Showing posts with label social media. Show all posts
Showing posts with label social media. Show all posts

11 July 2018

Wet Work

David Edgerley Gates


The Russian security services are well-practiced at what's known in the trade as Active Measures: Mokrye Dela, which loosely translates into "Wet Stuff." They've been doing it for a long time now. 

The assassination of Trotsky in Mexico in 1940, or the suspect suicide of defector Walter Krivitsky in a Washington hotel room in 1941. They used an ice axe on Trotsky. Krivitsky was found with a hole in his head and a .38 revolver in his hand.

The methods get more sophisticated. Georgi Markov in London, and Vladimir Kostov in Paris, were targeted by the Bulgarian DS, under KGB discipline. This was 1978. The vehicle was a tiny metal pellet containing ricin. A dose equivalent to a few grains of table salt is fatal. The delivery system was the by-now-notorious poisoned umbrella tip. Markov died, Kostov survived, but due only to a technical failure. The special protective coating on the pellet dissolves at human body temperature and releases the toxin; in Kostov's case, the coating was compromised.

2006. London. Alexander Litvinenko. An unstable polonium isotope. It took him three weeks to die, excruciatingly.

2018. Salisbury, UK. Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. A nerve agent in the Novichok family. Both victims survived. (But two British nationals suffered Novichok poisoning symptoms four months after the Skripals, and one died. How they came in contact with that specific toxin is unknown, as of this writing.)

This is by way of prologue, for those who may be skeptical of blaming the Russians for God knows what, or imagine it's some variation on Red-baiting. They've been practicing disinformation for a very long time, as well. If you didn't know, for example, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a forgery cooked up by the Czarist secret service, the Okhrana. You might have guessed which road I'm going down, here. Disinformation and the 2016 election.

Let's dispense with the denials. Facts don't matter, in matters of belief. We know that. Only faith counts. If you want to think Hillary Clinton ran a pedophile ring out of the basement of a DC pizza parlor, you're not going to doubt your convictions when you find out the pizza joint in question doesn't have a basement. It's obvious I'm only trying to throw sand in your eyes, distract you with inessentials, because the essential is the Deep State, the interlocking conspiracy of - ah, Jesus. I don't have the patience. You can insert [BLANK] here, fluoridation, alien abductions, or whatever the latest grievance is.

Stop me if you've heard this. Let's talk means, motive, and opportunity. Actually, motive doesn't need to take up much of our time. It's obvious the Russians are enjoying terrific benefits at our expense. The minimum damage is a widening mistrust of American political institutions, along with the collapse of a common language and our failure to engage in a national conversation. We've turned a deaf ear to any voices but our own.

Now of course this is a self-inflicted wound, and we didn't need the Russians to help, but why should they stand idly by when the opportunity was  offered to them?

People, understandably, get stuck on the means. Social media seems so transient, and shallow. How can a platform that gives us the internal monologues of Kanye and Kim have such a fatal effect? How can it be so consequential?

The penetration of social media in the everyday, its ubiquity, and the Internet presence generally, is too big a mouthful for me. That's cultural anthropology, or maybe sociopathology, if such exists. I'm just taking a look at the mechanics. If you can fix a horse race, how do you fix the Internet, in that same sense?

There's a tool content providers use called Search Engine Optimization - SEO. It's similar in a way to product placement, in a movie or on TV, a shot of the Apple logo, or a Dos Equis label on a bottle of beer. You want to draw web traffic to your sites, your sponsors, your content. A lot of web content masquerades as information. When you search for 'dental implants,' for example, or 'Mini-Cooper replacement wiper blades,' very often the top result is a tutorial. It appears as information, but it's a stealth sales pitch. The way to get Google's filters to feature this result is with trigger phrases, which optimize the search. The trick is to second-guess which keywords are most likely to be entered as search parameters, which games the system.

Search algorithms provide the closest match. You can load the dice. The higher the frequency of your triggers, the higher your SEO, and the higher results you'll return. It's pretty much an article of faith that most people won't scroll past the first ten results of any given search, and if you could weight the results, it might appear there was consensus on, say, the efficacy of dental implants.

We can apply this lesson in virtual marketing to any kind of content. Suppose we could leverage Benghazi to mean not simply a place on the map, but a leadership failure of the Obama presidency and the personal responsibility of then Secretary of State Clinton. If every web search generated six or eight results that followed this narrative, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was the received wisdom.

Stories like this can be placed using private blog networks or dummy websites. These are the robocall centers of the Internet. One will sell space on 900 sites for twenty bucks a pop. Another publishes on a network of 2,000 sites for $225. These sites aren't curated, not in the sense of being checked for accuracy. Their purpose is to maximize search hits, and boost traffic volume, which multiplies the hits exponentially,  and so on. It's circular.

It's not as dramatic as a daylight terror attack, and it doesn't have the same deterrent effect as throwing a turbulent priest or muck-raking journalist off the top of a forty-story building, but the fact that it's so pedestrian actually recommends it. It's basically a data-driven model of what's long been known as Black Propaganda.

The question isn't why would the Russians want to poison the American political well, the question is why wouldn't they? They're playing the long game. This isn't some anti-Bolshevik hysteria, this is geopolitics, the place of nations, the uses of power. Clandestine warfare is no less real or violent for being hidden.

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And some BSP.  David Edgerley Gates and Eve Fisher are both featured in the July/August 2018 double issue of ALFRED HITCHCOCK. 


21 November 2017

A Writer’s Thanksgiving

by Paul D. Marks

Well, since Thanksgiving is in a couple of days I thought I’d write about what I, as a writer in particular, am thankful for. We all have things in our “regular” lives to be thankful for, so this column will address specifically some of what this writer has to be thankful for:

Computers: Whoa! I can’t say enough about this one. Changed my life. I’ve mentioned before how when personal PCs came out I thought they were just another silly toy. Then my former writing partner got one and I saw him move a paragraph from one page to another and I was hooked. How much better than literally cutting and pasting with scissors and white out. (Of course I’m sorry for Mike Nesmith and his mom, who invented white out, but I think they’re doing okay anyway.) So I was the second person I knew to get a PC: two floppy drives, wow! And we know how far computers have come from those days. Now your phone is a mini-computer.

Microsoft Word: When I started out on that dual floppy computer I used a word processing program called XyWrite, which I really liked. But it didn’t weather the transition to GUI programs like Windows. So I switched to Word. One can complain about both Microsoft and Word plenty, but overall they’ve made my life a hell of a lot easier.

Paying Markets: In the ye olden days of the mid-20th century writers could actually make a living selling short stories. That’s not really true anymore. There aren’t a lot of paying markets. No one would think of not paying their doctor or plumber, but for some reason people don’t think writers’ work is worth paying for. Sure, sometimes they’re struggling themselves, but even a token payment would be nice. When I was teaching screenwriting seminars on occasion I would always tell the students not to work for free. And, though I have published with non-paying markets it’s definitely better to get paid. So thanks to Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock (and others)—magazines that still pay and still publish short stories. Long may they live!

Assistants: I’m most grateful for all the wonderful assistants I’ve had over the years. A variety of dogs and cats, who’ve kept me company, provided inspiration, and sometimes aggravation, but have always been wonderful companions and who make the solitude of writing much more bearable. And who, on occasion, have tripped the light fantastic over the keyboard and probably added a little extra dazzle to my writing.
One of my former assistants

My current assistants

Kindle and E-publishing:  I have mixed feelings on this one. Yes, I prefer hard copy books, though I read about 50-50 these days between those and e-books. But e-publishing has opened the door for lots of people to read my scintillating syntax (or is that sin tax).  And it’s kind of cool to be able to go on a trip and bring 100 books along so I can read whatever I feel like. And even more cool to be able to buy a book at 3am and have it in my cyber-hands faster than you can say “Amazon-one-click”.

Social Media/Facebook/Twitter: Aside from the marketing benefits of social media, it’s a great way for writers, who are pretty much a solitary bunch of people, to be able to get together at the cyber “water cooler” to chat, share ideas, happy moments, sad moments, laughter and opinions—sometimes too many damn opinions…. I’ve made many friends across the country (and the world for that matter) and figure there’s someone I could have lunch with almost anywhere in the country and in many parts of the world.  Of course, as with anything, there’s always some jerks and trolls in the bunch. And to those people I say CENSORED.

The Internet: In a word—research. I love being able to research everything on the internet. From
murder methods, to maps, history, music and how-to videos on You-Tube. Of course some of those how to videos are how to play this or that guitar or bass part or just watching a bunch of old clips of rock bands. As for murder methods, I hope the police never have to search my computer—I’m guilty. Guilty. Guilty of researching heinous methods of offing people. But what better way for a writer to procrastinate and call it work!

Smart Phones & tablets: At first I was reluctant to get a smart phone, but now I love being able to check my e-mail on the go, post photos on Instagram of my doctor’s waiting room while I wait and wait and wait, like the people trying to get an exit visa out of Casablanca, for the doc to show up. Or snap a picture of the traffic jam I’m stuck in on the drive home. And while I never want to become one of those people with their noses glued to their cell phones all day and all of the night (to borrow a line from the Kinks), I am grateful for the little distractions both the phone and tablet provide and how I can stay connected even when I’m away from my computer. Oh, and thankful for Android. I love that all my Google contacts, etc., are integrated across all my devices.

Support from Friends and Fellow Writers:  I’m thankful for all the friends and writers who have supported me and cheered me on, read my books and stories, nominated me for awards and voted for my writing, given me great reviews, interviewed me, published me in their magazines, given me space on their blogs (including this one: shout out to Leigh and Rob and everyone else here!), congratulated me on FB, liked my FB posts, shared my good news and sympathized when bad things happened, and on and on. Grateful, too, for Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, et al. Writing is a lonely profession and the support of friends who understand the struggles of a writer is…to quote a famous commercial…priceless…

And last but not least: My wife, the indomitable, inimitable, indefatigable, intrepid and on occasion infuriating ;-) when she wants me to rewrite things (but she’s almost always right), Amy, who has stood by me through thick and thin. Who, though not a writer, is my number one reader, number one editor, number one fan and number one supporter. And who puts up both with me general (a job in itself) and as a writer (another job in itself as all the significant others of writers are well aware).




So, Thank You All And Have A Wonderful Thanksgiving!




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03 August 2017

Learning Experiences 101

by Eve Fisher

Image result for badlands gun range billboard machine gun sioux fallsI've mentioned in previous blogs a guy named Chuck Brennan, who got rich from payday loan stores.  In 2016, we South Dakotans shut those down by voting for a measure on the amount of interest could be charged. We capped it at 36%, but it's not enough(!), so Chuck picked up all his marbles and went home to Vegas.  He also closed a few other businesses he'd started, including Badlands Pawn, but left behind a radio station (KBAD-fm) and the Badlands Gun Range.

The Badlands Gun Range advertises frequently - shoot a Glock! shoot an AR-15!  shoot a Magnum! - and they frequently show women firing away, because we femmes are the latest target audience.  The latest billboard is "Shoot a machine gun!"   Which is fine.  A little adventure.  What the hell.  With, hopefully, an instructor, and they need one.

Because the billboard (would that I could have gotten a stillshot of it) shows this beautiful young slim woman holding a BIG machine gun as if it were a rifle, with the stock up on her shoulder, her face (no wussy safety glasses for her!) down over the sight, cheek right where you'd expect the recoil to be. Now maybe she's an expert, like Charleze Theron's Mad Max stunt double.  On the other hand, I'd say that if she really did fire it from that position, it would take out her shoulder, break her cheekbone (not to mention powder burns all down that side of her face), knock her back into a wall, and spray bullets all around the area in an unpredictable pattern that I would not want to be anywhere near.  But hey, it would be a learning experience.

Life is full of these learning experiences, especially for those who act first and ask questions later.  If at all.

Anthony Scaramucci at SALT Conference 2016 (cropped).jpgTake Anthony Scaramucci.  There are a number of lessons here:
(1) Goombas rarely become White House staff, because while the suit might look sharp, the attitude doesn't.
(2) Don't give an interview to a reporter on the record and toss around "f" bombs and "c" bombs like they're candy.  BTW, unlike most other news outlets, the The New Yorker (originally marketed by Harold Ross as "not edited for the old lady in Dubuque") actually prints those words in full, so that everyone can savor the crude.  Forever.
(3) All politicians and their representatives would do well to remember the scene in "Bull Durham" between Crash Davis and the umpire: Use the "c" word, and "You're outta here!"
(4) Study a little Greek tragedy:  Announcing that you're going to fire everyone is almost always a sign that the Fates are going to take you down.
From the pony-up and take responsibility department:

Image result for facebook pictures of people with booze and gunsThere was an inmate in one of the AVP (Alternatives to Violence) workshops I do, of whom I have spoken before, a convicted felon who was infuriated to be back in the pen on parole violation "just because" he'd posted a picture of himself - with a gun in one hand and a bottle of booze in the other - on Facebook.  I've been using his story (anonymously) in every workshop since, emphasizing the following lessons:
(1) Yes, your parole officer will check all your social media regularly.
(2) No, there is no right to privacy on social media.
(3) When it's your own damn fault, perhaps you should quit complaining about it.  Nobody MADE you put that crap on Facebook...
"A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way." - Mark Twain
Maybe.

Slow learners:

(1) John Wayne Bobbitt, who, after being "bobbittized" and divorced from Lorena, was arrested for beating up his subsequent girlfriend.
(2) Anthony Weiner.
(3) A man I once knew who was paralyzed in a DUI - he was the one drinking - who kept right on drinking.  With a little help from his "friends."  The man with 12 DUIs, who still couldn't see that he had a problem...  The "closet" middle-aged alcoholic (except everyone knew) who couldn't understand why people didn't want to go drinking with them anymore:  "What happened to fun?"
NOTE:  But really, addicts of any kind shouldn't count.  Addiction is addiction, and those of us who have had many more miles of experience than we'd like with them know that every bottom has a basement, complete with trapdoor...
Samuel Parris.jpeg
Samuel Parris
(4) Richard Nixon.  To the end of his days, Richard Nixon never believed and refused to admit he did anything wrong even in his final speech to the country on his way out the door.  I don't know that he ever even grasped the saying that came out of Watergate:  "it's not the crime, but the cover-up".  I do know that he (and many others) never grasped, as Josh Marshall put it, "But only fools believe that. It's always about the crime. The whole point of the cover-up is that a full revelation of the underlying crime is not survivable."
(5) Samuel Parris, pastor of Salem Village during the Salem Witch Trials, who comes across not just as self-righteous, but kind of man who'd quarrel with a goat.  During the witchcraft trials, he submitted complaints, served as a witness and testified against many accused, and kept the court records.  All in good order, of course.  He was shocked when, after the trials came to an ignominious end, his parish sued him and wanted him GONE.  And, eventually, got him GONE.

Finally, there are the unbelievably hard lessons that only some people learn, and I do not know if that makes them fortunate or not:

Ursula K. LeGuin wrote a wonderful series of sci-fi novellas about the slave worlds of Werel and Yeowe, gathered in her books "Four Ways to Forgiveness" and "The Birthday of the World".

Perhaps my favorite is "Old Music and the Slave Women", from "The Birthday of the World":  In this, the main character (his nickname is "Old Music") a representative from the Ekumen (LeGuin's equivalent of the Federation), is kidnapped, held prisoner / hostage, and casually, brutally tortured by some young bucks of the Werel equivalent of the Confederacy.  A higher-up named Rayaye eventually makes the young bucks stop; Old Music survives; but the experience of absolute powerlessness in the face of gratuitous cruelty does not leave him.  He spends most of his time after that with the slave women, who sort of accept him.
"It did him good to know she trusted him.  He needed someone to trust him, for since the cage he could not trust himself.  With Rayaye he was all right; he could still fence; that wasn't the trouble.  It was when he was alone, thinking, sleeping.  He was alone most of the time.  Something in his mind, deep in him, was injured, broken, had not mended, could not be trusted to bear his weight."
Now contrast that with Psalm 7:8:
"The Lord shall judge the people:  judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me.
The first reading is why some of us cannot bear the second.  Corruption, violence and abuse at a certain level, whether early or late in life, are damaging, and the physical is the least of it, the easiest to cure.  The official definition of integrity is "(1) firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values (incorruptibility); (2) an unimpaired condition (3) the quality or state of being complete or undivided."  People who have lived a nice, normal life can say, casually, "Well, I'd never do that" or "I can't understand how some people can live that way" or "I don't see how someone could ever do a thing like that" or  (from Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath") "Them goddamn Okies got no sense and no feeling. They ain't human. A human being wouldn't live like they do."  They know what is right; their integrity is intact.  But integrity can be a luxury in the face of survival.

Viktor Frankl2.jpg
Victor Frankl

Victor Frankl understood this.  Survivor of concentration camps, a noted psychologist and author of the incredible "Man's Search for Meaning," he wrote:
“On the average, only those prisoners could keep alive who, after years of trekking from camp to camp, had lost all scruples in their fight for existence; they were prepared to use every means, honest and otherwise, even brutal force, theft, and betrayal of their friends, in order to save themselves. We who have come back, by the aid of many lucky chances or miracles - whatever one may choose to call them - we know: the best of us did not return.”



And you don't forget.  Once you know that you are capable of doing just about anything to survive, from collaboration to crime, from denial to participation...  well, that changes the dynamic.  At least internally.  Yes, that time is over, and outside all is right with the world.  But what if things change? The movie "A History of Violence" romanticizes it.  Tom Stall, a/k/a Joey Cusack, caught back up in a mobster's life, kills everyone he has to kill and then goes home.  Dramatic, exciting, and very clean and tidy.  For me - the quote from "Old Music and the Slave Women" is much more appropriate.  And this quote, from our own AVP manual:
Image result for alternatives to violence project"It is a cliche that 'Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.'  Like all cliches it has a considerable element of truth.  Nonetheless, one of the major purposes of any AVP workshop is to empower the participants, and to teach them to share power in community for the benefit of all.  This is essential because the negative side of the old cliche is as true as the positive:  'Powerlessness corrupts, and absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely.'  All people need, for survival, a measure of power over their own lives and over their environment.  It is also true that all people have a certain amount of power within them, which can be repressed and alienated but cannot really be destroyed. If people are deprived of the legitimate use of their necessary power, they will use what power they have destructively and with violence."  - AVP Basic Manual
Abused children; victims of domestic violence; minorities trying to survive endemic, systemic racism; prisoners; a hell of a lot of refugees (including the Okies in "The Grapes of Wrath"); slaves of every era and every kind...  the powerless are everywhere, but generally invisible and unheard, shut away in their own world.

People with power often have no idea of how much their integrity is tied to their security, nor how much of their security is based on their power, or even how much power they actually have, because it's so deep-seated, innate, fundamental, habitual, historical, visceral, that it's like the air they breathe: it is the way things are.  They're the norm, the way everyone should be. Until someone threatens that power, or even strips it away.  Then you find out the jungle under the skin.

And that's what AVP is all about:
"If people are deprived of the legitimate use of their necessary power, they will use what power they have destructively and with violence.  It is therefore the business of every AVP workshop to affirm the existence and legitimacy of personal power and to give participants the experience of shared power exercised cooperatively, responsibly, and well."
Speaking of interesting lessons, I never thought I'd say this, but, thank you, O. J. Simpson, for taking AVP:
Image result for o j simpson parole hearingDuring his parole hearing, he told the parole board that the Alternatives to Violence course (AVP) he took there has been his most important lesson behind bars, and that he has often mediated conflict among inmates. He stated:  “I took two courses that I guess you guys don’t give too much credit to, it’s called Alternative to Violence. I think it is the most important course anybody in this prison could take because it teaches you how to deal with conflict through conversation.” - (AVP-USA)
Frankly, I thought he was always just another slow learner, but maybe the lesson's been learned.




02 February 2016

Some Friendships: A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep

by Paul D. Marks

There’s a saying about friends, “We have three types of friends in life: Friends for a reason, friends for a season, and friends for a lifetime.”

And as writers in the 21st century we’re supposed to work social media. And it is work, but it’s also fun. You meet people you never would have met otherwise. Sometimes you’ll even meet them in real life, at a conference or convention or even meet up just go out to lunch if you’re in the same town. On occasion it goes the other way, you meet someone in person and then friend them online. Some of these people turn into good friends.

And how does this relate to SleuthSayers? Because this is a crime and writers/writing blog and it deals with the writing side—an aspect of the social media side of being a writer.

Occasionally I notice that I’ve lost a friend or two on Facebook or Twitter. I guess that’s to be expected. People drop off for a variety of reasons. There are programs or apps that will allow you to see who’s dropped you. So far I haven’t installed any of them. Maybe I don’t want to know...

But something interesting happened to me recently. I lost a friend I thought I was pretty good friends with. I knew I lost her and I knew who it was. I also knew why. Here’s what happened:

Generally speaking, I post nothing overtly political or religious on FB. Remember what your mom said about not talking politics or religion in polite company. So I pretty much follow that dictum. I post a lot of articles and pix of La La Land (Los Angeles) and film noir and Raymond Chandler and his ilk. Some animal pix. Some are of my animals, some not. Some funny animal things and some serious ones about abused animals. But that’s about as political as I get, at least in my mind.

But a short time ago I posted a song/video that I thought was funny. It was a satirical song about the holidays and Christmas and such. And it offended someone greatly. She told me so and I apologized in public in a comment on the post. But I didn’t remove the video. We had a little back and forth in the comments and also in private e-mail and it was civil on both sides, though I believe she wanted me to remove the video which I wouldn’t do. Overall I apologized three times, but apparently it wasn’t enough. She defriended me and basically said “farewell” in a private e-mail.

She was upset not so much by the video per se, but that I’d posted it around the holidays. Any other time of year and she wouldn’t have been offended, she said. My whole reason for posting the video around the holidays was that it was a satirical view of the holidays that I thought was funny, related to and that I thought other people would too. And for the most part, it was about the secular/non-religious aspect of the holidays (obnoxious relatives, silly family traditions, etc.) although there may have been a very small reference to religion. To top things off, in a comment, someone else commented on the video and posted another video which was a little offensive by some standards and not something I would have posted and I think I also got blamed for that, which was beyond my control.

I try not to post things that I think will be offensive to others, but there is a point where you have to say enough—I have to be me. I can’t worry about everything I say or do offending someone or I would basically never post anything, including this blog which I’m sure will offend someone, somewhere, at some time. In fact if I was constantly worrying about offending someone I would probably not be a writer, because as writers we are always taking a chance that we will offend someone. In my noir-thriller White Heat, which deals with a lot of racial issues and uses some tough language, I worried about using the ‘N’ word. So much so that I put a disclaimer at the beginning of the book warning people to consider the harsh language in the context of the time and place where the novel takes place. So, I do try to consider people’s feelings and be respectful.

But I guess I committed an unforgiveable offense by posting the video and have now been banished from the island. But I find it rather ironic since this person has asked me on several occasions to write up bios, respond to questionnaires, and other things about myself so she could publish an article and/or interview about me. This has gone on for several years yet no article or interview ever appeared. Yet I spent a lot of time working on this stuff. I wasn’t thrilled that I had spent all this time for nothing but I never said a word. We were friends so I let it slide. But I committed the offensive act and that was the end of a friendship that I now realize was a mile wide but an inch deep.

It’s not the end of the world. And I know she was upset by the video. Personally I don’t see the
problem but I did apologize as I said. I often see things I don’t agree with, political or otherwise, from people I’m friends with but I let them slide. Agree to disagree. I don’t comment. I just move on. I asked her to do that with me, but she wouldn’t or couldn’t. But I guess it’s easy to be friends with someone you agree with 100% and more of a challenge to be friends with someone you don’t agree with on everything.  And as writers I think we need to challenge rather than agree on everything. I’ve been friends in the real world for 30 years, sometimes even longer, with people that I disagree vehemently with and they with me. But we agree to disagree and we’re still good friends. And that’s the way I like it.
5 Ways NOT to Handle a  Nasty Facebook Breakup. Click on link not photo to view video: https://www.facebook.com/YourTango/videos/10152523198102261/?pnref=story

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I’m going to be interviewed by Pam Stack on Authors on the Air, Wednesday, February 3rd at 6pm Pacific Time. Hope you’ll join us there: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/authorsontheair/2016/02/04/paul-d-marks-talks-about-writing-and-more-on-authors-on-the-air-live




And I’m also guest blogging on author Sue Ann Jaffarian’s Fan Club page on Facebook this week if you want to stop by and check it out: https://www.facebook.com/groups/sueannjaffarian/ 

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15 November 2012

Distractions


by Deborah Elliott-Upton

Distractions are everywhere. Sometimes, I just want to sit and read, but other things prod me from doing what I want. As an adult, a parent, an employee, I am forced to be responsible.

Reading has to take a back seat and wait its turn, I remind myself.

As an American, I was responsible in making sure I was aware of the politics in the election year (which began immediately following the last presidential election). That took some time away from frivolous "fun" reading.

Debates to watch and discuss with those whose opinion I admire and deciding who I wanted in the White House for the next four years meant I allowed my to-be-read list to vacation a while longer without me. I voted. The country voted and the electioneering ceased (sort of). Bickering will likely continue until the next presidential election, but that seems to be the way of politics. I, however, can move onto the next important things in my life.

With relief, I head back to the book stack on my nightstand. I think while I was busy with life, it multiplied like rabbits. There seemed to be more, and then I remember dear friends who gifted me with their newest "must-read" they wanted to share. I see the book I had gravitated to following a coffee date with another writer at the book store cafe. Another nonfiction to better my life scrunched next to my water pitcher is now garnering my attention. All are inviting, but which to read first?

While I am pondering, I decide to check my e-mail. I'm awaiting news of a sale to a magazine, but when that particular e-mail isn't in the queue, I let my fingers wander down the list in hopes of something that really interests me, but all I see are claims to make my penis larger (good luck with that one!), send me photos of single people in my area (I'm very married!) and web site sales that I may have purchased from once a long time ago (If I haven't been back, I am probably not interested in your merchandise!)

Still, the Internet has dangled its distraction and before I know it I am headfirst in social media.

When my stomach growls, I glance at the clock and am surprised to see it is past lunch. I have spent too much time finding out where my friends ate lunch and seeing photos of said lunch while I obviously missed mine.Very little good has come from my time "checking in with my pals" only to see what restaurants they preferred today.

Already online, I decide to take a short break and get something to satisfy my cravings and refill my coffee cup. The snack is another diversion as I end up cleaning out the vegetable drawer. While I'm in the vacinity, I shove a load of laundry into the washer.

Back at the computer, I promise myself to stop dawdling and get to work. When I find I am on Google yet again, I tell myself I will find something to ignite an idea to help me write the Sleuthsayer column. Instead, I am distracted away from writing ideas to read a short article about how to better invest my time and energies to uncomplicate my life. This seems like something I should research, but in the end, it is simply the same-old, same-old: make a priority list, stick to it, pat yourself on the back. I wish I had the time back while I was procrastinating in disguise. Guilt creeps over me like syrup on a waffle. Nothing to do but shake it off and vow to do better with time management.

I make a decision to give it a try. I sit down and prioritize everything I need to do for the rest of the day.

I have placed reading at the bottom of the list. It is certainly not really at the bottom of my list, but it seems so selfish to not finish up all the "chores" of life before giving into the relaxation to sit and simply read.

Life is supposed to be full of living and yet, I am filling it with loathing chores and relinquishing true enjoyment to the margins of my existence. Why? Because that's what I am supposed to do? Who says?

I leave the computer, put the washer load into the dryer, turn my cellphone off and refill my coffee cup. Returning to the list of Things to do Today, I grab a red pen and deliberately re-number the list from top to bottom giving priorities a massive shake-up.

Tomorrow I will read first and squeeze in the "have-to's" later. There is always time to finish the laundry. NOT reading is wrong. As Queen of my own kingdom, I decree a new law for myself: I will begin each day with reading something fun or entertaining or instructional. I intend to keep the content varied.

I am not completely throwing caution to the winds; there are a few rules to keep the whole thing more honest. The reading must come from my nightstand stack. I can't allow myself to buy new until I read what I have. And, yes, I do have to do the laundry eventually.

I reach for the mystery magazine. I will read just one story and then I will see what other Sleuthsayers have to share.

After that, I am required to do something on the To Do List that originally took precendence. That seems only fair.

I feel in control and better already. What a wonderful way to start each day.

05 April 2012

Tell Me Why

by Deborah Elliott-Upton

I am always curious about the why of things thathappen especially in the criminal world. Whether it is fictional or straight from the headlines, I want to know why someone commits a crime -- especially one that takes another's life, or in some cases even their own.

Online blogs and social media tags are often ignored though the warnings are clear in retrospect. Nicole Simpson told others that one day her husband would kill her and because he was O. J. Simpson, he would get away with it.

A few people leave diaries or prepared-for-the-worst-case-scenario suicide notes behind. They are desperate please left as a clear-marked trail if only someone would look for the clues.

To a trial defense lawyer, these admissions are another hurdle to jump in attempt to snare a release for their client charged with murder. We would think such admissions would be a clear path to a conviction, but that isn't always what happens either.

Tabloids can rake in a ton of sales with headlines and articles that may be true, may be half-truths and may be completely fabricated. A national broadcast channel was caught editing the 911 call made by Zimmerman, distorting what he actually said. What is the truth? Maybe we'll find out the why on this case, but maybe we won't ever find the complete truth.

We may never know the truth about Casey Anthony. Her daughter will still be dead.

Determining why human beings sometimes don't act quite humanely is a puzzle.

Criminal activity isn't anything new. Cain murdered his brother, Abel for a reason as old as time itself: jealousy. In fact, the Bible is more than peppered with crimes, it is well-seasoned with how man isn't always just. Many of those reasons are still filling our prisons today. Why can't we all just get along?

When we ask why a crime takes place, we are interested also in finding the guilty party and having him pay for what he's done. We may not be involved in law enforcement nor the judicial system, but we may all take a turn at the jury box. Sharing space with eleven of our peers, we represent the public at large and want to know more than the who and how. We want to know the why of the criminal activity.

Read a good mystery -- one that ties up the story all nice and pretty by the book's end. Know that the bad guys are locked away. Know they paid for their crimes. Know they are just pretend characters. The real world is sometimes scary.

Sometimes we may not want to really know all the why's. Curiosity killed the cat, you know.