Writer's Diary

What's it like to be a fiction writer? Read on.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Writer's Diary Has Moved to A New Location

Writer's Diary has moved to a new location.

Please update your bookmarks to reflect the blog's new location at:


Here's the link to the Feed

I've been using blogger to blog here since 2001. And I have been happy. But for various and sundry reasons, most of which have to do with Blogger's decision to require that blogs be hosted by them or a subdomain hosted by them, I've decided to move to WordPress. I'm kind of sad about that, but also looking forward to using the many cool features of WordPress.

I'm disabling comments on the blog site wide.


posted by Carolyn @ 3/19/2010 03:45:00 PM Permalink

(0) comments

Monday, March 15, 2010

Contest Winner

Ann_a_Reader you're the winner of Caitlin's book. Email me with your snail mail address!


posted by Carolyn @ 3/15/2010 07:55:00 PM Permalink

(0) comments

Friday, March 12, 2010

Updates of Various Sorts

The Great Blog Switch is approaching. My wonderful web designer has done a Wordpress theme for me and I've got WordPress all set up and configured. I have a contest pending (go leave a comment!!). As soon as that is done, I'll switch over.

Current blog subscribers will need to update their feeds. The Blogger blog archives will remain available for our mutual enjoyment and perusal, though I'll close comments to this blog.

In other news, I'm closing in on revisions for My Immortal Assassin which explains why I haven't been posting as much as I like to.

Back to it!

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posted by Carolyn @ 3/12/2010 09:02:00 PM Permalink

(4) comments

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Risky Reading

The Risky Read Along is underway! Come join us in our read along of Georgette Heyer's Venetia. I've already started and I LOVE this book with a mad passion . . .

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posted by Carolyn @ 3/10/2010 07:00:00 PM Permalink

(3) comments

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Interview with Author Caitlin Crews Plus Contest

Today I'm hosting author Caitlin Crews. W00t!! I have been dipping my toes into the world of category romance, so I'll really excited to have her here today. There's a contest folks! One lucky commenter will win a copy of the book. Read on to find out how to enter.

Pure Princess, Bartered Bride

Pure Princess, Bartered Bride is the first Harlequin Presents by Caitlin Crews--which debuted on the USA Today Bestseller List!

About the book

Bartered, betrothed and bedded!
As quiet and dangerous as a jungle cat, achieving the impossible is one of Luc Garnier’s defining characteristics.
Cover of Pure Princess, Bartered Bride

Princess Gabrielle is invaluable – a pearl beyond price. Yet Luc has defied the odds, and a contract for marriage is drawn up. This will be a union on paper first, and of flesh later. . .
Except Gabrielle is just the same in private as in public – well-bred, well-behaved, and a credit to her country. Luc is determined to find the wanton within and leave his pure princess in total disarray!

Praise for Pure Princess, Bartered Bride

"Debut novelist Caitlin Crews has penned a winner with her first novel for Harlequin Presents: Pure Princess, Bartered Bride! Sexy, intensely emotional and wholly absorbing, this beguiling marriage of convenience story features a deliciously Alpha hero and an smart and independent heroine readers cannot help but admire." --CataRomance

"I will definitely buy any book that she writes."--Adventures of a Gotham Gal

5 of 5 Stars: "This book has the right ingredients for a very good, entertaining Harlequin Presents." --Danielle’s Book Thoughts

"Caitlin Crews has written a brilliant royal romance, a roller coaster romance with extremely intense emotions oozing from both Luc and Gabrielle."--Marilyn’s Romance Reviews

About Caitlin:

Photo of author Caitlin CrewsUSA Today bestselling author Caitlin Crews discovered her first romance novel at the age of twelve, in a bargain bin at the local five and dime. It involved swashbuckling pirates, grand adventures, a heroine with rustling skirts and a mind of her own, and a seriously mouthwatering and masterful hero. The book (the title of which remains lost in the mists of time) made a serious impression. Caitlin was immediately smitten with romances and romance heroes, to the detriment of her middle school social life. And so began her life-long affair with romance novels, many of which she insists on keeping near her at all times, thus creating a fire hazard of love wherever she lives.

She currently lives in California with her animator/comic book artist husband and their menagerie of ridiculous animals.

Caitlin Crews is the alter-ego of critically acclaimed author Megan Crane. You can find Caitlin at her website: http://www.caitlincrews.com

On Facebook, on Twitter and at her journal

You can buy the book at Amazon and read an excerpt

The Interview

1. Tell me a little bit about the book Bartered, Betrothed and Bedded!

As quiet and dangerous as a jungle cat, achieving the impossible is one of Luc Garnier’s defining characteristics.

Princess Gabrielle is invaluable -- a pearl beyond price. Yet Luc has defied the odds, and a contract for marriage is drawn up. This will be a union on paper first, and of flesh later. . .

Except Gabrielle is just the same in private as in public -- well-bred, well-behaved, and a credit to her country. Luc is determined to find the wanton within and leave his pure princess in total disarray!

2. If your protagonist were to wake up one day with a super power, what would that super power be? Alternatively (or both!) if your protagonist were to wake up one day with an intense craving for something, what would the craving be?

I think my heroine's craving is for freedom. She thinks her marriage to Luc means the end of that dream, but really, it's the first step towards a different, stronger kind of freedom.

3. Would your villain (or antagonist) prefer to be Emperor Ming The Merciless or Darth Vader? Why?

The villain is a paparazzo. I honestly can't imagine anything nastier or more vile than that.

4. What do you consider the heart of your story? That is, what is the issue or emotion that propels things forward? Spill your guts on this one.

The heart of the book is the question of whether or not love--which feels so irrational and impossible--can be trusted, especially when it leads us to unexpected places. And it's also about how terribly afraid we all are of being wrong about that.

5. If you were in charge of casting the movie adaptation of your book, who gets the call?

Oh... I don't think there's anyone hot enough to play Luc. He's too elemental. However, I once described a Presents novel as what happens when an ordinary girl starts dating King Leonidas from the movie 300. I certainly found Gerard Butler in that role inspirational while I was writing this book. As for Princess Gabrielle, maybe a latter day Grace Kelly. She is pretty much perfect.

6. Is there a scene you cut from the book that you kind of wish you could put back in?

I edit as I go, so there are very rarely whole cut scenes. Just iterations of the same scene.

7. Do you have a sample chapter posted?

I believe you can read through the book on eHarlequin

8. Tell us why your editor is the best editor ever in the universe.

Because she is magical AND a superhero! Seriously. Her edits make everything I write so, so much better. And she once received a manuscript I'd submitted in the morning and returned it, with edits, in under 24 hours. How is that even possible? And her edits were fantastic and right on, as always.

The Contest

To win a copy of this awesome story, leave a comment in which you talk about what you would do if you found yourself dating King Leonidas.

If you don't leave me a way to contact you, then commit to checking back here on the ides of March (that would be March 15) or so, to see if you're the winner. Void where prohibited etc.

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posted by Carolyn @ 3/07/2010 06:06:00 PM Permalink

(7) comments

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Quick Catching Up

Things have been crazy here at Jewel central. I'm so close to the end of my revisions, I can practically taste it. Oh my. But my mom's been in the hospital so I've been a wee bit distracted. She's home now which is good.

Anyway. Craziness. Carry on.


posted by Carolyn @ 3/02/2010 06:39:00 PM Permalink

(1) comments

Friday, February 26, 2010

War Dances by Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie is one of my favorite authors. I'd read his grocery list. So when I saw War Dances in the bookstore, of course I bought it. I've had it for a couple of weeks now, and finally picked it up to read at a time when I was in need of serious distraction.

Let me start by saying that Alexie is writing at a level most authors only dream about reaching. When I offer a criticism, I'm still talking about levels of good.

I'd need a week at least to put together the kind of review this book deserves and I'd have to read through it two or three more times -- which I will do, I'm quite certain (the reading, not the review). But I don't have a week, so you get this one draft review.

When I was in grad school and reading Faulkner, Roth and the like, I kept wondering to myself who, today, is the future canon? The writer who just keeps getting better and better until you start to get chills. I've been hard pressed to come up with a name. So many of the literary writers today feel so self-aware and stultifyingly precious that, to be honest, I don't give a hoot. Really.

If he keeps writing like this, and there's no reason to believe he won't, if there's any justice in the world, Alexie is that writer.

I thought War Dances started off good but not Great. I read one of the pieces in substantially, but not exactly, the same form The New Yorker (here, the title story War Dances) It's at this point that the collection really pulled me in. As I progressed through the poems and stories, I start taking in the themes and questions Alexie leaves us to face -- the various narrators' interior lives are fundamentally different from the culturally dominant worldview. We are constantly shown that maybe we don't understand quite enough.

The poem On Airplanes was the first one to make me say, oh. at the end. From that point forward the stories and poems were transformative. Ode to Pay Phones made my breath catch. Ode to Mix Tapes is in a similar class. The story Fearful Symmetry is Alexie at his "turn you around" best. Where you start this story and where you are when it ends are two different worlds, and in between Alexie puts you through a transformation. The last story Salt and the final poem Food Chain were wonderful and so very lovely.

If you love writing, if you're in love with words, if you just want to say you read a great writer before he was writ large, read War Dances

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posted by Carolyn @ 2/26/2010 11:23:00 PM Permalink

(2) comments

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Blog News

In the next couple of weeks I'll be moving my blog to from Blogger to WordPress. The primary reason is that I host my blog on my webserver, not Google's (which owns Blogger, in case you didn't know) and therefore, have needed to publish via FTP (File Transfer Protocol).

Google has decided, for fairly sound reasons for them, to discontinue FTP as a means of publishing to Blogger. This means that to stay on the Blogger platform, I would need to port my blog to blogspot.com or create a subdomain on my server which would, in reality, be hosted on a Google server rather than my server.

I have a personal bias against hosting anything on a server that does not belong to me. This is driven by my years ago experience with a service called X-Drive which allowed you to use their servers to store files. Well, X-Drive did some upgrades that borked up my files -- which were daily copies of my current WIP. Not so fun, but I worked around that. And then they went out of business. With no notice, all my file archives were gone. GONE.

Never again, I said.

Some of you may recall Microsoft Music. They promised you'd be able to access your music forever. Microsoft's scheme was that your music would not play unless it could be validated against their server. I was on dial up at the time and only bought 1 song, after which I had to sadly accept that dial up was going to prevent me from downloading anything ever. Well, guess what? Microsoft Music shut down and everyone who bought music from them would now be unable to play their music. There was a bit of an uproar and eventually, MS agreed to leave those servers on. Dunno if they still are.

There are more stories like that to be found. Third party storage is ALWAYS a risk. You don't own their servers, and companies, imho I'm sorry to confess, will always elect to screw their customers if there's something in it for them. Which is why I elected to host my blog on my website. This allowed me to backup and manage my own blog, including downloading to my own computer.

As I was mulling over the ramifications of no FTP publishing for Blogger, Blogger went and deleted the content of several music blogs hosted with them. Without notice to the bloggers. Because, supposedly, these blogs had pirated music. Only they didn't. Most of them, actually had legal demos given to them by the music companies. But their posts were gone. Not just the music, but the posts.

Blogger's all sorry now, but too late, if you ask me. The content's gone and not recoverable, as I understand it.

I blog about books sometimes. Sometimes I'll post a snippet of text, and quite often a cover. If my blog was hosted with Google, what happens when someone decides that blogging about books is copyright infringement?

So anyhoo, that's why I'm finally doing what I've been thinking about for ages; Getting off Blogger and moving to WordPress, which is installed on my web server. There's no need to host any part of my domain someplace other than my web server. And Google can't go deleting my stuff because they can.

My webhost has already ported my website to a server that supports the most recent versions of the software I need. I'm just waiting for my web designer to do the WordPress template for me. Once that happens, the blogger blog will become archives and my blog will move, seamlessly, I expect, to the WordPress platform.

I'm looking forward to doing some of the neat stuff WordPress allows that my Blogger solution doesn't.

Wish me luck!


posted by Carolyn @ 2/25/2010 09:34:00 PM Permalink

(4) comments

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Various And Sundry Things

I have been revising My Immortal Assassin into a much better book. Possibly a book unrecognizable by any one who read it before. Almost done. Almost.

Tomorrow, I'm mailing out various prizes etc. So tardy. But I've been revising like mad. The pain. Oh, the pain. But also, oh the good feeling when you fix something . . .

I've also read two really amazing books. The first one is A Bad Day For Sorry by Sophie Littlefield. She's a fellow San Francisco Bay Area RWA chapter member, so I know her which is cool. A Bad Day for Sorry has been nominated for an Edgar. (Because it's a mystery, though there's some strong romantic elements in it.)

This book seriously rocks. It's a debut novel, too. Go read it. It's Edgar nominated for a reason.

The other book is A Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliasotti.

I seriously loved this book. It's just overwhelmingly good. I felt like I was living with the characters. It's steampunk but let me tell you, the romance is beautifully done. There's no sex on the pages, but I defy anyone not to get sniffly at the romantic ending.

But here's the thing. I read the book because I'd heard it was good. You hear things, you know? A friend whose opinion I really trust recommended it, too, so my usual silly resistance to Books I Keep Hearing About got worn down and I read it. And then I remembered hearing that the author was having trouble selling a second book.

WTF? Really? What is wrong with the people over at Juno Books? I went off to her website and I thought I saw that she was still looking for an agent. (What? That's another mystery to me.) But now I can't find that so maybe it's not true. ETA: Found it: Clockwork Heart Sequel: Looking for an agent

The sad thing is that poor sales can doom additional books sales from an author even if the published book is amazing. Were sales for A Clockwork Heart not robust enough to get a second sale? Criminal if true.

I just know I want to read more novels by her and it seems I can't.

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posted by Carolyn @ 2/23/2010 09:54:00 PM Permalink

(2) comments

Friday, February 19, 2010

A sad day today -- Jasper 2/19/2010

Jasper The Cat

Today my 23 year old cat Jasper passed away. I'm just feeling sad. I miss him sitting in my lap. Jasper was with me when I lived in Berkeley, then San Francisco, and then Petaluma. My son's first word was CAT uttered with crystal clarity when he was 8 months old. His crib, which was in my bedroom, had a mesh tent over it to keep the cats out (read that to mean Jasper) and Jasper used to jump on top and stare down at my son. That night, Jasper jumped on top of the crib tent, stared down, and my son said, Cat.

Despite how much he looks Siamese, in this picture taken when he was younger, he's a Tonkinese, which is a cross between Siamese and Burmese. Obviously he takes after the Siamese part. I got him cheap because his eyes are not quite the neon blue they should have been.

It's hard to lose a pet. We all miss him here.


posted by Carolyn @ 2/19/2010 06:41:00 PM Permalink

(10) comments

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Winner of HelenKay Dimon's Book

The randomly selected winner of HelenKay Dimon's book is . . .


Watch your spam filter, I'll be emailing you the good news and asking for your mailing address.


Thanks everyone for stopping by and for all the great tat suggestions, too.


posted by Carolyn @ 2/18/2010 05:16:00 PM Permalink

(2) comments

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Carolyn Gets you the Low Down on HelenKay Dimon

Photo of author HelenKay Dimon Today, author HelenKay Dimon answers a lot of tough, hard-hitting questions from yours truly. At the end of it all, she has a book to give away!

Read on about HelenKay, secret government agencies, writing tips and tattooed chefs and then read about how you might be win her book, Holding Out For A Hero. This is a Kensington Brava (meaning it's hot!).

The Interview

1. Write What you Know. That's one of the first rules of successful fiction writing.

Who knew so many authors are vampires, werewolves or demons? Anyway, in looking over your upcoming releases, I'm now curious about how long you've been on the run from the law. (Under the Gun) Also, I notice there's a helicopter on the cover. Awesome. How long have you been flying those things?

When I have some free time in the evenings, I like to grab my gun, head out to the airport and fly a helicopter along the San Diego coastline. The military and FAA don't really like this since they use the same air space and all, but that's why I take the gun. Helicopter versus fighter plane - I win every single time. Just those few hours of flying and shooting and all is well in my world.

And did you really not suspect that some of our author brethren were creatures of the night,or at least aliens? That is the only explanation I can find for...well, never mind.

Exactly. It explains one heck of a lot. Like why writers' conferences are so much fun and why agents and editors have to work late at night so often. (It's the only time they can talk with certain of their clients/authors.)

2. I understand you're a lawyer. Tell me about how being a lawyer prepared you for a career in writing. I have read more than my share of legal briefs and it's been my impression that legal writing is pretty much the opposite of gripping fiction, except for maybe in the facts section if you happen to have an interesting case.

When did the writing bug bite? Did you sit in contracts class doodling story ideas or were you outlining novels instead of your Motion to Dismiss? Or were you too busy running a secret government agency? (It's okay if you're not comfortable talking about your time under cover. Just leave some blanks and I'll fill them in later.)

I think of myself as a recovering lawyer. It's a 12 Step program that begins with getting out and ends with learning not to argue with everyone about everything. Have not conquered that last part yet. That innate need to take the other side of every argument has not subsided yet. Maybe some day.

I have to admit something here....I was one of those. You know the ones. The people who read all the time but don't read romance. I actually wrote and read Motions and thought they were interesting. Yeah, it's sick. Then my life changed. I started litigating contested custody cases. Try to think of something less romantic. I dare you. The work was tough. Watching people rip their kids apart and fight over floral print curtains was hard to take some days.

One day a retiring attorney handed me three romances-- Perfect Partners by Jayne Ann Krentz, The Bride by Julie Garwood and Daniel's Bride by Linda Lael Miller -- and read them and fell in love. I thought the writing was smart and sexy. I realized I'd been missing something. Something pretty great. So, I started reading a lot of romance. About two years later, fueled by an overinflated ego that is just sooooo attractive, I decided I could write one.

Didn't know a thing about fiction writing, but off I went. After a few years of floundering and writing mostly for myself, I decided to go from hobby to potential career. I entered and finaled in Lori Foster's Brava Novella Contest and 18 months later sold to Kensington.

I can honestly say reading romance changed my life. Right now I'd be sitting in a courtroom trying to decide which parent should have the kids on Memorial Day if my world hadn't gone careening wildly off track and into the romance world. I thank Jayne Ann Krentz, Julie Garwood and Linda Lael Miller every single day for that fact I wear sweats instead of pantyhose to work now.

For the record, I don't run a secret government agency but I think the world would be better if I did. Do you know who I can talk to about that?

NB: HelenKay is fibbing. Anyone who flies helicopters and shoots it out with fighter jets is OBVIOUSLY the former head of a secret government agency. I mean, come on. Doh.

Interview Interruptus

Check this out. Is she running secret agency or what? Do you see the office she's sitting in? Does that not say covert agency all over it?

The Interview continues . . .

3. When I interview other authors, I like to get as much writing advice as I can from them. I recently read your book Right Here, Right Now, and I thought the dialogue was exceptionally deft and amusing. As someone who is humor impaired in my fiction, I'm looking for tips on writing humor. If you could also address great dialogue too, that would be helpful (Thanks!)

Did you really read it or are you just saying that to make me like you more? 'Cause it worked I like you even more now.

Yes, I did read it. I'm glad you like me even more. I like you, too, HelenKay. FYI, we don't lie here on my blog. Well, hardly ever. But I'm not lying about your book. Anyway, could we talk a little about dialogue and humor?

But, really, did you read it?? What happens on page 45? And don't give me that "I downloaded the book and my page numbers don't match with the book's" stuff. Not buying it!

Um. Well. Gosh. Oddly enough, I DID read your book on my iPhone. The pages actually don't match the physical copy. I can prove it:

Photo of iPhone book

See? Now. About dialogue and humor?

Okay. Good.

That's not about dialogue. Or humor. This is a professional, serious interview here. Plus I need some advice about dialogue and humor.

Back to your question... I love writing dialogue. It's my favorite part. When I write, I actually let the dialogue play in my head (which sounds a little nutty, now that I see that in writing) and put it down on paper as it comes to me. No dialogue tags. No narrative. Just a stream of talk between the characters in the scene, letting it come out in banter and a Moonlighting (am I showing my age?) way. I then build the scene around that back and forth. I end up trimming the dialogue down to avoid a situation where it's obvious I love hearing myself talk and then I layer in the rest.

On humor? I will relay a conversation my hubby and I have just about every week:

Me: I'm funny. Most people aren't funny, so you're lucky to be with me.

Hubby (deadpan): Uh-huh. You're hysterical.

Clearly, he does not appreciate just how funny I am.

Wow. Words fail me.

I'm not sure that my dialogue ever strikes me as funny when I write it. People tell me it's funny, which is fabulous, because I love funny. But, really, I think humor is either a part of your voice or not. If you try to be funny --force it --it comes off as obvious and, well, not funny. I do think it's easier to aim for amusing. We all have amusing things happen to us, stuff that makes us smile. Those relatable pieces of life amuse people and add that bit of lightness to a story.

4. I'm curious about how you managed to have two books out in the same month. Are you just an insanely fast writer?

My publishers hate me. See, those books were supposed to come out in different months. Then, each publisher shifted each book by a month and - viola - two releases. This is somewhat better than October 2009 when I had three releases...all from the same publisher. I cried a lot and worried about the?end of my career during October 2009.

But on the fast thing? I do write fairly fast but only after the book is in my head. I have to start thinking about it all the time, seeing the scenes flash by (again, sounds nutty), before I can get it down on paper in anything other than crap form.

About The Books- Plus the Interview Continues . . .

5. Can you tell me a couple of things about Under the Gun and Leave Me Breathless that aren't in the cover blurb (since those will be posted here for everyone to read and admire.) Is there a spicy or exciting scene or two you can tease us with?

My favorite part of Under The Gun isn't in the cover blurb. See, these folks were once engaged. Our lovely heroine Claire, dumped handsome hero Luke before the wedding and Claire is now accused of killing the guy she married instead of our fine hero. How's that for some added conflict? If that wasn't bad enough, I injured poor Luke in the first scene and keep the guy in pain for the entire book. Mean author.

I'm kind of scared of you now.

Here's a little taste:

The second they were alone Luke pinned Claire with the same green-eyed gaze that used to make her forget what she was saying from one thought to another.

"If you even try move out of this room I'll stop you," he said.

"You only have one good arm."

"I can do a lot with just that one."

Which was exactly why she hadn't yet made a run for the door. "I'm not leaving."

"That's not my experience," he mumbled under his breath.

Adam stalked back into the room and dumped a small box on the table, along with gauze, some medicine, a knife and a bottle. "What are we looking at in terms of injuries here?"

Luke tried to lift his arm but groaned instead. "It's a through and through. Not serious. Just bloody and stings like a son of a bitch."

She eyed up the whiskey. "Which is cause for a celebratory drink?"

Both men stared at her but only Luke answered. "I'm going to use it to clean the wound."

She noticed his husky voice had cleared and his swaying had stopped. Still... "Shouldn't you be at a hospital? I mean, how bad is this?"

Luke picked up a bandage packet and put the edge between his teeth and ripped it open. "It's a gunshot, so it doesn't feel good. But, unfortunately for you, I'm not going to die."

She forgot how dizzying his stubbornness could be. "You are if you don't stop with the attitude."

He peeked up at her through his mop of hair. "I'd like to remind you how I got shot."

That was an easy one. He refused to stick with the mental plan she had worked out for him. He might hate her but his rescue tendencies hadn't dulled.

ooh. I like.

Order Under the Gun

About Leave me Breathless

Leave Me Breathless is sexier and a bit less suspense oriented. Ben is a young superstar judge. Callie is his unwanted bodyguard and is completely unimpressed with Ben's impressive record. Loved making the heroine the tough one and the hero the one who insisted he didn't need help.


According to Judge Bennett Walker, trying to kill him is a dumb idea. They might make him wear a big black nightgown to work, but it covers a lot of muscles, and he’s definitely packing beneath it. He’s also an ex-prosecutor and an ex-GI Joe. So when his brother brings in Callie Robbins to protect him, Ben has a few issues. First, he doesn't need a bodyguard. Second, she’s a 130-pound girl—more smoking hot than smoking gun. And third, what if his body wants her guarding the night shift?

Callie has no problem brushing aside Ben’s disbelief. She left the FBI to escape the boys’ club, but she can be deeper undercover and twice as lethal as any beefy John Doe. As for whether someone’s after Bennett or not, the death threats and car bombs look pretty convincing to Callie. Of course, she might get distracted, sitting inches from the sexiest judge in DC for ten hours a day. Keeping him safe is no picnic. Keeping it professional—that might be impossible.

Here's a brief scene from early in their relationship

Cover of Leave Me Breathless by HelenKay Dimon Something clicked in Ben's head. "Wait, how do you know about the email?"

Callie bit her bottom lip but stayed quiet.

That couldn't be a good sign. "You were on my computer?" He knew the answer but wanted her to own up to the misdemeanor. Maybe apologize.

"I was checking for email threats." She scribbled down something on the lined paper. "Get used to it."

She sure didn't sound sorry to him. "You were violating my privacy."

"We can call it whatever you want."

"How about illegal? I could have you arrested."

She snorted. "Oh, please."

It was hard to threaten someone who refused to be afraid. "Which reminds me, how did you get in the office this morning?

She reached inside her blazer pocket and flashed a courthouse I.D. badge at him. "I also have a key to the suite and my own desk."

He followed her head nod to the small set-up perpendicular from his under the window. How in the hell had he missed that? "I don’t think so."

"You don't get a vote."

She needed to understand how this arrangement was going to work. Her pushy demanding act was not the right answer. "The governor who appointed me and the electorate that keeps me here would disagree."

She rolled her eyes. Made quite the dramatic scene of it, too. "Must you talk like that?"

"Like what?"

"All hoity and superior."

He tried to remember the last time someone fought him this hard and showed so little respect for his position. He came up with an answer fast: never. "Was it the word 'electorate' that upset you?"

She threw her notebook on his desk. "To be honest, most everything you say annoys me."

He was starting to see why she no longer had a job with the FBI. That mouth could not have been an asset in a rule-oriented, follow-the-chain-of-command government agency. "Right back at you, sweetheart."

Oooh. I like this too!

order Leave me Breathless

Carolyn Asks HelenKay a REALLY hard Question

Which of these two scenarios would you prefer? Explain your choice.

A. You're walking down the street on a nice day when a pastry chef runs out of the bakery you're passing and practically mows you down. To apologize, he gives you his pastry chef hat which you wear that afternoon when you're settling in for an afternoon of baking goodies for yours truly. The hat, you discover, confers the ability to make baked goods better than anyone in the world but only if you bake for good, not evil.

B. You're walking down the street on a nice day when a tattoo artist runs out of his tattoo parlor and practically mows you down. To apologize, he gives you a free tattoo (location your choice). One week later, you discover that your new tat confers on you the ability to understand the directions for any product that says "Some assembly required" on the box.

Is there an option for a hot pastry chef with a tattoo? Of those two, I'd pick the hat because I can't cook. If it doesn't come frozen and in a box, I can't make it. Needless to say, my hubby does all of the cooking in our house, which is a good thing because we'd starve otherwise. But the idea of being able to make all the cookies and cakes and cinnamon buns I want is just awesome. I could cook and then eat my way out of the room. I might fantasize about that for the rest of the week. Thanks for putting that in my head.

I can't believe I didn't think of a hot pastry chef with a tattoo! My God, that's brilliant. He should have a tat of an apple pie on his butt.

Thank you so much for hosting me here!

You're welcome! Thanks for stopping by.

How To Possibly Win HelenKay's Book

Answer one or more of the following questions in the comments:

  • Suppose the Tattooed Chef DOES NOT have a tattoo of apple pie. But there is a tattoo. What's the next best tat for a hot pastry chef?
  • What's your favorite pastry?
  • Where do you prefer to eat your favorite pastry?
Rules: Contest is open until -- uh -- Wednesday February 17th. Get your comment in by midnight Pacific. If you don't leave me an email so I can contact you if you win, then please commit to checking back Thursday or Friday (2/18-19) to see if you won. Void where prohibited etc.


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posted by Carolyn @ 2/13/2010 06:36:00 PM Permalink

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

On Being a Writer

What's it like to be a writer? Well sometimes it's darned expensive!

This week's expenses:

425.00 Register for RWA National in Nashville TN
407.00 Buy round trip non-stop plane ticket Oakland to Nashville
188.50 RWA conf hotel hold on credit card
225.00 Enter RomConInc Contest because editor emailed authors about it, 3 books at $75 each.
093.00 Buy and ship books to contest via Amazon (I'm low on copies plus this saves me postage AND a trip to the Post Office, which would happen God knows when.)

Plus, the really evil thing is I had to use the credit card for some of this, so know I have to go to the "Writing Fund" Bank to get the cash to pay the credit card IMMEDIATELY because credit cards are evil.

Right now, I'm freaking out about money. I'll feel better when the amounts are all paid in cash. But still. That RomConInc contest is freaking expensive. I hope next year they lower the fee. Not that it matters because in 2010, I only have the Regency short story out. So, actually, I hope they lower the fee for the 2011 contest.

Then today, right when I was in the middle of sending an email to my agent about back cover copy for My Immortal Assassin, my website went down -- this would include email and I was on the webmail program. Everything just went ::poof::

Did you hear me scream? Prolly. Yeah, that was me.

So then I had to reconstruct everything and send it from my gmail account.

I'm whining, I know. And I apologize, sort of. But I'm in the middle of massive revisions and not only is that depressing on a number of levels, it's a lot of pressure to get them done both well and quickly.

To top it all off, I made a pound cake and it was a failure. It tastes great, but the texture is all wrong. ::sob::

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posted by Carolyn @ 2/11/2010 06:58:00 PM Permalink

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Random Thoughts

1. Why Mondays? Seriously. Why?

2. I don't get why authors beg other authors to go vote for them in a reader poll. This is different, by the way, from alerting your readers about such a poll. I'm talking about appealing directly to groups of other authors. Let's say that works and all your author friends vote for you in droves and YAY! You win. Well, so what? You didn't win because readers loved your book. You won because you begged. How good will you feel afterward? All right, so I get why authors do that, because then you can brag about the win and maybe you'll get some increased sales. But inside, you'll know it's a lie. Am I crazy for feeling that way?

3. I kind of feel the same way about my mailing list, which is quite small. Trust, me the numbers are nothing to brag about. But if I make people sign up for my mailing list in order to enter a contest or what have you, don't I end up with a bunch of people who are on my newsletter list to win stuff? I want people on the list because they want to know about my books. Is that dumb of me? I suspect it is. But I can't help feeling that way.

4. I'm serious about the Monday question.

5. I recently did an interesting track down search for a funny post that I originally saw on Twitter that said, basically, something about editor humor. Well, I'm all about finding out if editors really do have a sense of humor. (Kidding!! I know you do!! Editors are some of the funniest people I know.)

Anyway, I clicked through and landed at the always wonderful SciFi Guy Blog. This post was headed Why Werewolves Teach Their Kids Grammar which gave credit to the blog Only The Best SciFi/Fantasy with their post titled, A touching Story of How Grammar saved A Life. That post credited Boing Boing but without a link back. But I found that post which is titled Fun with Punctuation and it credits Dweebist. The Dweebist post is titled merely Commas, and it seems to be the source.

It's like Internet Telephone. From commas to saving lives, to werewolf humor to editor humor.
But it's still funny.

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posted by Carolyn @ 2/08/2010 09:00:00 AM Permalink

(3) comments

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Contest News - Ann Aguirre and A Reading Challenge

Go enter Ann Aguirre's Hell Fire ARC contest.

She's giving away 8 ARCs on her blog, and two on Twitter. Check it out. Enter. You won't be sorry.

Over at The Riskies we're setting up a Read-Along. Help us decide what book to read. There will be some prizes during the Risky Reading.

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posted by Carolyn @ 2/03/2010 09:03:00 PM Permalink

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

An Italian Scandal

Oh, isn't it pretty? If you speak Italian and want to buy it, Italian eHarmony

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posted by Carolyn @ 2/02/2010 05:59:00 PM Permalink

(3) comments

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fight's Over -- But who Really Won?

Amazon gives in to Macmillan

Macmillan has a monopoly on their books.

Of course they do. Surely Amazon wasn't naive enough to think otherwise? Only St. Martin's Press publishes Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter Series. If you want to read this series, you can only get the stories from a book that says St. Martin's Press on the spine. Or a digital file provided by SMP.

I refuse to believe Amazon wasn't fully aware of that fundamental fact about the publishing business.

So, is there a winner? It would seem to be Macmillan, since they got what they wanted -- a higher price for their eBooks. And Macmillan authors get their Amazon buy button back. That's good.

But is Macmillan really the winner? I'm thinking, maybe not.

Macmillan won an important right -- to set the price where they THINK it should be. They've also established a different model for selling eBooks: the agency model, in which Amazon gets 30% of the price set and the publisher gets the rest. Previously, Amazon kept well over 50% of the price. I've heard as high as 70%.

On the one had, I admit to being a wee bit relieved that Amazon is no longer going to set digital prices since they've been doing that in a way that can only hurt publishers and the current Amazon price structure for the self-published is a disgrace and insult to a working writer.

But now I'm worried that publishers will set digital prices in a way that's calculated to hurt the digital customer whom they seem to think of as a threat.

Macmillan and other publishers who follow suit -- I think that's inevitable, by the way -- will soon learn what consumers think is a fair price for what they're getting for their eBook purchases. It's not a bad lesson to learn.

I'm afraid publishers will set eBook prices at levels intended to protect their paper versions. There's no reason to think they won't. That's been what they've done at the other eBook sellers such as FictionWise and the like. This can only make the piracy problem worse since the potential legal buyers of eBooks will know they're being ripped off.

It just makes me kind of sad to think about a new market being deliberately hindered.

With luck, I'll be proven wrong. I hope so.

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posted by Carolyn @ 1/31/2010 02:48:00 PM Permalink

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Interview with Judi Fennel -- Plus a Contest!

Today I'm author Judi Fennel visits my blog to talk about her new release. It's got mermaids. Is that awesome or what? Please note, Judi has a great contest going so check it out at the end of this post!

About The Author

Judi Fennell has had her nose in a book and her head in some celestial realm all her life, including those early years when her mom would exhort her to "get outside!" instead of watching Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie on television. So she did--right into Dad's hammock with her Nancy Drew books.

These days she's more likely to have her nose in her laptop and her head (and the rest of her body) at her favorite bookstore, but she's still reading, whether it be her latest manuscript or friends' books.

A three-time finalist in online contests, Judi has enjoyed the reader feedback she's received and would love to hear what you think about her Mer series. Check out her website at www.JudiFennell.com for excerpts, reviews and fun pictures from reader and writer conferences, and the chance to "dive in" to her stories.

About the Book

She's on a mission to save the planet. . .

Mermaid Angel Tritone has been researching humans from afar, hoping to find a way to convince them to stop polluting. When she jumps into a boat to escape a shark attack, it's her chance to pursue her mission, but she has to keep her identity a total secret. . .

When he finds out what she really is, they're both in mortal danger. . .

For Logan Hardington, finding a beautiful woman on his boat is surely not a problem-- until he discovers she's a mermaid, and suddenly his life is on the line. . .

What people are saying

Fennell's got detailed worldbuilding, creative secondary characters and an impressive use of mythology in this great read. While this title is part of a series, it works well as a stand-alone. Angel and Logan are both incredibly textured characters.
RT BookReview Magazine 4 Stars

Judi Fennell has extraordinary imagination and has certainly used it in creating this exciting and colorful story. Her characters are wonderful.
Fresh Fiction

The best blend of both worlds. I... love each and every character in Catch of A Lifetime (and) found (it) well worth diving into.
Long And Short Reviews 4.5 Books

4 Stars!
Affair de Coeur Magazine

Catch of a Lifetime is a heart warming tale. Ms. Fennell Ms. Fennell has created a delightful world that, I have enjoyed escaping to. It is both dangerous and fun.
Anna's Book Blog

The Interview

1. If your protagonist were to wake up one day with a super power, what would that super power be?
Angel actually wouldn't care whether she had one or not. She can change her tail to legs and back again, so she's pretty happy. Maybe if she could extend that change from two days to six months, that might do it. But she's a scientist; she prefers facts and evidence to magic.

2. If your protagonist were to wake up one day with an intense craving for something, what would the craving be?
Ice cream. Peppermint. Frozen iceberg chips just don't have the same flavor.

3. Would your villain (or antagonist) prefer to be Emperor Ming The Merciless or Darth Vader? Why?
Darth - Ming ruled a planet. Darth has a bigger focus; he wants every universe out there. Ceto has a bone to pick with The Gods and she wouldn't mind having more power than them. As for the sharks, they'd just be happy to have a say in what happens on The Council. Actually, that's not true. I could see A.C. using that as a stepping stone to the throne. Maybe even Poseidon's trident.

4. What do you consider the heart of your story? That is, what is the issue or emotion that propels things forward? Spill your guts on this one.
Angel wanting to be someone. I hadn't seen that coming when I wrote her story. All of a sudden, she's thinking about how much she wants to be so much more than "Just Angel." I hadn't realized. I love when things like that happen when I'm writing a story. All along, she's known why she's pushing so hard for the job she's after, but I hadn't realized why until that moment. It makes writing magical.

5. If you were in charge of casting the movie adaptation of your book, who gets the call?

I always love this question because while I can pick actors/actresses for my characters, I have a hard time seeing them as the characters because the characters are such vivid personalities in their own right. But, by all means, let Hollywood come calling! For Angel, I see Jessica Alba, and for Logan, Hugh Jackman. I have yet to see a Michael anywhere, though. And I'd pull Susan Sarandon in for Ceto, and either Pacino or DeNiro for A.C. Hell, this is a "what if" so let's get both. There are enough thug hammerheads to go around Hollywood mafiosos. Ray Liotta, too.

6. Is there a scene you cut from the book that you kind of wish you could put back in?
The first five chapters. :) Yep, I wrote five chapters before the opening of the book. They showed Angel escaping Hammerhead Harry, and what happens when she shows up on the boat and Michael sees her. But I think the book is stronger written the way it was published. Those five chapters, however, make good "freebies" on my website and will go up over the next few weeks.

7. Do you have a sample chapter posted?
I have an excerpt on my website.

8. Tell us why your editor is the best editor ever in the universe.
Because she loves my stories enough to buy them! And my next series, too. And hopefully more after that. Seriously, though, Deb Werksman is amazing. She knows just how to get to the heart of the story and build it outward from there. She can see things that need clarification and convey them wonderfully. Not that I like having to do those kinds of revisions, but all of my books are stronger because of the role she plays.


To celebrate the release of each of her books, Judi Fennell and the Atlantis Inn and the Hibiscus House bed and breakfasts are raffling off three romantic beach getaway weekends. All information is on Judi's website, www.JudiFennell.com.

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posted by Carolyn @ 1/31/2010 10:47:00 AM Permalink

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Holy Moly! It's a Fight!

I was going to blog about something else but since there's a major controversy going on in the publishing world, I'm going to blog about that instead.

Here's the details as I know then now. FYI: Things may change as this is ongoing.

1. Wednesday (Jan 27) Apple introduced its iPad. This touchpad computing device does a bunch of stuff. For this issue, you need to know it includes iBook -- kind of like iTunes for books -- and Apple's answer to the Amazon Kindle. Reader and writer types noticed right away that the book prices were pretty high. $14.99. For the most part Amazon sells Kindle books for $9.99 and below. They take a loss on books for which the publisher actually charges more.

2. Soon after the iPad announcement, video surfaced of computer techno-maven Walt Mossberg speaking with Steve Jobs. They talked about books and their pricing vis-a-via the Kindle and Steve Jobs told Mossberg that "They will be the same."

Now that's interesting, I thought when I saw that clip. How does Steve know that? Does that mean they're lowering their price to match the Kindle? (I am at times sadly naive.)

3. The CEO of MacMillan Books has said some pretty uninformed stuff about eBooks, mostly about the price Amazon is charging. The basic issue is that hardcover books, as you probably have noticed, cost a lot more than $9.99 which is what the Kindle version of the hardcover costs. Hardcovers are VERY profitable for publishers. Mass Market Paperbacks (MMP) are not as profitable, don't cost as much and sell in far greater numbers, excluding the odd blockbuster everyone buys in hardback because they just can't wait.

4.MacMillan, in particular, has been very vocal about this. They, and other publishers have done things like publish in hardback but delay the availability of the Kindle version because they don't want to loose a hardback sale to a (cheaper) Kindle sale.

5. Today, Amazon pulled the Buy Now button from all MacMillan titles. This includes Tor and St. Martin's Press, by the way. This means you can no longer buy these books at Amazon unless you want to buy them used and that means NO money going to the author.

Here are the links to check out:

My Take on This

There are several things wrong with this. The first is the assumption that but for the availability of the Kindle version, book buyers would buy the hardback. This appears to be an egregiously wrong assumption. There is, to my knowledge, no evidence that a Kindle owner would be a hardback buyer if she didn't own a Kindle.

I think it's much more likely that a Kindle owner, if she didn't have the device, would wait for the MMP rather than buy the hardback. The MMP would be priced at $7-8. But the Kindle owner, instead of waiting for the MMP, pays a bit more for the book right now. Instead of waiting. By the time the MMP comes out, she's not going to want to pay $9.99. So what's actually happening is the Kindle buyers represent BRAND NEW customers with respect to this release. MORE people buy this brand new book because there are two formats. And the cheaper one comes with some well known and much hated limitations.

But anyway, that's what the publishers are thinking. They think this because they haven't informed themselves about the changing landscape of book buying. (which is different from the changing landscape of book SELLING) They are not only technophobes, they are techno-idiots. They don't understand the digital world and they don't understand the people in it. Instead, they're running around yelling The sky is falling instead of listening to the consumer, some of whom are NEW consumers, tell them what they want.

Instead, they're trying to force consumers, who are new and/or different than they used to be, to behave in the comfortable way that matches the spreadsheets they've already got. Which are about selling something these consumers would rather not buy in the manner it's being sold to them.

Publishers need to hire someone who actually understands technology. Someone who grew up with it or enthusiastically threw themselves into it when the world changed. And it did, people, it did. And then they need to actually LISTEN to that person. Any C-Level employee who didn't personally take a look at Twitter when the buzz started is automatically disqualified from this position.

That's my personal line in the sand, by the way. If you weren't curious to know what Ev was doing over there, you're not the right person to help lead Publishers out of the Analog world. If you don't know who Ev is, you're really not the right person.

FYI: Ev is the person who started Blogger. After Google bought Blogger, Ev went off and tried a couple things that were neat but not neat enough. Then he did Twitter with some buds. Blogger, by the way, does not look significantly different than it did shortly before Ev left Blogger (post acquisition). There was one big upgrade, then Ev left.

Carolyn's Demands

  • Stop wishing this digital stuff would just go away. It won't.

  • Believe in your heart, because it's true, that pissing off your customers is not a sound business practice.

  • Start listening to what READERS want.

  • Forget territorial rights. They are now only a fiction. (heh) Concentrate on translation rights for your eBooks. If someone in Singapore reads English well enough to prefer buying books in English, let them. If I decide I want to buy a book in French, even though I live in California, let me. You will sell more books that way.

  • Do some fucking research about piracy. Fund it if you have to. Pick an academic to do the work. Get some real data instead of the fake data, knee jerk assumptions you're using.

  • Listen to your tech person about how to get people to buy legally. Oh hell, I'll just tell you now:
    1. Make it easy
    2. Don't rip me off
    3. Don't break my shit doing it.

  • Keep in mind that you sell stories. Authors write them. If we have to, we'll write them without you. Your (fiction) business goes away without the stories.


Thanks for the comments. I appreciate people weighing in on the issue. I thought I should clarify a few things.

First, I don't write for MacMillan, so my books are still on Amazon. I write for Berkley (Penguin Putnam) and Grand Central (Hachette Books) I do, however, read lots of authors who do write for MacMillan.

Also, I have the Kindle app on my iPhone and have purchased and read a lot of books that way, including books from MacMillan. I also read books on Stanza, another iPhone app, because the Kindle isn't always the best way to go. Especially when my author friends send me their books to read before they're published (Oh, I am so lucky!)

At Christmas, I bought my 82 year old mother a Kindle. She and my dad have both read books on it. I loaded it up with free books and helped my mother buy a book she was interested in reading.

So, that said, this post is not about DRM (Digital Rights Management). I happen to think it's a mistake, particularly as DRM is typically implemented. So far, in my opinion, DRM does far more harm than good because it breaks stuff for the consumer.

This post also isn't about piracy. I've posted about that a few times on this blog. My books have been pirated. What frosts me about that is the people who pirate my books and then sell them. Yeah. They steal my stuff and then sell what they stole to other people. That is wrong. Other than that, there's only one person (Brian O'Leary) who is actually studying piracy with any rigor at all.

Therefore, my position on piracy is aside from the obvious issue of stealing, I don't know for sure yet.


Please don't think I am totally on the side of Amazon here. I'm not. I'm not a lawyer but I'm not clear on what agreements were made about pricing for iBook, the Kindle or anything else. Was there a smoke filled room and nefarious dealings? I don't know.

I think Amazon removing MacMillan from its site is pretty silly. They're screwing authors and readers to make a point with MacMillan and, probably, Apple. It's possible to view Amazon's pricing decision, and its $9.99 price point as predatory in effect. They know what publishers charge. They're willing to take a loss on these books in order to create a market at at price point less than publishers charge.

What happens when Amazon decides it doesn't want to take a loss any more? History suggests they won't be raising their price. History suggests they'll go to the publishers and say, hey, we won't carry your books unless you charge us less. Publishers have seen it before: from the big chains and from Wal-Mart. That's a fundamental change in the economic landscape. Price isn't set by the cost of the product + markup - what consumers will pay. Price gets set by the retailer and the seller has to suck it up or else. In MacMillan's defense, that's scary. But it doesn't excuse publishers lack of understanding.

Hopefully, I've been clear that I think publishers are making decisions based on misinformation and misunderstanding and that can just lead nowhere good.

And, as usual, let me say that in an emerging trend, the facts are fluid, not everything is known. All I can say is this is what I think so far, but I stand really and willing to hear more facts and opinions and change my mind accordingly.

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posted by Carolyn @ 1/29/2010 09:27:00 PM Permalink

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Monday, January 25, 2010

More Computers for writers: hacking 99


Reading another book where a writer has used the already egregiously wrong stereotypes of about computers to show a character who is supposedly a computer expert. In this case, a (airquotes)hacker(airquotes).

First off, hacking is in some ways ridiculously easy and in other ways quite complex. I can't even begin a 101 level discussion. From what I've seen most writers would be lucky to reach the remedial level. What they are right now is woefully ignorant. It's every computer user's right to be ignorant about their computer. I happen to believe that users have every right to expect their computers to simply freaking work without putting their security at risk. That is, alas, not reality.

But if you're writing a story that includes computers, please. TV and movies are simply not a resource you can rely on.

So here's some horrifically high level facts about hacking. Consider these jumping off points for your research. I am leaving out massive amounts of information. LOTS!

If you're going to write a book about a hacker, then please subscribe to 2600. As mentioned in a previous post, it's quite possible you can't get to that website at work, even though it's not dangerous to your computer. 2600 will quickly educate you on the mentality of people who do this sort of thing for good, evil or neutral. Every word of the magazine is a clue and reference material. EVERY FREAKING WORD!

Hacking is not what you think. It's not the stereotype you read in the newspapers, see on TV or hear about anywhere else in mainstream media. Seriously.

Criminal hackers are a different matter as nowadays it's often organized crime, but 2600 will educate you about that too.

It's not enough to know there's such a thing as a firewall and that there are ways to get around one (or perhaps more accurately, through one).

How do the bad guys Do Bad Stuff?

It's not magic. There are programs written specifically to exploit known vulnerabilities. Some of them have good purposes (penetration testing for example) but, like anything, such programs can be used for evil. And some were written specifically to do bad things.

It is possible to write your own.

The key point is the bad person is not just jumping on the internet and looking at web pages and then stuff just happesn. They are firing up programs that look for open ports and then sending commands to those ports that will accomplish evil things.

If a website was put together without considering security, then there WILL be commands from a web browser that can get you into a server. That, by the way, is typically the goal. The bad person wants to get from the computer serving up the webpage to the server that has the database, or to the domain controller or some other internal server.

SQL Injection, for example, involves tacking on certain commands to the end of a browser URL that will open up the database. From there, on a server that was not set up with thought to security, you could get to many other servers internal to a company.

Also, please remember that it's unlikely that a hacker will be using a Windows computer to do evil. It's fairly certain he or she will be using one of the flavors of Unix/Linux. The reason is beyond the scope of this post, but I think we could stop at, it's a matter of pride. It's possible. Of course.

An accomplished hacker, one whom you hope to portray as evil and/or heroic is going to have a customized set of tools and scripts, some of which he/she has likely written on his/her own.

Such a person could sit at a random computer and accomplish evil things. But they'll be using telnet or the command prompt -- that person would have to be VERY GOOD INDEED because they will have had to memorize really a lot of arcane commands. Or they could plug in their flash drive containing their toolset.

A evil person could sit around looking for websites vulnerable to SQL Injection, for example. But there are easier ways to find the low hanging fruit.

What they're not doing is jumping onto the World Wide Web and bypassing firewalls [waving of hands in magical incantation].

Understanding Firewalls

I am flying at a high level here, OK? There are also many many other ways to do evil than what I describe here. This is incredibly basic.

The Internet depends on a series of protocols -- rules that have been agreed upon regarding how one computer communicates with another computer. There are many different protocols. Here are 4 common ones:


You should recognize the second protocol: http

If you don't, look up at the top of your browser. If you're reading this directly from my website, you should see http://www.carolynjewel.com etc. You could substitute ftp.carolynjewel.com (And I suppose you could try to guess the login and password set for ftp services at carolynjewel.com.) If you did that, you would not see my lovely website because websites are written for the rules of the http protocol. ftp does not understand the rules for http. To do anything you would need to know the commands for ftp or be using an ftp shell program that will send those commands for you. Once you've guessed the login and password for my ftp site.

The Well Known Ports

Each protocol has been assigned its own port number. There are a set of agreed upon port numbers for each of a series of internet protocols. They are cleverly called The Well Known Ports. You can see the list here: IANA List of Well Known Ports

Side Note: The port numbers tend to be assigned in pairs of ports called TCP and UDP. If you care, traffic sent over the TCP port gets a return acknowledgment. I sent this. Yup, I got it. Traffic send over UDP is not acknowledged. I sent this.

The http protocol has been assigned the Well Known Port of 80.
FTP is 20
Microsoft SQL Server is port 1433

Your email is almost certainly being sent over port 25 (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol or SMTP).

Really Simple Example

So there you are at your computer. Your computer could send traffic over any and all of the ports using any of the agreed upon protocols. If you want, you can think of the ports as doors that reside on your computer. Corresponding doors exist on any other internet connected computer.

But certain doors (ports) may be locked on your end, from the inside (you can't get out that door) or from the outside (others cannot get into your door.) It's also true that on any other computer, certain ports may or may not be open from the inside or outside.

You are on the World Wide Web, looking at www.carolynjewel.com. That's because your computer sent an http request to carolynjewel.com over port 80 that said, please show me the page at carolynjewel.com

carolynjewel.com responds to your http request by displaying my home page to you over port 80 on your computer.

Now, suppose you have a firewall. A firewall is designed to stop traffic from going out and/or coming in. For your firewall, you have to decide which doors are open to outgoing and incoming traffic.

Side Note: What if you don't have a firewall? Then anything can go out and ANYTHING can get in. If you don't have a firewall installed, you should be worried.

If you don't have SQL Sever installed on your computer, when someone comes to your computer from elsewhere on the internet and wants inside via port 1433 nothing will happen. But what if you do? Anyone from the outside can talk to your SQL Server. Uh oh.

Now, suppose your firewall blocks all OUTGOING traffic on port 80. Will you be able to see anything on the World Wide Web?

No, you will not.

Your request to see carolynjewel.com will never get to the server that hosts my website.

Now suppose your firewall blocks all INCOMING traffic on port 80. Will you be able to see anything on the World Wide Web?

No, you will not.

Your request to see carolynjewel.com will reach my server and my server will say, you betcha. Here's the page. The page will be sent to your computer over port 80 but port 80 on your computer will be CLOSED so you can't see it.

If incoming and outgoing traffic is blocked over port 80, then the WWW is dead to you.

So practically speaking, nobody blocks port 80 because then you can't see any lovely webpages. And what would be the point of that?

Suppose, though, that you had an internet connected computer whose only job was to receive and serve up FTP related commands. In that case, you might set up a firewall to block port 80. Unlikely, but possible.

But there are all these other ports that can provide a way into an internet connected computer. Hackers know this. The information is COMMONLY known. It has to be otherwise the internet wouldn't work as designed.

You need a firewall to keep out the folks who scan for open ports. There are some high value, if you will, ports that will have juicy stuff on the other end. Since each port is allotted to a defined protocol, what you do when you find one that's open depends on what port it is.

You can, if you like, think of the protocols as different languages. If I only understand French, it does no good to speak to me in Chinese. I will never understand.

So, suppose I am port 1433 (SQL Server). If you send traffic to port 1433 that is designed for FTP (port 20) nothing happens. But if you send traffic to port 1433 and you speak SQL Server to it .... ooh la la. You will get an answer. If you are a good person, then hey. But what if you are bad? What if you are looking for the information in the SQL Server database on the other end of that open port 1433? That is not so good.

One of the things hackers do is scan for open known ports. When they find one, they will execute an attack known to work against whatever is at the other end of that port. (It's more complicated than this, OK? There are things you can do to protect against that. etc.)

I think if I keep going, brains will asplode.

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posted by Carolyn @ 1/25/2010 06:04:00 PM Permalink

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Never Stop Learning

Saturday, I drove down to Sunnyvale, California, the heart of the Silicon Valley, to attend Donald Maass's seminar Fire In Fiction. I hate driving. I particularly hate driving to the South Bay because the freeways there were designed by a sadist. Even with the GPS I still confuse left and right and I sometimes still take the wrong exit. Driving is stressful for me. But I got up at 6:00 am on a Saturday and drove a hour and a half South.

I listened to Maass's 2009 RWA workshop on my DVD and heard enough in that 2 hours to think I'd really like to hear more about his thoughts. I was particularly interested because I know that in addition to being a top Literary Agent he's also been a writer. I've read his book Writing The Break out Novel and thought it was one of the more helpful writing books. For me. YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).

The seminar ran from 9:30am to 6:30pm and what a great experience it was. There was a lot of detailed analysis and explanation. I have pages and pages of notes and examples. I'm so glad I went. This was completely worth the money.

I now have several new and interesting ways to think about writing.

Never stop learning.

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posted by Carolyn @ 1/24/2010 10:38:00 AM Permalink

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Various bits of News

On Wednesday jan 19 2010, I will be over at Risky Regencies blogging about Lord Byron and contemporary opinions, among other heavily opinionated things. So if you're reading this on Wednesday, it's a two-fer! Check it out.

First off, here's the cover of The Mammoth Book Of Regency Romance in which I will have a story. I don't know the release date yet, but I will update you all when I know.

My story is about a couple who realize their long correspondence via the post has made them perfect for each other. He's younger than she is, by the way.

I don't know how mammoth the book will be, but hey, what a great way to find out about other authors you might like!

In other news, the official title for My Beloved Assassin is now My Immortal Assassin. You heard it here first!

In other, other news, I recently finished my first book by John Scalzi. I've been following his wonderful blog for ages and have been thinking, for ages, that I should read something by the guy. I was at my local independent this weekend, Copperfield's Books, and there was his first book. Old Man's War so I said Whatever and bought it.

Then I read it. And damn! It was really good. It gave me the warm and fuzzies for SciFi again after years and years of being all depressed about how hostile so much SciFi is to the women in the books. I grew up adoring Azimov and Heinlein etc and even when I was twelve or so I remember feeling sad that the women didn't do much besides die or be cast off or require saving. They were so rarely characters that changed the story on their own. Over the years, I'd pick up something in the genre -- maybe I was just unlucky -- and I'd end up feeling like not much had changed. I love stories with ray guns and space ships and physics and all and I've missed them, as I discovered.

Old Man's War was like reading Heinlein or Azimov only the women were real people! They were capable and worthy of admiration and respect for so much more than big boobs. And the story was romantic. Really, truly romantic. ::Sigh::

And now, back to work for me.

Has anybody read anything good lately?

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posted by Carolyn @ 1/19/2010 09:22:00 PM Permalink

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Friday, January 15, 2010

More Computers For Writers

I'm reading a really great book right now -- not a romance by the way -- with a major plot point that involves computers.

Someone is blackmailing people with surreptitious photos of them engaging with prostitutes. The photog has a digital SLR camera and emails the photos to his partner in crime (PIC). He then deletes the photos from his computer. The computers described, by the way, are all running a Windows Operating System (OS), that's pretty clear.

The hero is in possession of the PIC's computer but is questioning the photog at his house in full sight of the photog's computer and camera. I'm not sure because the scene is actually unclear, but I believe the hero removes the memory chip from the SLR and hands it to someone else while he reviews the photos in the camera's memory.

I have big issues with the camera thing, since my experience is that a professional quality SLR takes such HUGE file-size photos that you can't store anything on the camera itself. But while my Nikon D80 is a high end SLR, I'm not familiar with the kind of SLR pros use, so maybe this is right. I doubt it, but whatever.

The photos the hero hopes to find are not on the SLR (and I'm thinking, doh! They're on the memory card you took out and then the photog explains how he deletes the photos from the computer and emails the best ones to his PIC.

I am now thinking, cool! This is going to be easy. Make the guy login to his email program and check his email sent items folder.

But no. They push aside that computer, go get the PIC's computer and find where the PIC saved off the emailed photos because the photog says, hey, I bet my PIC never renamed my photos. After which the author describes a file naming convention that contains characters that are illegal in a Windows OS.

Full Stop
What the F? Number one, most people are clueless about their computers. There is nothing wrong with that other than the pain that inevitably arises from owning a computer with an OS that is actively hostile to people who just want the damn thing to work.

So, people, if this guy has deleted the photos, they are surely in the trash file. The hero is supposed to be someone clueful and any fool should have thought of that.

But not to even think of looking in the guy's email program? Come on. The stupid photos are there. There was no freaking need to fetch the recipient's computer.


As an author, if you write a story in which someone is supposedly being all tricky and geeky about computers, please please please check with a REAL geek.

Please note, I am flying at a high level once again. There are nuances and details I'm skipping. This is informational only -- if you're looking for facts for your writing, please dig deeper and consult multiple sources.

In a Windows OS, you cannot name a file any darn thing you want. There are certain characters (most of them are puncutation) you are not permitted to use. You can use multiple periods, though. If you try to use them, the computer will return an error to the effect that you can't name your file in that manner.

On any computer it is REMARKABLY hard to delete all traces of a file. The trash file is the blindingly obvious place to look, but there are other places to look as well as known methods for recovering deleted drives. Now, this story does not (yet) involve a computer forensics specialist so I'm not griping that the hero doesn't know this.

But here's some interesting things:

To well and truly wipe a hard drive, you have to degauss it. Three times. There's a military spec program that will do this. It will wipe a hard drive, rewriting ALL the bits and bytes three times. Even then I bet there's a way to get around that. For more info, you can google
degaussing a hard drive

When Windows deletes a file, it's not really deleting it. Let me say that again: Windows doesn't actually delete a file when you tell it to delete a file. All it does is overwrite the first character of the file name with a 0. Presto, to the OS, it's deleted, but on your hard drive, it's still there. And unless the OS happens to write another file to the exact same location it will stay there.

In case you think encrypting your computer is enough, all I can say is in the face of a skilled and determined geek, au contraire mon frere. But it's still the best thing you can to do to protect your data.

As a side, side note to that, encrypting your hard drive is only as secure as your password. If you tape it to your computer or nearby or use a weak password you might as well not have bothered.

Turning off your computer is also no guarantee that everything in volatile memory is gone. It's not. You can recover that, too. And if you get to a computer quickly enough (the time is longer than you think) you can reconstruct what was going on before it was turned off. Google
 computer forensics volatile memory

A really fun and interesting resource is 2600. I subscribe because there's all kinds of crazy-cool stuff in it. If you're at work, don't be surprised if you can't get to the site. Some companies block it. (I am laughing at that - because any good computer person will get there anyway -- Not that I ever looked at 2600 when I worked for an employer who blocked the site -- in a half assed way. Really.)


Here's some password thoughts for you. Since I am a Database Administrator (DBA) I can tell you from personal experience that the MOST UNBELIEVABLY common passwords are:

[Your name]
[curse words]
[keystrokes in the horizontal or vertical order of appearance on a standard keyboard]

Any DBA can tell you it's astonishing the bad passwords people pick. And disappointingly nasty. Some people are just crude.

An experienced computer person probably has a 40% chance of flat out guessing your password. Because they'll run through the unbelievably common passwords. If that person knows a few things about you (your spouse, your birthday, your kids names or pets) bump that to 60%. Heck, if they're just sitting at your desk, they'll probably pick up enough to make some darn good guesses.

But what if your password isn't unbelievably obvious? Check this out: How Long Will your Password last? A few examples: If you chose a password of numbers only: a 2 digit password will be cracked instantly.

Oh, you say, who picks a password that lame? You'd be surprised.

Let's say you pick a 9 digit numeric password. On a crappy desktop, your password will be cracked in 28 hours. If you're the government using a great computer, it's instantaneous.

Letters are a little better, right? A five letter password (in the same case -- all upper or all lower) will be cracked in 20 minutes on a crappy desktop machine. If you double the length to 10, then it's 447 years. Unless you're the government in which case it's 39.5 hours. At 20 characters, even the government will need 631 billion years. Excluding words in the dictionary, of course, since those will be cracked in the first round . . . So, is YOUR password that long AND not in the dictionary?

Check out that link, once you've checked out the footnotes so you understand the chart (easy!!!) I hope you will go change your banking password.

Possibly NSFW because of the curse words: Top 500 Worst passwords I rest my case. There's a lot of people who are picking passwords they'll remember (understandable) instead of a password that's not so lame it can be cracked instantly.

Of course, it's possible to just install some malware and get passwords sent to you.


But true.

I won't keep going even though I could.

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posted by Carolyn @ 1/15/2010 06:21:00 PM Permalink

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I'm worried . . .

About Meljean Brook. On Tuedsay January 12, she blogged to ask whether, being desperate for caffeine in an accidentally caffeine free house, it would be safe to use a powdered mocha mix that was 6 months past the expiration date. Here's the post: Life or Death Poll if you'd like to add your 2 cents. Or may just warn her, because . . .

According to the poll, just about everyone said yes, she'd be fine.

Except now it's been two days and she hasn't been heard from.

We may have been wrong.

Or, maybe she decided not to risk it and her head exploded from the lack of caffeine.



posted by Carolyn @ 1/13/2010 09:47:00 PM Permalink

(2) comments

Now I can say this

A while back I was invited to write a story for the Mammoth Book of Regency Romance. The deadline was pretty short so by the time the contract was all final and the event announce-able I was just about done with the story.

Tonight I finished and sent it off to the editor, so hey! It should be out sometime this year I believe with stories by lots of other really great Regency Historical authors. Since I retain electronic rights at some point the story will be available for download. Watch this space!


posted by Carolyn @ 1/13/2010 09:38:00 PM Permalink

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