Monday, January 19, 2015

Writer, WAKE UP!

Previously published on Yahoo Jul 15, 2010

"WAKE UP! RIGHT NOW! Hurry! Before you forget to write it down."


To be honest, I don't know. Well, at least I don't know what her name is. I've been told she is my muse, and she is MERCILESS.

Leave me alone, I sigh, as I attempt to return to sleep.

"NOOOOOOO! Wake up! You know you'll never remember this great idea if you wait for morning!"

She's right. Too many times I've told her, yeah, thanks, you annoying muse presence, but right now I really need my sleep. I'll remember it (whatever it is at the time) because it's such a common theme - it will just come to me during the day.

She rolls her a-MUSE-ing eyes.

I plead with her.

I promise I'll write it down tomorrow. Something will remind me, and that will force me to write it down then, OK? So leave me alone now, PLEASE?

I turn over, grab my pillow, hug it tightly, and ignore her incessant chatter in my head. She laughs and pokes me once again.

I cover my ears with my pillow. It doesn't help. She's in my head and she's taunting me. "Waaaaaaaake uuuuuuuuuuuppppppp!"

OH, COME ON! Really? You're going to do this to me again? You KNOW I have a hard time sleeping. I was just having a really good dream.

"I know!" She responds. "Write it down."

I roll over again, promising her I will remember when I awake IF I EVER FALL ASLEEP AGAIN!

I never remember my ideas in the morning. The idea has probably been zapped by another writer who saw the gleam from the idea cave and mined the diamond immediately. I, however, tug the blankets under my chin and beg for sleep.

Eventually, after arguing with her for another hour, kicking and fighting her the whole time, I am able to fall back to sleep, only to awaken minutes later with another great idea.

STOP! Can't I get just a few hours of sleep? P-L-E-A-S-E!

"NO! Get up now! Why do you think I'm here? Do you think I enjoy fighting with you night after night?"

FINE! I relent, but all I'm going to do is put the essence of it into my iPhone.

"Fine," she replies, "That's a start."

And THAT is why I have a lifetime of ideas I will never live long enough to use, and THAT is why I suffer from insomnia. (I'm tempted to stick out my tongue right now and blow air through my lips, Lily Tomlin style, but I don't know how to spell that sound.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Do You Use Apostrophes Correctly?

After reading a post written by a fellow writer on Persona Paper about the correct use of apostrophes, I was struck by the fact that I have never addressed apostrophes in this blog. For that reason, rather than drag you through a number of paragraphs before I introduce you to that article, I'm just going to direct you to English Mechanics: Using the Apostrophe written by Ruby3881. If you have problems with apostrophes, I highly recommend reading her post.

Friday, January 2, 2015

How to Report Internet Crimes!

Previously published on Yahoo Contributor Network December 27, 2011. All information currently relevant as of January 2, 2015.

If you're tired of people stealing your email address and using it fraudulently to approach every person in your contact list, or if you or one of your loved ones has been criminally attacked on the Internet, read on. 
In partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) and funded in part by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) , the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), formerly known as the Internet Fraud Complaint Center, is the Internet's watchdog, and it works diligently to prevent Internet crime. 
IC3s Mission 
The mission of IC3 is "to serve as a vehicle to receive, develop, and refer criminal complaints regarding the rapidly expanding arena of cyber crime." IC3 investigates your stolen email, along with other Internet crime complaints, and if IC3 feels the perpetrators are in violation of the law, it refers complaints to the proper authorities, whether they are local, state, federal, and/or international. Many of these agencies participate in Cyber Crime Task Forces and partner with IC3 to prosecute Internet criminals. 
Won't Changing Your Password Help? 
You may have already learned that changing your password does nothing to protect you from criminals who continue to send deceitful emails to all of your contacts using YOUR email address. Once these Internet miscreants have your email address and your contact list, no matter how many times you change your password, they still have your email address, and they still have your contact list; they will continue to harass you, your friends, and your relatives. 
Even though they have access to your email contacts, you should change your password anyway - to prevent future attacks. Using a combination of capital letters, lower case letters, and numbers for your password will make stealing your email address difficult for Internet criminals. It might help to get a different email address. 
Before You Contact IC3... 
If the Internet crime is email related, before contacting IC3, try contacting your email provider. Google suggests you make sure you have a secure connection before you send or receive any emails, which means that instead of seeing http in your url, your url should read https. Click Google to contact them if you are having problems. 
To report stolen email addresses at Yahoo, click Yahoo
Disreputable con artists sometimes send emails pretending to be your email provider. I have received numerous emails purporting to come from one of my mail providers - mail.com - asking me for my password and personal information, because, the email claims, a computer glitch has caused my email provider to lose all of my information. 
But when I look at the sender's email address I notice the email is not from mail.com and therefore is not an official mail.com email. If you have a mail.com email address and are experiencing this same type of fraud, send an email to service@mail.com
RED FLAG ALERT: If emails arrive filled with grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors, suspect criminal activity. Quality organizations never send unprofessional emails, nor do they set up unprofessional web pages.

When to Report Cyber Crime 
If you have already contacted your email provider and your issue has not been resolved, the only other way to stop Internet criminal activity is to report the crimes to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. (Clicking the link will take you directly to their web site.) 
Some spoofers are more a nuisance than they are an actual threat. Get a new email address if you have to, and alert your friends of the change. If, however, the spoofing has crossed the line into threatening or harassing emails, such as cyber bullying, ask friends and relatives to forward the stolen email to you. Once you have the information from the email that purports to come from you (or even if it comes from some other source), report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. 
Filling Out The Internet Crime Complaint Center's Questionnaire 
When you enter the web page for the Internet Crime Complaint Center you will see a questionnaire. Include as much information as is available to you. The IC3 questionnaire alerts the FBI that your email address has been stolen or that other crimes have been committed against you. If the crime is an email crime, copy the email address of the sender and paste it into your complaint. Copy and paste any name that appears next to the sender's email address as well. Include the date of the email and all other information contained within the fraudulent email. 
Sometimes the only information you find in the email, other than the sender's email address, is one link to a web site. Other times perpetrators promise to send you money in exchange for your social security number, bank routing and account numbers, pin numbers, and other important personal information. Often, a money exchange has already taken place and you or your friends are out thousands of dollars. 
If the crime has been committed on a social networking site, include the date, the name of the recipient, and copy any conversations that took place. 
Whatever your reason for reporting the incident(s), either your email address - your email identity - has been stolen and your Internet friends are getting barraged with unsolicited emails that appear to be coming from you, or you are suffering from comments made about you or to you on social networking sites.

Too Many Types of Internet Crimes 
An Internet thief, who claimed to be one of my cousins, requested money from all of my cousin's contacts stating that he was stranded in another country and needed our help to come home. His sad story revealed that all of his money and credit cards had been stolen. I forwarded the suspicious email to my cousin who confirmed my suspicions - the email was a scam. Had any of my cousin's contacts fallen for the fictitious email, they might have been out hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. 
Another scam is the job offer scam. With the economy forcing so many people out of work, job offers that appear in your inbox seem promising. But look at the sender. Does it come from a company to which you applied? If you hit the reply button, does it take you to a company whose name you recognize? If not, do not click any links that are provided in the email and do not respond to the email. 
Chances are, if the email seems suspicious and the sender is asking for personal information in exchange for the promise of a job offer, it probably is. If you follow through by clicking the link, you will have just become the victim of a crime. Report it. 
Not Enough Information to Report? 
Reporting Internet crime is not a long process - you just fill out the questionnaire provided by The Internet Crime Complaint Center. Not all of the information requested in the form will be present in the email. That's okay. Give whatever information you have. The important thing to remember is that the more often you report Internet crime, the more likely YOU won't be bothered by it. 
By allowing people to repeatedly use your email address to solicit YOUR friends and relatives, you are giving the offender your permission to harass people about whom you care. Your friends may decide to stop opening emails that come from you. Or worse, they will unknowingly participate in organizations they believe YOU have endorsed. If you don't want your friends and family members cheated by unscrupulous Internet thieves, report the criminals.

Looks Too Good To Be True 
Sometimes an unsolicited email appears to be so attractive you can't help but wonder if you really will "inherit" a million dollars. Even though you know it can't be true, the thought of becoming instantaneously wealthy is exciting, but if it Looks Too Good To Be True (click the link), it probably is. 
Looks Too Good To Be True is a web site linked from the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Looks Too Good To Be True is "part of a joint effort between the United States Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC)" devoted to protecting consumers by arming them with knowledge about the latest Internet scams. 
Looks Too Good To Be True instructs its readers about the different types of fraud, including money scams, phishing scams, and work at home scams. They even provide authentic work-from-home job opportunities. Looks Too Good To Be True also issues consumer alerts. If you click "Victim Stories" on their site, you will see the range of Internet crimes committed by "unscrupulous manipulators of the con game," to quote from one of the Victim Stories. 
Revealing Personal Information 
I have had to report Internet crimes myself, especially when I have received emails offering to send me LOTS of money if only I would reveal my social security number, banking information, address, and phone number. Fortunately, I know better than to divulge any personal information, including passwords. No reputable company will EVER ask you for your password, even if the company requesting the password is a company you often use. REPEAT - NO REPUTABLE COMPANY OR AGENCY WILL EVER ASK YOU FOR YOUR PASSWORD! 
After you fill out the IC3 questionnaire, your part is over - the FBI will not harass you for reporting Internet crimes. I have filled out several forms at The Internet Crime Complaint Center, and never once have I been contacted by the FBI, nor have I received any spam as a result of reporting the incidents. 
When I receive a suspicious email from one of my email buddies, I email my contact directly and ask if he or she had sent the email. Once my email friends know their email was hacked, they can contact their email provider or, if that doesn't help, they can contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center themselves and report the crime. 
Protecting Your Email Contacts 
You can protect contacts in your email list by using the BCC command whenever you forward emails. BCC stands for Blind Carbon Copy. Internet thieves can't steal email addresses of contacts whose names and email addresses they can't see. The next time you forward an email, put yourself in the "Send to" box and BCC all of your other contacts; the recipient of the email will see only his or her name in the "To" portion of the email. 
Sadly the people who get scammed the most are gullible, vulnerable individuals who want to believe that what they are reading is true. Internet thieves prey on such individuals. If you have your email identity stolen, or if other Internet crimes are committed against you or your loved ones, such as cyber bullying (which occurs often on social networking sites), you owe it to them and to yourself to report the crime, even if you haven't lost any money.

In Closing 
Be vigilant of not only your own emails, but also of those delivered to your children or grandchildren and to your elderly parents or grandparents. The thieves and manipulators are no longer sneaking in through windows and doors - they are already inside your home. 
For more information about preventing cyber crime, please peruse these Consumer Alerts links provided by The Internet Crime Complaint Center: 
Remember the words of Edmund Burke, "All that's necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing." (I'd like to add, "and women."

Saturday, December 6, 2014

We Who Call Ourselves Writers

Once upon a time, in the dreary dark ages before laptops and computers, a form of expression called a typewriter existed. Fledgling and successful writers both sat before this antiquated piece of machinery and, with correction tape and Liquid Paper nearby, produced manuscripts they hoped would be published.

If their words were slashed by editors, they revised their material, because they really wanted to see their words in print. If they mailed off their manuscripts, they waited weeks and sometimes months before hearing from the publisher.

More importantly, they really cared about the craft of writing and spent endless hours learning how to structure their sentences and their stories in a way that would entice their audiences to read the words they so meticulously placed on the page.


And when their work was published, they beamed with excitement, because they felt rewarded. 

Today, a lot of people, who call themselves writers, sit at their computers and randomly throw words on a page. They post those words on websites around the world and then rapidly scan through other poster’s words, liking, commenting, and hoping that the recipients of their comments will read their own scattered words. The posts they “write” sometimes make no sense, but they get comments and likes, and they make money.

Those of us who care about our words wonder if any other profession produces such sub-par material. Imagine an accountant randomly throwing numbers on a report and getting paid just because he had the ability to count and now that his work had been published, he now had to gather together with other accountants and share numbers, so they would all get paid, no matter how meaningless were the reports.

How about a wannabe musician who never picked up an instrument, but who bought CDs made by other artists who now felt obligated to buy the wannabe’s cacophonous piece of you-know-what, because he previously bought their music?

Nowhere but in the writing field (today anyway, when people are abandoning the traditional form of publishing in favor of online publication) do people feel obligated to return the favor of reading everything written by everyone who reads what the writer has written.

Writing may be losing its artistry. If everyone calls him- or herself a writer, maybe writing is no longer as prestigious a career as some of us thought it was. Have you witnessed “singers” who appear on talent shows who believe they can sing? Put those singers into the world of the writer. They post their “talent” on YouTube and whoever watches it is now obligated to watch every YouTube talent show created by everybody who watched theirs.

Have we taken equality on a tangent? Shouldn’t talent and skill speak for itself? Can you imagine Paul McCartney having to listen to everyone who ever listened to him?

Let’s go back to books and blogs. Can you imagine JK Rowling reading every single book or blog written by everybody who read her work? And yet that’s how online writing seems to work. You read me – I read you. Some people even expect a return on their comments and get miffed if you don’t return a read, a like, or a comment, like for like, comment for comment.

Well, what if we don’t want to read each other’s work? What if I write something that doesn’t interest you in the least? Will you feel that you have to read my work because I read yours? 

When did one-to-one, read-for-read begin? Not until recently did it occur to me that the whole process was ridiculous. I was, in some cases, reading garbage (I’m going to take the liberty of revising the following content, but keep in mind that what you are about to read is so common that it breaks my writer’s heart to know that people are getting paid to write such things) – “today I slept in and it felt great and now I’m going to go to the couch and maybe I’ll get something to eat and then I’ll maybe go outside or not, but it looks like today is going to be a boring day and I’m just trying to fill up space so I can get paid for this post).

Why? Why would I waste my time reading comments that don’t amuse, entertain, or enlighten me in some way? I can understand, though, why people take shortcuts or post online (I write numerous blogs myself) – due to the merry-go-round traditional publishers force writers to ride.  

In the 1980s, for instance, I wrote a book for children, aged 2-8, to help them recognize signs of child sexual abuse. I found a publisher who loved the book, but my labor of love had to go before the “board” for approval. The publisher held onto the book for nearly a year before telling me – that because I called body parts by their actual names – the board didn’t think people would accept the book. Maybe they would have preferred I call the male anatomy a baby-making device and women’s breasts milk factories. I don’t know, but, according to the publishing house that almost published my book, the world wasn’t ready for me yet.

Rather than publish the book myself or go through another year, I held onto the book, made a PDF file of it, and decades later posted it online. Today you can find it free by clicking the link: You Are The Boss of Your Body: A Guide to Preventing Child Sexual Abuse.

I wrote another book in the 1970s, published it in the1990s, but pulled it for personal reasons, because I wrote it in a rage, and I had created something so destructive I was afraid people would actually duplicate it.

Today another book I wrote sits on Amazon, The Bountiful Book of BLOG IDEAS: Your Guide to Generating HUNDREDS of IDEAS for Your Blog, which you can find by clicking the link.

Despite the fact that I’m competing with possibly MILLIONS of “writers” from around the world, I continue to write. With the advent of independent publishers, many of us have found a new venue for sharing our words and our worlds. Independent publishers provide more one-on-one attention and will tell you whether or not your work is worthy of publication – remember, though, sometimes your personality won’t click with the publisher. If you have done your homework, and you are proud of your “baby,” keep looking.

Of course, you can always publish your book yourself. And if people want it, they’ll buy it. Fortunately, Amazon allows us the opportunity to preview books before we purchase them.

For those of us who truly are writers, whether we scribble our words on paper, type into a computer or on a laptop, or speak into a microphone, let’s give ourselves a break – you do NOT have to read everyone who reads YOU. However, you won’t know what you’re missing if you don’t check out those writers’ works. I have found some very enjoyable bloggers and writers, and I'm happy I took the time to read them. Give those writers/bloggers a chance, but don’t feel obligated to read everything.

And if you’re looking for a publishing house, consider contacting the independent publishers, Humor Outcasts Press or Shorehouse Books.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Frustrations of an Unknown Writer (Or How to Become Invisible)

Originally published on Yahoo Contributor Network July 25, 2008.

According to populationgrowth.org, nearly 7 billion people inhabit our planet. I have not made it even to the status of insignificant. You see I have discovered the secret to being invisible. The short answer to the question, "How does one become invisible?" is this: Become a writer.

I should know, because I have the audacity to consider myself a writer. Why? Because I write.

When writers complain that their work is in the slush pile, I'm thinking, you made it to the slush pile? I would celebrate if anything I wrote made it that far. Instead, for several decades, I have been riding a literary merry-go-round.

Here's how the ride works:

# 1 - Spend several hours researching a topic (lets you know you're alive)
# 2 - Spend several more hours writing about your research topic.
# 3 - Revise
# 4-10 - Repeat # 3
# 11 - Mail your manuscript
(Here's where it gets interesting.)
# 12 - Become invisible

Somewhere between #11 and #12, you become invisible. And it is at that point you find yourself spinning endlessly on the aforementioned merry-go-round. You stand in front of the mirror wondering if the reflection you're looking at is actually you or some phantom of your imagination.

Maybe you're not really here.

Maybe you only think you're here.

It's that whole "pinch me" experience, but not because something amazing has happened and you can't believe it's happening to you; it's because you really just want to know if anybody is aware of your presence.

After a while, in exasperation, you start calling people. If they respond, it means at least somebody can hear you - maybe - because maybe you're fantasizing about that too. Your conversations go like this:

To a publisher:

YOU - Hi, I'd like you to publish my manuscript.
THEM - Do you have an agent?
YOU - No.
THEM - Do you belong to the Guild?
YOU - No.
THEM - Sorry.

The conversation is slightly different with agents.

YOU - Hi, I'd like you to represent me.
THEM - Have you had anything published?
YOU - No.
THEM - Do you belong to the Guild?
YOU - No.
THEM - Sorry.

You see a pattern, so you call the Guild.

YOU - Hi, I'd like to belong to the Guild.
THEM - Do you have an agent?
YOU - No.
THEM - Have you ever had anything published?
YOU - No.
THEM - Sorry.

Even if you get beyond the point of invisibility, you then have to concern yourself with rejection. How many rejections should you accept before you realize you're not the caliber of writer you thought you were - 10, 100, a billion?

Apparently you should accept an infinite number of rejections, because if you consider yourself to be a writer, you never give up writing, even if you, your family members, and your friends are the only ones who read what you've written.

Of course today, we can blog. But again, with so many bloggers, how can I get recognized for my writing?

Poof! Oh! No! It's happening again. I'm becoming invisi...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Importance of Wording: Misplaced Modifiers and Missing Words

Originally published on Yahoo Contributor Network Feb 1, 2011

For several semesters I tutored English students at a local community college. One of the most difficult aspects for students to grasp was misplaced modifiers. I tried to get the students to understand that if they were describing a person, place, or thing, the modifier had to be as close as possible to the word it modified; otherwise it would appear as if the modifier was describing a completely different person, place, or thing.

Another concept that was important, but also difficult for students to learn, was that leaving even one necessary word out of a sentence could completely alter the meaning of that sentence.

Though I have spoken English all of my life, I've heard that English is a difficult language to learn. Different idioms, dialects, and accents all contribute to language misinterpretation, and some spoken words aren't even in the dictionary.

If you visit Chicago's southwest side, for instance, you'll likely hear the annoying (to me), "Yous guys." Midwesterners who want you to join them will ask you if you want to, "come with." And in the south and southwest, you might hear, "all y'all," their variation of "all of you."

While various word choices can be endearing to hear, especially when they come from the mouth of a 3-year-old, adults who leave important words out of their sentences lack effective communication skills. Their inability to accurately convey their thoughts contributes to carelessness and vague or confusing expressions that leave them wondering why nobody understands them.

Because some people are completely oblivious to the fact that they omit important words or place modifiers so far away from the words they modify that the sentence no longer makes sense, they underestimate the power of proper word choice.

My job was to help students choose the proper words, to prepare them for their English assignments, and to assist them in learning how to detect and correct their mistakes.

But as professional as I TRIED to be, I had to laugh at some of the altered meanings of their sentences.

Even after I left my job as a tutor and worked as an ad designer, I had to stop myself from laughing at some of the misplaced modifiers and incomplete sentences I read, especially when the situation called for solemnity.

One of my jobs, for instance, was to design memorial messages for people on the anniversaries of their departed loved ones' deaths. Mourners wrote thoughtful and meaningful poems that were heart wrenching, heart warming, and so filled with sorrow, they nearly broke my heart.

One ad, though, caused me so much discomfort, I could barely sit still. The memorial, while quite touching, was also poorly written. I wasn't allowed to change the wording, and I didn't want to disrespect the woman who had poured her heart and soul into the memoriam, but the wording tempted me to explode with laughter.

The woman and the memorial tormented me, in fact. I desperately wanted to change her wording, but I couldn't touch the ad that read:

"All we have left is memories of you hanging on the wall."

Though I remained dignified on the outside, my insides were in a state of hysteria, screaming for release.

I immediately pictured taxidermists stuffing people instead of animals.

And my mind wouldn't stop there. I imagined visiting homes where dead relatives hung on den walls to commemorate the lives of loved ones who had passed on.

Once the thought entered my head, it wouldn't let up. I took it even further, thinking of how people might now want to preserve their relatives by taking their bodies to taxidermists instead of mortuaries. (The blog, Dream of Dead Grandpa, will introduce you to what could happen if taxidermists allow us to keep and store our dead relatives.)

The bottom line is this: WORDING IS IMPORTANT. Leaving words out and misplacing modifiers could potentially change the entire meaning of the sentence. Make sure your word choices reveal your intentions.

Unless you're a comic striving for humor and you recognize the hilarity of misplaced modifiers, I implore you to read Funny Misplaced Modifiers to find out for yourself just how easy unintentional wording mistakes can contribute to innumerable misunderstandings.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Talent vs. Skill

Do you think you can write because you've always been told you have talent? Congratulations! 

But listen – just because you're talented doesn't mean you'll be successful. Talent without skill is like being invited to a feast and then sitting at a table with an uncooked holiday meal. You may have been born with talent, but you can't present it properly without preparation. The only way to succeed in writing is to build your skill set. 

To learn more, read, 8 Things that are More Important than Talent for Writing Success, posted on TV Writer. And read the WHOLE article. The article is long, but if success is important to you, you'll take the time to read it. Anne R. Allen provides some very important information regarding skill and talent!


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