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To Buy or Not to Buy: That is the Question

Partial Nora Roberts Collection

Partial Nora Roberts Collection

To massacre a phrase from Hamlet’s Soliloquy beyond all earthly recognition, have you ever thought about the factors that influence you to buy a book?

This blog post started off as an analysis of authors whose work I pre-order and auto-buy, but then, looking at my Amazon Cart and seeing so few books there <wince>, I started thinking about the topic in greater depth. What alchemic combination of author, genre, length, format, price point, and release timing makes me buy a book?

I knew beforehand that certain authors were auto-buys, and that I don’t impulse buy–ever–but beyond that? I discovered that my purchasing decisions were filtered through a set of factors that were a lot more complicated than I’d realized.

Go figure. 😉

Whether?

I easily read a couple hundred books per year, so it probably goes without saying that I’m a heavy user of the public library.

When considering whether to read or buy a book, particularly by a new-to-me author, I’ll scour online review sites looking for comments about lack of editing, typos, grammar errors and the like, which are my personal Kryptonite. Life’s too damn short to read books that annoy me.   

Whom?

At the time I write this post in late October, I’m awaiting delivery of three pre-ordered books:

Sarah MacLean – Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover (historical paperback, Book of Scoundrels #4)

Nalini Singh – Archangel’s Shadows (paranormal paperback, Guild Hunters series)

Nora Roberts – Blood Magick (paranormal trade paperback, The Cousins O’Dwyer #3)

While I own every book MacLean and Roberts have ever written, I prefer Singh’s paranormal work to her category and contemporary releases.

There are several “new to me” authors whose work I’m enjoying so much that I’m happily glomming their backlists. I think it’s worth mentioning that I was introduced to Marie Force, Jennifer Probst, and Molly O’Keefe via a free paperback book. For me, free can pay off. O’Keefe, in particular, with her gift for exquisite sensory description, has made the leap to my auto-buy list. LOVE. HER.

When?

My oldest Nora (1981)

My oldest Nora (1981)

While it’s every author’s dream to earn a place for themselves on a reader’s auto-buy or pre-order list—the kind of fandom that yields delighted readers, big opening week sales, and bestseller list appearances—I must admit that, as a reader, I rarely buy a book in its release week. I’m really good at deferred gratification, and my TBR pile already looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I have so many books to catch up on that I feel no rush.

I’ve also found that by waiting awhile, you have a fair chance of finding an e-book on sale, or free, at a later date. Ka-ching.

How?

Once I make a decision to buy, format and price come into play. We all have our preferences; here are mine. As a rule, I don’t buy fiction in hardcover. I don’t listen to audiobooks, I’m ‘meh’ about novellas, and I heartily dislike serials. I’ve developed anthology fatigue from the sheer number of unread boxed sets growing dust on my Kindle.

If I want to read, for example, the latest book in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series, or the latest J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts hardcover, I first reserve it at the library, then buy the book in mass market or trade paperback once it’s released in that format.

I read a mix of paperbacks and e-books. If a book has a chance of becoming a keeper, I buy it in paperback, because ebooks seem more…temporary, more disposable to me, for some reason. I think the most I’ve ever paid for an ebook is $5.99—and believe me, I thought twice before hitting the buy button.  And then I got REALLY pissed off because the ebook went on sale not two months later. :-/ Talk about a disincentive to buy a book in its release week.

So, let’s open it up for discussion! Which factors lead you to either buy a book, or not buy it? Do you have format preferences? A preferred price point?

Who’s on your auto-buy list?

 

 TamaraHogan_TemptMe_100pxTEMPT ME, Book Three of Tamara Hogan’s award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, was nominated for a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and for a 2014 Booksellers Best Award.  Learn more about Tammy’s books at www.tamarahogan.com.

Buy yours at:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace

 

When the Words Get in the Way

whathehellI spent more than a little time at 2014 RWA National in my hotel room, writing. Let me correct that: I was struggling. I was working on this love scene that takes place at about the halfway point of my WIP, ENTHRALL ME.  For some reason, Tia and Wyland’s bodies were doing all the right, sexy things, but the scene was flat. Dead. 

Over some awesomely sleazy Chinese take-out, I realized I’d completely lost track of Wyland’s emotional arc. Why were Wyland and Tia in bed again? They must have reasons, right? 

I realized I had no earthly idea what those reasons were. Houston – or should I say San Antonio – we have a problem.

After returning home, I took what felt like a really drastic step–I stopped writing. I pushed writing new words aside and, using my daily writing time, tried some troubleshooting techniques I use in my day job as a quality and process analyst (namely root-cause analysis, and The Five Whys) to investigate what was up. 

And I figured out what the problem was pretty quickly.

I hammered out the first draft of this book during NaNoWriMo, in Nov. 2013, then devised a Chapter/Scene breakdown based on that first draft. Over a half year had passed since then. So much had changed in my story, but I hadn’t taken the time to update my plot line document, my GMC charts, and all the support materials that are so essential to my process.

However, my revisions document was 10 pages long and growing by the day. *choke*

In a moment of serendipitous timing, a couple of my Ruby Sisters mentioned registering for an upcoming Story Masters workshop, which I’d had the opportunity to take last year and had written a blog post about. As I re-read the blog post, it hit me: I’d fallen headlong into the trap Donald Maass had warned us about!

Paraphrasing:

Goals can get in our way. When you feel all caught up in deadlines, word count, page count, and meeting agent/editor/reader expectations, STOP. Ask yourself, why do I do this? What am I trying to say? What matters in the end is not that you made your daily word count, but that you told a compelling story. THAT’S the goal. Remember?

I’d become so focused on daily output, on the number of scenes piling up, that I’d lost sight of the endpoint. What was I writing toward? How was I going to get there?

* crickets *

My mental story map was no longer accurate. My out-dated support materials had become an albatross hanging around my neck.

Why had it taken me so long for me to recognize this? The best I can come up with is that I allowed outside influences, and thoughts about commitments to others, to get in the way. I’d stated a goal to readers to release a book annually, which still feels s-l-o-w. My CP wouldn’t get new, polished chapters if I stopped to assess whether the chapters I delivered to her actually, you know, connected in any reasonable way. 

I also realized I’d fallen into what author Chuck Wendig called The Pit of Comparisons (language NSFW). Reading all those tweets from people who release multiple books per year, when I can’t release one, and who talk about their 10K-word writing days when on my most productive day, I can barely eke out 500, had really done a job on my head.

These things made it really easy for me to just…plow forward, to ignore that niggling spider sense telling me that something was wrong. Because activity equals productivity, right?

Right?

No. Not so much. 

So I took a deep, painful breath, and told my CP it might be awhile before she saw any new chapters from me. I acknowledged—really acknowledged—that there was no way in hell I’d be ready to release ENTHRALL ME by years’ end. Then I devised a bullet-point plan to get myself back on track.

My plan includes:

  • Reading the first half of my manuscript, which is at second draft and which my CP has already seen, to reacquaint myself with the story facts I’ve committed to paper.
  • Updating my Chapter/Scene breakdown document to reflect what actually happens in the first half of the book.
  • Updating my character development charts to reflect current GMCs.
  • Applying those piled-up revisions to the first half of the book.

After these steps are done, I figure I’ll be standing on a firmer foundation story-wise. Next, I’ll need to:

  • Reassess the plot and storyline for the remainder of the book. What scenes do I need to write to tell the rest of the story, based on what I wrote in the first half of the book?
  • Update my Chapters/Scenes document to reflect that analysis.
  • Re-read first draft NaNoWriMo scenes from the back half of the book to see what might be salvageable.
  • Start writing the second half of the book.

I’m on step four of this plan, applying revisions, and I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER!! I’m getting my story back on track again, and not letting the words, or the illusion of progress, get in the way. 

What do you do when you recognize your story might be clattering off-track? How do you keep yourself from falling into the trap of comparing yourself to others?

  TamaraHogan_TemptMe_100px

TEMPT ME, Book Three of Tamara Hogan’s award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, was nominated for a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and for a 2014 Booksellers Best Award.  Learn more at www.tamarahogan.com.

Buy yours at:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace

Awesome #RWA14 SWAG!!

Frequent Ruby Readers may remember that I’m one of those annoying people who doesn’t seem to be influenced by most promo and marketing approaches, and alas, swag is no exception. I know, I’m horrible. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some awesome swag on hand at the Romance Writers of America’s National Conference recently held in San Antonio. It also doesn’t mean I didn’t pick some up. 😉

Following are some of the items I collected at RWA National. If I notice a trend in the swag I picked up, it’s that the swag was a) useful/edible, b)  eye-catching, or c) it tickled my funny bone. 

Clockwise, from 12:00-ish:

SWAG HAG

A purple mini-notebook and orange breath mints from Aliyah Burke. I love purple, and orange is my favorite citrus flavor. (Useful/edible)

A bottle opener from Sarah M. Anderson, cleverly branded with “Percheron Drafts”, a setting from her Beaumont Heirs series. (Useful)

An unusual and beautiful mirrored compact from Susan Sheehey. (Useful/eye-catching)

More orange mints. Yeah, I took two. I told you I was horrible. (Edible)

From our own Ruby Sister Sara Ramsey, a sticky notepad that still makes me snicker. It reads: #regencyworldproblems

napoleon took me to russia and all I got was typhus (Useful/hilarious)

At the center, more mints – these ones reflecting book covers. Love the black containers, Dina Haynes  and Lynda Aicher!  (Edible)

Tasty mint gum, with book cover, from Teri Riggs. (Edible)

Lip balm from Annie Oortman of AnnieEdits. The label reads, “Editing is a bitch. I’m not.” LOVE IT. See Me: horrible, above. (Useful/funny)

More lip balm, and other awesome stuff, from Melody Anne, who I’ll talk about more in a bit. 

No conference attended primarily by women would be complete if people weren’t complaining about the temperature. 😉 The meeting spaces seemed to be either too hot or too cold, hitting very few attendees in that “just right” Goldilocks Zone. But never fear! The Goody Room had us covered. 

Cold hands, warm heart?

Bless you, Amylynn Bright, for including the life-saving Hot Hands chemical heating pads in your goodie bag! I should get brownie points for restraint because I only took one. (Useful – to me!)

For the women who were too warm, there were a number of awesome fans to choose from, including this clever cowboy-themed fan from Linda Gilman. (Useful – to most!)

If I had to choose a single promo and swag MVP for the conference, it would have to be New York Times best-selling indie author Melody Anne. In addition to outspending some publishers by supporting the conference at a platinum level, Melody’s name was visible everywhere: on the small, exceedingly useful notebook found in everyone’s conference bag. On a glasses/screen cleaning wipe (at about 10:00 in the first pic). Her latest release was advertised on elevator clings. Somewhere along the line, I picked up a bookmark advertising free downloads for four of her books. I picked up her swag in the Goody Room, a bag containing the cutest little black book holding sticky notes and adhesive page tabs (10:00 above, half-covering the glasses/screen cleaning wipe), name-brand lip balm, and a good quality pen, all emblazoned with her name. Being an indie author, she also bore the cost of furnishing her own print books for both the Literacy Signing and the Indie signing.

Melody Anne? I think brand name domination has been achieved!    

Did you pick up any swag at RWA National? Tell us about it! Did you have a favorite item? Did any item strike you as cool or unusual? Will any item increase the chance that you might actually buy someone’s book?

Let’s dish!    

 TamaraHogan_TemptMe_100px

TEMPT ME, Book Three of Tamara Hogan’s award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, was nominated for a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and for a 2014 Booksellers Best Award.  Learn more at www.tamarahogan.com.

Buy yours at:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace

 

 

Art, Music, and Emotion

As a stoic, unsentimental Scandinavian, it takes a LOT to make me cry in real life , but when I’m listening to music? Or experiencing some kind of art combined with music? OMG, someone pass the Kleenex.

Music alone reliably opens my emotional floodgates, but combining great music with another type of art can tip the experience to transcendent.  Today, I’d like to talk about art that makes us cry.

Apologies in advance for what will certainly be a video-heavy post. I hope you’ll be able to come back to this post when you have a little time, experience some of the art that tugs at MY heartstrings, and also share your own.

Dance

I’m a long-time viewer of So You Think You Can Dance, the competitive reality show that’s given so many dancers an opportunity to strut their stuff to the world. After the season is over, many of the Top 20 dancers deservedly make the leap from amateur to professional, but I find myself most emotionally impacted by the auditions – no, not the emotionally manipulative “up close and personal” sob stories, which I fast-forward past – but the performances themselves… just an as-yet-unknown dancer, interpreting a song through movement, in their own little world, before any famous choreographer gets their hot little hands on them.

The musicality of these two SYTYCD auditions literally brings me to tears.

After her audition, Melanie Moore , the eventual Season 8 winner, not only received a standing ovation from her fellow competitors, but was told by one of the judges that Zeus himself would invite her to dance on Mt. Olympus.

Moore is dancing to “The Meadow” by Alexandre Desplat, from the Twilight Saga: New Moon Soundtrack.

Below, director/producer/choreographer and SYTYCD guest judge Adam Shankman gets a little verklempt watching Billy Bell’s audition. Adam wasn’t alone. (I’m a sympathetic crier, so this audition was a double-whammy.)

Billy is dancing to “To Build a Home” by the Cinematic Orchestra. Unfortunately Bell sustained an injury partway through the season and had to leave the competition.

TV

In my opinion, the last scene of the Six Feet Under series finale is the one of the most perfect pieces of television ever aired. In six sublime, fast-forwarded, largely dialogue-free minutes, we learn what the future holds for every member of the extended Fisher family as the youngest daughter, Claire, drives cross-country to start her first grown-up job. Given the Fishers run a funeral home, could the series really have ended any other way? Set to Sia’s “Breathe Me,” this scene and this song are forever entwined in my mind, combining to create a piece of art that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

FAIR WARNING: Some readers may find the montage’s subject matter – death – disturbing.

Music

Every morning when I sit down to write, I choose an artist, song, album, or playlist that I think will transport me to the emotional head space of the character whose POV I’m writing from that day. (Music is that reliable a tool for me; there are some pieces that make my eyes sting every time I hear them.) Here are Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson, joined by Jason Bonham on drums, performing Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, with an arrangement I feel rivals the  original.

The chorus coming in at about 4:10? Talk about transcendent.

Books

You wouldn’t expect that reading a rocker’s memoir would provoke much of an emotional reaction, but Duran Duran bass player John Taylor’s 2012 memoir, In the Pleasure Groove, accomplished this rare feat. When Taylor described how his bandmate Simon LeBon sang “Save a Prayer” at John’s father’s funeral? Fellow Ruby Sister and Duran Duran superfan Vanessa B. and I both bawled like babies.

And finally, from my own work. In my 2009 GH finalist/2011 debut novel TASTE ME, I killed off a secondary character that some readers thought was developed strongly enough to get her own book – and yeah, it hurt.

In this excerpt, a siren choir sings Annika Fontaine home:

A burst of wind buffeted the small group as they assembled on the edge of the rugged cliff. Lukas instinctively leaned in to shelter Scarlett with his larger body. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed his father doing the same thing for Claudette as she stood in her family’s ancestral worship area like a poised ivory statue, her face locked in a rictus of control. In this thin, milky light, her hair looked more gray than red, and her mourning-white trench coat whipped around her legs. She cradled a fuchsia suede bag about the size and weight of a sack of sugar in both arms.

Her daughter’s ashes.

As opposed to her mother, Scarlett blazed with defiant color. She’d made no attempt to harness her hair, and it billowed behind her like a red sheet on a clothesline. Her calf-length wool coat was bright turquoise, her pink boots glowed, and her face was blotchy with tears.

Grief and sadness poured out of her like blood from a wound. Lukas clenched his jaw and held on to her hand as the siren choir gathered around them in a loose semicircle.

“Let us sing our sister home,” the Celebrant intoned. She turned her substantial body to the pounding sea and extended her arms to the sky and waves, singing the first haunting notes.

He thought he was prepared. He really did. But when the other women joined in… Jesus. Dissonant harmonies shrilled up and down his backbone, and he grasped Scarlett’s waist more tightly—whether to support her or to be supported, he didn’t really know. Scarlett was as much moaning as singing, her incomparable voice rising above the others as she extended her arms to the sea and tipped her head up to the sky. The collective mourning energy swirled above them like a whirlwind as the sirens sang the Fontaine family lineage, imploring the wind and the waves to accompany the brave siren Annika to her final resting place. Annika, daughter of Claudette, daughter of Signe, daughter of Siobhan, daughter of Siann, of Sorcha, of Catraoine. Of Sinead, Maire, Ceile, and Fiona. On and on, back through the generations, the sirens recited the names the unbroken Fontaine matrilineal line back to Canola, Goddess of the Harp.

It was now up to Scarlett to ensure continuity of the Fontaine line.

On and on the singing went, the sirens acknowledging sisters lost to history, sisters who’d protected their families and ensured their species’ survival by luring marauders’ ships into the cliffs with no weapon but their voices. Lukas surreptitiously popped an antacid and tried to distract himself by focusing on the waves pounding against the cliffs, the swooping gulls, the fall sumac blazing between the rocks, where the paparazzi crouched like fucking jackals. Something, anything, to distract himself from the taste of Scarlett’s saltwater mourning mixing with her mandarin essence.

How his seed boiled at the thought of fathering Scarlett’s child.

Finally, the plaintive song came to a close, and the Celebrant stepped back, gesturing to the churning water.

“I … can’t do this,” Scarlett whispered brokenly, the first words she’d spoken to him in nearly a week.

Lukas bracketed her chilly face in his warm hands, trying to pour whatever strength he could into her. “You can.”

She clutched his wrists with her hands for a long moment, her eyes locked on to his. Finally, she stepped away from the shelter of his body and joined her mother at the edge of the cliff. And as the other sirens chanted, “All that was…all that is…all that shall be,” they reached into the bag with their bare hands, casting Annika’s ashes to the wild, wild sea.

Oh yeah. That still makes me cry.

Is there a type or piece of art that makes you cry? Happy tears, sad tears, bittersweet tears? Feel like sharing?  

-tammy 

 

TamaraHogan_TemptMe_100px

TEMPT ME, Book Three of Tamara Hogan’s award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, has been nominated for a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and for a 2014 Booksellers Best Award.

Buy yours at:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace

 

 

Happy Holidays from The Story Masters!

In early November, I gave myself an early holiday gift: a four-day writing workshop with The Story Masters!

I mean, COME ON. Look at this instructor lineup! And within a 50 mile drive of where I live?! I was SO there.

Though I highly recommend everyone experience this awesome workshop for themselves – the next scheduled session is Feb. 5-8, 2014, in Atlanta! –  (CORRECTION: 2015! Thanks, Anne Marie!) I thought I’d provide an early gift to our readers by passing along some of the tips and exercises I took away from each instructor.

Present1From Christopher Vogler, author of “The Writer’s Journey”:

While taking us through an in-depth explanation of The Hero’s Journey, Vogler advised the following:

TIP:   As you write, preserve your awareness of your “spark”: “Why did I feel compelled to write this story again?”

TIP:   Remember cause and effect. Each scene should cause the next. The next scene has to be written for a reason.

TIP:   If you have to choose, it’s better for language to be clear than be poetic.

EXERCISE:   Distill your story down to one word. (Romance writers, “love” is too easy. Dig deeper.) This word is probably your primary theme.

From James Scott Bell, author of “Plot & Structure” and “Conflict & Suspense”:  Present2

On Day Two, Bell used Vogler’s Hero’s Journey material as a jumping off point to provide us with more information about – as you might guess! – plot, structure, conflict and suspense.

EXERCISE:   Getting to know your characters:

<CHARACTER NAME> is a/an <ADJECTIVE><NOUN> who has to <WHAT><BECAUSE>

Example: Scarlett O’Hara is a southern belle who has to fight to save her home during the Civil War because if she loses her home, she’ll be dependent upon others for her existence, and never a woman of strength or substance.

EXERCISE:   What would cause your character to throw a chair through a window?

EXERCISE:   Describe your character’s best and worst days.

EXERCISE:   Your character has been unjustly imprisoned. What childhood memory do they escape to in order to comfort themselves?

EXERCISE:   Have your villain explain to a jury why they’re right. (This exercise forces you as the writer to get in their head and on their side.)

EXERCISE:   What happened to your villain at age 16 to explain why he or she is the way they are today?

Present3From Donald Maass, author of “Writing the Breakout Novel” and “Writing 21st Century Fiction”:

Ooh, the collective shudder that went through the room when people walked in on Day Three and noticed there was no projector or PowerPoint presentation! Maass promised we’d write a lot, and dive deep and sometimes uncomfortably while doing so. Maass more than held up his end of the bargain, starting the day off with some provocative words about writing goals. Paraphrasing:

Goals can get in our way. When you feel all caught up in deadlines, word count, page count, and meeting agent/editor/reader expectations, STOP. Ask yourself, why do I do this? What am I trying to say? What matters in the end is not that you made your daily word count, but that you told a compelling story. THAT’S the goal. Remember?

So, when you sit down to write, ask yourself: what do I want my readers to feel today? Dial into the emotional experience you want to convey.

TIP:   Access your own emotional life to make your characters’ emotional lives more vivid. Mine those emotions and assign them to your protagonist.

EXERCISE:   Name an emotion (such as fear.) Remember a time when you experienced that emotion – vividly. What happened, and when? (Time of day, setting, etc.) Choose one specific physical detail. What was it about the scenario that made you feel most <EMOTION>? What did you feel that you didn’t expect to feel? (free write 5 minutes)

EXERCISE:   How can I wreck my hero’s journey so badly that I have to revise or rewrite? (Imagine the gasps of horror when Maass said this!) According to Maass, daring to do this can result in stronger, more surprising, more dramatic stories – which he, as an agent, would dearly love to see.

EXERCISE:   Give yourself an additional 30 pages on top of your current manuscript length. What else could happen if you extended the story’s timeline? Might it be more interesting than what you currently have?

DAY FOUR BONUS! We spent a full day analyzing To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter by chapter! With clips from the movie. Absolutely AWESOME.

In closing: So much of the Story Masters workshop focused on deep character knowledge and conveying  emotional authenticity. All three instructors urged us to mine our own lives for material. Talk about writing what we know! 😉

I hope you find some of these tips and writing prompts as revelatory as I did. This class was definitely the gift that will keep on giving, for years to come!

TamaraHogan_TemptMe_200pxDo any of these tips or exercises resonate with you? Will any be helpful as you explore your own work?

Everyone brave enough to give one of these exercises a try here on the blog will be entered into a drawing to win a copy of my Oct. 2013 paranormal romance, TEMPT ME, in their choice of available formats. 

Best of luck – and best of writing! 

 

TEMPT ME:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace
 Gift box images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

 

 

 

Ruby Reprise: Deep Third, Demonstrated

I have a confession to make. I keep a red pen on my bedside table. Oh, I don’t actually USE it. It’s strictly a prop. When I find the occasional typo, grammar error,  misspelling or the like while I’m reading in bed, I glance at the pen. I imagine picking it up, circling the error, and then moving on.

But I recently read a best-seller that made me seriously consider scrawling bloody deletion marks through dozens of occurrences of “she/he thought.” (The only thing that stopped me? It was a library book – and as the philosopher Mr. Spock once said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.) The usage was correct, per se, but honestly, the author’s stylistic choice drove me bananacakes. “Of course ‘she thought!'” I shrieked after encountering the fourth “she thought” on a single page. “WE’RE IN HER POINT OF VIEW!”

Ahem.

Yeah, I have very strong feelings about POV. Which leads me to recall this post I wrote in Aug. 2011, about writing in deep third point of view.

Enjoy!

***********************************

Dungeon ColchesterI write in deep third person point of view – fathoms deep, dungeon deep third person point of view. A couple of weeks ago, while doing an author chat for a friend’s book club,  someone asked, “Okay, what exactly does that mean?”  (Lesson Infinity +1 in how readers and writers sometimes don’t share vocabulary, or care about the same things.)

It occurred to me that some of our blog readers might not know what this means either, or that maybe our readers might find it interesting to see how one author – me! – achieves her personal, preferred point of view. As always, your mileage may vary.

A couple of (overly-simplistic) definitions to start:

Point of view (POV) – the narrative voice or mode that an author uses to convey what happens in their story.  Examples are first person, second person, and third person.

Third person point of view – a mode in which the narrator conveys the thoughts, feelings or opinions of one or more characters, using ”he/she” rather than “I” language.  Comes in subjective, objective, and omniscient flavors.

I see “deep third person” POV and “third person subjective” POV as being analogous.

As both a romance reader and a romance author, I have a strong preference for deep third person point of view because I want very intimate access to the physical and emotional layers of the story. (Romances are about feelings, right?) The more viscerally I experience a characters’ feelings, reactions, and dilemmas, the more engaged with the story I’ll become.

With the rest of this post, I’d like to demonstrate how I expose that saturated physical and emotional layer using some simple revision techniques.  Consider the following two (quick ‘n dirty) sentences:

Will’s ankle was swollen and he was getting more and more concerned about his diminishing supply of medication. It was almost exhausted, and he knew that unless he found help soon, he would not be able to continue. 

((shrug)) An OK early draft that gets the point across. But it could be stronger. Let’s first omit some extraneous words, and simplify the language:

Will’s ankle was swollen and he was concerned about his medication supply. Unless he found help soon, he wouldn’t be able to continue.

Better. Next, let’s raise the stakes by layering in some specific details:

Will’s ankle was broken and he was out of pain medication. Unless he found help soon, he’d be in real trouble. 

Next, eliminating Will’s name from the narrative when we’re in his point of view brings us closer yet. (Will wouldn’t think of himself as “Will”, right?)

His ankle was broken and he was out of pain medication. Unless he found help soon, he’d be in real trouble. 

Better. I feel there’s less narrative distance than there was in the previous example.  Next, I’ll layer in some additional details for authenticity – namely, swearing. 🙂

His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. If he didn’t find help soon, he’d be up shit creek.  

Now we’re in both his head and his body. His ankle hurts – badly – and naming the medication fleshes out characterization. (How does this guy have access to morphine?)

Next, showing a character’s thoughts brings us deeper:

His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. “If I don’t find help soon,” he thought, “I’ll be up shit creek.”  

Hmm. Can I show Will thinking, without using the word ”thought” in the narrative? Why, yes, of course I can – by using italics and first person POV to indicate thoughts!

His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. If I don’t find help soon, I’ll be up shit creek. 

He’s in pain, he’s out of meds, he’s in trouble, and he knows it. Yet…he’s still looking for help, not waiting for it to come to him, which was a conscious characterization choice on my part. I could easily have written him having a different sort of thought.

And deepest of the deep – 100% interior monologue:

My ankle throbs like a mother, and I’m out of morphine. If I don’t find help soon, I’ll be up shit creek.

I would argue that this last example is slightly less successful than the ones immediately preceding it, but I wanted to take the POV progression to its deepest logical conclusion.  (Note that if you remove the italics, you’re writing in first person POV.)

So in this example, I used simple revision techniques and careful word choice to dive ever deeper into Will, exposing more and more of his physical reactions, his thoughts, and aspects of his character as the examples progress. Through each revision, the two sentences became leaner, meaner, more specific…until Will is exposed, right down to the bone. And I find the unanswered questions raised by these two sentences equally intriguing: Who is this guy? Where is this guy? How did he break his ankle, and how did he get his hands on morphine in the first place?

Which version do you like the best, and why? What do you think happened to Will? (I’ll share the scenario I had in mind later in the day.)

TamaraHogan_TouchMe_200pxPssst. The Kindle version of TOUCH ME, my Underbelly Chronicles novella,TamaraHogan_TemptMe_200px is free today and tomorrow! If you download a copy, I’d appreciate your honest review.

And watch for TEMPT ME, Bailey and Rafe’s full-length book, in October 2013! (Read an excerpt.)

 

 

Adventures in Series Writing

I just turned in my third Underbelly Chronicles manuscript, TEMPT ME, which some Ruby readers might remember us referring to in Comments late last year as “the religious woman and the sex demon.” Reformed hacker Bailey Brown is one of two humans alive who knows that “first contact“ already happened, that humanity has secretly shared its home with extra-planetary species for millennia. Though this knowledge still serves up the rough existential moment here and there, her own spiritual foundation was rocked long ago, when, after her arrest, her preacher father disowned her, denouncing her as a sinner. Already carrying enough baggage to fill a cargo hold, Bailey doesn’t know what to do with her unwavering attraction to her boss’s brother, sculptor Rafe Sebastiani—a real-life, honest-to-goodness sex demon.

My editor is reading the manuscript right now, so I figured it might be a good time for me to do some writerly housekeeping—to think about and flesh out the series arc, to update my Master Character List, to refine my world-building materials, to reacquaint myself with the characters I’ve left on chessboard plot-wise.  With a shudder, I sucked it up and re-read TASTE ME and CHASE ME, with an eye toward documenting physical descriptions and such. Which “facts” had I committed to on the printed, published page?

Holy Continuity Errors, Batman! In TASTE ME, I stated that Rafe’s given name is Rafael, not Raphael as my Master Character List says. (Easy but essential fix.) Hmm, apparently Bailey was incarcerated for a short period of time, not merely sentenced to parole. (Oops.) Bondmate or bond mate? Minicomp or mini-comp? How many floors does Sebastiani Security have again? (Four, not five. Whoops.)  Crackhouse Coffee, or Crack House Coffee?

The things you forget if you don’t write them down! Like *GULP* your first hero’s eye color! Lukas, I’m so, so sorry.

I knew if I didn’t invest some time updating my series and world-building materials now, I’d make more mistakes later on, so I’ve temporarily set aside research on my fourth book to update the following:

Master Character List:  I come at my stories from character, so this list was the very first document I created when building the series’ world starting back in 2007. Every character mentioned in every book, no matter how minor, appears on this list. For each character, I track name, age, species, occupation, some key information about their back story, their GMC if they have them, and every specific physical trait I committed to on the page. I’ve expanded this document to include which cars they drive, where the characters live, and which Underbelly Chronicles books they’re seen or mentioned in.

Series Arc: The Underbelly Chronicles is plotted as a nine-book series, with each book following a hero and heroine as they solve a mystery or battle a villain, with each book building up to a final battle with the series’ Big Bad in Book Nine. The series arc hasn’t changed significantly from the original proposal, but now that I’m three books into the series, I have a deeper and richer view of how certain characters can drive certain books’ plots. A couple of supposedly minor characters are living MUCH larger on the page than I ever anticipated, yielding plot possibilities I hadn’t previously considered. I also have an opportunity to respond to reader feedback by introducing possible love interests for characters I hadn’t originally targeted for an HEA. I want to nail as much of this stuff down as I possibly can, NOW, so I can lay a stronger foundation for more complex future stories.

World-building – Origin Story: The series’ origin story is that about 4000 years ago, a spaceship cruising past Earth crashed in northern MN instead of reaching its intended destination. Hopelessly marooned, the passengers — incubi and succubi, vampires, sirens, werewolves, faeries, and Valkyrie — managed to survive a hellish first  winter and started repopulating, making a conscious decision to leverage humanity’s propensity for myth-making to help them hide in plain sight. The series is mostly set in present day Minneapolis, location of the privately held technology conglomerate Sebastiani Labs, whose secretive Board of Directors doubles as the extra-planetary species’ ruling council. The crash scene was the very first one I wrote, over five years ago, and given Book Four’s role in the series arc, I think I finally get to use it!! Wheee! But reading the crash scene now, through the lens of the identity of the series’ Big Bad? Whoa, I have so many more questions – and there are so many new possibilities!

World-building – Species: Each species in the series has a certain set of biologically-based strengths and weaknesses, and with each romantic pairing, I try to mine those strengths and weaknesses for conflict, particularly romantic conflict. In TASTE ME, I paired up Lukas, a control freak incubus who must absorb emotional energy for sustenance, with Scarlett, a siren rock star who interprets and amplifies the emotional content of music with her voice . In CHASE ME, I paired up my hyper-physical Valkyrie archaeologist Lorin with genetically damaged werewolf geologist Gabe. In TEMPT ME, I pair up Bailey, a human tech savant with a guilt complex a mile wide, with Lukas’s brother, Rafe, an incubus sculptor with a reputation for hedonism even among his kind. (Can you say “issues?”) In Book Four, I have a different kind of hero/heroine challenge—two vampires. Physically, the hero and heroine have the same strengths and weaknesses. So I’ll have to delve into some messy emotional ground here for sources of conflict.

Settings:  Writing down setting details just hasn’t been on my radar. So far, most of the Underbelly Chronicles takes place in the Twin Cities Metro area, with the Sebastiani family cabin, Lorin’s archaeological dig, and the Arkapaedis’s original crash site located in northern Minnesota.  But as the number of books and characters grows, and the same buildings and locations get referenced in multiple books, fine details like how many floors Sebastiani Security has, and what the Sebastiani Labs boardroom looks like, were getting lost in the shuffle. I’ve started a Settings spreadsheet, and I’ve also mapped all the series’ locations and residences. This map hangs on the wall of my home office.

Themes: Having re-read all three of my books in a short period of time made me aware of some running themes in my work: Friends are the family you choose. Living outside the traditional strictures of society. Data can be fallible, as can health.  To me, theme is at the heart of the writers’ admonition “Write what you know” and I’ve definitely used these themes to inform my world-building. I’m sure more themes will become apparent to me as time goes by, but now that I’m aware of theme, I’ll write ‘em down.

So much to keep organized! I’m starting to get a better feel for why it takes me a whole year to write a book! But…OMG, Ruby readers, what if I hadn’t listened to that pesky inner voice, noticed that hair standing at the back of my neck – those signals that said, “Re-read your books. NOW!” What if I’d stayed heads-down in Book Four research instead, and hadn’t discovered those continuity errors in time to fix them?

So…lesson learned…occasionally taking a few hours away from the WIP to update my series materials and keep myself organized is an investment in my work, not a distraction from my work. It is important. Worthwhile. Essential.

When you’re working on a project, how do you keep your materials organized? Scrivener users, any insight into whether the package helps organize things at a series level? 

Award-winning author Tamara Hogan loathes cold and snow, but nonetheless lives near Minneapolis with her partner Mark and two naughty cats. When she’s not telecommuting to Silicon Valley, she enjoys writing edgy urban fantasy romance with a sci-fi twist. A feral reader with an unapologetic television addiction, Tammy is forever on the lookout for the perfect black boots.

CHASE ME Buy Links: (Amz | BN | Sourcebooks | Powell’s | BAM | Sony |  Kobo | iBooks)

 Website:         www.tamarahogan.com

Facebook:       https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tamara-Hogan/232541540189788

Twitter:           https://twitter.com/#!/TamaraHogan1

Goodreads:     http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/4866483-tamara-hogan

 

 

10 Ways To Reduce Hack Risk – Part 2

This post is Part Two of Friday’s post, “Ten Ways to Reduce Your Hack Risk Part 1.” Part One focused on passwords, click risk, and protecting your computer from viruses, malware and other digital gremlins. Today, the rest of the list… 

6. Open online accounts only as needed.  Everyplace we do business online, we leave personal data behind. The more places we leave our data, the more places there are for it to be stolen from. How many of us received an email from Zappos.com recently, informing us that their customer database had been hacked? How many of us received a similar email from TJ Maxx a couple of years ago, notifying customers that their credit card numbers may have been compromised? Every online account you create is potential hacking vector. To reduce your risk, only create accounts as needed. Consider shopping as a guest, especially if you don’t think you’ll be a repeat customer. Don’t store your credit card number with your account if you don’t have to. Provide the absolute minimum amount of data the form or website requires. Delete accounts you no longer need or use.  

To further mitigate your risk, consider using one credit card for online shopping, and another for your real-world activity. That way, if the credit card you use for online shopping is compromised and you have to cancel your account, you’re not dead in the water credit card-wise.     

7. Use extreme care accessing the internet over public wi-fi.  Public wi-fi, a staple of convenience at coffee shops, airports and hotels, isn’t necessarily as secure as you might think. It’s a fairly straightforward matter for an unscrupulous person to compromise a legit wi-fi network, or to create a new, fake wi-fi hotspot, (video, 5:00) which people then unwittingly use.  For those who use tablets or smart phones…have you ever thought about how many unknown wi-fi networks you connect to on a daily basis? We simply have no way of knowing how secure these networks are. Carefully assess convenience vs. risk here. Just because we CAN pay our mortgage while we’re at the coffee shop doesn’t necessarily mean it’s necessarily safe or smart to do so. You greatly reduce your risk by issuing such transactions from places where you have more control more over the network – like, at your house.   

I consider any work I do over public wi-fi to be insecure. I don’t access financial accounts, key in a credit card number, and try not to key in passwords unless I’m accessing the internet through a VPN tunnel, which creates a virtual private network and encrypts your data. If you need to access critical accounts from public wi-fi, seriously consider using VPN software. It provides a lot of protection for very little cost.        

8. Cloud security is a field in its infancy. Use care. Technically, there’s nothing magical or supernaturally safe about “the cloud.” While it’s very convenient to be able to store and access your data from anywhere you can log on to the internet, the cloud is still a server farm in some company’s basement, with access controlled by programs, policies, processes and people – some of which can be circumvented or breached. While some cloud-based services encrypt your data as a matter of course, this is not necessarily a widespread practice. Also remember that, depending on your method of access, you might be retrieving your cloud-stored data using a potentially insecure wi-fi network, which increases your risk.   

9.  About mobile devices and tablets… If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you’ve heard the accusations that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. hacked the cell phones and voice mail of British politicians, celebrities, crime victims, and members of the royal family. First line of defense for our mobile digital devices? Physical control. Put some thought into what a thief might be able to do with your mobile device and its apps should you lose your smartphone, or if your iPad is stolen. Ensure your mobile devices and your voice mail are password protected to the fullest possible extent. 

Viruses and malware can be downloaded to smart phones and tablets, too. Many of the same protection packages we use for desktops, laptops and netbooks are available in tablet and smart phone versions. Pay a visit to your friendly neighborhood App Store. Load up.    

The most recent volume of 2600: The Hackers Quarterly was all abuzz about QR code hacks—you know, those odd-looking black and white squares you swipe your smart phone across, taking you…where? QR codes take you a website, and unless you can translate  pixel, you can’t know if you’re being taken to a malicious one until it’s too late and your device is compromised. Again, check your friendly App Store for QR code scanners if you’re concerned about this risk. Being I have an extremely low tolerance for being marketed to, this isn’t a risk I’ll personally incur, but YMMV.  😉

10. Social media – there are several of layers of potential risk to watch out for when using social media tools:  

Information you knowingly share with other users, subject to your privacy settings: You might be surprised at how many people use some variation of a pet’s or child’s name as their password. Guess what one of the most common subjects people talk about on social media is? Kids and pets. Some of the information hackers use to crack passwords or phish you is unwittingly supplied by users themselves. One way to reduce this risk is to be a lot less specific about what you share on social media. Don’t mention family members’ names, upcoming vacations, your child’s activity schedule, or other absences from home. One current phishing scam targets grandparents who unwittingly reveal their grandchildrens’ names on Facebook. Pretty soon grandma or grandpa gets a panicky, static-filled phone call from someone claiming to be their grandchild, in desperate need of funds because they’ve been mugged, robbed or need bail money, FAST. Grandma or grandpa, perhaps hard of hearing, doesn’t want to admit to not recognizing their own grandchild’s voice, and sends the scammer money via Western Union or other wire transfer serivce. As older users migrate to social media tools in increasing numbers, this scam is on the rise.  

Information you may unknowingly share with other users: Pictures taken with phones that have onboard GPS or location capabilities sometimes have that information embedded in the picture’s digital file structure—and it’s a fairly simple matter for others to retrieve it if they want to. In addition, there’s a new generation of ambient social media tools and apps that uses your phone’s onboard GPS capabilities to broadcast your current location to other users of the tool who share similar interests, which I personally find creepy as hell. It probably surprises no one to learn that I keep my smart phone’s location tracking, GPS and wireless capabilities turned off until I explicitly need them.      

Information that the company who developed the social media tool collects, stores and uses, now and into the future:  With Facebook’s recent IPO filing, and Google’s change in how they manage their user privacy settings, people are becoming more aware of how companies collect, manage, store, and use our personal data. How are our activities tracked while we’re using their services? How will they use that data? Do they sell it to marketers? To data aggregators? Is personally identifiable information removed or not? What do their Privacy Policies and their Terms and Conditions or Terms of Service say they can do with our data? (You know, those tiny-print, endlessly scrolling documents o’ 6 point legalese that most of us don’t bother to read before blithely clicking the “I Accept” button?) For how long?

Just what are we agreeing to with that one tiny click? 

RTFM, dudes. Read the Terms of Service, read Privacy Policies, read the user guides that come with the products you buy. Though the federal government isn’t quite as asleep at the wheel on this issue now as they were even six months ago, the manner in which companies collect and use customer information is still largely unregulated. In the absence of any law, we have to protect our own interests. As always, knowledge is power.  

Companies don’t provide free coupons or programs or games out of the goodness of their hearts. We pay for these things with personal data. Every time we click on “Like”, click on a coupon, follow an ad, go to a website, issue a search, or register for a grocery store discount card with an email address, it’s tracked, aggregated, and cross-referenced (Facebook Is Using You). Chances are good that if you’re not paying to use a product or service, YOU are the product being sold. Personal data is the coin of exchange.    

Some – most – companies are scrupulous about how they use the data they collect, but despite any public relations message you might hear about how much a company “cares about your privacy,” it’s prudent to take these messages with a massive grain of salt. No database is 100% safe 100% of the time. Companies can and do get hacked. Some companies build their security infrastructure on the cheap. Companies release programs with known and unknown bugs, every single day, and despite people’s best intentions, some of those bugs can create security gaps large enough to drive a semi trailer through. Some companies’ day-to-day practices don’t conform with their stated policies. Some hackers seek employment at these very companies, exploiting vulnerabilities from the inside while their buddies do the same from the outside. 

Most people don’t have the skills or motivation to hack you—but unquestionably, there are some who do, and for the most part, it’s nothing personal. Hackers are increasingly organized, hosting their own conferences and gatherings, publishing their own magazines, and learning from each other in dedicated online communities. Some hackers seek bragging rights, others intellectual challenge, some want publicity, some have a political point to make or axe to grind, and still others are in it strictly for the money. There’s an active black market for stolen passwords, credit cards, and social security numbers.  

Yes, one person’s prudent is another person’s paranoid, but believe me when I say that people who have been hacked, stalked, been victims of crimes, or had their identities stolen take it very personally indeed. These individuals, of necessity, have a very different relationship with personal data than people who haven’t had these experiences. 

Whatever your level of risk or concern, I hope this post provided you with some new information you can use to manage your risks more effectively.

Questions? Comments?  Fire away! What are you concerned about? What actions have you taken to reduce your digital risk? Are there areas you think you need to punch up?   

The second book in Tammy’s Underbelly Chronicles series, CHASE ME, releases June 5, 2012 and is available for pre-order now! Follow Tammy on Twitter at @tamarahogan1, and visit her relaunched website, www.tamarahogan.com.

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10 Ways To Reduce Hack Risk – Part 1

A couple of years ago, I read an interview with a digital security professional who said, “There are only two kinds of companies: those who don’t know they’ve been hacked, and those who won’t admit it.” Boy, have times have changed. The hacktivist collectives Anonymous and LulzSec are quickly becoming household names, and nary a week goes by where we don’t hear a story on the national news about a company, organization or government entity getting hacked, and their data – or their customer’s data – being compromised. We also see hacks personally, when friends on our writing loops ‘send’ typo-laden emergency requests for money, or messages consisting solely of a suspicious-looking link.   

There’s no way to completely eliminate our risk of being hacked, but there are some practical things we can to to reduce the likelihood that it happens, or to  mitigate the damage if it does.  

First, a necessary disclaimer: My professional experience is as a software engineer and technology process analyst. I am not a digital security expert. However, due to my professional background, and because of certain life events which I won’t go into here, I am unusually attuned to data privacy and digital risk management. I’ve also spent a lot of time researching hackers and hacker culture for my 2013 Underbelly Chronicles release, TEMPT ME, featuring a reformed hacker heroine and a not at ALL reformed hacker villain.

Know from the get-go that due to these experiences, my opinion is biased. My default position is defensive: to assume shenanigans, to distrust any request or transaction that I don’t initiate myself, and to question, and usually decline, all requests for data I don’t see as strictly necessary. One person’s prudent is another person’s paranoid; your degree of risk tolerance may vary.  

Second, an apology:  Due to length reasons – this is already going to be a two-part post – I had to assume a certain level of technical knowledge on the part of Ruby readers. I’ll do my best to answer any questions in Comments, but many of the words, phrases and concepts I use in the post are quite thoroughly covered online. I don’t know your individual needs, your configuration(s), or level of risk tolerance, so please make sure you independently assess any product or service mentioned in this post or comments.    

My intent with this post is to inform you of some practical things you can do to reduce your risk of being hacked, and to shine some light on things hackers are doing that you may not be aware of.   

10 Ways to Reduce Hack Risk – Part 1

In the digital world, there are two factors that we, as users, control—our equipment, and our behavior. As hacker and convicted felon Kevin Mittnick once said, “…there’s no patch for stupidity, or rather gullibility.” Hackers are doing some surprising things to exploit that gullibility, and our desire for speed and convenience.  To reduce your chances of being victimized, consider the following: 

1. Manage your security and privacy settings. Your operating system and browser provide a degree of control over which cookies get downloaded to your machine, whether you see pop-ups and adware or not, and over some of the data that gets collected about you as you tool around the internet. Explore these settings, and fine-tune them as you see fit. Pop-ups and adware are very productive hacking vectors, able to deliver viruses, trojans, spybots and other malware to your computer with a single click. Want to reduce your risk? Think before you click. Any link or ad that tries to manipulate you emotionally, or make you freak out about something, should be considered suspect.    

Some hackers target children with attractive pop-up ads: “Download FREE Justin Bieber Wallpaper!” or “Like Webkinz?” As soon as your child clicks on the ad, it downloads a keystroke logger, virus, or other piece of malware that puts the family’s data at risk. 

Just last week, I went to an admittedly-sketchy internet neighborhood to do some research, and sure enough, was confronted by one of those red, blinking, fake “We found an infection!” messages, supposedly produced by a name-brand virus protection program – one I know I don’t use. Suspecting that the box was a Flash animation rather than an authentic dialog box, and that clicking anywhere on the box, even on the so-called cancel button, would kick off a malware download, I crashed my computer rather than click. When in doubt, just don’t click.  

2. Use firewalls and supplemental virus/malware/trojan/bot protection programs. Your machine (or device) is an essential line of defense against hackers. Make sure yours is loaded up and ready for bear. No one tool or package can protect your machine from every virus, piece of malware, or digital gremlin that comes down the pike. Different programs catch different things, so running multiple packages in combination provides a higher degree of protection. In addition to your operating system, your browser controls and internet firewall, consider running supplemental pop-up and adware blockers, anti-virus software and malware and spybot detection programs. At least some of these supplemental programs should run ‘resident’, providing active protection whenever your computer is on. Check for and install recommended updates! In the case of my spybot program, it’s rare that even a week goes by without an updated detection package being released. This should give you a feel for how quickly new malware is being released into the wild.  

3. Choose “strong” passwords – and change them occasionally! Understandably, a lot of people choose passwords that are easy for them to remember—but if it’s easy for you to remember, chances are good it’s easy for others to guess, or for a program to crack. Use “strong” passwords. A “strong” password has a seemingly random combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters. You may have noticed that more websites and programs now ‘force’ you to create strong passwords by default. One approach to consider when creating a password is to choose an affirmation, a song lyric, or even the punch line to a joke, and then combine the first letters of each word into a password, throwing in an upper case letter, a number, or a special character somewhere along the way. The longer the password is, the more secure it is.  

For example: The refrain of a current Kelly Clarkson single contains the line, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Using the above technique, one possible password you might craft is: WdkYmYs*3.  Sorry for the earworm! 😉  

Further mitigate your risk by using different passwords for different types of accounts. For example, use unique passwords to access your most precious data (bank, brokerage, and medical). Use another password for online accounts or shopping, and yet another for social media accounts. Using the same password everywhere might be convenient, but if someone manages to hack one of your accounts, then they’re all at risk. 

Teenagers sometimes share passwords as a digital expression of love and trust. Discuss the risks of this behavior with your child. Priority One after a breakup? Change passwords! Everyone should change their passwords at least occasionally. The longer you use the same password, the more risk you incurr.   

4. Be careful clicking links.  I think most of us know to not click on any link emailed to us by someone we don’t know, or a company we don’t do business with, but click risk exists elsewhere, too: in Facebook and Twitter links, in email supposedly sent from people we know, and in communications from companies we legitimately do business with. Unfortunately, hackers are getting really good at producing fake email notifications. I assume any email I receive from a company or corporation is a phish attempt by default. Disregarding the oh-so-convenient links supplied in the email, I go directly to the company’s website, log into my account, and initiate any needed action myself. I also… 

5. Download program updates directly from the vendor’s website. Many companies very helpfully notify you when a new version of their product is available, allowing you to download the latest and greatest by clicking a message bubble or an OK button. This is a vector that hackers are exploiting more and more frequently. Recently, on a hacker bulletin board, someone claimed to have deployed malware using a fake iTunes software update notification. The target, thinking they were installing a legitimate update from Apple, clicked on OK, and … whomp. To reduce this risk, download program updates directly from the vendor’s website. Any legitimate update will be available at the Download page.   

So, let’s talk risk – risks you’re knowingly or unknowingly taking, risks you want to mitigate, risks you want to prevent from occurring in the first place. What are you concerned about? What actions have you taken to reduce your digital risk? Are there areas you think you need to punch up? 

Part Two of this post, covering wi-fi, the cloud, social media and smart phones, will be available on Monday, Apr. 2.

 

The second book in Tammy’s Underbelly Chronicles series, CHASE ME, releases June 5, 2012 and is available for pre-order now! Follow Tammy on Twitter at @tamarahogan1, and visit her relaunched website, www.tamarahogan.com

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