Sunday, August 31, 2008

Inkspot News - August 30, 2008

August Moon, the fourth installment in the Murder-by-Month series by Jess Lourey, has received a starred review from Booklist, which calls it, "...hilarious, fast paced, and madcap!" September Mourn is scheduled for a fall 2009 release.

G.M. Malliet's Death of a Cozy Writer made the #3 spot on the list of July 2008 Bestsellers in trade paperback at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ. She will be signing the book at Hard Bean Coffee & Booksellers in Annapolis, MD, on September 13 from 1 to 3 pm. If you haven't yet visited this store, you're in for a treat. It's a local institution, along with the nearby Naval Academy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Worry is like a rocking chair. Keeps you busy; gets you nowhere.

By Deborah Sharp

I've found another thing to worry about as my book's October debut draws near.

It's a testament to my fretting powers that I could come up with something new, given my many present concerns. There's hurricane season, a fear of horrible reviews, and the possibility that my fellow Florida voters will fail to select a president -- again -- and the ensuing media firestorm will ensure that no one pays any attention to my funny little set-in-Florida mystery.

Anyway, smearage is my current worry. If you're left-handed, you understand: ink all over the trailing, pinky-edge of your hand; an inky smear on the page, obscuring whatever you'd intended to write. I took notes in pencil for 20 years as a reporter because of smearage.

So, how am I supposed to sign books, sans smearage? Any advice from fellow lefties about truly smear-free pens?

I have to warn you, though, even if someone posts an inspired answer to this problem, other imagined crises will keep my "worry chair'' rocking.


Amazon crashes, and all those pre-orders disappear for
Mama Does Time (a dozen, easy, considering my husband and I have at least 12 cousins between us).

The truck heading south with my books is hurled off a bridge by a hurricane. Luckily, the driver survives, but my ruined books end up as an artificial reef.

Terrorists hijack the Internet, and I can't get access to my Google calendar or BookTour. I have no idea when or where I'm supposed to sign.

No one shows up for my signings. Or, too many people show, and we have no books.

I open my mouth at my first signing, and no words come out.
Plus, I'm naked while everyone else is fully clothed, like those dreams we all had in high school before the big test.

Y'all had those dreams, right?

Point is, even if I lick smearage, another worry will arise. I'm a glass half-empty type . . . OMG, what if we don't have enough wine glasses for my launch party? Or, what if I forget my reading glasses, and I can't even see where to sign? Or, what if someone shatters a glass at a signing and an influential book critic chokes on a sliver . . .

Maybe I'll just sit and rock a while.

Chasing the Ice Cream Truck

It has been exceedingly hot here in Central Virginia. Temps have been in the high nineties with a heat index into the hundreds. That famous Southern humidity has been pressing down on all of us like a heavy hand, making us a wee bit short-tempered and very lackadaisical (and in my case, to the point of down-right sloth).

The thing that lifts me from my sultry stupor is the peal of the ice cream truck. This week, my son and I were outside when we heard the strains of All Around the Mulberry Bush. We jumped up and down in excitement and then I ran inside to grab my purse.

We waited at the end of the driveway, listening, bouncing with anticipation.

We waited at the end of our street, listening, feeling a bit concerned.

We waited at the end of our development, worried, anxious.

The ice cream man didn’t come. He circled the development next door and then left for the evening. It was only five-thirty. My son and I were crushed.

What’s a mom to do? Well, a normal mom might console herself and her child by a trip to the grocery store or a nearby ice cream parlor.

Not me. I went on a hunt for an ice cream truck. I mean it. I drove through neighborhoods with high populations of kids with the windows down. I asked kids running through the sprinkler and kids on bikes and kids drawing on the pavement with chalk if they had seen the ice cream man.

Finally, after nearly an hour of driving, we heard the music. It was a different song, but how lovely the strains were to our ears. The ice cream truck had parked opposite an elementary school and a line of eager children were awaiting their turn.

I did a U-turn that would rival NASCAR driving and slammed my mini-van into Park. We joined the line and craned our necks to view the menu. It was as I remembered from my own youth – there were still AstroPops, Push-Pop, Strawberry Shortcakes, Drumsticks, Orange Creamsicles as well as a plethora of new choices. I got my old favorite – the creamsicle and my son got a rainbow sherbet push pop.

We spoiled our dinner. We dripped on the upholstery of the car. We never felt so cool.

If the ice cream man rolled up in front of your house, what would you order?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

We're all in Twaining

By Joe Moore

“Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before him.” –Mark Twain

twain (Small) I read a comment on an online forum recently that said all stories have been told; that when it comes to writing novels, there’s nothing new under the sun. I must admit that I’ve stood at the new books table in Borders, scanned the cover blurb of a dozen books and felt there may be some truth to that belief. Certainly in some genres, the majority of stories tend to blur after awhile.

So are there any original stories being told ? Absolutely. But you have to hunt for them, Unless you’re a reader that just wants to have the same tale told to you repeatedly, you must weed through a lot of clones to get an original.

One of the things leading to the feeling that there are no original stories left is something I’ve believed true for a long time—that all stories are based on only two motivators: love and hate. Every other emotion is a subset of those. I find that the more I think about it, the more it starts to make sense. If someone is motivated by revenge, for instance, their actions are probably based on a love lost or the hatred of the person who took away the love. If a character is motivated by jealousy, that could be caused by loving something that they cannot have or hating the person that stands in their way of getting it. So if there are only two motivators, how can someone write an original story?

Maybe it takes a great plot.

But I’ve also heard that there are only two plots in story telling: (1) A stranger comes to town. (2) An ordinary person leaves on an extraordinary journey (quest). Again, if you think about it long enough, there's a great deal of truth to this theory.

So if there are only two motivators and only two plots, how can there be any original stories?

Answer: Unique characters.

That’s all that’s left in the equation, and that’s what I believe separates originality from routine fiction. Some could argue that it's style or voice. But a great writing style can't save two-dimensional characters or a been-there-done-that plot. When I think back on my favorite books, what is it that made them so memorable? The plots? No. I don’t even remember most of the plots. The motivators? No. Those all boiled down to someone loved or hated someone else. What made them memorable was the originality of the characters. Jack Ryan. Dirk Pitt. Jason Bourne. Sean Dillon. James Bond. Dexter Morgan. Hannibal Lecter. These characters and others like them will live forever. It doesn’t matter if we remember the plot to their stories. And their motivators are shared by a million other stories all the way back to the ancient Greeks.

I find that’s why so many books have a 2-week shelf life while others have a permanent place on our shelves. They contain original, unique, captivating characters that live in our imagination long after we’ve finished the last page and closed the book. In our minds, the characters existed before the book began and went on after it was finished.

The importance of developing unique characters is something that many new writers usually don’t understand and veteran authors struggle with everyday. So whether our characters are riding into town or setting out on a quest, searching for love or bent on hate, there has to be something about them that is original and memorable. They must live on in the mind of the reader long after the book is finished.

So was Mark Twain right? Was Adam the only original author in history?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Inkspot News - August 22, 2008

On Sunday, August 24th Cricket McRae will be signing her newest Home Crafting Mystery, Heaven Preserve Us, at the Farmers Market in front of The Reader's Cove bookstore in Fort Collins, Colorado, from 11:00 to 1:00. If you're in the area, pick up some sweet corn and stop by and say hi!

Hamster - (Not So) Free to a Good Home

See this contraption? This is a USB hamster wheel. It plugs into a USB port on a computer. The faster the typing, the faster the little runt in the wheel runs. Isn’t it a hoot?

The last time my typing speed was tested, I was well over 100 words a minute. Bet I could make the little sucker run! Talk about being in a gym named 24 Hour Hell with Beelzebub as a trainer.

This little novelty is also not cheap or easy to come by. Everywhere on the web where it was carried, it was out of stock. It was also available only in Europe and retailed for close to $50 (U.S.) A little pricey in my book for a fun doo-dad. In my house, $50 represents three bags of cat food and two large boxes of cat litter. Or a tank of gas and a Happy Meal.

But electronic toys aside, I have quite a symbolic fondness for this little fake furry friend. You see, I just finished my second novel in under twelve months. No one put a gun to my head. I did this willingly. I knew I could do it and I did. Other writers I know also write two books a year, so it wasn't like I was breaking new ground. It wasn't even that difficult, as long as I stuck to my writing schedule and didn't let my lazy side and tendency to waste time rule the roost. And there were times I had to beat them into submission.

Then there were the days in the past year when I felt like the hamster. Like my stumpy little legs were pumping like pistons to keep my fat ass from being mangled by the wheel.

The real downside to writing two books a year is that as soon as you finish one, you have to start on another. Normally, I take four to six weeks off after I finish a novel. This time, I gave myself two weeks. But last night, with less than one week in my writing vacation under my belt, I got the urge to pull up my next manuscript and get to work. I didn't do it, but my fingers itched to make the hamster run. I'm pretty sure by this weekend the little rodent will be flying through the wheel like Usain Bolt.

What can I say? Sometimes you're the keyboard; sometimes you're the hamster.

But notice that the hamster is a happy hamster. That's because she's doing what she loves.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

T Minus 30 and Counting

by Joanna Slan

I'm thirty days out from my "official" book launch of Paper, Scissors, Death: A Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-and-Craft Mystery, and I feel like a rocket at Cape Kennedy sitting on the pad waiting for the countdown to hit zero.

Yes, for the astute, the subtitle has been changed. It's a marketing decision I applaud because it gives me more latitude. Scrapbookers are now into Artist Trading Cards (ATCs), altered books, and cardmaking. So where they go, Kiki can go. That's terrific. Even if the subtitle has changed, the book will still be a scrapbook mystery.That said, I have worked very hard so the book would not only appeal to scrappers but to others as well. But I'm not stupid, I know who my primary audience will be!

It's been more than two years since Barbara Moore told me she wanted my manuscript. When I heard the print date, I groaned, but now, looking back, I see it was the best news in the world.

Why? Well, I've had ten non-fiction titles published, and I learned a lot from each. That said, I've learned more in the last two years than I did in the eight before. (It was in 1998 that Scrapbook Storytelling was released.)

What have I learned?

1. The promotional world has gone virtual. Back then, we added info about my website as almost an afterthought. I started an e-zine as a lark, almost. But today with gas prices the way they are, virtual promotion is not only state-of-the-art, but highly desirable. I got a call the other day from Gabe at Midnight Ink, and he mentioned almost casually that he'd just read my blog on my website. He complimented me on the blog and website, and I was struck once more by how very public our online presences are.

2. It's all about relationships. The booksellers I met last year have offered advice, introductions and help. The authors I have met--especially my dear pal Shirley Damsgaard--have taught me about the ups and downs of this business. They have kindly shared their promotional ideas and blurbed my book. The media folks I met at artsy events with my husband have given me publicity. In the end, as it is in the beginning, it's all about who you know.

3. Nothing you've learned is ever wasted. My "old" scrapbook world contacts have offered help. They've introduced me to the new people in the industry. Like a lot of young industries, once businesses figured out there was money to be made, large firms gobbled up small ones, so the players have changed. That said, wonderful people like Rebecca Ludens of have been kind to me and my book. How long have I known Rebecca? Nearly ten years. And how about the "hard" facts I learned? The nuts and bolts about scrapbooking? Well, at almost all my events I will be doing both signings and scrapbook activities. Most of the booksellers are partnering with hobby stores so I'll have a bigger crowd.

I'll be continuing this list on my personal blog So stay tuned!

P.S. Happy birthday to the wonderful J.B. Stanley from all her fellow Inkspotters. Live it up and have fun today, J.B.!

P.P.S. Thanks for posting this for me, Keith.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Round and Round

Cricket McRae

The high temperature last Thursday was 58 degrees in my Colorado town in the foothills. For nearly a month before that temps were in the high 90’s every day, and then suddenly there was snow along I-70. My vegetables are ripening in the garden, but there could be a hard freeze in a month and everything green will turn brown again. And then white.

Transition. Anticipation.

When I worked at the software mother ship, my job changed every six months. There were always new challenges, some of them stressful. The only constant was change. But, like seasons, products had their cycles, from concept through execution to market. Going through that cycle sometimes had the feel of trying to stay on my feet on a surface of rolling logs. Risks were encouraged, demands made and success rewarded. It could be a little scary, but was also energizing.

At least for a while. Then the product cycles gave way to a homogenized lump of constant upgrades and daily updates available on the Web. The big sign on the wall that said “that’s how we’ve always done it,” in a circle with a line through it came down. Innovation slowed. It got to be a grind.

I left and started a soap making business. What a blast: researching, developing new formulas, making and updating the Web site, learning about online marketing and selling, creating packaging, experimenting with production methods and efficiency, and finally achieving a certain level of success.

But once the creative side was more or less done, my little toiletry business became like a factory job, pretty much the same every day. Kind of made me itch.

Writing is my perfect occupation. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how lucky I am. Creating a book has a cycle, and so does promoting. I’ve just finished the third in my Home Crafting mystery series, Spin a Wicked Web, and am hitting the promotion for Heaven Preserve Us hard. I’m beginning to write the fourth in the series, and developing the backbone for a whole new series.

As writers, we get to wear so many hats. Every day is different. Every page is different. Our characters alter and grow, and new characters come along. We learn new things as we research, and meet new people all the time.

As long as I'm willing to push myself, it will always be a challenge. Who could ask for more than that?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How We Failed Amelia

Because of renewed interest in Amelia Earhart and an upcoming movie about the aviatrix, I am re-printing a post from last year that you might find interesting.

I've always been fascinated by the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. As mysteries go, it's certainly in my top ten of the interesting and unsolved, and I've always rather romantically connected it to the notion of the Bermuda triangle (which has been thoroughly debunked).

Friday I was listening to The Story with Dick Gordon, a show on NPR that I greatly enjoy, and he was discussing Earhart and the fact that she may, in fact, have survived her plane trouble, landed the plane, and sent distress calls, and that one fifteen-year-old girl, way back in 1937, recorded the distress signals that she heard that day on her father's short-wave radio.

The girl, Betty Klenck Brown, is now in her eighties. In an interview with Dick Gordon, she said that she recognized the voice of Amelia Earhart that day. Earhart had already been missing for a couple of days, and Brown knew that. Because Earhart was a celebrity and a hero to women and men alike, much of America knew the sound of her voice from recorded interviews. Therefore, Betty knew that the distress calls were real and important, and for three hours she wrote down everything that she heard.

Her father eventually came home and heard a bit, too, and he went to the Coast Guard (they lived in Florida) with the information (although NOT with Betty's notebook, which I find regrettable) and was told that everything was being handled and his input was not needed.

Betty was not believed, and I suppose as a young woman in 1937, she didn't have a lot of resources to tap in an effort to help Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan (who Betty describes as being "out of his head.")

Ultimately Betty's notebook, with its valuable information, simply became her burden, because no one wanted it and no one believed her. (You can view the notebook, Earhart's route, pictures of Betty and a film of Earhart's last takeoff at The Story).

What bothers me the most about this story is that anyone in charge would discount what seemed like such valid information, and that they wouldn't at least ask to see the notebook, which could have told them the frequency on which Earhart was broadcasting. In other words, based on hearing this story, I think that Amelia Earhart heroically landed her plane when it developed problems, radioed for help over several days, and never received it, and probably died on a small island in the South Pacific.

I love knowing the solution to a mystery, but this one is not satisfying, and my obsessive mind keeps thinking about what would have happened, what could have happened, if people had merely opened their minds to the possibilities.

Today the police, the FBI, the coast guard, often turn to the public and ask for help in solving crimes and disappearances. They set up tip lines and offer rewards. I wonder why this couldn't have been the case with Amelia Earhart, and why no one thought that one girl's precious notebook was worth examining.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Writers and Politicians -- Kindred Spirits?

It's only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.
The Bee Gees

Words are the primary means of communications among us humans. By definition, we writers believe in the value of words and count on getting paid for how we put them together.

So why so philosophical? The Democratic governor of Tennessee says presidential candidate Barack Obama should stop “giving big speeches at big stadiums.” He’s not alone in his belief. Words that inspire are under fire in this campaign.

My daughter and I went to see Barack Obama last night in San Francisco. He started slow, but by the end of a thirty-minute speech he had everyone there shouting and clapping in support of his vision of a better America.

Saying a politician is too good with words is like saying a writer is. You know, that William Shakespeare can sure turn a phrase but what else is he good for? Words are the tools of a political leader. Without words a politician cannot do great things.

Would the British have stood alone against the greatest evil the world has ever known without the rhetoric of Winston Churchill? After the fall of France in June 1940, he said:

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may more forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their Finest Hour."

Churchill’s speeches were not sufficient to stop Hitler. They didn’t conjure up aircraft, ships, and rifles. But his words inspired the British people to fight long and hard to win.

Politics is indeed the art of the possible. Programs are needed, votes must be traded, and compromises made. But the first step to real change is inspiration, painting a word picture of where we are going and why we are going there. Senator Obama wants us to imagine a country again respected for its moral authority, a country where all children get the opportunity for a first-class education, and a country that does not send our wealth to other countries who misuse it. When he’s done talking, I believe it’s possible. My cynicism after decades of broken promises in Washington diminishes.

It’s no surprise that Senator Obama is a bestselling author. His memoir Dreams from My Father was written well before he started his political career. Writers and politicians are kindred spirits who both use words to accomplish their aims. Bravo!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Inkspot News - August 16, 2008

Terri Thayer will be speaking at the Saratoga branch of the Santa Clara Library along with fellow mystery authors Penny Warner, Michelle Gagnon, Mark Coggins, and Cara Black. Panel
begins at 7:30 pm.

Tom Schreck's "On the Ropes, A Duffy Dombrowski Mystery" hit number five on the best selling list of the Independent Mystery Book Sellers Best Sellers for July 2008 for Trade Paperbacks.

Tom's second Duffy Mystery "TKO" is also available now at independent booksellers (and all bookstores) every where.

G.M. Malliet will be signing her new book, Death of a Cozy Writer, on Saturday, August 23, at Creatures 'N Crooks Bookshoppe, Richmond, VA. Donna Andrews, Ellen Byerrum, and Ellen Crosby will also be signing. Time: 2-4 p.m.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Old Maid's Puzzle has begun to ship from Amazon. Just in the nick of time. My readers have been begging for another look at Buster. He's the hunky homicide detective that Dewey falls for in Wild Goose Chase. In the new book, Buster is trying to keep to his promise to get to know Dewey better before falling into bed again. He's instituted a one-sided celibacy ban. Some of my fans who have been clamoring for more sex may have to settle for more sexual tension.

People want to know who Buster is based on. What he looks like. I describe him as a black-haired, blue-eyed, strong-jawed, tall, brawny guy. Think Robert Urich (Spenser) or Christopher Reeve. He wears his hair short and he likes to iron his dress shirts with plenty of starch.

I've only recently confessed who really inspired Buster. Ready? Here it comes...

That's it. The real model for Buster. Season Four American Idol runner-up, Bo Bice. No, Buster doesn't have long hair or tattoos or play in a rock band. Although I did give Buster a guitar in homage. But Bo was the inspiration.

Bo was almost too old to be on AI. He was definitely too rock and roll. And yet, week after week, he commanded the stage and had a sexy voice that drove fans wild. Even Simon Cowell was impressed.

I was one of those fans. When the show was over, I bought his single, Vehicle, and listened to it before settling in to write. I'd think about being too old to pursue a dream.

I'd wanted to write a book for a long time, but hadn't gotten around to it. I was well into my fifth draft of Wild Goose Chase when AI aired that year. Bo had been pursuing his dream of a big record deal for nearly fifteen years. But he never seemed to tire of trying. He came on stage each week, happy to be there, grateful for the shot, and ready to give it all he had. I tried to infuse Buster with that kind of attitude. That attitude inspired me to keep writing and beyond. Write another draft, pursue another agent, look for the right publisher.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Where does yours come from?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The World Wide Webuffet, by Jess Lourey

As a writer, I do a lot of research. As a single mom with a full-time job besides writing, I do most of that research online. In the past week, I’ve happened upon three sites over the course of my research that I have to share with you.

  • Number 1

slushpiledemotivatormay08_thumb Have you all heard of the 101 Reasons to Stop Writing blog? I chanced upon it when I was researching possible stops for my August Moon virtual book tour. The tagline is, “Schadenfreude is a demanding mistress.” It’s one of those snarky sites that’s right up my alley, featuring demotivational speaking “to help bad writers shed the layers of hubris and denial that cloud their ability to perceive their awfulness,” according to Sean Lindsay, author of the site. We’ve all got a little bad writer in us, and it’s appealing for just that reason.

  • Number 2 (as in “poop”)

OK, I’m still trying to figure out if this one is a joke, but the hairy devil on my shoulder is nodding his head in the negative. The site is called “The Mystery Method: Put Beautiful Women Under Your Spell,” and I stumbled into this hot sticky mess while researching the history of women in mystery. I swear to god.

From what I gather, single men who use this site pay several thousands of dollars to have someone like Trance (a “skilled practitioner of dating science and social dynamics” and a cultured lover of life), Dahunter mysterymen(consistently dates the most beautiful women he meets from a variety social environments. ), or Mystery (a self-proclaimed previous player of Dungeons and Dragons-turned first-rate seducer) give them one-on-one lessons on how to pick up women.

The site gives you teasers on how to do that, and I'm going to give you the executive summary, but excuse my typing because my eyes are still bleeding from reading it:

  1. Find the hottest platinum blonde in the room.
  2. Approach her.
  3. Ignore her.
  4. Talk to her friends until she is dying for your attention. This will happen because you will be the first man to have ignored her and she, apparently, is as socially developed as a gopher.
  5. When she is scratching for your attention, drop a “neg,” which is a negative comment (like, “Is your hair real?”) that cuts away at her self-esteem.
  6. Build her self-esteem back up by bestowing all your attention upon her.

Is this eHarmony for the Symbionese Liberation Army? Are 13-year-old boys who haven’t stolen their mom’s credit card using this site? Can someone restore my faith in the opposite sex?

  • Number 3

I didn't stumble across this one. It's what I read when I should be writing, and it's called Defamer. It's People magazine if People were written by funny, smart people (and I'm sure parts of it are). It's titles like "Whoopi Goldberg's Seething Hate-Rays Fail To Incinerate McCain Groupie Elisabeth Hasselbeck" or "Alex Baldwin Knows Not of Pedestrian things Like Inkjet Cartridges" that keep me coming back for more.

Are there any other uniquely great or greatly horrible websites out there that I'm missing?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Try the Wine by Susan Goodwill

Ray Bradbury has always been the author that inspires me most. Not only that, but he truly writes books that have changed the way the world thinks, like Fahrenheit 451 or the Martian Chronicles. His first book, Dark Carnival was released in 1947. His most recent, Now and Forever, was released last year-a sixty year span. Sixty years!
In Zen In the Art of Writing, he captures the true joy he feels at being born a story teller. He relates a story where, as a child of about twelve, he entered a carnival tent. A mysterious magician tapped him on the shoulder with a sword of electric blue flame. "Live forever!" he roared. Ray tells us that at this very moment he new what he would do with his life. He would be a writer and live forever! He's never looked back.
If you haven't read him, you should. If you have, pick him up again. To feel the inspiration of a writer who has such excitement and love for the art of the story is a wonderful thing. May I suggest the vintage Dandelion Wine? It's a fabulous summer blend. Once you decant it, you'll find it as sweet and tangy to the palate as a life of words well lived.

On the occasion of his 80th birthday in August 2000, Bradbury said, "The great fun in my life has been getting up every morning and rushing to the typewriter because some new idea has hit me. The feeling I have every day is very much the same as it was when I was twelve. In any event, here I am, eighty years old, feeling no different, full of a great sense of joy, and glad for the long life that has been allowed me. I have good plans for the next ten or twenty years, and I hope you'll come along."
You can visit Ray at .

Friday, August 8, 2008

War Driving & Data Breaches

by Felicia Donovan

A major news story broke a few days ago that 11 individuals have been arrested and charged in the TJ Maxx data breach revealed back in January, 2006. Many people probably saw the announcement on the news and didn't pay much attention to it, but the entire episode has much significance not only to those in the computer security industry, but to anyone who is running a wireless network - even the one you may have setup in your own home.

The TJ Maxx breach included many other favorite retailers such as Barnes & Noble (gulp), Office Max, Bob's Stores and Marshall's. It was to date, the largest data breach reported with an estimated 50 million credit and debit cards breached.

Go to fullsize imageWhat makes this breach so incredible is that the thieves initially gained access to the store's computer networks by "war driving." Remember the 1983 movie, "War Games," starring a very young Matthew Broderick? The young teen hacked into what he thought was an on-line computer game, but was a NORAD network and almost launched WWIII.

The term "war driving" has its roots in that movie and refers to people who drive around looking for open wireless networks to penetrate. In fact, the open networks are readily mapped and accessible via the Internet for others to see.

It takes very little equipment - a laptop, software and antenna - all of which are widely available, to war drive.

In THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY series, my character, Alexandria, is a former hacker who loves to war drive.

That's fiction, but the reality is that if Alexandria was to drive around your neighborhood, it's very likely that she'd find lots of open, unsecured wireless networks because so many people overlook the importance of locking their wireless access point down. Mind you, Alexandria would only infiltrate a network to get the goods on someone who had mistreated his wife or girlfriend, but in the real world, someone could easily infiltrate your network and do lots of nasty things.

They could "borrow" your Internet service to launch a "Denial of Service" attack on someone else's computer or "sniff" the packets of data traveling through the air using a special software program to steal your credit card information as you ordered on-line. This sniffer might also glean your username and passwords to your bank account that you routinely check on-line. Or, maybe they'd use your Internet connection to download sexually explicit images of children so when the police trace the path back, they knock on your door.

That's why you need to lock your wireless network down, meaning you follow all the instructions that came with it including changing the SSID (the name of your network that is broadcast) so it is not identifiable back to you like "123 Main Street." It means you change the default username and password as soon as you set it up and make both something that is not easy to guess. It means you use the highest encryption level you can based on whatever your computers can handle. It means you do your job of keeping your anti-virus software and operating system up-to-date on your computer to further reduce your risk. These are the minimal steps you need to take to ensure security. And by all means, if you're not sure about what to do, find someone reputable who can help you. It's that important.

I don't expect everyone to follow this advice. It's your choice as a homeowner, but gee whiz, big corporations ought to know better. That's YOUR data they're exposing to identity theft. The actual cost of the breach is estimated to be a staggering $256 million. Who do you think will eventually pay for that?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tools of the Trade

by G.M. Malliet

In my first book, Death of a Cozy Writer, the highly successful cozy writer of the title has developed various superstitions over the years about what pen he will write with, on what paper he will write, and even in which direction he will face as he works at his desk (south). I exaggerate a bit (who me?) but I think many writers have their own little superstitions in this regard.

I discovered this plastic-nibbed Pentel pen some years ago and I don't think I could live without it now. It writes like a fountain pen, without the mess, and makes a little satisfyingly scratchy sound as it moves across the page. Sadly, it only seems to be available in the UK, so I always stock up there, although once I spent a small fortune to have a dozen pens shipped to me.

As to paper, I have gone through various attachments to different brands and styles, but my present close-to-ideal is pictured here, the Black n' Red. Perforated pages (so I can tear out those pages that didn't quite work out) and an elastic band to mark where I'm at. Lovely thick (recycled) paper that doesn't bleed through.
Not that I'm obsessive about this or anything, but it seems really, really important that I find the perfect notebook, and while I love the Black n' Red, the search for my ideal notebook continues. I seem to be physically incapable of passing by a paper store. I wish it were not so. I own way too many notebooks that somehow weren't...just right.

p.s. I am not being paid to endorse these products. I wish!

Death On Every Corner

by Tim Maleeny

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors announced they will make it illegal to sell cigarettes in drugstores. Smoking is already banned in public places, as it is in many cities including New York, but this new bill bans even the sale of cigarettes by certain types of stores.

Having made this decision to save us from ourselves, the board got sufficiently fired up to target another threat to our health and happiness: the deadly can of soda. If the politicians have their way then any corner store will have to pay a surcharge or fine for every can of "sugary soda" they sell.

And here in San Francisco and also New York, politicians are talking seriously about banning trans fats from restaurants.

What if I want to eat trans fat? What if I want the Trans Fat Special from the Arteriosclerosis Cafe, located at the intersection of Constitution Drive and Kiss-My-Ass Avenue?

I get the smoking thing. There is second-hand smoke, and whether or not smoke works its way into your neighbor's lungs, it makes their clothes smell like an ashtray. OK, I'll go with a limit on where and when you can smoke. But telling me I can't sell or buy a legal product is a big leap from telling me where and when I can use it, or am I over-reacting?

Is there second-hand trans fat leaping invisibly through the air from your cheeseburger to my open mouth, filling my arteries with soft plaque?

You want to label the menu, tell me clearly which delicious meal is going to kill me faster, go right ahead. I'll even put on my reading glasses and pour over the fine print. But don't tell me what I can or can't serve, let alone what I can order.

Bear in mind that in many parts of this great city, on the same block where you won't be able to buy cigarettes or soda, it will be eminently possible to buy crack, barter for sex, or procure weapons for your neighborhood turf war, which is probably taking place only blocks away from the public school with metal detectors at every door. So while you might die from an overdose, an STD, or a drive-by shooting, you can sleep at night knowing the board of supervisors are protecting you from...well, yourself.

Because while apparently you can't be trusted, we all know how much we can trust politicians.

As a side note, I'm neither a Democrat nor Republican, and I haven't much liked a standing president since Teddy Roosevelt. (And I'm not even sure about that since I wasn't around during his term.) Politicians seem more concerned with patting your back with one hand while they pick your pocket with the other, but at least most of them have the decency to pretend to care about the same things you do.

Now I'll admit that people I know generally do what they can to stay healthy, and most exercise or watch their diet more than they did a few years ago. Good for them, that's their choice, the operative word being choice. But I can assure you that none of my neighbors are looking to the folks who brought you the lines at the DMV to tell them how to live.

It all makes me think of Al Capone, and I cannot help but wonder if this is how prohibition started.

And I've already decided the villain in my next novel isn't going to be a terrorist or thief, a serial killer or con artist. He's going to be a master criminal who refuses to exercise, won't eat his broccoli, drinks soda by the gallon, and runs an underground burger joint out of his basement.

Or will he be the hero? I just can't decide. Maybe I should ask my local supervisor what he thinks I should do...

Monday, August 4, 2008

A famous author gets on an airplane...

I was flying home from a writer's conference a couple weeks back and I was feeling pretty good.  Pretty good because I was on a panel with some truly famous authors and I held my own.  Of course, that might have all been in my mind, but self-delusion is an underrated trait in my opinion.  At any rate, it was a good conference overall.  Got to reconnect with some folks I've met out on the circuit and met a couple new folks too.  I generally feel pretty jazzed after one of these things but this one was particularly good it seemed.  That is, until I got on the plane to fly home.

Now I'm real new to this whole writing gig deal so when asked, I don't normal fess up about being a writer.  But this time I'm sitting in my luxurious exit row seat - no upgrade this leg - and across the aisle from me sits a rather sane looking gentlemen.  That's not as common as you would expect these days.  Fly as much as I do and you'll see what I mean. 

Anyway, we do the usual chatter and he asks me what I do.  In my ebullient mood I throw out that I'm a writer.

"Oh, what do you write?"

"I write thrillers."

"Oh, like Stephen King?"

"Well, yeah sorta.  Less scary than Mr. King's stuff, but yeah, in that general vicinity."

"I hate Stephen King."

"Well, he's not for everyone."

"Anyone can write that crap.  I don't see what the big deal is.'

Okay, it's turning sour real quick and I'm looking for the quick exit.  "Writing a novel isn't as easy at it seems.  But different strokes for different folks.   Sure enough people that do like his work."  In an attempt to convey that the conversation is over, I start futzing with my iPod which is something I don't have to fake.

"How many books you written?"

"Too many to count."  I don't explain to him the difference between publishing a book and writing a book.  That's seems way too advanced for this conversation.

"So you must be rich."

"Oh, far from it."  I point up toward first class.  "I'm not riding up there."

"I could write a book and be rich too."

"No, I'm not rich my friend.  No, still just plugging away."  

"Then you must not be any good."

That freezes me mid-headphone untangle.  I turn to him, mouth slightly agape.

"You got a copy of your book you could give me?"

I reach in my wallet and quickly count the five's I have for the booze cart 'cause I'm going to need a couple.  And I mutter to myself, next time I'm saying I sell insurance.

Observations That Made Me Go, Hmmmm

Well, this weekend I got a snootful of reminders that I’m no spring chicken any longer. I went to a get together for a family member home from Iraq, but who is shipping out again today for another 7 months. It was a huge gathering of family and friends. The place was alive with young folks—married and significant other couples, single friends, and most noticeably babies. The women sat in clusters, often divided by age, and the men did the same. The males over 40 stood around cars and trucks, sipped their beers encased in coolies, and told stories (some true and some heavily embellished) while those under 30 hit the volleyball court in the yard. (Great house and yard for entertaining). I couldn’t get over the sheer explosive power of those youthful bodies. To watch them spike, and serve, and ditch themselves to make a save, was incredible. If she had been there with me, Gloria Steinem would have to renege on her bold statements that women can do everything a man can do. It just ain’t so.

The following day I attended a baby shower. This time there were no men present so my observations were strictly of females. Again, everyone tended to divide up into generations. I’d say a quarter of the women were pregnant, and another quarter holding babies. Talk about intimidation. Even those with three-week-old babies had flat bellies and the girls (I heard that expression for breasts on Oprah) were up high where they are supposed to be, full, and firm, and perky. They don’t make a miracle bra that can perform that kind of miracle. It truly is the miracle of youth. I shifted my blouse up because advanced cleavage doesn’t appear the same as the cleavage on a 25 year old. The more experienced cleavage resembles crepe paper. Then I smoothed my blouse over my abdomen, shuddering at the thought that I looked almost as pregnant as the mother-to-be who was opening her gifts. And the skin . . . Not only can you not find any creases, wrinkles, or lines, you can’t find a single pore in their complexions. I looked at their hands and noticed how smooth and taught the flesh was. I pinched the top of my hand and the ridge I created stayed there for the next five minutes. Elasticity has vanished.

When did all this happen to me? Obviously when I wasn’t watching. I’m hoping that all these observations and noticings will wriggle their way into my writing. That is if I can remember them.

PS I’m late posting because 1. I forgot (even though I remembered yesterday at one point )
2. I slept late and I’m still looking forward to an afternoon nap.