Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Thursday's Thoughts: Social Media Fakes: Do You Know About Them?

I've been seeing a lot of people on Facebook and Twitter lately who have numerous "likes" and "followers." "Numerous" meaning in the 100s or even 1000s. Really? A newly published author has 5,000 followers in just a few months' time? More than 3,000 "likes" on her author page? Who is she kidding? Well, a lot of people, apparently.

A few days ago, I read a very interesting and enlightning article by David Horowitz, a prominent consumer advocate, about all the FAKES on Social Media sites. Yep, Facebook and Twitter especially.

It seems that you can buy your Facebook and Twitter "likes" and "followers" from any number of organizations who care nothing about their fraudulent business practice. The FCC  (Federal Trade Commission) is actively seeking out this growing global marketplace, but without much success. As soon as they close one down, another pops up, primarily because there are no real guidelines in place, at the moment, regarding this kind of unethical marketing.

Unfortunately, in today's world, honesty and ethics are words in few peoples' vocabularies any more, and it's all about "clout," "value", and "visibility." The growing marketing concern today is all about visibility...the more visibility you have, the more valuable your product...supposedly...and the more money you're going to make, because more people are going to be impressed and therefore run to buy your product, watch your movie, or buy your albums and your books. Thus, "value" and "visibility" take the place of honesty and integrity, and it all comes down to How Many Likes and Followers Do You Have.

The business of selling likes and followers is apparently quite lucrative, primarily because the  business people, celebrities, singers, and authors buying these things are not at all interested in the fact that they are duping the public.

What do you think when you go to, let's say, an author's page on Facebook, and see she/he has several thousand followers and almost as many likes. Does that make you think, WOW! this author must be fabulous! I'm going right out and buy his/her book! WHY would you think that? You know nothing about this person, and nothing about the book. So why would you think she/he is so very great, and her/his book must even top Harry Potter or Twilight? Well, of course, he or she must be absolutely awesome, otherwise, there wouldn't be so many followers and likes on this page.

Oh, really? Did you know that you can BUY 500 followers on Twitter for just $5? So 5,000 followers is only going to cost this author $50. Five thousand "likes" on Facebook only costs, according to one company, $54.99. It's a steal.

Yes, it IS a steal. It is duplicitous and deceitful. It is a business practice, both for seller and buyer, that is completely lacking in integrity and ethics. If that type of behavior doesn't bother you, then be my guest...close in on those pages and revel in someone who "really" has that kind of "following" and page "likes." Buy the product or the book or whatever. Just be aware of the fact that you are also contributing to the practice of deceit and duplicity.

If, on the other hand, that kind of behavior is reprehensible to you, as it is to me, then stay away from those Facebook and Twitter pages, and go buy a book or a product from someone whose pages represent honesty and integrity.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday's Focus: Writing A Crime Scene in a Story

Just recently, I read a mystery story by a new author, new to me and one only recently published. I was both horrified and amused by some of the descriptions of two different crime scenes in the book. Horrified because they indicated the author had not done research into police procedure and investigation, and amused because they were so wrong.

I don't write mysteries as a rule, but my husband and I spent four years in our county's Sheriff's Department as Deputies, and we learned from Academy education and real life experience what constitutes real police procedure and investigation. So I'm going to share some of that experience, in terms of what mystery/crime writers should and should not do.

**To begin with, very few police officers and sheriffs today carry revolvers. True, they are lightweight and fire easily. But revolvers only hold six bullets, as compared to fifteen or more in semi-automatic weapons, like Glocks or Barettas. Semi-automatic weapons have clips rather than single bullets, like revolvers.  Revolvers do NOT eject spent cartridges automatically, they have to be ejected by hand by rolling the cylinder, and then reloaded. If an officer is in a situation where the "bad guy" is shooting back, he certainly doesn't want to be able to only fire six shots, and then take the time to reload his weapon by manually inserting six bullets, one at a time.

** Handguns aren't carried with their 'safeties' on, and they always have a round in the chamber. An officer's gun is always carried at the ready-to-fire position. So please don't have your hero, if he is a law-enforcement officer, approaching a bad guy or a situation at the same time he is getting his safety off or racking a round into the chamber of his weapon. Simply not realistic.

** One of the things I found amusing about this story was one scene where the detective could "smell the cordite" in the room. Sorry, but unless your story takes place in the 1930s and early 1940s, this isn't possible. Cordite hasn't been used in handguns since WW II.

** As I learned in the Sheriff's Academy, officers are not told to "shoot to kill", as most people think even when not reading a mystery story. They are trained to aim at the center mass of the target, especially if it is to save a human life, their own or someone else's.

** Officers do not shoot at knees, arms, or legs to wound. If an officer must use his weapon to stop a suspect, as I said above, he aims for the center mass.

** Please do not have your investigating officer announce to one and all at the scene that the bullet wounds came from such-and-such a gun! They cannot do that just by looking at the wound. It takes the medical examiner or forensic team to determine what kind of weapon was used, and then usually only if they can find the spent cartridge.

And finally...please do not have the FBI "coming in and taking over the case." They don't do that! The FBI can be called in to assist the local agencies involved in a case, but only if they are requested by those authorities.

Obviously, this is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, when it comes to procedure and investigation of a crime. But if you, as the author, are writing a mystery story, and you have one or more crime scenes where police detectives or Sheriffs are involved, DO YOUR RESEARCH! Find out what you are writing about, and how to write it, before you begin writing! It will be a much more fun experience in writing, and certainly a more enjoyable reading experience.

Now...having said that...of course we as fiction writers are allowed to twist and turn reality. But that reality must still be logical, it must have enough truth in it to allow the reader to accept it and get past the facts of the matter. So before you go with your twists and turns, learn the factual basics of law enforcement procedures and incorporate them into your story. Don't stretch unbelievability to the point where the reader simply doesn't accept it.

One final thought: the majority of police officers spend their entire career of 25 or 30 years in active duty, and never once have the need to put their weapons and fire.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.


Friday, July 4, 2014

Friday's Focus: On The Fourth of July

Today is the Fourth of July. A happy day of celebration for most Americans; a holiday where most workers are paid to take a day of rest and recreation. And a day of fun, festivity, barbeques, and parades. The laughter of children will ring out over this entire country, and millions of flags displaying our colors of red, white, and blue will fly high in the breezes. Bands with loud and spritely marching music will serenade our streets, followed by brilliantly decorated floats carrying beautiful young girls waving majestically to the crowds before them. Strong and handsome horses, their tack and saddles covered in bright ribbons and streamers, will prance down those same streets, occasionally leaving behind little gifts to remind people they were there.

When the parades are over, people will leave quickly to go to the barbeques they are having, with friends, family, and neighbors. Millions of hot dogs will be gobbled down this day, thousands of pounds of potato salad will be eaten, and millions of bottles of beer and soda pop will be drunk. When the barbeques are over, the bands' instruments put away, the floats dismantled, and the horses bedded down, everyone will go to bed happy, full, and satisfied to wake up the next morning to "just another day."

Is that ALL the Fourth of July is? How many Americans remember just WHAT this day represents?

The year is 1775. The British domination of the thirteen original colonies of the United States was becoming unbearable. British armies were being amassed throughout the countryside, British navies hovered off-shore.

On March 23rd, 1775, Patrick Henry stood before the House of Commons and delivered his famous and impassioned speech about fighting for freedom before every man, woman, and child should lay supine upon the floor with a British soldier standing nearby. His last words of that speech should never be forgotten by any American anywhere:

I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.

On April 18th, 1775, Paul Revere, not a fighter but a man of humble upbringing, a silversmith and an artist, was riding his horse about 11 o'clock at night towards Cambridge, when he was briefly accosted by two British soldiers. He saw what he believed...correctly...to be troops in the distance. He turned his horse and galloped away back toward Lexington and Colonel John Hancock. Shortly before midnight, he burst into their camp with the news that the British were camped near Cambridge and he believed them to be on the march towards Lexington.
The story that he came galloping down the road shouting "The British are coming, the British are coming" is an historical myth.

It is true that shortly after that night, there was a confrontation between British and American troops near Lexington, where at one point they simply seemed to stand and stare at each other, rather than fighting. Then a single shot rang out. History has it that no one seems to know if it was a British or an American who fired that shot, but it has become known as "the shot heard 'round the world," as full blown hostilities began between British and American troops at that point.

On July 4, 1776, a draft of what was later adopted as the Official Declaration of Independence from Great Britian was read by Thomas Jefferson, who wrote it. The most famous words of that Declaration are as follows, and should be taught in our schools and remembered by every American now and in the future:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

This declaration was not signed by anyone on that specific day except for John Hancock, who signed his name with such a flourish that it was 5 inches long, and has become an informal synonym for "signature."

The original thirteen colonies of the US, created and ruled by Britain to establish their priorities in the US, signed that Declaration of Independence and officially declared themselves free and above the domination of Great Britain and her King. These colonies were the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvannia, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

As Americans, let us truly remember just what the Fourth of July is, the sacrifices made in order for us to celebrate that day, and let us bring forth our happiness NOT just for the local barbeque, but because, thanks to our Forefathers, we have the right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Until next time,
Happy Fourth of July!
That's a wrap.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday's Focus: Sleeping With The Enemy

Are you as an author sleeping with the enemy? This "enemy" is the villain in your story. Are you sleeping with him? If not, you probably don't know him too well, and if you don't know him at least as well as you know yourself, your story will be weak and unconpelling.

Why? Think about it for a minute. Would you accept a dinner invitation from Hannibal Lector? How about going on a cruise with Captain Ahab? Or maybe you'd like to spend the week-end with Voldemort?

What is so right (or wrong) about these villains? Well, you aren't going to forget any one of them any time soon, are you? No, I didn't think so.

Why not? Because two of these villains is a three-dimensional character. Each of these two has a strong history behind them, a history that enhances the character and makes them three-dimensional. Evil for evil's sake is dull and boring, and doesn't provide your reader with any believability. The villain whose only motivation is to do evil over and over again doesn't become real, because no one in real life is totally "good" or totally "evil." With one exception.

That exception is Lord Voldemort, because he is the exact opposite of what every good writer knows a villain should be. Voldemort IS the perfect example of someone who is totally evil. He has not one good or even slightly sympathic bone in his body. His one mission in life is to kill Harry Potter, which he began trying to do when Harry was a mere infant. I think the reason no one will ever forget Voldemort is simply because he is the epitomy of evil, some one who exists for the sole purpose of killing one specific person. He was born evil, he killed his mother, supposedly in childbirth, but as one author said, "Who is to say he wasn't planning on killing her during the nine months of his gestation?" However, he  will be remembered forever in literature simply because he puts the lie to everything I will say, most writers will say, about the villain having to be a three-dimentional character to be memorable.

What is your villain's motivation to do the bad things he does? Why does he put just about every obstacle imaginable in the way of your MC? The very best, the most memorable villain has a reason, a logic behind the things they do. To us, to the hero, this logic may be so faulty as to be unreal, but to the bad guy, it makes perfect sense.

No one is born evil. Er, well, with that one exception. But putting Voldemort aside, villains are born with the same qualities of life that heroes are: intelligent, honest, hard-working, sensitive, empathetic, capable of love and affection. So what happens to your villain to disconnect him from these qualities, and turn him into some kind of despicable person?

Do you remember Wuthering Heights? Remember Heathcliff? What makes him so memorable? His history. His background. He was abused as a child, was never allowed an education, was both despised and feared as much because he was racially different as because of his actions. Yet, even when he becomes a cruel man bent on revenge, the reader still feels drawn to him, still wants, in some small part of their heart, for him to find love. Why is that? Because he had a history. Because we can look into his heart and his mind, and see the reasons he became the villain he was. It was pure logic to him, to get back at those who had made his life a living hell, and we could understand that, no matter that we also hated him for what he did.

You don't want a sympathetic villain. You don't want him to be out-going and likeable. But you do want him to be credible and believable, and to be that kind of villain, he has to have a history. That history should portray him as an intelligent and complex person, who does what he does from a logic that, no matter how twisted it is, is perfectly sound to him, and understandable to us. How he bcomes devious, evil, and bent on destroying everything the hero loves, and quite possibly even the hero, comes from his history, his background, the things he endured growing up, the beliefs he had that were so different from those of the people around him.

Make your villain as compelling a character as your main character. Maybe even more so, but in a less-than-pleasant way. You need to know what he thinks, how he thinks, and why he thinks the way he does, and why this leads him to commit the treacherous acts that he does.

And to do that, you must sleep with the enemy.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.




Friday, June 6, 2014

Friday's Focus: Who Are The Heroes?

Today, June 6th, is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the landing of our American troops on the shores of Normandy, France, which was the beginning of the end to World War II and Hitler's empire.

This day has always meant something to me: my father fought in this war, my older brother died in this war, my ex-husband fought in this war, and my husband of 35 years fought in the Korean War. To me, all four of these men are heroes, as are ALL the men and women who have fought, died, or returned home from the wars we have been involved in.

At the same time, it makes me wonder just who are the heroes of today? So many times, sports stars from football, baseball, basketball, and the like are touted by the media as being "heroes." Really? What makes a football star a hero? I guess it depends upon your definition of who or what a "hero" really is...what makes that person a hero.

This is my definition: A hero is a person who willingly, and without a thought of him/herself, makes a personal sacrifice for the sake of someone else, known or unknown.

That is why every single member of our Armed Forces is a hero to me. Because each of these men and women have volunteered to sacrifice their own life, if necessary, in order to create safety for those of us left on the shores of the United States.

That is why each and every member of the First Responders on September 11, 2001, is a hero to me. They willingly and courageously risked their own lives, and many lost them, to save the lives of hundreds of people they didn't know.

So what makes a sports star a hero? Because they single-handedly won a game? Because they scored more points, more home runs, more field goals, than any other member of the team? So what? Where is the personal sacrifice in that? It's just a game where any member of the team could have done the same thing if he had the strenght/ability/opportunity to do so.

The media has called Captain Sullivan, the pilot of the plane that landed in the Hudson River, a hero. Yes, he displayed heroic qualities, but what personal sacrifice did he make to set Flight 1549 down safely in that river? He was concerned for the safety of his passengers and crew, and he performed a courageous act to save their lives, but at no time was he in any more danger than anyone else on that plane. He had the knowledge, the expertise, the ability, and the opportunity to save that plane and all aboard it, and he did so. He is a courageous man, a highly skilled pilot, but not a hero. At least, not in my book.

I have a hero in my family. My daughter-in-law, who has continued to work 40 hours a week at a grueling job as a Medical Assistant at our State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, and then come home to spend the rest of every hour of every day taking care of my son, diagnosed almost 2 years ago with FrontalTemporal Lobe Dementia. Under no circumstances has she ever, for one minute, considered having him placed in a facility, in order to give herself more free time and a better kind of life. He is now in Hospice, in the last stages of this disease, soon to be totally bedridden, but because of her love for him, she sacrifices her own health...she has severe Rheumatoid Arthritis...and at times, even her own safety, in order to care for him. Is her life at risk? No, not at all. But she has willingly made many personal sacrifices to keep my son at home with her in order to take care of him. Is she a hero? You better believe it.

Who are the unsung heroes in our midst? How about the four teachers, school psychologist, and Principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, who all died defending their students? How about six year old Jesse Lewis, who yelled "Run! to the kids in his class when the gunman rushed in but had to reload his weapon before he could begin shooting again. His first shot went into the head of Jesse, who had waited until everyone else was out the door before he turned to run. Too late.

What about all the grandparents today who are raising their grandchildren because their own kids have left the life of responsibility to drown in drugs, or alcohol, or are in prison for crimes they have committed? These people have made personal sacrifices, some have even had to return to work after enjoying years of retirement, just to raise, for the second time, kids. Of their kids. I could not do it. To me, those who do are heroes.

Where are the values of today's society, who heap praise upon praise for sports stars, celebrities, and other people of note, when they call these people who have done nothing "heroes?" As a society, have we fallen so low that a hero to us is nothing more than someone who has 715 homeruns, or is a celebrity leading an immature and often drug-filled life but who is held up by the media as being a "star?" These are the people our children are supposed to emulate, to be impressed by, to hold up as "heroes?" Not in my book.

Who are your heroes?

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday's Focus: America's Homeless Children: Who Are They?

I live in a small town, and I just recently found out that even though it is small, we have SEVEN homeless shelters here. I thought, Do we really have that many homeless people here, in our own little town? That can't be.

Well, it isn't for the homeless just here. These shelters care for the homeless from "wherever", and unfortunately, many are children from infants all the way to teens. The sad thing about the teens, however, is that many are not with their own families. They are runaways, from all kinds of abuse and trauma in their own homes. They are runaways from nothing more than strict parents whose rules they don't want to abide by. And they are runaways from homeless families, where they have left to try and find a better life for themselves, and have failed. Miserably.

Who are these children? They come from all walks of life, all races, religions, and economic lifestyles. There are far too many families who have lost everything since the recession of 2008: jobs lost or downsided; mortgages gone unpaid so the home is lost; no work in sight; no help or benefits from former employers or from the government. In other countries, homeless children are displayed in the media in very graphic and brutal ways, because this is how they are handled. Here in the US, homelessness is underated, it is inconspicuous because no one...NO ONE...wants to talk about it, much less see these homeless children graphically displayed on national TV.

What is this called? Passive resistence? Subtle acceptance of this phenomenon but let's not talk about it and maybe it will go away?

It is the unrelenting silence about homeless children that screams out to us that, yes, we MUST talk about it, it is vital that we talk about it. Even more vital is that we do something about it. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

So let's talk about it, by thinking about the statistics that surround homeless children as opposed to those who are not homeless:
1. They are 4 times more likely to have severe respiratory problems.
2. They have 2 times as many ear infections
3. They have 5 times more gastrointestinal problems, due to hunger and near starvation.
4. They are 3 times more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems. I wonder why that is.
5. Of Homeless elementary school age children, only 21.5% of them are proficient in their age/class math; by high school, homeless kids have only 11.4% proficiency in math, and 14.6% in reading.
6. By age 12, 83% of homeless kids have witnessed, close up and personal, at least one serious violent crime, like murder, rape, physical assault, and suicide. Appoximately 80% of homeless/runaway kids, male and female, have been raped or sexually assaulted.

Are you shocked by now? I was, although not very surprised. And one other fact: did you know that US homeless children and teens are 17% more likely to die from gun violence than their peers in 25 other countries?

Homelessness results from a variety of factors, but poverty is the most prominent. The poverty level in the US for 2014 is $23,850 or less yearly for a family of four. In 2013, the US was ranked as having the 2nd highest child poverty rates in the world. That same year, 16.7 million children were living in food insecure households ( meaning they went hungry much of the time) or they were homeless.

We are "supposed" to be the wealthiest, most powerful, most well-developed country on this planet. Please explain to me why these statistics are here, and why, today, we still have 1.6 million homeless children?

Mahatma Gandhi said, "Poverty is the worst form of violence."

Until next time,
That's a wrap.




The list goes on, and we all know about it. But let's talk about these children who are homeless for no reasons of their own.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Monday's Musings on Sunday: Memorial Day, A Day for Memories

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. A day for memories, for prayers, for tributes to those who gave their lives so we could live.

Our flag flies at half-mast on Memorial Day. I grew up in a military family, and I married two military men...uh, not at the same time, however. Both fought in wars that this country involved itself in, one, WWII, not brought on by anything we did, the other, Korea, a war we probably should not have intruded upon. But both were out of the service by the time I married them.

My brother was twelve years older than I, and in his first year of college when he decided to enlist in the Air Force during WWII. I was just a little girl, but he was my hero and I was devastated when he left for the service. He signed up for four years, and came home only once during that time. That short leave was one of the happiest times of my life.

In April, 1945, he and his B-17 crew were awaiting rotation home when his best friend, also a pilot, received word from the Red Cross that he should come home immediately, as his wife had been severely injured in a car crash. My brother volunteered to take his friend's last flight, and when his crew heard about it, they all volunteered to fly with him. The mission was over Berlin. It was the last bombing raid before Germany's Hitler surrendered. That morning, fifty-two bombers went out. That afternoon, forty-seven came back. David's  plane, "Lil' Sis", was not one of the forty-seven.

Three days later, I was reading David's last letter to me when a car pulled up in front of our house. A major, a captain, and an Air Force Chaplain stepped out. I had grown up all over the world from one Army base to another, and I knew what that meant. My brother, my hero, was gone, and my life would never be the same.

Today, Richard will put up the flag, and tomorrow it will go to half-mast. For David, for my father, for my former husband, for all the friends we have lost over the years, some not military at all. It will fly at half-mast for my closest and dearest friend who died so very suddenly and unexpected just before Thanksgiving last year, and whose death once again changed my life. And that flag will fly at half-mast not just for us, but for all the men and women who have lost their lives fighting someone, something, that the United States has declared an "eminent danger" to the US...even when it possibly wasn't. It will fly in memory of, and as a tribute to, all those fallen heros.

Will your flag fly tomorrow? Will it be lowered to half-mast? If so, for whom will it fly?

Until next time, God Bless.
That's a wrap.