Sunday, October 28, 2012

When Things Sour with Amazon

An interesting blog by Martin Bekkelund made the rounds this week, when he wrote about a friend named Linn whose Kindle account was suddenly closed and all of her books deleted. Linn wrote to Amazon to ask why. As far as she knew she’d broken no rules. She received an email from Michael Murphy, representing Executive Customer Relations with He wrote that her account was directly related to another account which was previously closed due to an abuse of policies. He also said that Amazon has the right to refuse service, terminate accounts, delete content, and cancel orders at their discretion. He then advised her that any attempt to open a new account would be unsuccessful. In other words, they were done with her.

Linn claims she had no idea how she’d broken any rules and asked for further explanation. She told Murphy she had only one account, which was with, not All Murphy would say was that her account was related to a previously blocked account, but he wouldn’t tell her how they were related. She wrote again for more explanation, but had no luck. Also, whatever money she spent on Kindle and ebooks wouldn’t be returned.

Bekkelund says that in the world of technology, DRM (Digital Rights Management), user and privacy rights, or lack of them, are not in the consumers’ best interest, and in this case, it appears that he’s right. It’s also important to mention, though, that obviously we don’t know the whole story as Amazon won’t disclose key information. I do know that it’s really important to read the fine print when dealing with Amazon, or any business for that matter. It will be interesting to see if other Kindle users go public with similar experiences.

Bekkelund’s blog also appeared on Yahoo News this week. In a sidebar, Yahoo asked readers if they would buy Amazon ebooks after reading the article. 89% voted no. I’ve never owned a Kindle and am now even less inspired to purchase one.

I also heard this week that Amazon’s seriously considering removing any review written by authors because of all the bogus, self-serving reviews that have appeared. Don’t get me started on how ludicrous this is. Plenty of authors write thoughtful, considerate reviews about books with no connection to the author at all. I’ve reviewed three of E.M. Forster’s books and several Nancy Drew mysteries over the past year. Since both authors have been dead for some time, there’s clearly no I’ll write-a-positive-review-if-you-do-the-same-for-me arrangement. Will Amazon figure this out? Somehow I doubt it. Plenty of non-authors write ridiculous things. We’ll see how this plays out in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Reviewer Commits Fraud?

I read a fascinating blog the other day from a group calling themselves the Harriet Klausner Appreciation Society. For those of you who don’t know, Klausner has been a prolific reviewer on amazon for a number of years. In fact, she reviewed my first book, Taxed to Death, quite some time ago. She also happily accepted a copy of Fatal Encryption, although I don’t believe a review was ever posted, although I’m not sure because I don’t follow up to see who’s reviewed my books. For some time, I’ve heard negative comments about Klausner, and frankly, I’ve been ambivalent on the issue, however the group’s recent blog “She Works Hard for the Money” convinced me that the negative comments have merit.

According to the blog, Klausner has over 28,000 reviews to date. By any standard, it would be impossible for her to have read and properly reviewed that many books alone. At issue here, though, is not the reviews, but what she’s been doing with all of those free books she’s received over the years.

The bloggers did some detective work, piecing together bits of personal information Klausner has revealed on various sites, and discovered that her son has been selling the books on various sites. In fact, he’s sold so many that he has accumulated 7,500 comments through just one venue alone. Also, a significant percentage of the sold books were actually available for sale before the publisher’s release date, which means the Klausner family has been selling advanced review copies. Worse, in the reviews Harriet does post, she never states that she received a free copy for review, which is apparently a violation of the Federal Trade Commission guidelines regarding disclosure. That she inevitably posts only positive reviews means she’s endorsing the product in exchange for a free book. Again, this is not what real reviewers do.

I have no idea how much money Klausner’s made from the sale of all those books, but it appears that by using her son’s name and email address, she’s been less than forthcoming about her activities. By the way, the bloggers bought a couple of books from these sites and the address is the same as Klausner’s. It makes you wonder about her true motive for posting all those reviews, also posted on other sites, doesn’t it? I’m not sure what Amazon would, or should, do with this information.

I suspect that Harriet Klausner isn’t the only reviewer who acquires free books then sells them on other sites. And I’m quite sure she’s only one of many reviewers who don’t disclose the free copies received in exchange for a review. In fact, I’m sure many reviewers are unaware of the FTC guidelines to begin with. The point is, this type of activity gives readers good reason to question the legitimacy of reviews. I’m also sure it makes authors wonder if reviewers are profiting from their books in less than forthcoming ways.

To read the blog, which goes into detail about how the detective work was done, go to

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Life Into Art

One of the greatest things about self-publishing, it seems to me, is the opportunity for everyone to write and publish an autobiography, memoir, or some form of family history. A nephew of my husband's recently published the life of his grandfather, my husband's uncle, for which the family was very grateful.

But where do you start, supposing you want to write a personal history?

According to Seymour Rothman, newspaperman and author of YOUR MEMOIRS,COLLECTING THEM FOR FUN AND POSTERITY, "Memoirs are about you and life."

So is any form of writing, if you care about it. Many authors, especially in the past, kept diaries or detailed journals recording events, the authors' impressions, and any ideas for characters or plots sparked by those events.

But let's take memoirs as a starting point, go through writing one's life, and end with writing
from life.

Memoirs are like autobiographies, but are less formal.

Autobiographies are expected to be very precise and verifiable. Memoirs are your memories: What you remember happening, what you remember thinking or now think about what happened, and what you learned from the event.

Rothman suggests beginning with five envelopes, labeled: Dates, History, Thoughts, Lessons, Miscellany.


Make lists of all the dates you remember.

If a date sparks a memory, or a host of memories, write those memories down on separate pieces of paper and put them in the appropriate envelope. If they would go just as well in one envelope as another, put them wherever you like; it'll all come together in the end, anyway. 

Mr. Rothman suggests heading your date lists: Forebears, Birthdays, Residences, Education, Employment, and Good Times and Bad. I would add Deaths, Important personal events, and Important public events. The dates may be exact, or approximate, or you may remember events but not the dates. You can dig for the dates later; for now, just name the event.

You may not have any useable memories connected with a date, but thinking about that date might free-associate into useable memories: (You may not remember anything special about any of your baby brother's birthdays, but you may have many special memories about your baby brother.)


As far as family history goes, if you don't have facts, put down clues.

Clues were what led Alex Haley to the re-creation of his family's history. Collect stories from relatives and friends and your own memory: Birthing stories, holiday stories, funeral stories, illness stories, accident stories, car stories, pet stories.


Your thoughts express your philosophy of life, your personality.


Ask yourself: What is the most important lesson you've learned in life? Why do you say that?

Thoughts and lessons are very close, sometimes intertwined. Don't worry about that; again, it doesn't matter what envelope you put it in, as long as you get it out on paper.

SOURCES for locating, remembering, or dating events:

The old family Bible, letters, scrapbooks, school yearbooks, diaries and journals, old city directories, genealogies, photos, newspaper clippings, business papers, report cards, documents, souvenirs and programs, school essays themes and dissertations, old "TV Guide"'s, old magazines, old movies, favorite foods -- a major source, ultimately the major source, is YOUR MEMORY.

Rothman says, "Talking about yourself opens your memory. Exchanging memories and experiences with others reminds you of things long forgotten." This is true whether you're talking to someone who's known you all your life, or a stranger in the doctor's waiting room.

When a conversation, or something you're reading -- anything -- sparks a memory, hold onto it and make a note of it. You can expand it later.


Collect your dates, actual or approximate, and match the events with them.

This gives you an outline in chronological order. Match events to dates, lessons and thoughts to events. If you have lessons and thoughts left over, save them for something else, or put them at the end of your book under the heading of Random Ramblings, or Advice to the Young or something.
If you want to center your autobiography on one pivotal event or set of events, you may want to select only those events, thoughts, and lessons which had the most bearing on what you see as the heart of your story.

This is where fiction comes in.

JamesN. Young, in the book, 101 PLOTS USED AND ABUSED, says, "Stories out of real life...were written by Life; and Life, which scribbles in accordance with no plan, is a poor technician. ...They are plotless."

But are James Herriot's real life stories plotless? No. How is that possible? He imposes a structure on the events. He selects dates, thoughts, feelings, lessons, and minor events which highlight his major events, and he treats himself as if he were a fictional character. He's objective about himself; he shows himself warts and all. We have no trouble believing it when he does something noble, because we've seen him doing or thinking something petty, and that gives him credibility.

So, begin by picking an imaginary reader for whom you are writing.

What kind of image of yourself do you want to project? What message do you want the work to carry? What is this piece of writing for? Who is it for?

For instance, let's take Edith.

She has had a major experience that she wants to get on paper, maybe for herself, maybe for her family, maybe for other people who are going through the same kind of experience.
  1. She decides to start with a Preface answering these questions:  Who am I? Why am I writing this? When am I writing this? What is my current situation?
  2. Family history
  3. Memories leading to (what Rothman calls) the Big Event
  4. The Big Event
  5. Anti-climax and wrap-up.
That's just one way of ordering the material. Choose your own way. After all -- It's your story!

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Monday, October 15, 2012

Why I Write About Grief

I started writing about grief not only to make sense of my own feelings, but also as a rebellion against a society that reveres happiness at all costs.

To be honest, I never had any intention of getting personal in my online writing, but after my life mate/soul mate died, everything changed. I’d intended to keep my grief to myself and continue writing innocuous little posts, but I kept stumbling over people’s ignorance of grief. I found this ignorance in people I knew. (I will never forget those blank looks of incomprehension in people’s eyes when, sobbing, I told them about my loss. Sometimes they looked at me as if I were an alien species, or some kind of strange bug.)

And I found this ignorance in books I read.

One novelist dismissed her character’s grief at the death of his wife with a single sentence, “He went through all the five stages of grief.” Anyone who has gone through the multi-faceted grief of losing a soul mate knows that there are dozens of stages of grief (or none at all). You spiral round and round, in a dizzying whirl of emotions, not just shock and anger and sadness, but frustration, bitterness, yearning, hope, helplessness, confusion, loneliness, despair, guilt, questioning, angst over loss of faith, and you keep revisiting each of these emotions, hanging on the best you can, until ideally, you reach a place of peace and life opens up again.

Another novelist had her widow cry for a night then put aside her grief and get on with her life. Believe me, you can’t put aside such grief. It’s not just emotional but also physical, a ripping away of his presence from your soul, a deep-seated panic when your lizard brain realizes that half of your survival unit is gone, a body/mind bewilderment so great you can barely breathe. You don’t control raw grief. Grief controls you.

Not only did I discover that few people had any idea of the scope of such grief, most people selfishly urged the bereft to get on with their lives because they couldn’t bear to see their mother/sister/friend’s sadness.

There is something dreadfully wrong with a society that expects the bereft to hide their grief after a couple of months simply because it makes people uncomfortable to see outward shows of mourning. Seeing grief makes people realize how ephemeral their lives really are, and they can’t handle it (which leaves the bereft, who already feel isolated, totally alone with their sorrow.) It also cracks the facade of our relentlessly glass-half-full society.

Although I am a private person, not given to airing my problems in public, I thought it wrong to continue the charade that life goes on as normal after losing the person who made life worth living. So, over the past two-and-a-half years, I have made it my mission to tell the truth about grief. Even though I have mostly reached the stage of peace, and life is opening up again, at least a little bit, grief is still a part of my life. There is a void in my world — an absence — where he once was, and that void shadows me and probably always will. Although his death changed the circumstances of my life, thrusting me into an alien world, grief — living with it, dealing with it, accepting it — changed me . . . forever. It has made me who I am today and who I will become tomorrow — strong, confident, and able to handle anything that comes my way.

Would I prefer to have him in my life? Absolutely. But that is not an option. All I can do, all any of us can do, is deal with what lies before us, regardless of a society that frowns on mourning. It takes three to five years to find a renewed interest in life after such a grievous loss, so the next time you see your mother, father, sister, daughter crying for her/his spouse, deal with it. Just because you’re no longer tearful, be aware that even though you have lost the same person, you have not lost the same connection. If it makes you sad to see her mourning, think how much sadder it is for her to experience that sorrow. Hug her, be there for her. Don’t hurry her through grief. She’ll find her way back to happiness in her own time.


Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Print Still Rules in Canada

Earlier this week, a CBC report announced that a non-profit industry group called BookNet Canada conducted several consumer surveys during the first half of this year, and made some interesting discoveries regarding print and ebook sales in Canada.

Results show that ebook sales now represent 16.3% of total book sales, which is a huge surge in digital sales over the last two or three years. The study also showed that while book sales overall have remained fairly steady over the years, consumers are buying fewer books through traditional bookstores. In fact, 30% of book sales now come from big box stores and 27.5% came from online sources.

Compared with the United States, however, print sales are more prevalent here than in the U.S. with paperbacks making up 56.7% of the market and hard covers 23.6% Only 7% of book buyers, however, purchase both print and ebooks. I found this stat strange because many people I know buy both. According to the article, one reason Canada sells more print titles than the U.S. is because Canada entered the ebook market later than the U.S., and there are fewer Canadian ebook retailers than south of the border.

Generally speaking, consumers are paying less for books than they used to. This could be because of big box store discounts and that ebooks are generally lowered priced anyway. It will be interesting to see how quickly and how far the rise in ebook sales surges before it levels off. You can find more interesting info at

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Word on the Street, Vancouver

Once again, BC members of the BC/Yukon chapter of Crime Writers of Canada were out in full force to man the table at this year’s Word on the Street festival in Vancouver. For those of you who don’t know about it, this annual free event is held in cities across Canada usually during the last Sunday of September. Its purpose is to celebrate literacy and books, and many nonprofit organizations, publishers, booksellers, and writers help make this happen. Workshops, panel discussions, reading, and entertainment are provided in the main Vancouver Public library and in tents on two streets which are blocked off for the occasion.

This year, our Vancouver celebration was held on September 30th, a week later than other cities, but the weather remained glorious. Since those of us with smaller tables are situated outside the library’s perimeter, weather matters. As usual, our table was beside the romance writers’ table, which is always great fun and works well for attendees. After all, crime and romance tend to go together, and those romance writers really do have the coolest bookmarks!

Volunteers handed out CWC bookmarks, and those who dropped by our table know that crime writing is flourishing not only in BC but throughout Canada. We were delighted to see familiar faces return and continue to buy books in support of local authors.

Leaving the table in capable hands, I walked around the festival, listened to writers read their work aloud, and caught up with colleagues I hadn’t seen in a while. One of the reasons I attend this festival every year is because there is always a sense of fun and positive energy there. The event makes me happy to be part of the reading and writing community.

Huge thanks to volunteers Joan Donaldson-Yarmey, Cathy Ace, Roberta Rich, Colleen Cross, Sharon Rowse, Anne Barton, Elizabeth Elwood, and Ruth Donald who made the day so much fun. Elizabeth’s husband, Hugh, did a superb job of directing people to our table, and volunteer Anne Hopkinson, who had her plate full with other volunteer duties, still made time to help promote us. I’m really grateful for everyone’s contribution and can’t wait to do this again next year!

Monday, October 01, 2012

Novel Writing Tips and Techniques From Authors of Second Wind Publishing

Novel Writing Tips and Techniques from Authors of Second Wind Publishing is the 100th book published by Second Wind. I am thrilled to be a part of this extraordinary project.
"As someone who constantly evaluates novels for publication, I was astonished at the breadth and clarity of the wonderful advice contained in this handbook. It addresses concerns as grand as plot development and as simple but essential as formatting your submission. It offers crucial advice on literary topics ranging from character development to the description of action. Virtually every subject that is of great concern to publishers — and therefore to authors — is covered in this clear, humorous and enormously useful guide." --Mike Simpson, Chief Editor of Second Wind Publishing

Table of Contents

A Publisher's Top and Bottom Five: What We're Looking For vs. What We're Watching For by Mike Simpson
On Becoming an Author by Susan Surman
Finding Time to Write & Overcoming Writer’s Block by Mairead Walpole
Creating Incredible but Credible Characters by Pat Bertram
How to Begin and End a Story by Lazarus Barnhill
Plot Twists: Three Little Questions by Norm Brown
Points of View by Juliet Waldron
Moving Smoothly: Transitioning in Writing by Jan Linton (JJ Dare)
Captivating Settings by Deborah J Ledford
Foreshadowing by Nancy A Niles
Timing by Claire Collins
Don’t Keep Me Dangling by Sherrie Hansen
Sex SCENES not SEX Scenes by Pat Bertram
Film as Literary Influence on the Novel: How to Approach Scenes by Eric Wasserman
How Much Narrative is Too Much by J. Conrad Guest
A Jerk’s Guide to Comedy Writing by Noah Baird
The Challenges and Joys of Writing a Novel Series by Christine Husom
Creating a Believable Science-Fiction Environment by Dellani Oakes
Write it Right by Dellani Oakes
The Importance of Formatting by Deborah J Ledford
Writing Aids and Organizational Tools by Coco Ihle

Novel Writing Tips and Techniques is available from Second Wind Publishing, Amazon (Print & Kindle), Barnes and Noble (Nook), Smashwords (all ebook formats including palm devices)

Click here to Help Us Celebrate the Publication of Our 100th Book!!