A New Trick for an Old Dog

A New Trick for an Old Dog
Guest Post from Joe Hartlaub

As you read this, I was supposed to be somewhere in Antarctica. However, the best laid plans … (Details at the end of this post, if you’re interested.) I’m delighted that Joe Hartlaub had agreed to cover one of my scheduled posts, and I’m not going to cdeprive you of his words of wisdom simply because I’m in town. I hope the arm I twisted to get him to appear has healed by now. To regulars here at TKZ, he needs no introduction. Joe, the stage is yours.

Photo by Jakob Rosen, Unsplash

Good day. I am, thanks to Terry Odell, momentarily back on the side of the TKZ equation that I inhabited for quite some time. Terry graciously asked me to perform the nigh-impossible task of filling in for her while she traverses the Antarctic. I hope you’ll join me in wishing Terry a safe journey and return.

I am writing this during the early days of 2022. My practice when I transition from the end of one year to the beginning of another is to take stock of myself by deciding what the best thing was that I did during the preceding year. It is a subjective call, of course. Sometimes it takes me a while to suss it out, and not always because there are a plethora of choices. 2021 was different.

I have for several years told S., my granddaughter, that if she ever found herself in a bad situation and could not reach her father she should call me 24/7/365. I promised her that I would either do a “one riot, one Ranger” act or send the cavalry if I could not come myself. She called me in 2021, a few minutes after midnight on Sunday, September 12. She had gone to Cincinnati with the family of one of her girlfriends. I won’t go into great detail other than to say that what was supposed to have been a fun weekend at a Dead & Company concert and a night at a downtown hotel went FUBAR. S. instead found herself sitting in a van on a concert facility parking lot after midnight in a city she had never previously been to, about two hours away from home. Her dad was working and couldn’t be reached. She accordingly called me.

I was backing out of my driveway a few minutes after receiving her call. I hadn’t gone to bed after having been up since 5 AM the previous morning taking happy birthday calls and answering good wishes. A quiet internal voice of self-doubt asked me if, having just turned age 70, I was up to the task.    It had been quite a long time — years, decades actually — since I had been pulled an all-nighter for any reason. Another internal voice —this one much louder — quickly reminded me of some wisdom imparted by Brother John Gilstrap in this space several years ago: when failure is not an option, success is guaranteed. The voice of self-doubt slipped away, though it still muttered in the background for a few miles.

A number of scenarios of the “if this, then that/Plan B” sort kept skipping across my imagination as I drove south on I-71. Staying awake and attentive was accordingly not a problem. Keeping to the speed limit was, but I forced myself to utilize cruise control. Traffic on the interstate was almost non-existent and there was little to distract me otherwise.

I arrived at a parking lot at the outskirts of the Queen City — just a few miles from the house where my father was raised in Covington, Kentucky  — two hours and an eternity later.  S., looking all of fourteen going on twenty-seven, was standing under a light looking a bit stunned but okay. I got out of my car and we looked at each other for a moment. I don’t think that anyone in my entire life had ever been happier to see me. I embraced her as she sobbed and said, “You came.” “Of course,”  I said. “I promised I would.” The individual responsible for the situation was standing nearby, wisely out of arms-length. He looked surprised as well. I think he was under the impression that I wasn’t coming.  I learned then that I had finally reached the age where wisdom had taken hold, a new trick for an old dog. Twenty or even ten years ago I might have administered some swift and rough justice. The present me simply glared at him as I held the car door for my granddaughter. A couple of minutes later I started to retrace the trip I had just made, leaving the instigator standing in the lot like the lost soul that he was and is.

Photo by Adam Mescher, Unsplash

Ohio is almost entirely rural for eighty miles or so between Kings Island Amusement Park north of Cincinnati and the lights of the warehouses and auto malls in suburban south Columbus. We were blessed with a dark but clear night. A sprinkling of stars lit the way through what looked like an endless tunnel. S., a city kid, had never seen a sky tableau that black. I alternated between pointing out some constellations and listening as she told me everything that had happened and what had led to her calling me. It was frightening for her, but the worst of it was some emotional damage inflicted by an adult she had trusted. Her account of the night was soundtracked by Alice in Chains, The Police, Nirvana, and a bit of Slipknot as we repeatedly passed and were passed by a three-car convoy, the drivers eyeing us suspiciously each time we went by each other in the very early morning as the pitch-colored sky ahead became lighter by minute degrees.

I asked S. as we approached the lights of Columbus if she were hungry. “Yes,” she said, “but I can wait until we get home.”

I let a beat go by. “Sheetz (a chain of fast-food restaurants disguised as gas stations) is open.”

“It IS?!” she said. Her excitement was a good sign. We drove to the one closest to my home and spent a half-hour inside before exiting with a large bag full of goodies, none of which will ever be found on a list approved by WW. Sheetz, let it be known, makes everything better. By the time we got home around 6 AM, everything was either good or getting there.

So. I had the opportunity to keep a promise and kept it while stopping a bad situation from possibly coming much worse, perhaps irrevocably so. I was able to exercise good judgment and made a nodding acquaintance with its cousin restraint. S.  learned several lessons, chief among them being that there are people in her life (in addition to her father) who will keep their promises to her, just as she needs to be dependable and keep her own promises to herself and others. She also received a couple of instructions in astronomy. I learned for my part that a promise kept to a loved one is not an obligation, a duty, or a requirement. It’s a privilege. An act of love may not make up for a legion of sins committed over the course of a lifetime but the multitude it covers will make a dent.

Lessons here? Sure. Show up every day, every minute. When you make a promise to write and you don’t do it you are letting yourself down, not to mention whoever would have benefited in however many ways by reading your efforts. You’re never too old to start until it’s too late. It’s not too late today.

Thank you for reading this far and not turning away when you realized that Terry would be absent. In the meanwhile…what is the best thing that you did in 2021 that you care to share?

Why is Terry in Colorado, not Antarctica? Read it here.


Joe Hartlaub is a contributor emeritus to The Kill Zone. He is an attorney, author, actor, consultant, and raconteur with over forty years of experience in causing and solving problems. Joe lives in Westerville, Ohio, where he rattles with purpose around his house.

 

Reindeer Fun

The holiday season is a hectic time, with planning the perfect family celebration, shopping for gifts, decorating the house, inside and out, and mailing cards.

Many have stopped the tradition of sending holiday cards. For me, there’s something so special about peeking into the mailbox to find a card. It means someone took the time to wish you happy holidays, trekked down to the Post Office, or raised the tiny red flag on their mailbox to signal outgoing mail. It’s a beautiful tradition that I fear new generations will let slip away (along with cursive handwriting). I love the holiday season, the frigid temps thawed with magic, possibilities.

With the frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I thought I’d share 10 fun facts about reindeer, originally posted on my blog in 2018.

1. A Reindeer By Any Other Name is Still a Reindeer

In some regions of the world, Reindeer are called caribou. In North America reindeer refers to Eurasian populations and caribou refers to wild populations

2. Reindeer Belong to the Cervidae Family

Reindeer — aka Rangifer Tarandus — have 14 subspecies, including deer, elk, moose, and wapiti. All Cervidae have antlers, hooves, and long legs.

3. Girls Can Do Everything Boys Can Do

Reindeer are the only species of deer in which both males and females grow antlers, and they grow a new set every year. Male antlers can grow up to 51 inches long and weigh up to 33 pounds. A female rack can grow up to 20 inches long.

According to the San Diego Zoo …

Antlers are the reindeer’s most memorable characteristic. In comparison to body size, reindeer have the largest and heaviest antlers of all living deer species. All antlers have a main beam and several branches or tines that grow from the frontal bones of the skull. Sometimes little branchlets or snags are also present. The tip of each antler is called a point. Unlike horns, antlers fall off and grow back larger every year.

As new antlers grow, the reindeer is said to be in velvet, because skin, blood vessels, and soft fur cover the developing antlers. When the velvet dries up, the reindeer rubs it off against rocks or trees, revealing the hardened, bony core.

 

4. Santa’s Reindeer Must be Female

Since males grow antlers in February and females in May, they both finish growing antlers at the same time. But male and female reindeer shed antlers at different times of the year. Males drop antlers in November, leaving them antler-less till the spring. Female reindeer keep antlers through the winter months. They’re shed when calves are born in May.

Thus, since Santa’s reindeer all have antlers, he must have an all-female team. ?

5. Males are From Mars, Females are From Venus

Male and female reindeer use antlers in different ways. Males wield them as weapons against potential predators. They also showcase impressive racks to woo females. Although females also war with these handy weapons, they mainly use antlers to clear snow while foraging for food.

6. Reindeer Come in a Variety of Colors

Depending on the subspecies, region, sex, and even the season, reindeer fur ranges from dark brown in woodland subspecies to nearly white in Greenland. A reindeer’s coat is dark in the summer, light in winter.

Reindeer have two coats:

  • an undercoat of fine, soft wool right next to their skin
  • a top layer of long, hollow guard hairs

The air trapped inside the guard hairs hold in body heat to keep the animal warm against wind and cold. The hollow hair help the reindeer float, which aid them in swimming. Did you know reindeer could swim?

7. Adorable Furry Hooves

A reindeer’s furry hooves give the animal an advantage when walking on frozen ground, ice, mud, or snow. Spongy footpads help them strut through marshy fields. In the winter, the hooves harden to dig into ice or snow while anchoring the reindeer from slipping.

When a reindeer swims, their broad, flat, two-toed hooves allow the animal to push water aside. They even have a dewclaw which acts as an extra hoof to assist in climbing rugged terrain.

8. The Nose Knows

A reindeer’s specialized nose helps to warm incoming cold air before it hits their lungs. Like dogs, their super sniffer can find food hidden under snow, locate danger, and recognize direction. Reindeer are the only subspecies of deer to possess a furry nose.

9. Herd Life

Reindeer hang in herds. Not only are they safer from predators but they’re social animals, chatting among themselves with snorts, grunts, and hoarse calls, especially during mating season. Calves bleat to call their mother.

Reindeer travel, feed, and rest in a herd of 10 to 100s. In the spring, reindeer may even form super herds of 50,000 to 500,000. These super herds follow food sources, traveling up to 1,000 miles during harsh winters.

10. Catch Me If You Can

During migration, reindeer cover 12–34 miles per day and can run at speeds of up to 50 mph. Even a day-old calf can outrun an Olympic sprinter!

Hope you enjoyed these reindeer facts. Which one is your favorite?

Monday Tips and LOLs

I should’ve had a first page critique for you today, but it’s my birthday, you see, and I gave myself the gift of time. By that I mean, rather than juggle nine million tasks, I spent an uninterrupted Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning inside my fictional world (except for a quick trip to TKZ to read Rev’s top-notch advice about agents and JSB’s superb first page critique). Sunday afternoons I reserve for football. 😉

Most of last week I spent redesigning my website and Murder Blog. Then tweaked it to death in between working on the WIP, engaging on social media, marketing, newsletters, virtual events, updating email subscribers and SEO, etc. etc. etc. So, allowing myself to pull away from it all, crawl into my writer’s cave, and block out the world freed my soul.

Today’s dedicated to birthday shenanigans. If the sun parts the storm clouds, Bob and I will head to one of my favorite places—Squam Lakes Natural Science Center—for a relaxing stroll through the wildlife trails. It’s the simple things in life that bring the most joy. Don’t you agree?

I’ve got two writer tips to share, then let’s party with a few Monday morning laughs. Sound good? Cool, let’s do this…

NEWSLETTER TIP

If someone Unsubscribes from your email list, be sure to Archive their name. Mailchimp and other email providers still charge you whether or not that person ever receives another newsletter. You’re billed for Contacts, not Subscribers. Technically, the person who Unsubscribed is still considered a Contact. They can’t charge for Archived Contacts.

WEBSITE/BLOG TIP

Poor SEO (Search Engine Optimization), an outdated design, lost backlinks, broken links, and/or a slow or unresponsive website theme murders organic traffic. If bot crawlers aren’t happy, they might skip your site, and all the years you’ve spent writing content will be wasted. Did you know most people read blogs on handheld devices? I am not one of them, but the experts swear it’s true.

ZOOM TIP

HOUSEHOLD TIP

Umm, about five minutes ago. Did you know this?

UNEXPECTED OBSERVATION

SAD, BUT TRUE

WRITER PROBLEMS

I plead the fifth, Your Honor. 😉

AND MY PERSONAL FAVORITES

Who can relate?

Feel free to steal any of these for your social media. Hope you have an amazing week!

via GIPHY

What Do Apes, Humans, and Koalas Have in Common?

While researching an unrelated topic last year, I found a cool tidbit and tucked it away (as I often do) to use in a story someday. Since I doubt I ever will, perhaps one of you can put this research to good use.

First, a question.

What do you think is a forensic investigator’s worst nightmare?

Did anyone guess a cute ’n cuddly koala? No? I didn’t think so. In all fairness, I would never have guessed it either, but the koala could keep investigators on their toes. I’ll tell you why in a minute.

Apes & Chimpanzees

As children, we’re taught apes and chimpanzees are our closest living relatives. The similarities are obvious. No one can stare into the eyes of these gentle beings and deny their humanity. Both animals also have astonishing intelligence.

Remember Koko?

Koko, the western lowland gorilla that died in her sleep in 2018 at age 46, stunned researchers with her emotional depth and ability to communicate in sign language. She garnered international celebrity status with her vocabulary of more than 1,000 signs and the ability to understand 2,000 words of spoken English.

National Geographic magazine featured Koko on its cover twice. First in October 1978, with a selfie Koko snapped in a mirror. Then in January 1985, when National Geographic ran a story about Koko and her pet kitten.

“Because she was smart enough to comprehend and use aspects of our language, Koko could show us what all great apes are capable of: reasoning about their world, and loving and grieving the other beings to whom they become attached,” Barbara King, a professor emerita of anthropology at the College of William and Mary

In addition to language, Koko’s behavior revealed human emotions. She also seemed to have a sense of humor, and even a bit of playful mischievousness, as portrayed in this video of Koko and Robin Williams.

There’s no denying the human qualities of apes and chimps. But did you know a koala’s fingerprints are so similar to humans the Australian police once feared they’d cause confusion at crime scenes? It’s true.

Similar confusion occurred in the UK during a time when unsolved crime was at an all-time high. In fact, in 1975, British police raided the ape houses at London and Twycross Zoos. According to The Independent, the police targeted “Half a dozen chimpanzees and a pair of orangutans.”

The objective was to fingerprint these animals, partly because the UK police referred to smudged or unclear fingerprints as “monkey prints.”

“If you passed a chimpanzee print to a fingerprint office and said it came from the scene of a crime, they would not know it was not human.” Steve Haylock, City of London Police fingerprint bureau

The chimpanzees and orangutans didn’t mind being fingerprinted. If you’re curious, none of the prints led to solving the string of unsolved crimes. All the furry suspects appeared to be upstanding members of society. 😉

Meanwhile, in Australia

Police feared koalas may have contaminated a criminal investigation. Why? Because like apes and chimpanzees, koalas possess freakishly human fingerprints. The deltas, loops, and whirl patterns of a koala’s fingerprint are as individual as our own. Yet most tree-dwelling mammals don’t possess humanlike prints.

“It appears that no one has bothered to study them in detail,” said Macie Henneberg, forensic scientist and biological anthropologist at the University of Adelaide, Australia. “Although it is extremely unlikely that koala prints would be found at the scene of a crime, police should at least be aware of the possibility.”

Some researchers believe that even after closely inspecting the fingerprints under a microscope, investigators would not be able to distinguish a human print from fingerprints left by a koala. Even their closest relatives—kangaroos and wombats—don’t possess fingerprints. The weird part is Koala prints seemed to have evolved independently, and much more recent than primates.

Can you guess which print is human?

Photo credit: Macie Hennenberg, et al. and naturalSCIENCE

Click the image to enlarge.

Top row: Standard ink fingerprints of an adult male koala (left) and adult male human (right).

Bottom row: Scanning electron microscope images of epidermis covering fingertips of the same koala (left) and the same human (right).

 

 

What do humans, apes, chimps, and koalas have in common?

The need to grasp. Yes, it could be that simple.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide discovered koala prints in 1996 and wrote a paper on their findings:

“Koalas … feed by climbing vertically onto the smaller branches of eucalyptus trees, reaching out, grasping handfuls of leaves and bringing them to the mouth… These forces must be precisely felt for fine control of movement and static pressures and hence require orderly organization of the skin surface.”

Makes sense, right?

But wait—there’s more!

I discovered one other fascinating tidbit about fingerprints that I never knew.

Genetics form the base of a fingerprint, but they are personalized when the baby touches the inside of their mother’s womb, resulting in unique whirls, deltas, and loops. Hence why identical twins don’t share identical fingerprints. Each baby touched the womb wall in his or her own unique way, swirling and drawing like finger paints on a bathtub wall.

Maybe it’s me—I do tend to get overly sentimental around holidays—but I find it heartwarming to think the tips of our fingers forever preserve the unbreakable bond between momma and baby, imprinted for eternity.

I hope my discoveries kickstart your creativity in new and unsuspecting ways. Happy Labor Day to our U.S. readers! May your burgers be sizzlin’, the buns toasted to perfection, and your beverages be cold. 😀 

Reader Friday – Holiday Weekends

Reader Friday – Holiday Weekends

Labor Day Weekend

Image by Hai Nguyen Tien from Pixabay

We’re heading into the Labor Day weekend. As a writer who’s retired from the traditional workforce, one day is like the next, and many holidays simply slide on by. What about you?

Do long weekends make a difference in your routine?

(For the record, our Monday celebration will be a traditional Rosh Hashana dinner with family up here on the mountain. Happy 5782, everyone.)

 


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

Be the Mouse

A recent exchange with the hubster went something like this.

Him: What’d you do today?

Me: Same as yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that.

Him: You’re a persistent little bugger, aren’tcha?

Me: *shrugs* I’m a writer.

But it’s not as simple as that, is it? Persistence can be grueling at times.

If someone told me ten years ago that in 2021 I would stumble across a true story that’s so meaningful and important it might forever change my writing trajectory, my first reaction would’ve been: Ten years is a lifetime away.

But the truth is if I found this case ten years ago, I wouldn’t know how to do it justice. Today I do. 🙂 This narrative nonfiction/true crime project has so many parallels to my own life, my passion is at an all-time high. Which brings me to persistence. Persistence while researching. Persistence while re-investigating the crime. Persistence while interviewing witnesses. Persistence while submitting the proposal.

The Big Dream

When I wrote my first novel—longhand, by candlelight—the Big Dream was all I could think about. I remember searching for other writers’ interpretation of success and how long it took them to “make it” in this business. Most said a new writer won’t make any money until they’ve written five novels. If they’re lucky, they’ll sell a few hundred copies of their debut. That’s the last thing an aspiring writer wants to hear.

The aspiring writer thinks: If you build it, they will come.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad mindset if it drives the writer to the keyboard. I’m a dreamer. Always have been, always will be. As long as we offset the dream with a dose of reality, I say dream big, dream often, dream without limits.

Now, with a backlist of 17 titles and 5+ trunk novels, I look back on that early advice and it means something completely different.

Writing five novels isn’t only about building an audience. It means the writer has honed their craft. They’ve let their passion lead them on a journey of self-discovery (Think: Who are you as a writer?). It means the writer never gave up. Or quit. S/he continued for love, not money. S/he kept her head down, fingers on the keyboard, butt in chair, and created, edited, rewrote passages, scenes, or whole chapters, and finished five manuscripts.

What else happened?

S/he learned the business side of writing—found an agent, publisher, or learned the ins and outs of self-publishing. Lastly, it means s/he learned how to market a product, build a brand and an audience. S/he persisted, even though the odds seemed insurmountable. S/he leaped out of the nest and learned to fly.

Sometimes this biz can be disheartening, other times it’s super exciting. The ups and downs are all part of this amazing journey. The minute we stop trying to achieve future goals, we’ve already lost. Aside from creatives—writers, singers, artists, actors, musicians, etc.—I can think of no other field that requires as much persistence.

What is persistence?

The dictionary defines persistence as:

  • continuing firmly or obstinately in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition
  • continuing to exist or endure over a prolonged period

The definition clarifies how difficult it is to persist.

What happens in the brain during the act of persistence?

Serotonin is a neurochemical in the brain important for feelings of happiness. It’s also known for:

  • promoting good sleep by helping to regulate circadian rhythms (a 24-hour inner clock running in the background to carry out essential functions like the sleep-wake cycle)
  • helping to regulate appetite
  • promoting memory and learning
  • helping to promote positive feelings and behavior

If you have low serotonin, you might:

  • feel anxious, low, or depressed
  • feel irritable or aggressive
  • have sleep issues or endless fatigue
  • become impulsive
  • have a decreased appetite
  • experience nausea and digestive issues
  • crave sweets

Scientists have studied serotonin levels and persistent behavior in mice.

During foraging, all wildlife explores an area for food and/or water. But at some point, they must move on to a different area. Thriving animals exhibit patience and persistence before exhausting their search at each location.

In the study, researchers required water-restricted mice to “nose poke” while foraging to obtain water as a reward. The probability of obtaining water in each area lessened with each nose poke. The higher the number of nose pokes equaled more persistence in that individual mouse. Scientists also used video tracking to measure how long it took for the mice to switch to a different foraging area.

Mice exhibited optimal foraging behavior. Meaning, they optimized the trade-off between time spent searching an area for water and leaving to find a water source in a different area.

The mice who received serotonin neuron stimulation performed a greater number of nose pokes compared to mice who didn’t receive stimulation. They also took longer to leave an area, suggesting they were more persistent.

This is the first study to show a correlation between serotonin neuron firing and active persistence. Previously, scientists hypothesized that serotonin was involved in patience. We now know a rush of serotonin is involved in persistence, as well.

If our persistence starts to wane, we need to increase our serotonin level.

Here’s how:

  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise
  • Bright light
  • Massage

The list is almost meaningless without more explanation. So, let’s dive into each tip.

Healthy Snacks

We can’t get serotonin from food, but we can get tryptophan, an amino acid that’s converted to serotonin in the brain. High-protein foods contain tryptophan. For example, turkey and salmon. But it’s not as simple as eating tryptophan-rich foods, thanks to the blood-brain barrier—a protective sheath around the brain that controls what enters and exits. Isn’t the human body amazing?

Like with most life hacks, there’s a shortcut around the blood-brain barrier.

Research suggests eating carbs along with tryptophan-rich foods pushes more tryptophan into the brain, thereby raising the serotonin level.

Some tryptophan-rich snacks include:

  • oatmeal with a handful of nuts
  • plums or pineapple with crackers
  • pretzel sticks with peanut butter and a glass of milk

Exercise

Exercising creates an ideal environment for serotonin by triggering the release of tryptophan in the blood and decreasing the amount of other amino acids. Thus, more tryptophan reaches the brain.

Aerobic exercise of any kind releases the most tryptophan. Don’t fret if you’re unable to do aerobics. The main goal is to raise the heart rate. This can be accomplished by:

  • a brisk walk
  • a light hike
  • swimming
  • bicycling
  • jogging
  • blaring the music and dance

Bright Light

This surprised me, but it makes sense when you consider seasonal affective disorder. Serotonin levels dip in the winter and rise in the summer. What should we do? Spend 10-15 minutes in the sunshine. Or, if you live in rainy climate or can’t get outside, use a light therapy box. Both will increase serotonin levels.

Massage

Massage therapy increases serotonin and dopamine levels. It also reduces cortisol, a hormone produced when stressed. If paying for a professional massage therapist isn’t within your budget, ask a friend/spouse/partner to swap 20-minute massages.

Be the Mouse

Writers cannot achieve goals without some form of persistence. Be persistent, dear writer. Be the mouse.

Reader Friday: Describe Your Writing with Kangaroos

Describe your writing and/or your reading life using a Kangaroo word.

Technically, a kangaroo word carries its own synonym within it (called a joey word), but I don’t know how else to describe this game. Bonus points if you do!

 

 

Fill in the blanks:

My writing puts the ____ in _______. My reading life puts the _____ in ___________.

To get the ball rolling, I’ll start.

My writing puts the sass in assassin, the laughter in slaughter. My reading life puts the fun in funeral.

Your turn!

Rinse and Repeat

Remember JSB’s post about public speaking? Well, before an exciting opportunity two weeks ago, I reread his tips a gazillion times. What he failed to mention was a bizarre side effect of stress—dry mouth. I noticed it when I did my first Zoom book signing. Which is odd, right? I’ve never had a problem with in-person book signings, but on Zoom? I dried up like the Sahara. Halfway through the event it went away, so I didn’t give it another thought. I Zoomed a few more times without incident.

And then, an Emmy award-winning true crime series asked me to appear on their show. (Can’t tell you which one yet, sorry!) I was fine on the drive over. Nervous as all heck, but other than a thundering heartbeat, I could hide my anxiety. After all, that’s what a professional does. They don’t let nerves get the better of them. Plus, I knew this case inside out. How hard could it be? So what if a camera crew would be focused on me.

My confidence waned on the walk inside, but I was still holding my own. Head held high, shoulders back.

Then I sat in the interview chair.

With that one simple act, all the saliva in my mouth turned to dust. And I mean all of it. My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, my lips puckered, and words refused to roll off my tongue with ease. Me on the day of my debut TV appearance…

They offered me bottled water—gallons of it through two and half hours of taping. After the second or third bottle, I think they might’ve figured out I wasn’t an old pro at this TV stuff. 😉 Thankfully, I’d spoken to the producer on the phone several times prior, so he had faith in me. “Get her more water please!” And I drank, and drank, and drank.

Mr. Producer told me several times I did an excellent job. I’ll be the judge of that, thank you…in six months when the episode airs. We did have a lot of laughs. But when you’re discussing a shooting and can’t spit out the word “caliber” because your tongue feels like it’s three sizes too big for your mouth…

Well, let’s just say it isn’t a good look. The more I stressed, the drier my mouth became. Throughout the interview I fluctuated between Lord, give me strength and Someone—anyone—please shoot me! But most of all, I needed more water STAT.

On the plus side, the nice part of working on a true crime show is it’s not taped in front a live audience. All I had to do was string together one good sentence at a time and the editor would grab what s/he needs.

Mission accomplished. That’s a rap!

Shamefaced, I crawled into the passenger seat of our truck—and all at once my mouth regained its moisture. Ain’t that a b*tch? I can hardly wait to see what happens next time. Maybe I’ll grow some weird lump on my forehead. Or better yet, my saliva glands will over-stimulate, and I’ll show up looking like this…

I think it’s fair to say no one will ever ask me to do a TedTalk. Probably best.

To understand my body’s reaction to stress, I researched the subject the next morning to find out why this occurred and what to do about it in the future. Turns out, dry mouth isn’t an uncommon reaction.

Researchers have studied this phenomenon.

The term stress refers to a series of events that lead to a reaction in the brain (perceived stress), activating the physiological fight-or-flight response in the body. Anxiety is also a generalized unpleasant and vague sensation of fear and concern with an unknown origin.

Makes sense.

Psychological conditions might affect both salivary flow rate and xerostomia. Furthermore, it was observed that salivary cortisol levels increased during stress, followed by changes in the composition of saliva.

In simpler terms, stress plays a significant role in reducing the salivary flow rate.

So, what’s my advice in case you experience something similar? Hope you’ve got a nice strong bladder. You’ll need it to hold all the water. No, seriously, pack lozenges. If all else fails, smile! Works every time.

I’m a big believer in laughter. If we can’t poke fun at ourselves, we’ll dwell on the negative. I appeared on an Emmy award-winning true crime show (!), and have spoken to the producer several times since. For me, it’s a dream come true. 🙂

Let’s discuss embarrassing moments! Your turn. Extra points if it relates to writing, reading, acting, etc.

How To Explode Your Email List

Back in 2017, Jim wrote a terrific post with tips for success in traditional or independent publishing. One of his top tips for all authors is to build an email list.

Did you follow that advice? If you didn’t, heed Debbie’s warning on how NOT to get started. Even if you’re working on your first novel, you should be actively building your list. I’ll let David Gaughran explain why an email list is the most powerful tool at our disposal.

I’m sure all of you know the power of having thousands of committed readers signed up to your mailing list, allowing you to send each new release into the charts. Even if you’re not there yet personally, this should be something you are aiming for. Every single author should have a mailing list and be seeking to actively grow it.

Now that we know why an email list is so important, how do we go about it?

SUMO

To build an email list, we need a way to collect emails on our website/blog. SUMO is the #1 email capture tool. And it’s free. As of this writing, 886,114 sites use SUMO.

We’ve noticed lots of people struggle to collect emails because the tools just aren’t available or are too expensive. So we thought, why not make our tools available for you?

Our goal, plain and simple, is to help you grow your website.

— SUMO mission statement

Create a scroll bar, pop-up, smart bar, Welcome Mat, or static form to trigger visitors to subscribe to your list. If you offer a free book as an incentive (called a reader magnet), be sure to mention it in your form. No coding required. Takes less than a minute to design a form.

I’ve used SUMO for years with excellent results. I started with a smart bar that hung at the top of the website. I can’t remember why I switched to a popup. There’s no question popups are effective. They’re also annoying as all heck. So, I switched back to the smart bar. A Welcome Mat covers the entire page. The visitor must interact with the form to read the article underneath. They’re effective, but I’ve passed on articles because of them. Do what works best for you.

Pro Tip: Rather than offering the same reader magnet for years, swap it for a new freebie from time to time. Using the same one can become white noise after a while.

A Word About the “F” Word: Free

Being an author requires a long-term game plan. There is no get-rich-quick scheme. For most of us, one book won’t produce enough income to survive. Thus, we need a strategic approach to building our brand. The #1 way to do that is to grow our email list, and a free ebook campaign can accomplish that goal.

Many authors put their books into Kindle Unlimited. Which is fine, in theory, but it won’t grow your email list. Amazon won’t tell you who downloaded your book or how to contact them. Sure, you might gain visibility, but wouldn’t you rather form a long-lasting relationship with a fan who can’t wait for your next book? There’s only one way to meet that goal: grow your email list.

If you’re still not convinced, let me ask you this. How many $5 ebooks have you bought from an author you’ve never heard of without a recommendation from someone you trust? Not many, I suspect. Now, what if the book was free? You’d be more apt to take the chance, right? Of course you would.

Some of you may be thinking, offer my book baby for free? Gasp! Believe me, I get it. I know how much of your heart and soul you’ve poured into that book, but we need to shed the emotional attachment to move forward. View each book as a steppingstone leveraged for future sales. By sacrificing short-term gains, we set up long-term rewards. Capeesh? Super. Moving on…

Book Funnel

BookFunnel isn’t only a platform to send ARCs, though I do love that aspect. They automatically add a watermark to Advance Reader Copies to help prevent piracy.

Whether it’s delivering your reader magnet, sending out advanced copies of your book, handing out ebooks at a conference, or fulfilling your digital sales to readers, BookFunnel does it all. Just like you, we’re in the business of making readers happy. Let us help you build your author career, no matter where you are in your journey.

All true. You do need to pay-to-play, but they offer affordable plans. The New Author Plan is $20/yearly. If you only have 1-5 books, the New Author Plan might be enough to get started, but you won’t be able to collect email addresses unless you join a group promo. Even then, the starter plan has limitations. So, if you’re hoping to explode your email list, my advice would be to upgrade. The benefits far outweigh the cost.

Mid-List Author costs $100/yearly or $10/monthly (if the yearly plan is unaffordable right now, choose the monthly plan; you can always change it later). The premiere plan is Bestseller for $250/yearly. The plan titles are a marketing ploy to shame you into upgrading. That said, there are a few key differences.

  1. Mid-List allows 5K downloads per month; Bestseller allows unlimited downloads.
  2. Mid-List allows 2 pen names; Bestseller allows 3 pen names.
  3. Mid-List doesn’t include Priority Support, Bestseller does.

There’s one other difference worth mentioning. Mid-List has no email integration. Meaning, after a promo they’ll send a .csv file for you to upload to your list. Email integration uploads the names/addresses automatically. You can add email integration to Mid-List for $50/yearly, if you’d like. Or stick with the original plan and upload the .csv file yourself. Whatever works best for you.

Bestseller comes with 3 email integrations. Meaning, if you separate your email list into segments or groups, you can integrate a specific list for each BookFunnel promotion.

BookFunnel Landing Pages

You’ll need to do some work to setup your dashboard, but it’s a painless process. Add books and create beautiful landing pages in minutes. No coding or tech skills required. A landing page is where we send readers to download our freebie.

We have various options when creating landing pages. To grow the email list, check the box that ensures readers must give a valid email address to download the book. BookFunnel verifies each address before granting access.

BookFunnel Promotions

BookFunnel membership comes with free promotions. Hosts offer several different promo opportunities.

To grow the email list, scroll through active promotions in your dashboard and search for Newsletter Builder promos.

Check the requirements for each promo before joining. Some require a minimum number of subscribers in your email list (usually 1K).

Next, subscribe for updates in your genre. Every time an author sets up a new promotion, you’ll be notified via email. Spots fill up quickly, so don’t delay. Or host and run your own promotion and invite other authors to collaborate.

Pro Tip: When the promo goes live, share your personal tracking link in your newsletter, on social media, and your website. BookFunnel tracks your shares. It’s how you build a good reputation for future promos.

BookSweeps

If you like BookFunnel, you will love BookSweeps.

A premiere membership costs $50/yearly, but it discounts future promo opportunities, promotions that add hundreds of voracious readers to your email list. Not freebie seekers, either. These are book buying readers. Freebie seekers join email lists to get the reader magnet, then immediately unsubscribe.

Even with book buying readers, it’s normal for a few to unsubscribe when you send your first email. This happens for various reasons. Don’t take it personally. Think of it as a good thing. Once you hit a certain number (1K-2K email addresses, depending on email provider), sending newsletters is no longer free. Why pay for a reader who has no interest in your work?

Add a Pen Name

A premiere membership allows three different pen names. If you don’t have an alternate author name, create book specific pen names. For example: I created Sue Coletta for my Mayhem Series and another Sue Coletta for my Grafton County Series. Why? Because my two series have different character types, tropes, settings, etc., all of which we can distinguish under separate Pen Names.

Create a Reader Magnet

Generate email subscribers by adding an ebook to the BookSweeps directory, where readers can download the book in exchange for their email. When we create a reader magnet in BookSweeps, we can link to the next book in the series (for sale), add testimonials, and add sub-genres and tropes. It’s an excellent marketing tool.

BookSweeps Promotions

You do have to pay-to-play, but BookSweeps offers discounts once you’ve run a promotion or two. A $50 promo becomes $25 – $35, depending on the promotion.

The best part about BookSweeps promotions is they do all the work for you. All. The. Work.

  • 5 days before the promotion they send you the group promo images for FB and Twitter; they even create a shareable image for your individual book.
  • On promo day, they send you a reminder email with links to the shareable images.
  • During the promo, they remind you when the promo will end.
  • After the promo, they send you an email on what to expect next.
  • 5-10 days after the promo, they send you the spreadsheet with the email address, a separate spreadsheet for the winner and runner-up. That email also contains links on how to upload the list to your email provider, tips for writing a welcome letter, and other valuable information about nurturing your email list. 

Pro Tip: When running a promotion on BookFunnel, Facebook, Twitter, or your website, add a Sweep in the BookSweeps giveaway directory to increase your reach. Free traffic!

Writers: If you follow this advice, your email list will explode with new subscribers.

Readers: If you join BookFunnel or BookSweeps (both free for readers), your e-reader will explode with free books. Win-win!

Over to you, TKZers. What’s your #1 tip to grow your email list? Please share your experience.