Grow Poor Publishing With Author Solutions, iUniverse, Trafford, Xlibris, and Archway

It’s a marriage made in hell: Penguin Random House have a company called Author Solutions that pressures under-educated writers to buy overpriced services such as editing, ebook manufacturing, promotion and marketing.

Author Solutions iUniverse Trafford Xlibris and Archway

And the museum won’t charge you five grand, either.

Apparently, the company’s income has been leveling off in the U.S., partly because the suckers are getting too smart. So they’re undergoing expansion overseas, hoping to convince Spanish-speaking writers to spend $1,300 for a “web-optimized press release,” or $10K on podcast interviews.

David Gaughan has the particulars on Author Solutions’ expansion through MeGustaEscribir.

Here’s why Author Solutions and MeGustaEscribir should be avoided at all costs, courtesy of Gaughan:

Using high-pressure sales tactics, and careful targeting of the most inexperienced and vulnerable writers, Author Solutions squeezes an average of over $5,000 out of its customers, who then go on to average sales of just 150 copies (from Author Solutions’ own figures) – obviously coming nowhere close to recouping that staggering outlay, despite the accompanying overblown promises from Author Solutions sales reps.

These crappy sales figures are confirmed by Data Guy, the non de plume of the computer guy who assists Hugh Howey over at Author Earnings. By scraping information from Amazon’s book pages, DG and Howey have been compiling information about what authors really earn from their Kindle books, and sharing them in the form of reports and spreadsheets with everyone.

For example, pulling a chart from the latest report shows that the top 120,0000 ebooks sold, fiction and nonfiction, 18 percent of them came from the major publishers. That’s 21,600 books:

Indy and small press books make up the majority of the top 120K books on Amazon.

Indy and small press books make up the majority of the top 120K books on Amazon.

So how do books from the various vanity publishers such as Author Solutions do? Even worse, says Data Guy:

Combining the sales of Author Solutions, iUniverse, Trafford, Xlibris, and Archway, despite the tens of thousands of print books a year these imprints “publish” we can only find:

46 print books that are selling a single copy or more a day
3 print books that are selling 10 or more copies a day

Amazingly, the sales of the e-books published by these vanity imprints are even worse. There were only:

19 ebooks that are selling a single copy or more a day
3 ebooks that are selling 10 or more copies a day

And this is after you bought their expensive editing and marketing services. You could self-publish your book, save the money, and probably still make these sales.

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Satisfying the Need for Sleep

Suburban stockade introductionIt’s been years since I last got on an airplane (and I probably never will again for a whole host of reasons) but I recall that the flight attendants did a safety demonstration. It started with you taking care of your seat belt and your oxygen mask before you took care of any children or invalids traveling with you. The rationale was that you couldn’t help anyone else if you hadn’t secured your own safety first.

This is what sleep and exercise do for you. They make you healthier and more resilient so you can take better care of the people around you. You become better able to do the work you have to do and you can recover better when bad things happen. You simply cannot take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself first.

We’ll tackle sleep first as it can be (sometimes!) easier to sleep than it is to exercise. Certainly sleeping is less sweaty and strenuous.

The Need For Sleep

You see these ridiculous T-shirts all the time: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” If you don’t get enough sleep, you will be dead. Sleep deprivation is, by the way, a torture technique and one that doesn’t leave any visible marks.

need for sleep

You see these ridiculous T-shirts all the time: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” If you don’t get enough sleep, you will be dead.

Think about sleep. You are so vulnerable. Unknowing of anything that is happening around you. Easy prey for any lucky predator. And yet, every living creature with a brain sleeps! Fat, juicy little mousies and rabbits at the bottom of the food chain and on everyone’s lunch menu sleep. Fish sleep with half of their brain and then sleep with the other half of their brain. Dolphins and whales take naps with one eye open to look for predators and the opposite side of the brain sleeping. Birds sleep, lined up on branches. In fact, brown snakes were accidentally introduced into Guam years ago. They took advantage of sleep to eat whole branches filled with sleeping birds that did not evolve in an environment with snakes. Not many birds left on Guam now.

Now why would evolution make sleep such a priority that mammals that live in the water (where they can drown) and bottom of the food chain snackies have to sleep? You can understand why tigers sleep. Nothing is going to bother them! But deer? gazelles? ground hogs? squirrels? lizards? turtles? chickens? sparrows? Even insects enter a state of torpor which resembles sleep. All these critters are at risk of being devoured while they sleep. And yet they do.

You don’t get evolutionary traits that lead directly to being eaten before reproducing. (Afterwards, sure. The job got done.) That sort of behavior tends to get weeded out via natural selection. But sleep stays. This tells us that sleep must be of absolutely vital importance. In fact, rats that are kept from sleeping will fall over and die.

Sleep is damn difficult to study and so nobody knew very much at all about why it was needed. There was just empirical evidence that if you didn’t get enough sleep, your functioning declined. This seemed true of animals as well. Sleep-deprived animals slept more to make up the loss.

need for sleep

You have to sleep to keep your brain at its best level of functioning.

Thanks to improvements in brain studies, we can now get a better idea of what happens when we sleep and why we need it so desperately. Sleep is vital to the functioning of the brain. Your brain is active all day, filling up with junk thoughts and junk chemicals. When you sleep, your body does housekeeping on your brain, getting it ready for another day. If you don’t get enough sleep your brain isn’t fully cleaned and ready to go. Sort of like rinsing your dinner dishes instead of scraping and washing them. Keep eating your meals off of those dirty, unscraped plates and problems will arise. It’s icky and unsanitary and will lead to food poisoning or intestinal parasites. This is why we wash our dishes before reusing them.

In fact, one sleep study released last year showed a link between sleep patterns and the build up of beta-amyloids that’s an indicator of Alzheimer’s.

So you have to sleep to keep your brain at its best level of functioning. Sleep also seems to affect all your other body processes. Even your weight is affected by your lack of sleep. More sleep lets your body more easily maintain its weight and not just because if you are asleep you can’t eat. All kinds of hormones are adversely affected by not sleeping and research keeps finding out more. Are your children being diagnosed with ADD? Maybe they need far more sleep than they are getting. Does your depression lead to insomnia or does your insomnia make you depressed? More and more, it seems like the latter. Every where you look, you find more body issues that are related to sleep.

Sleep seems, as well, to act like a checking account. That is to say, you can’t make up sleep deprivation with a few extra hours of sleeping in. Like any other debt, you have to pay it all back, before you can start over. Thus, years of sleep deprivation, from people who think they have too much to do to waste precious time sleeping, will take years of catching up.

Studies on this topic show that people who are sleep deprived will, if given the chance, sleep for fourteen hours a night for weeks and weeks until they gradually fall back to the more normal seven to nine hours a night. They had to make up all that time. My dear husband actually experienced this when he was working, alone, for six months in Central Pa., while the kids, animals, and I stayed home in S.C. trying to sell our house. DH did nothing but sleep and work for the first few months he was up here. As he got more caught up, he started feeling like a new person. An alert, high-functioning person to be precise.

Sleep studies also tend to show that if you follow the sun’s schedule; i.e., you go to bed when it gets dark and get up when it gets light, you are down for more hours, sometimes many more hours than eight. What happens is your sleep gets divided into two parts: first sleep, followed by a period of wakefulness of an hour or so and then second sleep. Diaries and letters that date back to before people had artificial lighting reflect this. During the waking period, people would talk quietly, daydream, pray, and yes, spend some quality time with their partner. There is a great book on this subject called “At Day’s Close” by A. Roger Ekrich. It’s a fascinating look at a world without artificial light. Remember that most people would be too poor to have more than a few candles so they didn’t have a lot of choice as to their nighttime activities.

I suffer from chronic, unrelenting insomnia. It’s hard for me to fall asleep and I wake up easily. I do all the sleep hygiene stuff and I probably know more than most doctors about the subject. Nonetheless, it has taken me almost two years of sleeping ten hours a night or more to start feeling like a real person and not a zombie. Years and years of not enough sleep and interrupted sleep left me borderline psychotic and suicidal. I feel much better now, thank you, but if you want to see fear, ask my children if I should cut back on my sleep.

What changed for me? The kids got older. Younger son finally stopped with the endless nighttime coughing (dust mite allergies, we think). We improved our locks and got a dog so I felt more comfortable alone at night. And finally, best of all, my DH got his golden ticket and stopped working weird evening shifts whereby he would come home anytime from midnight to three am and waking me up every time. Once he was home full time, he started getting up at six AM to get the offspring off to school. All the previous years of our marriage, I got up at six AM to get the kids moving no matter how little I slept the night before and he slept in. DH had to, to function at work, but even so, it was hard for him to focus during the day.

My DH always had the gift of being able to go back to sleep and take naps. He still suffered from no-sleep headaches every day. He doesn’t anymore. I was never able to go back to bed and sleep which did not make things better. Instead I got more and more zombiefied, affecting how well I functioned, spoke, felt, thought, everything!

I had a sleep study done and found out that yes, as I suspected, I had garden variety insomnia. The only thing that works is rigorous sleep hygiene. Procedures that are boring, time-consuming, must be performed faithfully, night after night, those help. Drugs only work in the short term and none of them worked for me. At all.

The pharmaceutical industry makes truckloads of money selling sleep aids and so those are pushed all the time. Yet most sleep doctors agree that sleep hygiene improvements (which take far time and effort than popping a pill) work much better. Since these methods are free and no-one makes money on them, sleep hygiene tends to get ignored far more than it should, and that is what we’ll cover next week.

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The Early Punch Parodies Excerpt

Now that “The Early Punch Parodies of Sherlock Holmes” is out in the world, it’s time for some excerpts from the book to give you an idea of why I’m excited about this project.

Early Punch Parodies ExcerptAs you can see from the introduction, what started as a simple, quick book turned out to take longer than expected, and resulted in something more than a book that reprints public domain material. Instead, with the help (and permission) of Punch, Ltd., it became a scrapbook, capturing the relationship between Punch, Sherlock, and Conan Doyle.

Oh, the parodies are still there: R.C. Lehmann’s “Picklock Holes” series, two by a young pre-Bertie Wooster P.G. Wodehouse (“The Prodigal” and “Dudley Jones, Bore-Hunter”), several articles by C.L. Graves and E.V. Lucas that, among others, poked fun at H. Rider Haggard’s belief that his dying dog spoke to him in a dream, a pastiche that drove a four-page ad for blotting paper, and even a combined Sherlock/Ayesha parody by E.V. Knox.

There’s even “The Terrors of War,” a WWI parody that hasn’t been seen since its original publication and doesn’t appear in the excellent spreadsheet by Philip K. Jones cataloging every known parody and pastiche.

Introduction

This book is a result of hubris. Originally, I intended to publish only the 17 Picklock Holes stories, annotated, along with an essay about R.C. “Rudie” Lehmann and Punch magazine.

But as I started searching through the back issues, I found that Punch did more than treat the Great Detective like a hand puppet for the amusement of its readers. It reviewed Conan Doyle’s books and used his creation as a yardstick to measure his fictional rivals. It praised his patriotic turns and laughed immodestly when he said that fairies existed. It seems as if Punch treated Conan Doyle like a fictional character, and Sherlock Holmes as if he was real.

Much like the rest of us.

Early Punch Parodies Excerpt

P.G. Wodehouse

Then I came across two P.G. Wodehouse parodies, written when he had narrowly escaped from a ruinous career in finance at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank on Lombard Street. A lifelong affection for Holmes and Conan Doyle did not keep him from borrowing his friend’s creation for his own purposes. Maybe, I thought, I could throw them in as well. Then I read his song about Holmes and an article about William Gillette boxing with New York’s upper crust at a party. Let’s add them to the mix as well. Plum interviewing Conan Doyle? Great, even if it was for another long-defunct magazine.

That inspired the fatal idea: Did Punch do anything else with Holmes and Conan Doyle? By this time, I was hooked. I learned that Conan Doyle debuted in Punch, not because of Holmes, but for a short story about a romance gone wrong. “A Study in Scarlet” and “The Sign of the Four” was ignored, but not a patriotic poem he wrote opposing the sale of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s flagship to the Germans.

Then Punch met “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” and it was love at first sight. Satire needs popular icons; simplified versions of people and institutions with most of their flesh boiled away, but still strong enough to be instantly recognizable and bear the weight of the jokes. Holmes’ amazing deductive ability, forbidding demeanor, cocksureness and toys (the pipe! the Stradivarius! the deerstalker!) made him adaptable to any need a writer might have. Holmes could play the hero, straight man, and fool. Best of all, being immortal, he’d never wear out.

Leaving Conan Doyle upstaged by his creation, a role he would play, bitterly at times, for the rest of his life. Hi-ho, as Kurt Vonnegut said.

Punch’s relationship with Conan Doyle varied between admiration and gentle satire. Many on the staff remembered his illustrator uncle, Richard. The magazine had used his cover illustration for decades, so they would already be inclined to treat Conan Doyle kindly.

It helped that he was a good writer. With a few exceptions, Punch’s reviewers loved his books. Also, Conan Doyle, like Punch, was loyal to the Empire. During the Boer War, he risked his health to oversee a field hospital in South Africa and made enemies in the hidebound military for advocating reforms based on the lessons learned in the war. He used his pen to defend Britain against her enemies for which he would receive a knighthood.

He also rarely engaged in public activities that could provide useful fodder for satire. When he was irritated by the self-promoting antics of popular novelist Hall Caine, Conan Doyle sent an anonymous letter of complaint to a newspaper, but he told the editor to give Caine his name should he want to know who wrote it.

It was Conan Doyle’s advocacy for spiritualism in 1917 that changed Punch’s attitude. His embrace of the fake Cottingley Fairies photos made him look foolish. Finally, the writers had something new to hang their punch lines on, and they took full advantage of it.

So when you dip into this book expecting a series of Sherlockian parodies, you’ll find more. You’ll see Conan Doyle as he appeared through Punch’s skewed lens. You’ll see the ways Sherlock Holmes was portrayed, from the butt of jokes to the embodiment of all that was good in the Empire. Plus, you’ll discover a glimpse of Imperial Britain at its height, confident in itself and its future.

And a few laughs, too.

Categories: Peschel Press, Sherlockian Parodies and Pastiches | Leave a comment

The Dark World of Debt Collection

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Suburban stockade introduction

Despite my continuing time-management problem of too much to do and too little time in which to do it, I do make time to read the small selection of magazines I get at the public library on a weekly basis. Since I don’t watch TV and I spend very little time online, this helps me keep up with current events. It is better than scanning the headlines of the tabloids in the grocery checkout line. Since I am thrifty (the goal of financial independence is never far from my mind), I get the magazines for free at the library rather than buying them. That does mean that I am always two, three, or even four to six weeks behind everyone else who bought fresh magazines at the newsstand. This doesn’t seem to matter that much.

debt collectorsWhat does this have to do with debt management? Well, I save money on magazine subscriptions. I also don’t have them lying around the house, waiting to be recycled at the doctor’s office. And, as I blow through them, looking for something that I HAVE to pay attention to because it meets my interests and goals, I run across stories like this one.

The New York Times publishes a magazine in its Sunday edition. Most of the time, other than the 7 by 7 KenKen grid, there isn’t much in it of value to me. But the cover story for the 17AUG2014 issue was different. Hugely different. I knew that debt collection agencies existed. I always knew to avoid going into debt. Try not to borrow money you can’t pay back and keep the fattest emergency savings account you can, even if it means you never eat out and only watch movies when the library buys the DVD and in general you live cheap, cheap, cheap. You know the drill. I knew that those payday loan places can destroy you financially. But I had no idea that the debt collection business was so big. So unregulated. So likely to come after you years after you thought you had left a debt behind. So Dickensian, in fact.

I should have known. A year or two after Bill and I got married, we got a call from a collection agency with regards to his ex-wife. Someone was looking for her to get money on an unpaid, years-old bill and ours was the phone number that popped. I told the nice collection agent that we didn’t know where she was either, the last we heard she had run off to Oregon with a glass-blower, and if they found her to call us, as she owed money to us too! (She didn’t, but it helped the guy to think that we were on his side and not protecting her.) He laughed and that was the end of that. Now I wonder, going on twenty years later, if that really was the end of that.

Apparently, if you default, your debts will never go away! The bank or the credit card issuer takes a write-off when you default in bankruptcy court. If you don’t save ALL the paperwork, proving that the debt was legally discharged, the fun begins. Your bad, uncollected debt gets bundled with other folk’s bad debt (it is called “paper”) and is sold, for pennies on the dollar to debt collection agencies. If they can collect only ten cents of each dollar owed, they make a pile of money. So these agencies try really hard to get you to pay back money you thought you discharged years ago.

Really hard. Harassment, threats of law-suits, constant calls, every way possible to get you to cough up a few bucks. Your debts can be sold and resold, sometimes fraudulently, until you pay up or end up in court. It is even possible, in this maze of fraud, poor regulation, and identity theft, to be harassed for bills you did pay off.

debt collection game New York Times MagazineCheck out the New York Times Sunday Magazine for 17AUG2014 and read the article. Many libraries carry it. The magazine has a very nice flow chart showing many possible outcomes (nearly all of them bad, for you) or you can play their online collection agency game.

Clearly, the only way to win this game is to never play it in the first place. Otherwise, save ALL your paperwork related to bills, debts, bankruptcy, and repayment plans. The way the law is set up, a collection agency doesn’t have to prove your guilt. You have to prove your innocence. Think about that the next time you decide to charge another piece of clothing when you have a closetful at home.

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Publisher Revives Missing Dog Mystery

Sleeping Dog. By Dick Lochte. Brash Books.

The success of self-publishing meant that books no longer have an expiration date. Authors have a chance of rescuing their out-of-print books and giving them a chance to find a new audience. But should they? In the case of Dick Lochte’s missing dog mystery “Sleeping Dog” (Brash Books), the answer is definitely yes. The slightly skewed story of a world-weary Los Angeles P.I. helping a precocious girl find her missing dog reads as fresh as when it was released in 1985.

In the pantheon of L.A. detectives, put Leo Bloodworth down alongside Sam Spade, only older and more broken-down ? with a dickey ticker and not much of a fighter. Late in his life, the former LAPD cop is only interested in doing his job with a minimum of damage. When his ex-partner on the force sends the girl to Leo on her rollerblades ? this is 1985, remember ? the last thing he wants is a clever boots and a small-change case, and he sends her along to the guy he shares to office with.

Then that guy gets himself killed. Someone thinks Bloodworth knew about the dodgy stuff he was up to. His home and office are tossed, and he gets beaten up. Somehow, the missing dog is part of the mystery. Leo has to get on the case, if only to keep what’s left of his health.

At 14, Serendipity Dahlquist is smart enough to be believable and so adorable you want to protect her. Her missing-dog case is complicated by her straying mother, her soap-opera actress grandmother, and a TV comic gunning to be the next Bob Hope. There is also an encounter with organized dog fights that might upset some animal lovers.

“Sleeping Dog” is also worth reading for its clever backstory. After the blood dried, both Leo and Serendipity wrote tell-all books which an unscrupulous publisher combined into one over their objections. The result is a story told in two distinctive voices, with some events retold Rashomon-style.

“Sleeping Dog” comes from Brash Books, a new publishing house dedicated to bringing back the best mysteries and thrillers of the past. It was a notable debut for Lochte, winning the Nero Wolfe Award and shortlisted for the Edgar, Shamus and Anthony. The New York Times made it one of their books of the year. Three decades later, their judgments are still on the money.

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Protecting Your Personal Security

You can enhance your own personal security by doing a few things. They are simple, but not easy. The first is: PAY ATTENTION! That means knowing where you are. Who is around you. Listening to the sounds around you and not your MP3 player. People have actually been hit by trains (trains!) because they were so focused on their tunes blasting that they stepped right in front of an oncoming freight train. People step in front of cars and trucks for the same reason. Do you really think that your ear buds give you a force field of protection as well as your sound screen? They don’t.

If you simply must wear ear buds while driving, walking, bicycling, etc, then at least turn down the sound enough so you can hear the blare of emergency vehicles, horns of trucks, whistles of trains, barking of dogs, whatever is happening around you that you need to be aware of.

The same goes for cell phones. If you are paying close attention to your conversation, then you aren’t really paying attention to your surroundings. We like to think we can multitask but what really happens is we are switching our attention rapidly from one thing to the next. This can lead to indifferent performances on several areas instead of one job well done.

Pay attention when you walk through a parking lot or down the street. If you are leaving the mall late at night and you don’t want to walk through the dark parking lot with a few strangers hanging around, ask mall security for an escort. They do it all the time. Which thing concerns you more? Your perceived toughness (I don’t need an escort!) or not being mugged?

Pay attention when you exit a 10,000-person performance. Pay attention when you get in and out of your car. Pay attention when you unload groceries and other purchases from your car. Who is watching you?

If a situation doesn’t feel right or safe, maybe that is because it isn’t safe. We get bad vibes for a reason. Sometimes, sure, it may just be paranoia. Sometimes, it isn’t. An excellent book on this subject is Gavin DeBecker’s “The Gift of Fear”. The premise is that millions of years of evolution determined that people who noticed their surroundings were less likely to be eaten by tigers and more likely to reproduce. There are still plenty of tigers around, but now they are often two-legged.

Don’t Do Stupid Stuff

Yes, yes, yes, I know you should be able to get so drunk you are on the verge of blacking out and then stagger to the automatic teller, nude, at three AM to get cash for that skeevy all night diner and be perfectly safe at all times from predators. You know what? You are asking for it. Losing control of your body and senses invites someone else to control them for you. Is that sad? wrong? unfortunate? criminal? Sure. Get over it. This is what your mother meant when she said stop asking for trouble. Ask for trouble and the universe is quite capable of delivering it to you. Predators look for the weakest, most easily captured prey in the herd. This is true of two legged wolves just like it is true of four legged wolves. Predators don’t care about your political correctness. They look for easy victims. Don’t make it easy to be victimized.

Does this mean you shouldn’t have a good time? Well, let’s see. If you are only capable of having a good time if you are drunk or stoned, you have a problem. The more high you have to be to have a good time, the bigger the problem you have. If you are realio and trulio serious about a scary and difficult future, you need to address this issue right away. Addictions are not going to make your life easier.

Stupid stuff includes uncontrollable gambling too. If people named Guido are coming to break your legs because of the money you owe them, your personal security (and that of your household) will be adversely affected.

Driving recklessly? Not wearing a seatbelt? On the motorcycle without a helmet and leathers? Mountain climbing with no water or food, in shorts and a t-shirt? Climbing over the fence into the tiger’s cage at the zoo? Throwing a rock from the overpass into the traffic below? Think for thirty seconds about the consequences before you act! Don’t do stupid stuff.

Stop handing out personal information

So there you are, in the park, yapping away at top volume into your cellie about how you are going to be out of town for two weeks. Who is listening to you? Which bystander is going to follow you to your car, write down your license plate number, find out where you live and then rob your house while you are away? It sounds farfetched, but people do get robbed for this reason. Telling all about your upcoming vacation on-line? Who sees this information? Do you really know? You should always assume that everything you put onto the internet is public access. If you don’t want to read about your activities on the front page of the Washington Post, then you shouldn’t be putting it on-line. Do not assume privacy, ever.

This goes double for loudly revealing, to all and sundry, your address, your credit card and banking information, your SSN, anything you don’t want public. You even reveal information about yourself and your household via your trash. Did you buy a new 60inch flat screen TV? You don’t know who sees the now empty box waiting for trash pickup at the end of the driveway. If you don’t want other people to know what you bought, then flatten those shipping boxes and recycle them more discreetly.

Your trash is a goldmine of personal information for possible thieves and, worse, for identity theft. Putting paperwork into the recycling bin does not make it disappear in a secure manner. I have actually picked up people’s pay stubs in the street, complete with name, address, job data, and SSN. If you don’t want someone to see it, shred it. Use a crosscut shredder; strip shredded documents can be pieced back together. When the shredder bag fills up, compost the paper. No-one will ever be able to read your documents after that. Shred your documents yourself. The minion shredding your documents is perfectly capable of reading them as they go into the shredder. Think people don’t go through your trash looking for personal data? They do: both thieves and law enforcement agencies know that trash bins tell everything there is to know about their owners. So, thieves and lawmen both pull on their latex gloves and sort through trash to get the personal data they need on you.

Just like your trash, your online presence can tell plenty about your household and your lifestyle to anyone who comes along. As noted above, absolutely nothing you post on the internet is private. And, the internet remembers forever. Those fun drunken pictures you posted of you and the gang skinny dipping in the public fountain at 4 a.m.? Your future employers are quite likely to see those pictures as are your future in-laws. Never, ever assume anything you post on-line is private. If you are really serious about your privacy (and that of your children), then don’t use social media. I don’t have a Twitter account, a Facebook page, or any of the host of other sharing media whose names I don’t know. I don’t want to do this and so I don’t. This also frees up a lot of time for other, more productive activities.

Even something as simple as looking at a book on-line at Amazon or doing a search for how to sell a junk car will get you tracked. I recently had to sell a junker car and did some very basic online research. For weeks afterwards, I got targeted ads when I looked at Weather.com for selling junk cars. I didn’t post. I didn’t send emails. I just looked, and I got tracked. And yes, my DH does practice safe computing and cookie removal and don’t track me and all those other stay private whilst online things you can do. We still get tracked, traced, and recorded.

hk47You can safely assume that if you don’t know how an online site is making its money, it is making money by data mining you. Your buying habits reveal a lot: buy a mouse shaped laser pointer? You might have a cat. Buy EverClean kitty litter in bulk at Amazon? You definitely have a cat; probably more than one. Pregnancy test kits? Birthday party supplies? Books on blacksmithing? Hair dye by the case? Insulation by the pallet? That custom AK-47 with the Hello Kitty design? Complete collection of Ayn Rand? Every one of these individual searches says something about you. Taken in aggregate, they say a lot more. Do you want to say these things to total strangers who may not have your best interests at heart?

Shopping in the real world with cash doesn’t just save you money (studies and real life experience repeatedly show that you spend less when you have to part with real money as opposed to checks, debit cards, or credit cards); it is also harder for someone to find out what you bought. Your credit card receipts tell where you were, when you were there, and what you bought. Think about your life being on display every time you use your magic plastic card. Be careful and don’t let those receipts escape into someone elses pockets. Paying cash means never having to get caught by hackers like all those Target customers did last Christmas.

You may want to seriously consider having two separate credit cards, say a Visa and a MasterCard; a Discover and an American Express. Use one exclusively in the real world and use the other one exclusively in the virtual world. If suspicious charges show up ($8,000 in airline tickets to Jakarta!), it might be easier to figure out how the card got compromised. Remember that when your credit card marches off with the waiter in the restaurant, you don’t really know who else sees it. If nothing else, this can make it a bit harder for someone to know everything about you. They will only see half of your life.

Don’t forget that your phone calls, particularly cell phones get tracked too. The NSA could be listening to you right now. Or reading this post right now. I, you we, have no way of knowing one way or the other.

Get In Shape

I don’t mean that you need to be able to run a marathon. But you should be in good enough shape to walk briskly for a mile or two. As your fitness improves, you may, eventually, be able to jog that mile or two. Your physical condition serves multiple purposes. When you are in the office on the 42nd floor and the fire alarms go off, the elevators will stop working. Can you run down 42 flights of stairs? In the dark? If that is going to be a problem, it is time to start walking.

Being in better shape will let you evacuate a building more easily and quickly, you will be able to help other people get out, you can stay out of the way of rescue personnel, and you won’t be the unfortunate soul who has to be carried down 42 flights of stairs by firemen who could be putting out the fire. While you are having a heart attack from the stress and extreme exercise.

I also don’t mean that you need to get training in mixed martial arts. This is a good way to get in better condition, you will meet all kinds of people, improve your confidence, learn a new fun skill. All great stuff. But the best fight is the one you avoid by paying attention to your surroundings and not getting into trouble in the first place. Use your Nike-fu and run away rather than trying to take on that mugger. If you see the riot coming, walk (or run!) the other way. You don’t HAVE to participate in the bar fight. In fact, you should be looking for and using the exits.

If you saw the movie “Zombieland,” then you know the first rule of zombie defense is “cardiovascular fitness”. You don’t have to be able to run a five minute mile. You just need to be faster than the other guy.

Once you start your fitness program, keep at it. Better fitness leads to better overall health. Your security can only be improved by being able to walk farther, with less pain and stress. When you can walk a mile, then start walking two miles. Get stronger, faster, tougher. Being physically fit helps mental toughness; you may be less inclined to panic if you know your body won’t fail you.

Be Prepared

If you work in an office and wear impractical footwear, then keep a pair of sneakers and socks in your drawer. Before you run down those 42 staircases, change out of those high heels. Keep a jacket, a bottle of water, and some granola bars in the same drawer along with some cash. If you have to get out in a hurry, you now have some weather protection, water, food, and money. Keep this stuff in a small tote bag and grab it, along with your purse or wallet, when you run out the door.

Whenever you set foot outside of your house, consider where you are going and who will be there. Do other members of your household know where you will be and the approximate time of return? Do you know where they are? Are there alternate routes in case of accident? Do you need gas for your car? Is the weather going to be bad? If you are going to be gone for hours, do you have water and snackies for you and the kids? Winter coats? Sun hats? Something that will make the wait because of that ten car pile-up on the interstate a little more bearable.

Wherever you are, pay attention to the exits, the fire alarms, the emergency stairwells. If you are on a plane, actually listen to the safety briefing and look for where the exits are. If you are on a boat, pay attention to the life boat drills (if they have them). If they don’t have life boat drills, as on a ferry, then at least know where the life boats and life preservers are. If you can’t find them, ask a crew member. They will be glad to help. Better prepared passengers make their lives easier. Certainly the first time you go into a new building, check out the exits from the facility. Every public building is required to have fire escape maps on the walls. Take a look at it so you know how to get out if you have to.

Do your children know where the exits are in their school? On their own, without a teacher? Kindergarteners may not be able to do this, but by the time your kids are in middle school, they should be able to read the “you are here” map and find a way out. We live in a small town, and although my kids ride the bus in the mornings, they are perfectly capable of walking home in the afternoon. If they miss the bus, they can still get home.

KNOW WHERE YOU ARE! Every time you go someplace, as the driver, a passenger, a bicyclist, or a pedestrian, read the street signs. Know what street you are on, what direction you are headed, what your destination is. Travel different routes whenever you go anywhere rather than always going the same old way. Build up a big mental map of your area, both walking and driving. You don’t know when you will have to avoid a fire scene and a bigger, more complete mental map will make it less stressful if you have to change your routine. In addition, knowing where you are means that you can tell 911 that the chemical truck overturned in front of you just past mile marker 125 on US30 West near the Salunga exit. If you don’t know where you are, you get to say duh, duh, duh, while Rescue personnel waste precious time trying to locate your signal from cell phone tower triangulation. Make it easier for them and you won’t have to wait as long.

bellcurveIf all of this strikes you as basic common sense, you are right! And yet, basic commonsense is pretty rare. Why is this? Well, mathematically speaking, half the population is below the median for intelligence. The bulk of the population is clustered around the median and the numbers become less and less as you head towards imbecile and genius status. I would say that more than half the population is below the median for commonsense except that is mathematically impossible.

So what is the problem? All of these suggestions require that you pay attention. It is hard to pay attention all the time. The solution is to set good habits, such as always locking your doors or never letting your car gas tank go below one half, that keep you safer while you are paying attention to the harder things. Being mindful of your surroundings takes effort and who has the mental capacity to spare? It only takes a second to have an accident that will disable you. Be more mindful. Pay more attention. Be safer.

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After the Hershey Crafts Show

On Saturday we spent the day handselling books at the Hershey Winter Arts and Crafts Show. Four days later, I’m still feeling the effects. Or maybe it’s the change in the weather, in which autumn decided it had enough and moved out.

It was two months of anticipation, racing to get the Punch book finished and ready for production, designing the posters, banners and flyers, getting the table set up, fretting over the details, much earnest discussions over the placement of Teresa’s bags versus Bill’s books and where to fit the promotional cards and bookmarks. Then, there was the day before the show, setting up the booth in the living room, a last-minute purchase of the cash box, and loading the SUV so that we can get up at 6 a.m., get out the door by 7, and set up by 9.

Setting up for the Hershey Winter Arts and Crafts Show. Children make wonderful minions.

Setting up for the Hershey Winter Arts and Crafts Show. Children make wonderful minions.

And we did it. No terrible stories that we can tell and retell. Rather boring, actually.

Six hours later, we had distributed a lot of cookies and flyers, talked to a lot of people, and sold $115 in books and bags, enough to cover the cost of the table and most of our other expenses. And we learned quite a lot.

* There is a subculture of dealers who travel the craft-show circuit. They get to know each other, know their products and prices, and trade information about the quality of the shows, their customers, and the tricks of the trade.

* That some craft dealers don’t make all their products. Some hire Mennonite girls to do most of the sewing. Others get away with buying crafts from China, finishing it themselves, and calling it “handmade.”

* Some craft shows are turning to a juried model to keep out the China-made craft dealers.

We also learned something about Peschel Press and its products. Six hours of describing our books succinctly will do that. We learned just how niches our books are, even among people who like to read books. I can see us being more successful selling books at mystery conventions, and with the 223B Casebook series coming, at Sherlockian gatherings such as the 221B Con in Atlanta, or the Scintillation of Scions gathering in Maryland (although even there, it would be a subset of people who a) like Sherlock the fictional character and b) like historical parodies and pastiches).

At least we have the Christie and Sayers’ novels, and even a true-crime entry in the Palmer books. Given a few years’ work, this could be the foundation of a line of books.

But we really need to get our own works out there, and that’s under way as we speak. In the meantime, I need to pop some more ibuprofen and get back to work.

Ready to sell books.

Ready to sell books.

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Home Security Begins With Your Neighbors

The next easiest step in home security is getting to know your neighbors. If there is any kind of disaster, the people right around you are the most likely ones to come to your aid. The bigger the disaster, the longer it will take for the outside cavalry in the form of FEMA and the Red Cross to arrive. This doesn’t mean that you need to — or should — make all your neighbors into your nearest and dearest friends. It does mean that you should recognize them and they recognize you as living in your house in your neighborhood. That is, you are not some stranger squatting in one of the foreclosed homes. You belong.

As you get to know your neighbors, opportunities may arise to talk about disaster preparedness.

As you get to know your neighbors, opportunities may arise to talk about disaster preparedness.

Walking Muffy regularly and at all different times of day means that I now can recognize many of my neighbors on sight. And certainly, they can recognize me. They may not know my name, but they all know that we have a dog. I always smile, say hello, and make basic conversation about the weather or gardening. That’s all. But it means that I am not a stranger.

If your neighborhood has regular get-togethers, then start attending them. Meet people. Be part of the group. It will be that crotchety retiree with the big vegetable garden who calls the fire department when your house starts smoking while everyone is away at school or work. It will be that nosy dog walker who calls the police when she sees that something isn’t right at a house where all the lights are on and the mail is piling up and the grass isn’t being mowed.

Be civil, be polite, ask questions about how someone’s’ tomatoes are growing. If you are starting a garden yourself, most of the longtime gardeners on your street will be happy to tell you all about the soil, and which plant nursery they use. If you hear of a break-in, pass along the word! If your car gets its side mirrors broken by the trash truck, tell your neighbors! It shows that you care and you may find out that someone else has been having the same issues as you. This kind of contact can lead, eventually, to neighborhood watch organizations.

If you have a neighborhood watch group, then join it. If you don’t have a group for your street, and petty crime seems to be rising, then you may want to see about starting a group of your own. What neighborhood watch groups are supposed to do, is watch. Not guard. Not defend. Instead, they are extra eyes and ears to see what is happening on a day to day basis. If there is an issue, such as seeing someone walk down the street trying house doors or car doors, then call the police. Since you are paying attention to your surroundings, get a description of the offender and any vehicle associated with him. Be the security you want to see.

Beer bottles strewn along the roadside? The guts of a deer left in the grass? Stolen stop signs and street signs? All of these should be noted by the neighborhood watch (or you, if you don’t work with such a group) and reported to the police. It never harms the security of a neighborhood to have a patrol car drive down it a little more. Again, word gets around that there are eyes on the street and criminal activity will be noticed.

As you get to know your neighbors, opportunities may arise to talk about disaster preparedness. The better prepared each house is, with some stored food, water, etc, the safer the overall neighborhood will be. Hurricanes and ice-storms and the like are great opportunities to talk about the importance of flashlights, batteries, and sleeping bags.

You certainly don’t need to go into detail about your year’s supply of rice or your gold coins or your arsenal. That’s nobody’s business but your own. You do want to be seen as a reliable, upstanding, law abiding citizen and not that kook in the tin foil beanie. Clued in neighbors are more likely to be told about potential problems (the house down the street is turning into a drug den!). Helpful and reliable neighbors are more likely to be listened to when they suggest basic disaster preparedness such as what FEMA and the Red Cross recommend.

If you seem like you don’t care about anyone else, then why should anyone around you help you after the tornado comes? They will have plenty of problems of their own. But if you are a valued part of your neighborhood, then you will be far more likely to get the help you need, when you really need it.

The best possible outcome in dealing with your neighbors is that they begin strengthening their lives too. And then, you may find households, close by your own, with the same concerns about the future as your own. People you can work with and rely on during a disaster. The more likely outcome? That you are perceived as a solid citizen and that your neighborhood is a little safer and that more households around you keep at least the Red Cross minimums for disaster preparedness. Still a pretty good outcome and one that you can help make happen.

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Peschel Press at Hershey Winter Arts Show

The Winter Arts and Crafts Show is coming up Saturday at Hershey High School, and this marks a milestone for the Peschel Press.

I haven’t talked much about what I’ve been doing since The Patriot-News let me go at the end of 2012. I’ll cover that in a later post, as it’s been an interesting two years, with lots of ups and down.

But Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., we’ll be in the high school along with about 130 other dealers, selling our line of six books, plus book/grocery bags that Teresa spent the last few months sewing up.

Here’s where you can find us, at table 91. Go in through the main entrance by the office, head straight down the hall, turn left, and we’ll be the first table on the right.

Peschel Press will be at Booth 91. Avoid the letters.

Peschel Press will be at Booth 91. Avoid the letters.

Books will be $15 each, signed, and if you buy three books, we’ll throw in the fourth one for free! Book bags will be $10 each, and if you buy three, you get the fourth for free!

We’ll also be serving Teresa’s famous (at least in our house) butterscotch crunchie cookies, and offering the recipe free for every book purchase.

While this is not our first show, there’s a different feel about it. For the first time, we bought banners and posters, and printed flyers to display and give away.

Rehearsal space for the show. Click on the photo to embiggen.

Rehearsal space for the show. Click on the photo to embiggen.

It’s one thing to get books printed and sit behind a card table talking to readers. It’s another to see your company’s name and products reflected in something that wasn’t hand-drawn using Sharpies. It’s not just a banner, it’s a mirror, telling you “this is real. Don’t blow it.”

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. We may not sell a thing. I tend to be pessimistic about these things, and I’ve found that any kind of success becomes that much sweeter for it. If nothing else, it’ll be nice to talk to the shoppers and see what they’re looking for, and walk around and feel like part of Hershey for a bit.

Then it’ll be back down in the basement to work on the next book.

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Longmire’s Craig Johnson @ Mechanicsburg Mystery

After reviewing Craig Johnson’s new book of Longmire short stories, I attended his visit to the Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookstore. He’s made bookstore appearances here for several years, and I had been told he’s excellent at it, so this was a great opportunity to see for myself.

Craig Johnson with Deb Beamer, owner of Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookstore.

Craig Johnson with Deb Beamer, owner of Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookstore.

And he was. After he was interviewed by the store’s owner, Deb Beamer, he charmed the mob of 80+ fans with stories about the TV show, actor Lou Diamond Phillips (who plays Henry Standing Bear in the series), his writing process, and the future of the Longmire book series. He told us about the future books in the series, and how far he thinks ahead. He’s finished the next book to be released in May 2015, and is working on the one after that. He also has some idea what’s going to happen in the three books after that.

(Note: He gave us details about the future books, including their titles, but swore that he only does this at Mechanicsburg. As a former journalist, I’d love to tell you, but — note the word former. He didn’t ask us not to tell, but I didn’t ask him if he’d mind, so I’ll just keep it on the QT here. If you want to know more, check out the tour dates at the bottom of this post and ask Craig yourself.)

He also mentioned that each book represents a season in Longmire’s life, and that he’ll shift a story idea around to take that into account. Calling himself a “blue-collar writer,” he appears to be a very focused writer. He’ll wake up on his farm, take care of the animals, brew a pot of coffee, head into his study and work. If he’s in the zone, he’ll work through lunch or dinner. And that’s how he gets his books written.

So what’s the secret to his stage presence? Here’s what I think:

1. His powerful voice. Both in volume and tone. You can tell he’s in the room, because he’s loud enough to cut through any conversation.

2. His fresh sense of humor. Authors on tour have a fund of stories to draw on that they tell at each stop. How they got into writing, what they plan to write next, if they’ve got a movie or TV show, something about that. Johnson laces these stories with extra humorous details. He also gives us something new. For example, he mentioned that, on his way here from Philadelphia (where his daughter lives, which explains what a Wyoming writer is doing in the middle of rural PA), he took a break at a ball field. When he started his rental car, he noticed that his speedometer pegged at 150 before returning to zero. He snapped a photo and sent it to his wife with the note “Pennsylvania turnpike” and joked that his smartphone is pinging with messages out in the car. He called back to this a couple times, a pro technique which leads me to believe that he could have a career as a standup comic.

3. His energy. Some people have it; some people don’t. That feeling like the Energizer Bunny is inside them and they have to let it out. Johnson’s bubbling with it.

4. Great storytelling chops. I suppose this can be a learned skill, but not in Craig’s case: “My father told me that I came from a family of bullshitters; I was the only one smart enough to write them down.”

5. Perfect alignment of image and product. One look at Craig, his beefy build, his cowboy hat, his call-the-cows-to-the-barn voice, and you can tell he was born to write minimalist flash fiction in Park Slope. And if you don’t know why that’s a joke, you might have a problem.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a 2-minute clip should say it all. This is Craig talking about the first short story he wrote, “Old Indian Trick,” which lead to a meeting with Tony Hillerman. (Both stories are in “Wait for Signs,” so if I’m trespassing, it’s for a good cause.)



So if you want to learn how to do a public performance right, check out Craig Johnson. And look at his Longmire books, too. They’re excellent.

[UPDATE: 11/3/14: Deb Beamer reminds me that signed copies of all of Craig Johnson’s books are still available at the store.]

Craig Johnson “Wait for Signs” 2014 book tour

Oct. 26: Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas
Oct. 27: Books Inc. Alameda, San Francisco
Oct. 28: Once Upon a Time, Los Angeles
Oct. 29: Tattered Cover, Denver
Oct. 30: Old Firehouse Books, Fort Collins
Nov. 1: Poisoned Pen, Phoenix
Nov. 1: Scottsdale Public Library, Phoenix
Nov. 2: Barnes & Noble, Billings, Mont.
Nov. 5: Barnes & Noble, Cheyenne, Wyo.
Nov. 7: New England Crime Bake, Boston
Nov. 10: Powell’s, Portland, Ore.
Nov. 11: Sunriver Books, Bend, Ore.

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