Friday, February 13, 2015

One of the Four Million Reasons to like a book.


I just finished reading an eBook. It had too many grammar and spelling mistakes, enough of them to distract the reader from the story. The plot wandered a bit, and there were too many unresolved issues at the end of the book. It might sound strange to say that I loved the book, but I did, and I have put it on my list to read again in the near future.

Some of you are probably reading the paragraph above for the second time and wondering what you missed. Whenever I read a book, especially by a new author, I don’t approach it like an English teacher grading papers. What I’m looking for is a story with engaging characters I will care about. If I become hopelessly in love with Amanda─ who has just turned eighteen and feels that her life is over because she finished high school─ the author has done something remarkable because he has engaged my emotions with his characters. To put it another way, we like to read about characters we like, just as we want to hang around with likable people. This is not to say that the characters shouldn't have faults. My closest friends have faults, but the things that engage us with a real person are subtle enough that it is not easy to define, nor is it easy to put into a book. I don’t know any perfect people, but if I did it would be intimidating enough that I wouldn't want to hang out with them. I once worked with a man who was too hard on himself. At odd moments he confessed all of his shortcomings and wanted to know what he could do about them. If he was slicing cake for the morning break, you would get the biggest piece as he self-flagellated himself over his latest failing. The next time your story doesn't seem to be working, examine your characters to see what motivates them. Are they more intelligent than they should be, too attractive, do they know how to solve every problem without any hesitation? And the most important quality of all, will your readers love them, like them, care to the point where they would give up watching their favorite ball game just to listen to them pour out their heart and ask for understanding?

There has been a lot of attention lately on the forthcoming sequel of To Kill a Mockingbird. Think about the characters in that novel. We see all of their flaws and faults, which is what the story is all about. Even the ones like Atticus Finch who tries to present a facade of perfection to his children, have flaws, even though we might not immediately be able to point them out. Literature is supposed to be a reflection of real life. Put your characters under a microscope and study their flaws. How real are they? Will I love them just as you do? Then go and show it to your readers in the same way a teen will try to draw attention to his date at a Valentine’s party. The next time one of you want me to read your story and tell you what I think, I'm going to listen for the sigh at the end of your request. If you aren't presenting your story because you love your characters and for no other reason, I probably won’t like it either.

Have a great afternoon and happy creating.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


There is an increasing amount of disregard for the rights of authors. I read somewhere that the average book takes from 500 to 2000 hours from concept to finish, which is a considerable amount of time invested in a project. Even some otherwise honest people seem to think books should be free and you have no right charging for yours. Try driving away from a gas station without paying for a fill-up and the wheels of justice will start to grind, but stealing your books doesn’t seem to arouse the kind of ire it should. Yesterday I checked one well-known pirate site and discovered five of my books being offered for free. I sent them a letter of detest and they promised to take action within 72 hours. This morning when I checked to see if they had complied with my request, I found that they had added four more books of mine to their site. The legal system is expensive, cumbersome, and unsympathetic to the stealing of intellectual property. I wonder if you have checked pirate sites on the Internet to see if they have stolen yours. If you haven’t had your daily temper tantrum, this might get you cranked up into high gear. Excuse me while I get back on the carpet and drum my heels some more.

Saturday, February 7, 2015



The recent coverage by the news media of the hacking incident at Anthem has left a lot of people confused and fearful after it was reported that the financial information of 80 million customers has been compromised. All of this was done over the Internet by some unknown person or persons. Coming at a time when North Korea made additional threats against the U.S., there were some who wondered if they were responsible. Others pointed a finger at China. Actually, you don’t need a government to hack a database like most companies have, even the big ones. Most of them have our information protected with little more than a user name and a password, much in the same manner as you do on your home computer. Programs that scan and prevent intrusions are not much more effective than the virus protection and firewall on your home computer. The easiest method of intrusion is simpler than you might imagine. Hackers can sometimes trick an employee to let them into the system by posing as a supervisor or an employee of another company that has a ‘right’ to access the information.
Over the last decade or two, companies have made an effort to collect personal information from every individual that is a customer, or might be a customer at some time in the future. Basically, the information they collect consist of your name, birth date, email address, physical address, your age, employment, credit history, salary, and sometimes your heath history. Why do they want this and who is responsible for such an intense effort to compromise your privacy. Customer and company security is the answer you will probably get if you ask, but the real answer is the fact that private information is a gold mine to those who have it. What is the source of the information? Part of it comes from you because banks, credit card companies, and health care providers demand it. The other information comes from computers who search out bits and pieces of information and put it into a file. Some of this information is passed along to companies that have some connection with the people you do business with. Surprising, despite the ‘policy’ stated in their disclaimer, banks are as guilty of passing private information along as anyone else. Some of it winds up in the hands of telemarketers.
So what can you do besides wring your hands? You can subscribe to a credit protection agency that will monitor activity on the Internet that might impact you personally. There is a fee involved that can be as low at ten dollars per month. For this amount they will monitor you bank accounts, your driver’s license, your credit cards, and report any use of your personal information that might cause a threat. If you want full monitoring that includes your credit union and your 401 plan it will cost you as much as forty dollars per month. After the protection agency reports any threat they find, it is up to you to take action. You would think that the people who caused the problem in the first place would be financially liable for any damage. That, however, is not the way it works in the market place.
The hack at Anthem, as far as I know, is the largest incident to date, but some who have suffered something similar have had to pay for the loss and then sue for the return of their funds. Some companies will tell you that they will assume any loss you incur, but you need to find out what this means. Some customers have paid tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and spent years getting their identity back and their credit repaired. Check each bill or report from all companies where you do business. If you find a discrepancy, report it immediately. Remember that this is not something that will blow away in a few weeks or even in years. It will be with us forever and will require vigilance on your part. Companies should have provided a system that guarded our information before they collected so much of it and passed it around so freely. A complaint to our government officials might accomplish something, but don’t hold your breath. Some of them have their hands thrust deeply into the pockets of the companies that are exploiting you.