. Do they bluff and posture, claiming strength or power they don’t actually have?

The more your characters negotiate with each other, the more the power shifts between them, raising tension and suspense. Readers turn pages to find out who wins. When you keep readers interested, they become fans who buy your next book.

Make your readers an offer they cannot refuse. 

~~~

TKZers: Please share negotiations and power struggles between fictional characters that made an impression on you. Use examples from published stories, films, or your own WIP.

~~~

Debbie Burke is making an offer you can’t refuse:

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Special price for Thanksgiving week only. 

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Killer Deadlines

By Elaine Viets

Throughout my writing career, I’ve lived by deadlines. I started as a newspaper reporter and then became a columnist, where I often had four deadlines a week – with no time off. When the holidays rolled around, I had to write my columns ahead of time. That meant six or even eight deadlines a week.
As a mystery writer, I still have deadlines, but the pace seemed easier. Newspapers moved swiftly, like a cold through a kindergarten. Publishing seemed slower than a Manhattan traffic jam.
At first, I wrote two novels a year. Now I’ve cut back to one a year.


No problem with deadlines, right?
Wrong. No matter how much time I have to write a novel, the last week is always jammed up.
This August 31, I turned in my new Angela Richman, death investigator mystery to my London publisher, Severn House. This time, I spent that final stretch writing twelve-hour days, trying to finish. As I read through the book, a straggling subplot had to be cut. Its crabgrass-like tendrils were deep in the book. I dug them out.
Errors popped up – difficult characters deliberately changed their hair color and didn’t tell me. One nasty customer gave himself two different names. Typos appeared out of nowhere.
As I struggled to finish on deadline, I wrestled with my recalcitrant manuscript. I could feel it squirming. It refused to settle neatly in place.
I read and reread it until my eyes were blurry. Finally, I pressed the button and emailed it off to London, hoping all was well. I couldn’t read the book one more time.
Exhausted, I slept for two days.
Then I waited and worried, my head buzzing with questions:
Would my editor like the new book? Would she want a rewrite? What if she rejected it?
Finally, I got a brief note two weeks later – that’s lightning speed for publishing. My editor was reading the manuscript and “enjoying it hugely.”
Whew. I felt so much better. What was I going to do while I waited?
I could write a short story. Clean off my desk. Answer my emails. Plot my next book.
I could do that, but I didn’t. I couldn’t get up the energy.
My editor didn’t like the working title, so I came up with a new one – “The Dead of Night.”
I didn’t do much else. I just need to lie fallow, I told myself. I was so fallow I was turning into a puddle of goo. I moped around my home. I’ll get my energy back soon, I thought.
Soon.
I got it back this Tuesday. My editor emailed me the copyedited manuscript. It needs some tweaking and a small rewrite. And I have one week to finish. It’s due next Tuesday.
Suddenly I was awake. Galvanized. Ready to work. I quit moping. I had a purpose.
Better yet, I had a deadline.

What about you, writers? Do you need deadlines?

PS: I’m also working under another deadline. Hurricane Nicole is heading this way, and I’m going to drag in the plants on the balcony. Wish us luck.

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I’m celebrating! My short story, “We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About,” in the anthology, “The Great Filling Station Holdup: crime fiction inspired by the songs of Jimmy Buffet,” edited by Josh Pachter, won Silver at the Royal Palm Literary Award.
Buy the anthology here: https://tinyurl.com/4nr7a9pm

Dream Hacking

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

The paranoid hairs on the back of my neck stood up when I read several articles by scientists from MIT, Harvard, and University of Montreal about emerging techniques for manipulating dreams.

Search engines are already scary-smart at reading our minds and predicting our behavior. Type a few letters into the search bar and instantly the rest of the word or phrase appears. Google is like a long-time spouse who finishes sentences for you.

Soon, similar mind reading may be extended into your dreams as you sleep.

Disturbing? Yup.

According to an article by Rob Pegoraro in Forbes.com, as a 2021 Superbowl promotion, Coors Beer offered people free beer in exchange for their participation in a study of “targeted dream incubation,” billed as “The World’s Largest Dream Study.” Subjects were shown Coors’s videos of snowy mountain views and crystal streams several times then fell asleep to the soundtrack of those ads.

Upon waking, the subjects reported dreams of waterfalls and being in snow. The most telling—and chilling—reaction of all came from one woman: “I think it was… something to do with… Coors.”

Subliminal advertising in commercials first became a hot topic way back in 1957. Marketer James Vicary claimed sales of popcorn and Coca Cola increased because of messages inserted into ads. The messages supposedly flashed so quickly the eye could not see them. He later admitted his study was a gimmick not supported by evidence.

According to Chron.com, consumer concerns prompted the FCC to issue a statement:

The FCC stated that all broadcasting licensees should not use subliminal advertising techniques because the techniques are deceptive, which runs counter to the purpose of the FCC. The statement is still on the FCC’s website as its stance on subliminal marketing.

Nevertheless, the concept caught on. This article from Business Insider cites examples.

Aboriginal cave painting-Jabiru dreaming
Photo credit: Wikimedia.com CCA SA-4.0

Dream manipulation is nothing new. Ancient peoples as far back as 5000 years and perhaps longer recognized the enormous power of dreams.

Cultures around the world, from Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and even remote isolated islands, developed practices to guide dreams toward a specific goal. Some goals included:

  1. Connection with a deity;
  2. Seeking solutions to problems;
  3. Overcoming traumatic events;
  4. Predicting the future.

To attain these goals, different rituals included:

  1. Rubbing ashes or paint-like substances on a person’s face;
  2. Eating raw flesh of a particular animal before sleeping;
  3. Inflicting pain, e.g. Native American Vision Quests;
  4. Going to sacred locations to sleep.

Today, many conditions, including anxiety, PTSD, poor school or work performance, eating disorders, etc., are commonly treated by using suggestions during sleep.

Here at TKZ, we frequently talk about how authors can solve story problems by using prompts before they go to sleep. Writers often dream their way through roadblocks.

Watch tracker
Photo credit: Wikimedia.com CC A-2.0

Technology already tracks our physical activity, heart rate, exercise, location, proximity to stores, and far more. Some years ago, while shopping for a new smartphone, I was shocked to find an app that monitored vaginal secretions. Whoa, guys, that is way too intrusive.

When such monitoring goes beyond the physical body and digs into the deepest recesses of the mind, the slope gets downright slippery.

What if a person’s dreams can be manipulated so businesses can profit from them?

With marketers now seeking high-tech ways to manipulate consumers in their sleep, concerned scientists are sounding ethical alarm bells.

In open letter signed by more than 40 scientists in June, 2021, Robert StickgoldAntonio Zadra, and AJH Haar wrote:

TDI [targeted dream incubation]-advertising is not some fun gimmick, but a slippery slope with real consequences. Planting dreams in people’s minds for the purpose of selling products, not to mention addictive substances, raises important ethical questions. The moral line dividing companies selling relaxing rain soundtracks to help people sleep from those embedding targeted dreams to influence consumer behavior is admittedly unclear at the moment.

Futurism.com says:

…it’s only a matter of time before tech companies that make watches, wearables, apps and other technology that monitor our sleep start to sell that data for profit, or use those tools to hack our dreams while we slumber.

Our dreams might turn into nightmares we can’t wake up from.

This technology opens a vast plot playground for authors of sci-fi, crime, and thriller writers to explore nefarious uses for dream hacking.

TKZers, please name books or films where dream manipulation is used.

How would you incorporate dream hacking into a plot?

Do you give yourself pre-sleep suggestions?

~~~

 

Debbie Burke’s books won’t hack your dreams but many reviewers say they keep them awake at night. Please check out Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion, for sale at this link

(Mis)Adventures at the Montana Book Festival

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

In September, my friend Cathy Raven was a featured speaker at the four-day Montana Book Festival in Missoula. Her first book is a nature memoir entitled Fox and I, about her friendship with a wild fox. It won the PEN award, among other honors.

Cathy and I met more than 20 years ago when we took a workshop from Tim Cahill, travel writer and founder of Outside Magazine.

After Cathy moved across the state, we lost touch but recently reconnected via Twitter. On Sunday morning, I drove 120 miles to Missoula for her festival talks and to congratulate her in person.

I’m somewhat acquainted with Missoula so I had an inkling about what was in store.

The streets of Missoula were originally laid out in the 1880s by feuding landowners who each wanted their own hunk of real estate to dominate. Diagonal “Slant Streets” were created for a proposed new town called South Missoula. But political maneuvering stymied the new town and slant streets were surrounded by parallel and perpendicular byways, as shown in this photo.

When drivers try to navigate the off-kilter convergence of Brooks Street, Russell Street, and South Avenue, they can thank (or curse) the early citizens who created the notorious Malfunction Junction.

As if diagonal streets and triangle-shaped blocks weren’t confusing enough, routes in Missoula are required to have more than one name—preferably three or four. Brooks Street is also Highway 93 and Highway 12, at least part of the time…until it changes.

Then there’s East and West Broadway. East Alder Street merges with East Spruce Street, which crosses North Second Street East, then eventually runs into West Greenough Drive. Throw in boulevards that are one-way part of the time and two-way other times. Add thoroughfares that dead-end in the Clark Fork River, or at the railroad tracks.

And there you have the mishmash of Missoula.

If Siri had accompanied me, I suspect she would have jumped off the Higgins Street Bridge and drowned herself in the river.

I had printed out several pages of Google maps and have a reasonably good sense of direction. Plus my rearview mirror has a nifty little built-in compass.

I rolled into town about 1 p.m. and missed the motel on Brooks Street because I stayed on 93 which is supposed to be the same as Brooks Street…except when it isn’t.

The Book Festival was at the four-story Missoula Public Library—a skyscraper by Montana standards. While cruising blindly along East Broadway, I happened to spot the towering glass library on the next street over. East Main is a one-way street that amazingly was going the right way.

Success!

Cathy’s phone went to voicemail so I had time to poke around. After the two-plus hour drive, I was glad to climb four flights of stairs to stretch out a bit.

On the top floor, an outside deck around the building featured 360-degree views of the city, rolling hills, and mountains. A volunteer at the book sales table gave me the schedule and, surprisingly, didn’t charge an admission fee, perhaps because it was the afternoon of the festival’s last day.

I peeked into several rooms where presentations were going on but didn’t see Cathy. Back down at street level, I happened to glance over at several people reading at a table.

There was Cathy, deep in her book and writing on a notepad, preparing for her talk.

We hugged like long-lost sisters and visited until she needed to get back to work on her talk.

Her panel was more than an hour later so I figured I’d try again to find my motel.

Missoula is home of the University of Montana. It has winding river walks, bike trails, beautiful historic buildings, and lovely old homes. I know because I saw all of those as I spent the next half-hour totally lost. 

The motel was to the south west but, Missoula streets being the way they are, you can’t get there from here.

My mirror compass said I was going the right direction but the street names (aliases, actually) didn’t jibe with Google maps. At last, I found the motel, hiding on a slant street not far from Malfunction Junction.

As I pulled into the parking lot, a woman was getting out of her car, putting a hardback book in her bag.

Turned out she was “Parker,” the evening desk clerk at the motel. We had talked the day before when she made my reservation over the phone.

She said she was an avid reader who spent lots of time at Barnes & Noble.

I told her I was a writer.

That admission is always a bit embarrassing because people’s eyes widen, they smile broadly, and shake your hand as if they’re in the presence of someone important.

We writers know better—the unglamorous reality is we wear sweat pants, sit hunched over computers all day long, play with imaginary friends, and make up stuff. Sane, normal people don’t do that.

Parker took my card, said she loved thrillers, and would look up my books. Cool!

After I checked in, she gave me clear, easy-to-follow directions how to get back to the library. Thanks to Parker, I arrived there in under 10 minutes. 

Cathy was on the so-called critter panel—authors who’d written books about wildlife including kingfishers, grizzlies, golden eagles, and Cathy’s Fox and I.

Despite many awards, stellar reviews, and glowing mentions in Time and People magazines, she’s suffering first-book jitters.

Cathy is Mensa-brilliant with a PhD in biology but also shy. She’s much more at home in nature than around people, even though she’s a professor who’s taught hundreds of students over many years.

Her wry, quirky humor quickly won over the audience. Without trying to be funny, she’s very funny.

After the panel, a lot of books by other authors remained on the table but Cathy’s sold out. She fretted about that until I reminded her that selling books was the whole point. Running out meant success.

People mentioned they had ordered multiple copies of her book as gifts.

Her solo talk was an even bigger hit, especially considering it was Sunday evening at 6 p.m. when most festival attendees had already left.

She described her solitary life in the Yellowstone Valley where she’d hand-built her home. As she did research on the area’s botany, weather patterns, and animal behavior, weeks would pass without speaking to another person.

However, a sociable red fox started showing up every day to visit the introverted, reclusive human. They forged an unconventional but close friendship. Trust developed to the point where Fox brought his four kits for Cathy to babysit while he went a distance away to take a nap.

At the end of Cathy’s talk, a woman in the audience presented her with a dazzling sunflower that looked too perfect to be real. But it was.

Dr. Catherine Raven

We headed out for dinner, assured by locals that Missoula has many great restaurants.

Few, however, are open on Sunday night.

For a college town, they roll the streets up early. After a half-hour quest, we found a place, enjoyed a good meal, and had a great catch-up visit.

But, following dinner, we lost our bearings roaming through the dark, deserted downtown and didn’t know how to get back to Cathy’s motel. We drove around looking for a familiar landmark or street name but found none.

Then we spotted a Missoula police cruiser parked alone on a street. I pulled to the curb in front of him and Cathy and I jumped out of the car to ask him directions.

In hindsight, that wasn’t a smart move. But, as a child, I’d always been told if you get lost, ask a policeman.

A young cop jumped out of his rig, talking rapidly into his lapel mic, wearing a wide-eyed deer-in-the-headlights expression. I’m not sure if he had his hand on his weapon because he was standing behind his open car door for cover.

Two women—old enough to be dangerous, from out of town, lost in Missoula, asking directions to a motel whose name we couldn’t remember but was near a McDonald’s—utterly befuddled this poor young cop. I’m sure he thought we were impaired even though we hadn’t had a drop or a toke.

He finally collected his wits (and probably heard back from the dispatcher that there was NOT an APB out on an old white Toyota Highlander with two female occupants). Still looking flummoxed, he managed to direct us to Broadway where we found Mickey D’s and the motel.

Cathy and I said goodbye, resolving not to let another 20 years go by without seeing each other. I headed for my motel on the other side of town.

By this time, I’d driven enough of the mysterious streets of Missoula to be fairly confident of finding my way back until…the southwest section of town went black.

A power outage shut down street lights, buildings, traffic signals, and the sign for the motel. For several blocks, I drove in total darkness except for my headlights. By luck, I spotted the motel just in time to turn into the shadowy parking lot.

In the office, two lanterns glowed. I had a flashlight but, rather than enter a completely black, unfamiliar room, I opted to hang out in the dim lobby with my new friend Parker. A couple of motel workers wearing headlamps checked the property and muttered about buying a generator.

The electric company’s text updates estimated the power would be restored by 9:30 p.m. It was now 9:45. The power had been off long enough that the computer battery backups in the office had run out of juice.

Parker said, before the power went off, she’d looked up my books. She wanted to read them but didn’t have cash with her and I can’t take credit cards.

We spent the next hour, shooting the breeze and solving the world’s problems. She gave me directions to Barnes & Noble, where I planned to go the next morning before heading home.

Finally the lights popped back on.

Whew.

The motel is independently owned, not a chain. Its tagline is “Nice rooms for nice people.”

I went to my room and thought about how nice Parker had been, giving me directions that carried me safely through Malfunction Junction. She’d kept me company during what could have been a nervous hour in an unfamiliar dark place.

I grabbed a copy of Instrument of the Devil (which, fittingly, is about a terrorist targeting the power grid), signed it, and gave it to her.

The next morning, I visited Barnes & Noble. The manager is very supportive of Montana authors, even independently published ones. She ordered a few copies and we talked about my doing a signing there next spring (they’re scheduled months ahead with author appearances).

Despite getting lost repeatedly, inadvertently scaring a cop, and surviving a power outage, the trip to Missoula was a success.

I reconnected with an old friend and watched her bloom as she talked to audiences about her book. I met a lady who gives better directions than Siri and Google Maps combined, whom I hope will become a fan. And I have a future book event to look forward to.

Not a bad day’s work for a writer.

~~~

TKZers: Have you ever gotten hopelessly lost but found a better reward than what you were originally looking for? Please share your wanderings in the comments.

 

Social Media, Blogging, and SEO Redux

Since I am on deadline and preparing to fly to Atlanta to film three episodes of a true crime series, I’m sharing my very first post on the Kill Zone from 2017. Has it been five years already? Seems like yesterday. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it. I’ll try to pop into the comment section at some point today. Please be patient! In the meantime, chat among yourselves.

Social Media, Blogging, and SEO Tips

Social Media, Blogging, and SEO tipsTo prepare for my first post as a TKZ member (yay!), I read all the social media posts on the Kill Zone (my little research addiction rearing its head :-)). Back as far as 2009, Joe Moore wrote Social Networking Showdown, which explored MySpace vs. Facebook, Shelfari vs. Goodreads, Crimespace, Gather, Bebo, LinkedIn, and the all-important email list. Even though some of these sites are nonexistent today, Joe’s advice still applies. And in 2011, he shared his perspective on using manners online. Which is critical these days.

The way we conduct ourselves on social media matters. Hence, why Jim made social media easy and why, I presume, Jodie Renner invited Anne Allen to give us 15 Do’s and Don’ts of social media as only Anne could, with her fantastic wit.

One year later, in 2016, Clare shared what’s acceptable for authors on social media and what isn’t. Jim showed us the dangers of social media, and how it can consume us if we’re not careful.

Through the years the Kill Zone authors have tried to keep us from falling into the honey trap of social media. Which brings me to the burning question Kathryn posed this past June: Writers on Social Media: Does it Even Make a Difference?

In my opinion, the correct answer is yes.

Working writers in the digital age need to have a social media presence. Fans expect to find a way to connect with their favorite author. How many of you have finished reading a thriller that blew you away, and immediately went online to find out more about the author? I know I have. It’s only natural to become curious about the authors whose books we love. Give your fans a way to find you — the first step in building an audience.

I’ve seen authors who don’t even have a website, never mind an updated blog. This is a huge mistake, IMO. It’s imperative to have a home base. Without one, we’re limiting our ability to grow.

BLOGGING

There are two types of blogging: those who blog about their daily routine and those who offer valuable content. Although both ways technically “engage” our audience, the latter is a more effective way to build and nurture a fan base.

When I first started blogging I had no idea what to do. I got in contact with a web design company (just like web design company Nashville) to help me get set up, and away I went! I’ve always loved to research, so I used my blog as a way to share the interesting tidbits I’d learned along the way. For me, it was a no-brainer. I’d already done the research. Writing about what I’d learned helped me to remember what I needed for my WIP while offering valuable content to writers who despise research (Gasp!). Over time my Murder Blog grew into a crime resource blog.

Running a resource blog has its advantages and disadvantages. Be sure to look into the pros and cons before choosing this route. When I first scored a publishing deal, I realized most of my audience was made up of other writers. The question then became, how could I attract non-writers without losing what I’d built?

My solution was to widen my scope to things readers would also enjoy, like flash fiction and true crime stories. Who doesn’t like a good mystery?

With a resource blog it’s also difficult to support the writing community. Book promos go over about as well as a two-ton elephant on a rubber raft. If you decide to run a resource blog, find another way to support your fellow writers. When one of us succeeds, the literary angels rejoice.

There’s one exception to the “no book promos” rule for resource blogs, and that is research. It’s always fun to read about other writers’ experiences. Subtly place their book covers somewhere in post (with buy link). That way it benefits both your audience and the author.

The one thing we can count on is that how-to blog changes with the times. A few months ago, my publisher shared a link to an article about blogging in 2018. Because she shared the article via our private group, I’m reluctant to share the link. The gist of article is, come 2018 bloggers who don’t offer some sort of video content will be left in the dust. Only time will tell if this advice holds true, but it makes sense. The younger generation loves YouTube. By adding a video series or a Facebook Live event we could expand our audience.

It’s time-consuming to create each video episode. Hence why I had several months in between the first two episodes of Serial Killer Corner. Our first priority must be writing that next book. However, consistency is key. Weekly, monthly, bi-monthly? Choose a plan that works for you and stick with it. There are many internet marketing experts who can help make your blog become successful.

SEO MATTERS

SEO — Search Engine Optimization — drives traffic to your website/blog. Without making this post 10K words long, I’m sharing a few SEO tips with added tips to expand our reach. In the future I could devote an entire post to how to maximize SEO. Would that interest you?

Tips

  • every post should have at least one inbound link and two outbound links; we highly recommend speaking to a digital marketing agency such as OutreachPete.com to get guidance on how to build these links.
  • send legacy blogs a pingback when linking to their site;
  • never link the same words as the post title or you’ll lessen the previous posts’ SEO (note how I linked to previous TKZ posts in the 1st paragraph);
  • use long-tail keywords rather than short-tail (less competition equals better traffic);
  • using Yoast SEO plug-in is one of the easiest ways to optimize a blog’s SEO;
  • self-hosted sites allow full control of SEO, free sites don’t;
  • remove stop words in the post slug (for example, see the permalink for this post); I’d also recommend removing the date, but that’s a personal preference;
  • drip marketing campaigns drive traffic to your site;
  • slow blogging drives more traffic than daily blogging (for a single author site);
  • consistency is key — if you post every Saturday, keep that schedule;
  • use spaces before and after an em dash in blog posts (not books);
  • use alt tags on every image (I use the post title, which should include the keyword); if someone pins an image, the post title travels with it;
  • link images to post and book covers to buy link;
  • white space is your friend; use subheadings, bullet points, and/or lists;
  • longer posts (800 – 1, 000 words min.) get better SEO than than shorter ones;
  • using two hashtags on Twitter garners more engagement than three or more;
  • protect your site with SSL encryption (as of this month, Google warns potential visitors if your site isn’t protected; imagine how much traffic you could lose?);
  • post a “SSL Protected” badge on your site; it aids in email sign-ups;
  • via scroll bar or pop-up, capitalize on that traffic by asking visitors to join your community, which helps build your email list;

THE 80/20 RULE

Most of us are familiar with the 80/20 rule. 80% non-book-related content; 20% books. My average leans more toward 90/10, but that may be a personal preference.

What should we share 80% of the time? The easiest thing to do is to share what we’re passionate about. When I say post about passion I don’t mean writing. Sure, we’re all passionate about writing, but I’m sure that’s not the only thing you’re passionate about. How about animals, nature, cooking, gardening, or sports?

One of the best examples of sharing one’s passion comes from a writer pal of mine, Diana Cosby, who loves photography. Every Saturday on Facebook, she holds the Mad Bird Competition. During the week she takes photos of birds who have a penetrating glare and/or fighting stance. On Saturdays, she posts two side-by-side photos and asks her audience to vote for their favorite “mad bird.” Much like boxing, the champion from that round goes up against a new bird the following week.

On Fridays, she posts formal rejection letters to birds who didn’t make the cut. With her permission, here’s an example:

Dear Mr. House Sparrow,

I regret to inform you that though your ‘fierce look’ holds merit, it far from meets the requirements for entry into the Mad Bird Competition. Please practice your mad looks and resubmit.

Sincerely,
M.R. Grackle
1st inductee into the Mad Bird Hall of Fame

 

It’s a blast! I look forward to these posts every week. As such, I’m curious about her books. See how that works?

My own social media tends to run a bit darker … murder & serial killers top the list, but I also share stories about Poe & Edgar, my pet crows who live free, as well as my love for nature and anything with fur or feathers. The key is to be real. Don’t try to fake being genuine. People see right through a false facade. Also, please don’t rant about book reviews, rejection letters, or anything else. Social media is not the place to share your frustrations.

As for soft marketing on social media, I like to make my own memes. It only takes a few minutes and it’s a great way to keep your fans updated on what you’re working on. In the following example I wrote: #amwriting Book 3, Grafton Series. I also linked to the series. Don’t forget to include a link to your website. The more the meme is shared, the more people see your name. Keep it small and unobtrusive. See mine in the lower-right corner?

Social Media, Blogging, and SEO Tips

In the next example, I asked, “What’s everyone doing this weekend? No words, only gifs.” Have fun on social media. The point is to engage your audience.

Folks love to be included. Plus, I genuinely want to get to know the people who follow/friend me. Don’t you? It doesn’t take much effort to make your fans feel special. Take a few moments to mingle with them. It’s five or ten minutes out of your busy schedule, yet it may be the only thing that brightens someone’s day. In a world with so much negatively and hatred, be better, be more than, be the best person you can be … in life and on social media.

Over to you TKZers. How do you approach social media?

On the Other Side of the Microphone

By Elaine Viets

I’ll admit it. Being interviewed terrifies me. I was a reporter for more than twenty-five years. When I have to sit on the other side of the notebook, or the microphone, my palms sweat, my throat is dryer than Death Valley and my knees go weak.
Recently, I had a TV interview in St. Louis that was painless. The reporter did her research, and she read my books – most interviewers don’t do that.
We talked about books, writing, research and more and it became a conversation. I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as I did.

Today, I’m traveling to the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Minneapolis. If you’re going to Bcon, please stop by my panel on 4:15 Saturday, September 10. It’s called “House of Cards: Power and Privilege: Power is everything . . . or is it? Like a house of cards, one false move causes everything to come crumbling down.”
You’ll see many of your favorite authors, including moderator Jason Allen, Joseph Finder, Vera Kurian, Rick Mofina, Hannah Morrissey. Oh, yeah, and me.

To Pay or Not To Pay – Book Reviews For Sale

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

“Fly-by-Night Book Reviews says, for $100, they’ll give me twenty guaranteed reviews. Should I try that?”

“I paid $500 to Pie-in-the-Sky Reviews. My book didn’t receive a single review.”

“You don’t dare pay for reviews—that violates Amazon’s terms and conditions. You’ll be banished.”

“Kirkus Reviews are the gold standard.”

“Ever since Kirkus started selling reviews, they lost all credibility.”

~~~

That’s a sample of the spirited responses and contradictory opinions on a recent Authors Guild discussion thread about whether or not to pay for book reviews.

I wound up thoroughly confused, pondering the following questions:

How much do reviews really matter?

Are there still “legitimate” book reviews? What defines “legitimate”?

Have reviews merely become another profit opportunity for vendors peddling them?

Do customers really believe Amazon reviews?

Do reviews increase sales?

Author Maggie Lynch

Multi-genre author Maggie Lynch participates frequently in AG discussions. Over years of reading her contributions, I’ve come to trust her knowledge, judgment, and analysis. Her data is carefully researched. She looks at publishing history from the long view and puts so-called new trends in perspective.

During this ongoing, weeks-long debate about book reviews, one day Maggie wrote: “Warning, I’m going on a bit of a rant.”

What followed was her essay that offered a fresh perspective and updated information about reviews that all authors can benefit from.

I asked if I could share her “rant” at TKZ and she kindly agreed.

Here’s what Maggie has to say:

Paid reviews have always been around, long before the advent of the Internet. Who do you think paid for placement in magazines, journals, and newspapers?

When a publisher buys an end cap display in a bookstore and provides potential review quotes for the store to post, isn’t that paid? If your book is featured on the front page of a major genre magazine, it gets attention. The magazine is going to do a review because you paid $2-$5K to be there.

All advertising is, in effect, paid reviews.

The only difference now is that there are more books, more online venues, and more authors willing to pay for ads, reviews, and all kinds of placement.

Once Amazon entered the online market, it became the focus of most authors. Not because it is the only distributor, but because it is the only distributor using sophisticated algorithms that are somewhat transparent. A number of analysts and programmers focus on Amazon algorithms and then share that information via their own book publications.

Whether you love or hate Amazon, it’s a great search engine. They understand data. They understand how to present the most likely options for getting a sale from a customer. IMO there is no other bookseller with programming that sophisticated.

If other major booksellers–Apple, Kobo, Google, the Big 5—had that same search and analysis capability, they would get more customers as well.

For myself, I have many reasons not to like Amazon. Yet, I give them props when they do well. If I want to find a book or learn more about an author, I’ll look it up on Amazon first because I know it will be quick with lots of information–including other books in the same genre, series, similar authors, etc.

I will likely end up buying the book somewhere else to support a local bookstore or another vendor, but I go to Amazon first.

Many people stay on Amazon because of that ease of use. Authors often believe (mistakenly in my opinion) that they only need to be on Amazon.

But…book sales are NOT Amazon’s primary business.

Only 10% of Amazon’s overall revenue is book sales.

Unfortunately, far too many people think they can game the system. I know hundreds of authors who spend more time trying to figure out how to get higher ranking on Amazon than they do writing books. It’s crazy.

Review factories have always been a part of the online book environment. When I first entered indie publishing in 2011, there were entire “review factories” in Asia where one could buy 100 reviews from “sock puppet” accounts. They were pretty obvious back then, poorly written, using similar phrases.

A couple of times, Amazon has cracked down on these practices–usually when it becomes obvious and egregious. But they usually do it through programming changes.

In the process, some books with legitimate reviews get caught in the net. When crackdowns happened in 2014 and 2018, many authors lost hundreds of reviews and waited months to have them reinstated.

[Note from Debbie: I know authors who simply gave up fighting and started from scratch all over again. Sad.]

Whenever Amazon makes a programming change to search out and punish fake reviews, those who make money on reviewing simply find a more sophisticated way not to get caught.

Algorithm watchers believe that instead of looking for and stopping these reviewers, Amazon is proactively changing the algorithm to counteract the sway of review farms.

Now reviews are weighted significantly less in the algorithm than they have been in the past.

Of course, no one knows how much less or what the criteria are, but it is something to consider. Because of that, authors who are focused on reviews simply pay more.

Authors consistently worry/believe that a high number of reviews (particularly on Amazon) means a high number of sales. That is not necessarily the case.

It is more likely that a high number of sales means a high number of reviews, UNLESS reviews have been supplied primarily by non-purchasers.

To evaluate this, look at the Top 100 bestsellers in Amazon. Many have ZERO reviews. Why? Because the book hasn’t been released and is selling on pre-order. What is creating those sales? Many factors that have nothing to do with reviews such as:

  • Advanced audience definition;
  • Pre-press ads, word of mouth, news, reaching out to fans;
  • Building anticipation for the book followed by a launch blitz that delivers on the promise;
  • ARCs to media and other reviewers (NetGalley, Edelweiss).

It may also be that Amazon never shows a lot of reviews for a particular book because the primary sales are on other sites, NOT Amazon. Many print books sell in bookstores, libraries, or direct from the publisher.

Reviews are not the answer to low sales. Do they help? Good ones do, those that provide information and key ideas to appeal to the audience you want. But the number of reviews does not necessarily correlate to sales.

The last good analysis I read about Amazon indicated there were more than 300 data points that are weighted in the sales and ranking algorithms.

THREE HUNDRED!

Where do reviews stand in that weighting? Not at the top. Probably not even the top 10.

The reality is the #1 weight is actual sales.

You have direct control of many other factors that guarantee more sales such as:

  • Create a fan base;
  • Write more books;
  • Identify your audience;
  • Deliver to their expectations with a consistent brand.

Of course, these take work and time. They can’t happen overnight.

But many authors want a fix right now, an easy button to push.

People always want an easy answer as to why their book isn’t selling better. They don’t want to accept the more likely reasons it’s not selling better.

The reality is the majority of the book reading public has fairly narrow interests.

 My fantasy fans rarely cross into SF. My SF fans almost never cross into romance. My Women’s Fiction fans don’t like anything else in fiction. My nonfiction readers rarely read fiction.

That’s just from my list of fans–a small number of 12K people. But the sample size is enough to extrapolate statistically.

Identifying the audience and creating a package that appeals to them on many levels is key. That package includes:

  • Excellent blurb that makes the reader want to learn more;
  • Great cover;
  • Appropriate pricing for the genre;
  • Look Inside/Preview pages that draw the reader in;
  • Advance praise from ARC readers that tells the reader what to expect and why they loved it.

Indie authors particularly get uptight about reviews—they can see the numbers go up and believe they can control that. Then they start paying for reviews because they believe more reviews equals more sales. But that is a false sense of control.

Where do you stop paying? Is 50 enough? How about 100?

I now see books with over 100K ratings. Are you kidding me?

 The get-more-reviews game is one you can’t win because:

  • You likely don’t have the budget for big PR or marketing campaigns;
  • You can’t compete against contacts that big publishing houses have.

Amazon’s own imprints publish roughly 1,000 books a year, making it as large as the Big 5 publishers.

Amazon controls all the data and knows the sales information. They can certainly tweak the metadata as needed to drive sales within their algorithm. Other publishers can do this too, if they know how and employ people to do it. Most don’t, not even the Big 5.

What can the average author do to compete?

First, do not accept Amazon as the arbiter of books or literature.

They are not. Don’t become one of those authors–and some small publishers– who have bought into the Amazon way of book sales–low pricing, multiple promotions, exclusivity.

Small publishers and indie authors have given Amazon all this power yet selling books is less than 10% of Amazon’s revenue. 

Second, you can shout and bring bad practices to the fore.

Point it out and most of all DO NOT PARTICIPATE in the bad practices yourself.

We can’t let our avarice, our immediate desire for an easy-button solution, give us permission to game the system, pay for reviews, tell lies, or buy hundreds of print books to try to make the bestseller list.

If few authors engage then it will become evident that no one can make good money off of these deals. 

Third, expend your energy in engaging with actual readers.

Build your mailing list, blog or use some other social media that you like to keep your readers informed.

Outside of your next book, the biggest asset is YOUR readers—people who have already voted with their dollars and their time to buy and read your book. Once they already read and like your book, they want more—more about you, more about upcoming books.

  • They will tell their friends
  • They will write reviews;
  • They will volunteer to read ARCs in the future;
  • They will post to social media;
  • They will talk to libraries about carrying your book.

Your readers are your biggest asset.

 ~~~

Thank you, Maggie, for sharing your perspective and wisdom with TKZ!

Maggie reaffirmed my belief that time is best spent writing more books.

However, that doesn’t lessen my gratitude to readers who make the extra effort to write reviews!

~~~

Learn more about Maggie Lynch and her 26 books at her author website.

Check out her free video course about Why Books Don’t Sell. It covers the basics of putting together a good package for your book and buy pages with vendors.

On that same POV Author Services site she has many blogs just for writers about both business and technology, as well as mental health and philosophical writing concerns.

~~~

TKZers: What is your experience with reviews? Have you ever paid for reviews? Do you think they helped your sales?

Telepathy and Writing

Deep down each of us have a strong but underused connection to the world around us.

Consider the time when you sensed someone watching you, even if you couldn’t see them. Or the gut feeling, telling you something significant was about to happen. Or the intuitive, instinctive feeling that gave you the name of the person on the other end of the line before checking the caller ID.

If we learn how to tap into this sixth sense, we begin to notice when someone—dead or alive—is thinking about us, even when we’re physically apart.

Telepathic communication explains why, when you randomly thought of a friend and she texted you the next day. Or that time when you spontaneously called your third cousin, and he said, “Oh em gee, I was just thinking about you!”

Writers are especially attuned to the “little voice” inside us.

Some are more intuitive than others, but we all have an underutilized sixth sense. Once we learn its power and how to use it, new doorways open up, doorways that enhance our writing.

The more we open up to the possibility of telepathy, the more we’ll start to notice the messages from our spirit guides and ancestors, and the synchronicities or coincidences that have always been present in our lives.

The Natural World thrives on telepathic communication.

An animal’s survival depends on it. If you’ve ever wondered how one species warns another about potential threats, telepathy answers this question. And humans — as members of the Natural World — can tap into that same energy.

The notion of telepathic communication first intrigued me as a way to chat with animals, wild and domestic. Because when we watch and listen to animals, they help us reach our full potential. Animals enrich the mind, body, and soul. They’re sentient, intuitive beings who communicate with us in many ways. Body language, vocals, and telepathy, whether we’re cognizant of it or not.

Think about this: Most animals know more about their environment than you or I ever will.

An intuitive exchange with any animal — cats, dogs, guinea pigs, crows — begins the same way. First, with physical body cues. Then with the silent language of love.

So, how can we telepathically communicate with animals?

Step 1: Rest your hands over your heart and practice deep breathing exercises.

Step 2: Once you’re relaxed, pay attention to your heart, to your soul, and feel the gravity of your love for the animal.

Step 3: Express your love for that animal by visualizing a soft beam of light, a tether connecting the two of you.

Step 4: Silently or vocally ask the animal for permission to telepathically communicate with them.

Step 5: If you don’t sense any reluctance, express how you’re open to receiving messages in return. Keep it light in the beginning and progress deeper once you build trust, confidence, and strengthen your bond.

Keep in mind, animals live in the moment. They’re not distracted by the phone, the to-do list, or regret. And so, you must also be in the present moment to connect with them.

The only obstacle is you.

Trust the flow, the energetic pulse of life. Align with, not against, this flow. By blocking out all distractions, the energy exchanges between you and animals will occur effortlessly. You are in the present, anchored by love and grace, and coming from a place of neutrality. You are part of the Natural World, connected across space and time.

The same principals apply to human-to-human telepathic communication. Both parties must be willing participants. Don’t use this life skill for evil (unless you’re targeting fictional characters).

Remember These Three Simple Truths

  1. We are all part of divine consciousness.
  2. Love creates alignment with all creation.
  3. We all have the ability to listen with our heart.

When we refocus on lowering the frequency of emotions — fear, self-doubt, anxiety — we raise our cognition, enhance the vibration of our energy, we align with nature. Animals are drawn to bright inner lights, and therefore will be enthusiastic about communicating with you.

That’s all well and good, Sue, but how does that help our writing?

Glad you asked. 😉

In On Writing, Stephen King provides the perfect example of telepathy and writing.

“Telepathy, of course. It’s amusing when you stop to think about it—for years people have argued about whether or not such a thing exists—and all the time it’s been right there, lying out in the open like Mr. Poe’s The Purloined Letter. All the arts depend on telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing offers the purest distillation.”

What does the quote mean?

The best way to think about writing is the process of transferring a mental image from your mind to the mind of a reader. As writers, we envision scenes, settings, characters, etc. Our job is to transfer that mental image to the page for the reader to experience later.

Sounds a lot like telepathy, doesn’t it? Because it is!

Hence why writing coaches tell us to envision our ideal reader, carrying that image with us while writing. The trick is learning what images to include and what to leave out. Hint: Less is more.

Want to hear something bizarre?

While writing this post in Word, the document kept disappearing. One second it’d be on my screen, gone the next. And I had three other documents open at the time. The other two stayed on the screen. Coincidence? You tell me.

Releases tomorrow! Preorder on Amazon for $1.49 before my publisher raises the price.

She may be paranoid, but is she right?

A string of gruesome murders rocks the small town of Alexandria, New Hampshire, with all the victims staged to resemble dead angels, and strange red and pink balloons appearing out of nowhere.

All the clues point to the Romeo Killer’s return. Except one: he died eight years ago.

Paranoid and on edge, Sage’s theory makes no sense. Dead serial killers don’t rise from the grave. Yet she swears he’s here, hungering for the only angel to slip through his grasp—Sage.

With only hours left to live, how can Sage convince her Sheriff husband before the sand in her hourglass runs out?

 

 

 

Reading Is a Luxury

Photo credit: emmanuel ikwuegbu – unsplash.com

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

In the US, 130 million adults read below sixth grade level.

Shocked?

Me, too.

But, according to the US Department of Education, 54% of people ages 16-74 fall into that category.

Most writers take reading for granted, as automatic and effortless as breathing.

I certainly did…until I couldn’t.

Recently I had cataract surgeries in both eyes, three weeks apart. Those three weeks of limbo slapped me in the face with the realization how much I depended on reading just to get through the day.

Because of myopia, I’ve worn glasses since sixth grade. Over time, my nearsightedness worsened to the point where I couldn’t even see the big E on the eye chart.

True story: without glasses, I once mistook a dark brown house for a UPS truck.

For the past couple of years, increasingly strong prescriptions could no longer fix the problem. Near or far, my world was blurry.

Hence, cataract surgery was the only option.

Ten minutes under the scalpel implanted a new lens that almost instantly corrected vision in the left eye to 20-20.

An absolute miracle!

But my right eye was still 20-800. Objects were clear up to about four inches away, then faded in fog.

My wonderful 20-20 left eye could see hundreds of feet away but not up close.

I was cockeyed. (Some people say that’s nothing new!)

The optician tried popping out the left lens in my glasses but that turned out to be as disorienting as five shots of tequila.

For computer work and reading, I was non-operational.

After surgery, physical restrictions included no bending over, lifting, or strenuous activity.

No vacuuming? No problem!

But that also halted my regular exercises like gardening, Zumba, and air boxing. Thankfully, walking was okay.

That made me realize reading and/or writing normally occupied 12-14 hours of each day. How could I get any work done?

There are free-standing magnifiers for computer screens but $100+ was too much of an investment for three weeks’ of use. Dollar Store readers helped a bit but soon caused eyestrain.

Photo credit: lilartsy – pexels

A pirate patch and magnifying glass worked marginally but awkwardly.

This would have been the perfect opportunity to try audiobooks…except I couldn’t read how to download them.

From across the room, I could clearly see the spines of books on my TBR pile but I couldn’t read the insides.

Driving was allowed but, when I took the car for service, I couldn’t read the repair list and invoice. The bank’s ATM screen was a blur. So were price stickers on supermarket shelves—probably just as well not to see how much they’d gone up since the week before!

The list goes on and on: product labels, instructions, on/off switches for appliances, texts on the phone, cable connections like audio, video, auxiliary.

I couldn’t even read the directions on the various bottles of eyedrops I had to use multiple times each day.

Most every task in life required reading.

How does someone who can’t read or reads at a low level navigate through today’s world?

According to the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy:

To read a driver’s license manual, you need to have a sixth-grade reading level. To hold a job as a cook: seventh-grade level. Directions on an aspirin bottle: eighth-grade level. Understanding frozen TV dinner instructions or to get a job as a mechanic or supply clerk: ninth-grade level. Newspapers: high school level. Apartment lease: college.

Let’s not even talk about filling out a tax return.

The Foundation’s 2021 report reveals staggering statistics that cause economic, social, and health deficits.

The U.S. could be losing up to $2.2 trillion—or 10% of GDP—in economic growth due to low adult literacy rates.

  • The existing gap in digital literacy skills could cause 76% of Black individuals and 62% of Hispanic individuals to be shut out or under-prepared for 86% of jobs in the U.S. by 2045.
  • Low-literate adults are four times more likely than others to report low levels of health, requiring hospitalization and using emergency services at significantly higher rates.

 

Per the Governors’ Early Literacy Foundation:

Illiteracy and crime are connected. The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure. Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.”

This recent experience made me appreciate that reading is a luxury not everyone has access to. People who can’t read are doomed to a life of struggle and frustration.

Processed By  ImageMagick,

 

Remember Henry Bemis from The Twilight Zone? He found himself in a post-apocalyptic world where he rejoiced in the newfound luxury of unlimited reading…until his glasses broke.

Unlike poor Henry, my inability to read only lasted three weeks and ended with a miracle of new vision.

 

 

My world no longer looks like an Impressionist painting. I can see individual leaves on trees, blades of grass, street signs (oh, that’s where I was supposed to turn).

The gift of improved sight is incredible.

But the gift of being able to read again runs a close second.

 

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Thanks to Kay DiBianca who introduced me to the worthy nonprofit Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

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TKZers: How would your life change if you couldn’t read? What is your most important reason for reading?

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Cover image by Brian Hoffman

 

 

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