Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Privacy -- it isn't what it used to be

Privacy — what a quaint concept, one that has largely gone out of fashion. At the time I wrote this, I had just gone to see the movie IRON LADY. While Margaret Thatcher’s politics aren’t mine, I did recognize that there were admirable aspects to her character, even if I disagreed with many of her choices. What struck me most strongly, though, was the divide between her private feelings and her public face.

We’ve largely lost that divide, for better or worse. Today we let everything hang out. Not that I’m necessarily promoting stiff upper lips. Still, while it’s good that people don’t have to suffer in silence now, that we can turn to others for help and advice in dark times, perhaps we’ve gone too far. Do we really have to post every personal sensation on Facebook and Twitter?

I’m not sure whether cell phones started the privacy decline, or if it would have happened without them. Working in retail as I do, I see lots of cell phone intrusions. I’m happy to report that many of our customers do issue a polite “Excuse me,” to us and other customers in the store and go outside to conduct their conversation. Sure, they’re usually shouting out there, since cell phone reception combined with the normal sounds of outdoor spaces, usually results in greater volume. But at least they’re not shouting in our bookstore. Others aren’t as polite. They answer right there, and conduct their book browsing with the help of some unknown person.

That behavior isn’t just limited to bookstores, either. Once while I stood in line at the grocery store, the man behind me called someone and read all the tabloid covers to that person while we waited.

“Dude,” I wanted to say, “you need a life.” But I was trying to give him his personal space, even if he didn’t seem to need it.

Recently, I experienced an odd intrusion from the extended non-privacy sphere. Let me explain. We put Google Ads on our bookstore’s website to create an additional source of revenue. It hasn’t worked that well. Since the word “books” is repeated throughout the website, it has mostly generated book-related ads. Some for all the many subsidy publishing companies mushrooming today, and others for our competitors, which are supposed to be blocked but aren’t consistently. You might say that since I invited the ads in, I’m responsible for my own challenges in this area, and that’s nothing I haven’t thought of myself.

But I hadn’t expected one bizarre aspect. The Google ads are accessed by a user name related to the store. While signed OUT of that account, but still in the same computer I use for everything related to the Google ads, I recently conducted a personal Google search among household décor suppliers. I wanted to identify the style of kitchen faucet we have, which came with the house, so I could search for a replacement part.

Bingo! Only moments later, faucet ads appeared on our bookstore’s ads. Coincidence? To test my dawning theory, while still signed out of the account associated with the ads, I performed a few more deliberate searches. For clothes, shoes, furniture, kitchen gadgets. Sure enough, all of those products and advertisers also showed up in our ads.

It gave me an icky feeling, though. On one hand, I now have a tool to better control the ads that pop up on my bookstore’s website, even if it does seem a bit convoluted to perform seemingly unrelated searches from another account for products that don’t really interest me. But it also makes me feel weird and watched when I realize the extent to which we’re being electronically monitored.

Remember when we thought Big Brother would be the government? Turns out we were wrong.

I’m happy to share some of my thoughts and aspects of my life with others. Including this either creepy or clever technique for influencing the content of Internet ads. But I’d like to reserve other aspects for my personal use. For a while longer anyway. There was a time when we never would have thought we’d be forever shouting personal messages into unwired phones. Who knows where else we’re headed in this brave new world.

Do you lament the decline of privacy, or have you failed to notice its passing?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Free e-book contest!

Remember, leave a comment to Zrinka Jelic's blog and you'll be eligible to win a free e-book! Contest ends on Friday.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Guest blogger, Zrinka Jelic

Today I'd like to welcome guest blogger Zrinka Jelic, author of BONDED BY CRIMSON.  Zrinka asked me to tell you that she'll be hosting a contest for a free e-copy of BONDED BY CRIMSON. Leave a comment if you want to be entered.

Thank you, Kris, for having me here today as your guest blogger. My debut novel BONDED BY CRIMSON has been released on January 28th, and it is available in all formats at Black Opal Books, Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and fine bookstores everywhere.

People often ask me what influenced me to write this book.

There were many things, but growing up in Croatia was definitely the biggest one.  The story that was swimming in my head and the final product are two totally different things. My original plot wasn't catching on with my critique partners so I changed it and as I did, I remembered a tragic love story often compared to Romeo and Juliet. So I've got the idea to make my heroine obsessed with this story and she often imagined what would it be like if they were allowed to love each other. What she didn't know was the couple continued to live after their deaths, but centuries later another tragedy struck them and now the man is a widower and a single dad. This also opened a possibility for a prequel which I'm working on. It was challenging to write the descriptive passages in Croatia without making it read as if it's a travelogue. But my crit partners wanted me to describe it better, they said the readers would want to see it. But if I went into too much detail then I sounded as a page from a history book. So I had to think of how I viewed it while I lived there. Playing hide and seek on the remains of a accent Roman Forum, climbing the medieval defense walls, how to describe it to someone who never done it? But that was normal part of growing up for me.

One of your key scenes involves a coffee reading. People ask me if I ever had it done.

Yes, I had it done and I've done it for others. This is such a part of our culture, something to pass time with. At first I faked it as everyone else did. Not every symbol have a meaning so it is ok to make something up. But it is not hard to learn the symbols and it is funny how different people will see different things. But it is creepy when someone who sees you for the first time can read your life from a tiny cup.

I’m also asked what authors I like to read. And if there are any that particularly inspire me. 

When I was in high school, I devoured Danielle Steel. But after a while, her books started to feel the same. Then I've got into anything with vampires. So Anne Rice was high on my list. Then I was into Highlanders and that is how I learned about RWA through Mary McCall. As you can see, I like to read any author, but for the past year I've been into Arthuro Perez Reverte and his Alatriste series. It's not a romance, but I always find romance in every book. A few inspired me but what I don't like is when I read enough of that particular author's work I just know what the next book is going to be like But many authors seem to get comfortable in their style and would not change. I like to expect the unexpected.

Some want to know how I juggle writing with all my other commitments

I'm a staying at home mom so I have time in between house work and kids. My youngest napped at the wrong time, so I spent many late nights waiting for him to tire enough so I can put him to bed. It was in those quiet hours of the night, that ideas came to me. Thankfully, he's dropping those late afternoon naps and we make it to bed in a semi-decent hour. In the meantime, we got rid of cable TV. Kids weren't watching it and neither did I. You can't believe how much you can accomplish if you don't stare at the television every night. But I discovered I am an Internet junkie and I wasn't aware of this until one day the Internet was out.

And many are interested to find out what do I miss most about Croatia, living in Canada.

The sea, I'm from the province of Dalmatia on the Adriatic Sea and my family is from island of Essa. You can take an islander from the island, but you can't take island from an islander. I miss the summers there spent on the beaches, and in the evenings met with the friends and sip cocktails till wee hours. I can't compare it to the cottage life here. The lake waters here are ice cold and murky. Mosquitos eat you alive as soon as you poke your nose out, it gets cold once sun goes down. It's not a summer if I have to pull a sweatshirt and socks on.

Where would my dream romantic vacation take me?

Anywhere where there are beaches (not sandy, can't stand sand in my bathing suit), stunning sunsets, crystal clear sea, endless sky, warm breezes playing with the trees

Cats or dogs? Which do I prefer? 

My favorite movie is Cats and Dogs, and I just love Mr. Tinkles. "Catz rule". So, definitely cats, but I'm very allergic, so that leaves me with dogs. I can't stay around a cat for more than a few minutes even if I don't touch them. Once the itching starts it's time to leave

Can you share a bit about BONDED BY CRIMSON:

Love isn’t in the cards for her…

After her short failed marriage, Kate tries to rebuild her life and takes a position as a nanny to three small boys. She quickly grows to love them, but their father, terrifies her, while igniting a passion she didn’t know she possessed. Disturbed by his distant manner with his sons, Kate struggles to make him more involved in the boys’ daily lives. Her efforts are mysteriously supported by an entity that cannot really exist. Or can she? And if she does exist, is she really trying to help Kate, or just take over her body?

But when he deals the hand, all bets are off…

Six years after his beloved wife passed away, Matthias is still trying to become the father she wanted him to be. Not an easy task for a three-centuries-old immortal. His search for the ultimate nanny ends when Kate Rokov stumbles to his home and into his arms. The immediate attraction he feels for her seems like a betrayal of his dead wife, a love he’s harboured for over three hundred years. But when Kate is stalked by a deadly stranger, life he clung to in the past  begins to crumble and break down. Can Matthias learn to trust and to love again in time to save his family from disaster, or will his stubborn pride destroy everything worth living for?

How about a short excerpt?

He claimed to be immortal, but that was ridiculous...wasn’t it?

Kate’s heart hammered. The experience seemed so real. A low moan escaped her and she bit her lip. Soon warmth surged through her, causing her body to go limp. Her legs gave way underneath her, but Matthias—or whoever this man claimed to be now—wrapped his arm around her waist. His sweet, musky scent clung to her. Ecstasy filled her and she felt as if she hovered in the air. If he intended to kill her like this, she could imagine no better way to die. A voice echoed through her mind, speaking of undying love in centuries old Croatian.

“Wake up,” he whispered close to her ear, his strong arms still locked around her.

“I don’t want to.” Her head wobbled, exuberant with sheer happiness, a kind she had never experienced before.

“You must.” He stroked her hair with tender fingers. “Wake up now.”

“No. I want to stay like this. Forever.” She focused on his handsome face staring at her through her haze.

His smooth cheek brushed against hers. “Me too, but you must wake.”

The fog lifted and his image appeared, clearly now. She blinked once. Twice. What had happened?

She pushed away from him and flattened her back against the wall.

“You, you—”

“You,” he said, pointing at her, “asked for proof.”

Thanks for blogging with me today, Zrinka. Remember, readers, leave a comment if you want a chance to win a free ebook.

Monday, February 6, 2012

South Pasadena! South Pasadena!

Final day of my hurried So Cal tour, and this busy day was a two-event one.

Despite the heavy afternoon schedule, we stole a little morning time to visit some favorite area spots from when we lived there. We savored breakfast in Chatsworth’s yummy Country Deli, where they have hilarious murals of Orthodox Rabbis settling the Old West. And we took Annabelle for a walk in Granada Hill’s Bee Park, where we walked our now-departed dogs for ages. Love the meadering paths and the little bridges that cross the creek there.

Then it was on to South Pasadena. I adore that downtown So Pas neighborhood, and it’s great to see how bustling and vital it’s become again. We found a newish bakery and bought sandwiches for the late night trip home. Much better than the fast food we usually eat when on the road.

But first there was my Book ‘Em Mysteries signing. Book ‘Em is another one of those bookstores that I really love to revisit, and where I always enjoy signing. Barry Martin, Mary Riley and their manager Jean Utley have created such a warm, inviting place, where it’s so nice to drop in and chat with an appearing author and where you’re sure to find any and every mystery that you’re looking for. It’s another place where this bookseller loves to browse.

It was so fun catching up with Jean and her customers, signing books for them, as well as all the old friends who also stopped by.

Then it was onto the South Pasadena Library Community Room, where the Los Angeles Chapter of Sisters in Crime meets. It was such a treat to be back in my old SinC chapter, where I was president once upon a time. I have so many fond memories of sitting in that room, listening to great speakers talk about writing and mysteries, gazing serenely out the giant vintage leaded glass windows in that room, at a magnificent Magnolia tree just outside. You can see a bit of the tree in this photo:

This time I was there as the meeting speaker, discussing for a strong turnout — despite Superbowl Sunday — about mixing the paranormal into mysteries, as well as what editors expect to see in the various cross-genre fantasy forms that are popular today, and why mystery writers are so well placed to capitalize on this trend. Meeting reader Rochelle Staab and I enjoyed such brisk sales, the bookseller couldn’t shut down her selling station at the time when they usually close the room!

Now we’re home at last, after having visited our other, former home. Savoring the nostalgia of a former life. As a writing instructor as well, it’s always rewarding to me to catch up with my former students, learning how their writing is faring today. I got to spend good quality time with so many of them this trip, including Sharlyn and Shannon Harley, Chris Starkman, Jane DiLuccio, Susan Kosar Beery, Linda Nakamura, Diane Vallare and Evelyn Moore. I’m probably forgetting others, and I’m sorry about that — you can blame it on my aging, fatigued brain. It was also especially wonderful to see new SinC/LA chapter president Patty Smiley and my old fellow board member Kevin Gillogly — we three go way back together in SinC/LA. 

Still, there’s nothing like returning to your real home, to sleeping in your own bed. No matter how comfy hotel mattresses are, they’re never quite the same.

Best part? Our cat Philly didn’t even stay too mad at us for having left him. A good end to a great trip. Thanks to everyone who made it special.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A great new indepdent bookstore!

Typically, in past years, on the Saturday of my SoCal tour, I’ve signed in The Mystery Bookstore, which is gone now, but I’m sure that none of the many authors who’ve signed there over the many years it was in business can have forgotten it. It’s such a sad loss when a great independent store passes on, and this one was exceptional. Westwood really cannot be the same without it.

But while it is such gloomy news when we hear about the loss of a great indie, it’s just as exciting to mark the birth of a new one. Instead of The Mystery Bookstore, today, I got to sign at the all-new Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach. It’s not just a exceptionally well-stocked store, it’s also a beautiful one. High tech, too. Especially cool is high def TV in the dedicated author appearance area, on which the appearing authors’ book covers scross in vibrant cover.

I appeared today with authors Howard Gordon and Brett Battles. We drew a large crowd, who asked great questions, making our panel extra lively and interesting. We all enjoyed strong book sales. My assistant/dog supported me by hovering under the signing table. 

I am so glad I got to see this glorious new indie store! It was actually worth another up and back trek on the 405 to do it. (Okay, maybe I’m getting a little too obsessed with that.)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Headed for Thousand Oaks

Day two on the MAGICAL ALIENATION tour...

Today didn’t start out great. It started too early with a baby screaming in the room next door, which surely must have been separated from ours by a wall made from a used tissue box. Baby was unhappy and remained so for a looonnng time. Then the Internet that I needed to work on my online writing class went out in the hotel, and we were told it would still be out well after we were gone.

But the day began to look up when we found a nearby coffee shop that not only proved to be quite good, with a chatty, goth barista, but where the barista/owner allowed us to bring Annabelle in. It was a little chilly, and I wasn't looking forward to sitting outside, though that's the nature of traveling with a pet. 

I don’t know why more coffee shops don’t allow pets. In most locales, it’s only a health violation if the pet goes into the food prep area. I find most animals cleaner than lots of people. I do realize that’s a subjective opinion, and not everyone wants to share their coffee spot with a creature whose idea of greeting is to sniff someone else’s butt. Annabelle is totally different, of course. She’s a bookstore dog, meaning she’s not only uncommonly polite, she’s erudite.

It’s a long drive from San Diego to Thousand Oaks, where my next signing was scheduled, at the Mysteries to Die For bookstore. In these first two days, we seemed to be spending all our time driving. But that’s the nature of book tours, and especially of Southern California — long distances filled with lots of cars. We actually made good time considering the distance — not too many slowdowns at all — but this ex-SoCal’er did forget what that endless sea of cars looks like. Thankfully, it’s been a long time since I spent considerable time muscling my way up the 405.

We made it to MTDF with a enough time to do a little book shopping — owning a bookstore as we do, the one thing I miss is book browsing, on actual bookshelves (as opposed to publisher and wholesaler catalogs), that is, which someone else is responsible for arranging. touring lets us do that. It also gave me time to catch up with the customers I see when I go there, and some old friends who also dropped by.

I love Mysteries to Die For — it’s one of my favorite stores. I always find a nice, enthusiastic crowd waiting for me there, and I always seem to enjoy strong sales. I can also always count on seeing some old friends. This time I got to see and spend time longtime friend Suzanne Epstein, and writers Dale Culpepper and Pete Goodman.

Tired now, and moving a little slower, after a day that started out pretty so-so, but turned out to be pretty great.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

San Diego bound

We started out early from our home in Northern Arizona for San Diego, the first stop on my SoCal tour for MAGICAL ALIENATION. I’m sometimes at odds with Arizona culturally, but, man, do I love its landscapes. Mostly. It’s a little less dramatic in the Southeastern part of the state, than many other parts, though.

I’m definitely a mountain person, so while I did watch for the occasional craggy mountain that pops up along the 8 Freeway though Arizona, mostly it’s all broad, flat expanses. To relieve the monotony, I retreated into my imagination. Because lots of this land probably hasn’t changed in centuries, I imagined how it must have been for lonesome cowboys making their way across dusty trails, punctuated only by low, spare scrub, from Yuma to Phoenix, or maybe Tombstone. The Old West is forever stamped on locale in Arizona through some of the names that echo with history: Horse Thief Basin, Little Squaw River, Bloody Basin Road, Dead Man’s Wash and others.

We also listened for a while to a nonfiction audio book about olive oil called EXTRA VIRGINITY, which I hoped would relieve the tedium, but sadly, only added to it. I actually find olive oil interesting, and have ever since I signed books in an olive oil store, where I listened to employees chat up customers. But now I’ve discovered there’s also a point of diminishing return.

My husband Joe and I brought our dog Annabelle along, as we often do when we travel. She’s a good traveler. A little different perhaps as dogs go, in that she doesn’t long to put her face out the window to feel the wind on it. She just curls up and goes to sleep, but she always seems to enjoy her walks in new places. New smells must be the best when you’re a dog.

The 8 got more scenic once we passed into California. Especially the dunes beyond Yuma and the sandstone rock formations in Eastern San Diego County. And I forgot how incredibly beautiful San Diego is! We drove to a park in Mission Bay, where we illegally walked our dog — because dogs are only permitted there during certain hours — but we three willingly risked arrest to soak in that glorious view.

I had a small, but enthusiastic crowd at Mysterious Galaxy and we had a delightful exchange before I signed books. It still seems strange to me that owner Maryelizabeth Hart isn’t there, because I always loved the way she conducted an author talk, but the staff at MG are always great.