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A Quick [and Long Awaited] Update

Hello everyone!

As you can see, the site has gone through a lot of changes recently. I’ve switched hosting companies so I had to transfer a lot of my posts, and… well… some of them broke.

I’ve tried repairing them all, but sometimes things slip through the cracks, or posts start behaving a bit wonky and unpredictably. So if you find any, please let me know by shooting me an email or message on social media with a link to the post in question.

Thanks!

In to other news, my newest series Feline Warriors has volume 1 in final edits and art, and volume 2 is about halfway finished with the first draft. Since I’ve been so quiet and haven’t posted in a while, I know it doesn’t seem like I’ve been working–but I have! I promise. A tentative pre-order date should be revealed in March if all goes well.

Free E-Book Offers, Scammers, and You

It has recently come to my attention that an unscrupulous website is using one of my novels as bait to phish data and garner illicit revenue from unsuspecting fans!

SVU detectives can't even believe it!
I know, right? Rude.

This brings up a subject near and dear to my heart. That subject is how humanity can suck, and Sucky Humanity + Money x Anonymity + The Internet = Scammernado Central. So I decided that it might be good to have an entry detailing all the ways people on the internet can be jerks when money is involved, and how you can protect yourselves from them.

The scum of the internet rely on people being one of two things–desperate, or uninformed. If you are desperate, I cannot save you. But on the other hand, knowledge is power, so here we go!

Sailor Chibimoon knows what's up!
Knowledge looks like a cute bell. Work with me here, people.

Note: For the purpose of this entry, I will be using the term e-book. You can replace it with anything: MP3s, Programs, or Apps–and it will still be applicable.

First of all, I won’t get into antivirus software, malware monitoring programs, script limiters, or adblockers*, because if you aren’t using one already then this post won’t convince you to. Plus, these sites can still trap you by manipulating you into disabling these features, or by being designed to work around them. [Still, it doesn’t hurt to have them. I highly recommend you pick at least two.]

Powers!

* = This may seem like I am going against myself, but malware can come from infected ads that even the webmaster or content provider does not realize are infecting people. You can whitelist providers you trust, or you can consider making a donation to a site you enjoy while blocking their ads. The choice ultimately lies in your hands.

General Safety Tips

  • First and foremost–trust your gut! If something seems like it is too good to be true, it often is. If e-books that would normally need to be purchased are being offered for free through an unfamiliar site or service, then the cost is made up in other [usually unscrupulous] ways.
  • If a website is asking you to sign up for something else in order to receive a free e-book, then it isn’t free. Only download e-books from authorized retailers!
  • If you see an unfamiliar website or service offering paid content for free, look up the name of the site plus a keyword in your favorite search engine, such as going to Google and keying in the search string “notreallyfreebooks.com+scam”. Often you will find links to watchdog sites in the results–these have ratings and testimonials that can help you decide if it is legitimate or not. Best of all, you can see that info without needing to sign up for anything!
  • Email the author! I probably would have never realized my book was being used as bait if not for a concerned reader pointing it out to me–an author will always be happy to point you to legitimate places where you can purchase or sample their book. Always.
  • If you hover over a button or link on a website, you can usually see a preview of the url that you are sent to when you click it. If it leads anywhere off the site you are currently on, it could be an Integrated Affiliate Advertising Redirect–also known as a Forced Click. If it’s not disclosed, then this is usually a sign of shady business practices, and should send up red flags!
  • If you have to click a link or button, or perform an offsite task to “unlock” or “decrypt” a file, get out of there!

Lies!
Lies!

Click Fraud and Affiliate Links

Affiliate links are links through which website owners send their visitors to access products and services they would normally look for. The innocent ones will reward the webmaster for sending you to a site you were going to anyway. For example, DIY blogs often include Amazon affiliate links to buy the materials needed to create a project they are detailing. If you click that link to go to Amazon, the blogger will get a small reward when you purchase the items. You can buy your materials in one convenient place, and the blog might be able to remain ad-free through that reward revenue. Everyone wins! But if you don’t want to click that link, you don’t have to in order to enjoy the post. Most places that are on the up-and-up have programs in place to make sure that someone can’t sit there and click a link over and over to artificially inflate the amount they get paid. Some people use click farming to get around it, employing people to click site links at a low wage. This is usually done in countries where labor is cheap.

However, aggressive advertisers and companies make affiliate links dangerous. They will pay well per click, but force the webpage user to sit through an ad or promotion–or even worse they may install malware on the their computer without them realizing [or authorizing] it. The webmaster then has to trick their visitor into clicking on the link, since no one is going to willingly watch an ad they can’t close or go somewhere where they might pick up a virus. A method that has popped up to get clicks is the “Free File Site”.

The site will advertise something that is not normally free, as being free through them. Once you are on the site, they will force you to click their affiliate links in order to receive the file, or a download link leading to the file. The fun thing about these sites [from a legal standpoint] is that they do not get in trouble for hosting copyrighted content, because they do not actually provide it! Once you click the download or unlock link, they are done with you. All they needed to do was trick you into providing that click.

Archer Glitter Gun gif

Special Offers, Surveys, and Malware

In addition to tricking visitors into giving them money through force clicked affiliate links and ad revenue, some sites will take their deception further. They may require you to fill out a survey, apply for a free trial of a service, or “accept a special offer”. These things give the webmaster or affiliate a bonus–your information.

Information is valuable! Social Security Numbers [SSNs], bank account info, and credit card numbers are all primo bits of information. You’ve probably heard time and time again to never give these things out. But what most people don’t realize is that people who seek this data network, and even innocuous things like your name, or an email address are valuable commodities.

For example, you go to BadSite B, and they have you take a survey where they ask your name and email address. “Oh well,” you think. “What’s a few pieces of spam mail? My filters are awesome–I’ll never see it.” So you give it to them. Using that information alone, they can bring up aliases and usernames for you–they can find your social media, and glean things like your exact location, age, phone number, photos of you, and plus your current and past addresses. That is scary by itself, but if the owner of BadSite B talks to the owner of BadSite A, where you were required to apply for a credit card a few months back to obtain a “free” book, it gets worse. She has your name, definite billing address, and the last four digits of your SSN. She either buys the missing data from BadSite B, or she sells her data to him. Either way, someone is opening a new credit card in your name and going on a shopping spree! And that is just a best case scenario–with a little more data, they also have the ability to become you.

You don’t even have to willing agree to give them data, either. They can just quietly infect your computer and steal it slowly over time–passwords, login info, your search history. This is done through malware and viruses. These things are written to install silently and only need one click to get in. They hide in ads, and masquerade as files you may get access to for completing “special offers”. Once they are in, they are complicated [or impossible] to remove–if they’re even detected at all!

My brother–who for the most part, is fairly tech savvy–had a virus on his computer for six months, and never knew until I found it while trying to figure out why he was going over his data cap every month. All he knew was that he was receiving several gigabytes of overage, often to the tune of a $300 internet bill! The virus recorded every keystroke he made through screenshots that were then uploaded to a file storage server. It took a new screenshot every five to ten seconds. It was so ingrained in his system that it would restore itself after a low-level disk format and operating system re-install. He had to change all his bank cards, put a freeze on his credit, and throw out the hard drive–losing five years of programs, save files, and pictures in the process. How does he think he got it? He was looking for a serial code for an old game he owned, but had lost his legitimate serial for and went to a shady site. It’s not worth the risk.

Some especially insidious sites will use all three methods–forced clicks, mandatory “surveys” in order to unlock a file, and said “unlocked” file that turns out to be an installer for malware that gives them unlimited access to your sensitive information.

Yeaaaaaah! Checklist.
Yeaaaaaah! Checklist.

How to Spot a Malicious Site: A Checklist

If a website is offering an e-book you would normally have to buy, for free–but they require you to do something that seems digitally unsafe to obtain it, then leave. This includes the following:

  • Asking you to click a link or button to “unlock” the file or download link to said file.
  • Asking you to fill out or participate in offers that require you to submit sensitive data. [SSN, Home Address, Phone number, etc.]
  • Directing you to a different website while browsing.
  • Appearing sparse or like a generic template.
  • If there is no contact information for the webmaster on the website.
  • Hotlinking to cover images from legitimate sites.
  • If all the comments or reviews are the same across all available files or seem to be entirely posted by anonymous people.
  • If the website is taking too long to respond, or causes your web browser to ‘hang” [Stutter, or freeze entirely]. This can be a sign that an unauthorized add on, widget, or program is installing itself without your permission.
  • If the website asks you to turn off or otherwise disable safety software such as running antivirus programs, malware monitoring services, firewalls, etc.

Using the information found here, hopefully you will not fall prey to these tricks. I want my readers to stay safe!

Yay!

Additional Resource Links

Watchdog Sites

Web of Trust

Scam Adviser

Spam 404

Free Online Virus Scanners

Virus Total

Where to Report Bad Sites to Search Providers

Google

Yahoo

Bing

Verified Safe e-book Retailers

Amazon

Google

Apple

Smashwords

Nook

Kobo

Further Reading

Integrated Affiliate Advertising Redirects/Forced Clicks

What is a Virus?

What is Malware?

Lolcat Rainbow Defense, Activate!
Bonus lolcat!

Someone’s in the Kitchen…

In the back of each volume of Atlantis: The Visionary Continent I’ve included bonus content that only people who buy the book get to see. Since I love to cook, the bonus content for volume #2 was a set of recipes I’ve developed over the years–each one supposedly coming from a character of the book. [In fact, one of the recipes is for something Varanis specifically eats in Chapter Four!]

Instead of pictures of the food–because I am the world’s worst photographer–I included cute pictures of the main cast. But in case anyone was looking for it, here are pictures of the end result of some of those recipes:

Unfortunately the Crab and Corn Chowder was the one I’ve made most recently, so I have progress pictures of it. The others were from old pics, or like with the Smoked Salmon Pasta, I completely forgot to document the process step-by-step. Fail!

They’re all fantastic, but the pumpkin spice sandwiches are especially good. It took quite a few tries to get the frosting just right, but once it was there… amazing.

I share a lot of [crappy] pictures of the meals I cook with friends and family, and I cook often for them when they’re in town. When they heard I was writing, they assumed I was writing a cookbook! But with my lousy photography skills, I don’t think that will be happening soon. At least, not until I can find a decent photographer–or some decent photography tutorials–at any rate. [Could a cookbook without pictures work? That would be best for me… heh.]

Slipping the recipes into the bonus content was my way of dipping my toe into the whole idea. Who knows–maybe I’ll get the courage to do it for real… someday.

Rambling, Sinus Pressure, & Other Annoyances

Happy Friday!

Well, it’s not so much a “happy” Friday for me–the whole family is sick with a head cold, so we’re all cranky and stuffed up and generally miserable. Boo. I am dead tired but can’t sleep due to congestion. This means I finished a picture I’ve been working on for the past week or so.

[Seriously though, WHY can’t I post these side by side? I don’t get it.] I totally had to do it in the text editor. Arg!

[Characters from Atlantis: TVC–from bottom to top: Achine, Eruni, Idane, Gia]

heart

You guys are special; I posted the finished version on DeviantArt, but I only posted the sketch here.

I feel like I don’t draw like myself with the tablet, and it’s just weird. I enjoy my sketches–sketching with the tablet is amazing now that I am used to it. Very smooth and flowy. [Oh yeah; not-real-except-colloquially word. Bam. Shut up spellcheck. You know nothing.] Line art has been a bit of an uphill battle, but I’m tweaking some settings and improving it. Coloring is nice except for long stretches of things where you need a long runway to make a long line. Like hair. Like all the hair in that picture up there.

I still miss the mouse to a point, but the tablet has programmable buttons and I programmed them to undo/redo and zoom in/out. Oh. My. Gods. Suddenly I don’t miss my mouse as much. [Sorry mouse. I still think you’re tops for graphic design though!]

I’ve also been working on volume # 2 as well, so don’t think that I set it aside or anything! I ended up writing an unexpectedly good [well, I think so anyway!] scene, despite the fact that it may be a bit information heavy. [I like that kind of stuff, so it pops up occasionally. 99% of it was important information, so it’s not like it was rambling, right?]

It’s probably an info dump

Ok! I’m going to leave the kid with the husband and see if I can’t regain feeling in my face with a nice hot bath. [With a few drops of rosemary oil in it! So awesome for stuffy noses!] When I get out I may go to sleep, but if I can’t, then back to writing I’ll go!

Seeing the Forest For the Trees

I was writing a scene in the new volume of Atlantis: TVC, and everything was going great–until I had to describe the Reidell Forest. This is not an inconsequential forest; it takes up a third of the eastern half of the continent, and a decent portion of volume two takes place there. My fingers came to a screeching halt, and I consulted the giant thirty-eight page behemoth that is my reference file for this series.

I had jotted down what kind of climate Atlantis has, along with some details about the flora and fauna that could be found there that were common to other parts of the world, but yet I was still at a loss to describe what specific kind of trees were in that particular forest. All I knew was that they should be evergreen, and I didn’t want to make up an indigenous species because it felt disingenuous.*
An hour later, I had scoured my options and decided on two kinds of trees that met all my criteria; they fit the climate, they were evergreen, and they were tall enough to be as impressive as I wanted them to be.

Was this important? Did people need to know about the trees so much that I devoted an hour of my time to it? Was I not seeing the forest for the trees?

I don’t know. I’ll never know.

I do know that I don’t regret doing it. I’ve learned over the years that I enjoy reading stories where the world is built slowly through tiny snippets of almost dismissible dialogue, and small, careful details like what types of trees grew in the forest. Since I enjoy writing the way I read, knowing the type of trees was important to me both as an author and a reader.

One of the big movements in writing right now is to trim. When in doubt, cut it out. Adjectives are bad; pare everything down to its bare minimum components.

I blame Twitter

I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy writing like that, or reading writing like that. Fans of it claim it is the superior way to write, as it leaves everything up to the imagination of the reader. On a forum I frequent, I often see aspiring and established authors saying that they don’t give much detail on their character’s appearances or the settings of their world due to this reasoning. The number one thing cited in support of this is a variant of, “The reader is just going to imagine them how they want to anyway.” They compete with one another, vying to be the most vague, thinking that it is something to aspire to because it is the popular thing to do.**

To me, that’s like cooking a piece of chicken, adding no seasoning, then telling the person eating that you didn’t season it so that they could pretend that it tasted like whatever they wanted.

Yes, meat is good by itself; it does have a specific flavor all its own. But when you add seasonings, they are supposed to enhance the flavor, not mask it. This is the balance that needs to be struck between Tolkien’s pages of waxing poetic about the forests of Middle Earth, and modern authors simply stating, “They went into the forest.”

The latter certainly tells us only the essential information–it’s that thing with trees and stuff. We can reasonably assume it’s not the ocean, or a meadow. We’re set; let’s go!

Probably filled with magical wish granting fairies!

But, what kind of forest is it? Is it a dark, silent forest, nestled in the foothills of some misty mountain region? Is it a bright forest on the edge of a meadow, filled with chirping birds and awash with rays of sunlight streaming in through the branches? These are definitely two different kinds of forests. What happens if the reader imagines the second forest, but then is yanked out of immersion when the current character is attacked by vampires? [Vampires are still popular, right? If not they can be attacked by evil dictators–I hear those are all the rage these days.]

You are slain by King Tyrant of Dystopiaworld

People read stories to be immersed in the world, to be invested in the characters and their tale. I feel that bare prose is detrimental to this process because it makes the reader pause as their subconscious constructs its own descriptions from scratch, which slows everything down. If an author expands–even a little–and uses the right words, it will tap into previously constructed concepts and evoke not only a stronger mental image, but will do it more efficiently. This allows readers to retain their immersion, and thus interest in your story; and who doesn’t want people interested in their stories?

I understand that readers [and authors] have different tastes, and that writers hoping to strike it big will follow popular trends. That’s true of any era; today’s horrible books are tomorrow’s classics. [I can say this with certainty because I know history repeats itself.] But when aspiring authors are steered towards writing one particular way, to the exclusion–and even detriment–of all others, it really irks me.

It’s like not seeing the trees for the forest, and that’s just weird.

 

* I swear I didn’t do that on purpose, but now that it’s done, I like it, so I left it. [Even though it could be confusing when read.]

** I can’t stop doing this…

Lilacs and Memories

I would be completely remiss if I didn’t say anything on this, even though I am stumbling around mentally, still stunned by the news myself. Please forgive me if I sound a little strange.

One of my favorite authors, and a huge inspiration of mine, Sir Terry Pratchett, died today.

I know he struggled with a rare form of Alzheimer’s, and I know I saw it in the way his writing had become subtly different over the past few years. I didn’t expect it to happen as soon as it did, though.

I didn’t discover his books until I was in my late teens, introduced to them through my husband’s older brother. I started with the The Colour of Magic–the first book in the Discworld series–and when I finished, I wondered where these books had been all my life. I’ve devoured them all over the past twelve years [with the exception of Raising Steam; I haven’t had a chance to read that one yet] and I am crushed that there will be no more adventures on the Disc after the volume he finished last year is released.

I am not usually affected by the deaths of famous people, and I’ve always thought that those who went on and on about it like they had lost a family member were a little strange.

Today that person is me, and I completely understand now.

I feel like I’ve lost a beloved grandfather, one who was a master storyteller and understood how my mind worked; knowing exactly what to say to make me laugh, even when other people would deem the moment inappropriate for it. But hidden underneath that outer layer of comedy was a core full of surprisingly deep insights about life, humans, and our perceptions of the world around us. The humor led you to think, to feel, and to take a better look at the world around us–not just at the world inside the story.

The world has truly lost a legend, and I am not ashamed to admit that I have been crying off an on since this morning over it. As an author myself, I can only hope to have a minute amount of the same wit, spirit, and skill in my own works that he poured into all of his.

As Granny Weatherwax’s sign said: “I ATE’NT DEAD“. Your body may have died, but your soul will live on forever in your works. You even said it yourself:

Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”–Going Postal

Now you are at peace. Your words will persist, and your fans will always speak your name, thus making you immortal.

You will never be forgotten, Sir Terry Pratchett. Never.

Internalizing…

I’ve given myself writer’s block.

Well, maybe not an actual block. More of a… writer’s insecurity?

I’m already working on volume #2 of Atlantis: TVC, but all the research I did for editing volume #1 has done something to my brain. Everything I write looks wrong. I seriously re-wrote the same scene eight times, and deleted a whole scene outright–only to regret the decision and revert the chapter to get it back. I seem to be tripping over the same thing, and I can’t figure out why. I’ve never second guessed myself like this, and I can’t tell if it’s a good thing or not. All I know is that it is annoying. [I also haven’t been getting much sleep lately on account of having bronchitis, so there’s that. Yeah, that’s it. I’ll blame that.]

Instead of continuing to beat my head against this wall, I decided to beat it against a different one and practice using a tablet. I have always drawn on the computer with a mouse, and there has always been a disconnect between myself and tablets, no matter how hard I’ve tried to use one. But now I have one, and I’ve made it a personal goal to fiddle with it every so often in the hopes that through sheer force of will, I’ll someday be able to use it. Because I can’t leave well enough alone–even when I give up–I decided to draw the characters from the scene I couldn’t write.

Don’t ask me why the bald guy is larger than everyone else, because I have no clue…

It’s getting a bit easier, but I keep wanting to turn the damn thing like you would a real piece of paper, and half of my errors are from subconsciously tilting it about ten degrees.

The funny thing is that I have a Galaxy Note 3, and I can use the S Pen to draw just fine on it. Here’s a sketch I did last night of birds [and the tail of a species of Atlantian bird] based off my brother-in-law’s pet bird.

I don’t know what makes them so different for me. In a way, it feels like volume #1 was the S Pen, and volume #2 is now the tablet. I really want to work on #2, but I wonder if I’m simply not far enough removed from the editing process of #1. Maybe it’s the cough syrup clouding my brain. [Which is funny, because things that addle your mind are supposed to make you more creative, right?]

I’ve also been putting off working on the e-book conversion of volume #1, so maybe this ‘block’ isn’t even a block at all, and is guilt from me knowing there is something that I am leaving undone. I’ve been avoiding it for the past week because everyone has been sick with the plague, but now that we’re all feeling better [or in my case, not outright dying] I know there is no excuse and I’m stalling in the face of tediousness.

Of course, there is also the fact that I’m releasing some of the chapters here [leaning towards all of them, eventually. Trying to decide on a schedule…] so I know I have some extra time I didn’t have before that decision.

I work best putting things off until the last minute. Isn’t that ridiculous?