Author of Identity Thief discusses personal experience

Identity Thief by JP BlochAccording to JP Bloch, the author of “Identity Thief,” identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the country. In this interview, Bloch discusses his experience as an identity theft victim and how that experience played into the writing of his second book.

When he decided to write a novel, Bloch wasn’t sure what “topic” to write about. Despite his knowledge of the statistics about identity theft, Bloch felt he needed another opinion. He said, “I can be a bit indecisive about these things, so I made a list of possible topics for a novel, and a literary agent selected this one, which I took as a good omen. Once I started writing it, I recognized that this was an ideal vehicle for getting at an inescapable duplicity in human relationships that has long fascinated me.

“I myself became a victim of identity theft in the course of writing the book. As a writer you learn to apply your experiences to what you write. Someone filed a bogus tax return in my name. The IRS was helpful, but still, making a dozen calls to the IRS, getting put on hold, being told to call another number, and mailing out forms, is not anybody’s idea of a good time. I still don’t know who did it, or how they got hold of my social security number and W-2.”

Bloch also has a more philosophical view on the subject of identity theft. “The two words of the title are important,” he said. “We all have a sense of who we are, but it may not be how other people see us, and we all too often let ourselves be ‘stolen’ by the expectations of others. In this figurative sense everyone is an identity thief, and also a victim of identity theft.”

In “Identity Thief,” the thief and victim take turns telling the story. Bloch said, “We see their interior selves up close, which often do not match the selves they present to the world. Often we believe we are close to people who actually know little if anything about what we genuinely think or feel. My novel dramatizes this in the form of a psychological crime thriller.”

Bloch believes that to connect to another person, one must be part idealist and part cynic, then hope for something genuine to emerge from all the compromises and half-truths. He demonstrates this opinion in the book. “I’m a big fan of film noir,” said Bloch. “So expect noir-ish characters. No one is all that nice, and in fact the victim of the theft is pretty creepy. You’ll probably like the thief better. But don’t expect anything to be what it seems. There are a lot of twists and turns in the plot.”

With explicit language, adult situations, and violence, Bloch understands that “Identity Thief” will not appeal to all readers. Anyone who has ever been the victim of a crime knows that the crime itself can often set off a cascading series of consequences. Bloch understands this because the real theft of his identity had such an effect when someone tried to file a workplace injury claim in his name after the original crime.

“That was more red tape,” Bloch said. “I love to write and I’m also a college professor, so I treasure my free moments. It’s a drag when I have to spend them listening to recorded messages on the phone that tell me how important my call is and to please stay on the line. Now any time I get even an email that seems irrelevant to me, I wonder if it has to do with my identity theft.”

Because the thief and victim alternately narrate chapters in “Identity Thief,” Bloch felt the need to find the voice of each character while maintaining a consistent writing style. He said, “I’m not the first person to say this, but I do believe that when you write fiction your characters take on a life of their own, and as author you record what they do rather than dictate what they do. I was not as bent out of shape as the victim in the novel, but I understand something about his frustration, rage, and sense of personal violation.”

For more information

Learn more about JP Bloch on his blog at jpblochauthor.blogspot.com.

Interview with Acts of Faith author Patricia Wynn

Acts of Faith

Patricia Wynn loves history, travel, and a good mystery. In this interview, the award-winning author describes how she’s been able to blend those interests to write mysteries as well as Regency and historical romances. Her latest Blue Satan historical mystery is “Acts of Faith,” which explores life in 1716 England and the religious persecution of the time.

In “Acts of Faith,” Gideon Fitzsimmons, the outlawed Viscount St. Mars, aka the highwayman Blue Satan, returns to England after smuggling an escaped Jacobite prisoner into France. He’s soon arrested when the murder of a neighbor reveals the secrecy in which Roman Catholics must live. That secrecy is where this story really begins.

Wynn said, “Most people have heard about priest holes in English manor houses so that priests could hide. I had always thought of them as being relics of the Reformation and later the persecution by Cromwell’s army. I was reading a biography of the poet Alexander Pope and came across the fact that in 1715, he was forced to leave London for a while because all Roman Catholics were banned from the city. Then I learned that the laws against Catholics persisted for centuries.

“At times of external threat, such as the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715, they were strictly enforced and Catholics were hounded again. They suffered everything from double taxation to a restriction of only one gun and one horse to a family. The purpose of these laws, including the banishment not only from London, but all cities, was to make it impossible for them to mount a rebellion in aid of the Pope, but it forced them into all kinds of secretive behaviors. One of the behaviors practiced by some Catholics made me think that it could easily become a motive for murder.”

Sometimes, the parallels of history to current-day events are uncanny. Wynn said she doesn’t usually have an issue in mind when she writes a mystery novel, but often finds parallels to current events. “In one of my books, I wrote about the government surveillance of mail and private papers in 1715, due to the threat of a Jacobite invasion. The English were frightened by what seemed an unprecedented invasion of their liberty, so they burned their papers and diaries, which has made it difficult for me to do research for my series.”

One reviewer felt that Wynn was purposely drawing a parallel between the historic events and the Patriot Act. Wynn said, “I do think the parallel is there, but I was simply using a historical situation to enhance the mystery plot. In ‘Acts of Faith’ I did want to talk about religious intolerance and show that only the names change, the fears stay the same.”

Wynn lived in France and Mexico before she was married. While she’s fluent in French and Spanish as well as her native English, she had no idea the title of the series was going to be an issue. She described some of those misunderstandings.

“It’s surprising how many people read ‘satin’ instead of ‘Satan.’ I thought the name Satan was pretty well known. Then there are the people who do read it correctly and are either offended or titillated. It was a common expression in England to call someone a ‘devil.’ I used that custom to name my highwayman, but you would think I had blasphemed or was promoting Satanism by the looks I sometimes get.”

Those experiences, however, were not as embarrassing for Wynn as a live web chat where she was a guest. During her live interview, several people came into the room to ask whether Wynn wrote porn. She said, “They were very disappointed to discover that I did not. The host was mortified and assured me that had never happened on her program before, but it made me swear off live internet.”

More information

Patricia Wynn has written ten Regency and historical romances. Her five mystery novels have been finalists for several national awards. The second book in Blue Satan Mystery series, “The Spider’s Touch,” won the Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Genre Novel of 2002 from the Independent Book Publishers Association.

Learn more about Patricia Wynn on her website at www.patriciawynn.com.

HARP refinance email scams running rampant

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The HARP refinance emails have been coming in with surprising regularity. To be blunt, these emails are nothing more than a scam. One of the difficulties with many of these emails is that they don’t display the classic signs of spam, i.e., spelling and grammar are good and they don’t include a generic salutation. They do, however, rely heavily on images to portray a professional image.

The HARP program will expire on December 31, 2015, which means there will likely be an increasing focus on this scam during the next twelve months. The government’s warning about HARP scams assumes you’ve already decided to refinance. They warn consumers to check out the organization they’re using to refinance and even maintain a listing consumers can check to verify the validity of the company they will be working with.

The barrage of emails to refinance are merely another lure to entice victims into giving away their personal information.

Tip 1: The example I’m using was sent using the name of HARP__Refinance. The use of underscores in a sender name should be an immediate giveaway that there’s something fishy with this one. The second issue is with the sender’s email address. A check of this email’s return address showed it to be from HARP___Refinance@civet.info. Obviously, this is not a legitimate organization.

On the Zillow blog, they recently warned consumers to avoid this scam by following two rules, which brings us to tips 2 and 3.

Tip 2: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t fall for absurdly good promises.

Tip 3: Do not depend on the HARP logo. The problem is that anyone can use the logo until they get caught. Some of the current HARP emails will use the logo and some will not. Do not depend on a logo as a sign of validity.

If a HARP refinancing is something you’re interested in, ditch those spam emails—they’ll only bring you a virus, malware, or make you the victim of identity theft—and check out the real program at HARP.gov.

Friday Fotos—on the way to Hanalei

The trip to Hanalei is one of those amazing drives that passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The little laid-back town has its own resort, so those that want to get away can. Of course, all that natural beauty doesn’t come cheap.

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Sleeping Dog sparkles with rib-tickling dialogue

Sleeping DogSerendipity (Sarah) Dahlquist is a very precocious 14-year-old girl who arrives home from school one day to discover her beloved dog, Groucho, is missing. After checking the usual places and reporting the missing dog to the police, Serendipity decides to hire PI Leo Bloodworth to find Groucho. When Bloodworth refuses to take her case she turns to his office mate, Kasper, who agrees to help. But when Kasper turns up dead, Bloodworth feels compelled to follow up on Seredipity’s case while looking for Kasper’s killer.

Leo, who’s nickname is “the Bloodhound,” looks to be a typical 80’s gumshoe. He’s a hard drinking ex-cop with a string of ex-wives. The last thing Bloodworth needs in his life is a quick-witted, determined and self-sufficient teenager who won’t take no for an answer.

Not long after Bloodworth takes on the missing dog caper, he realizes Kasper’s murder and Groucho’s disappearance are connected. The next thing he knows, he’s on the road with Sarah traveling from L.A. to Northern California. During their search, they come across dog fights, murderers, kidnappers, and the Mexican Mafia. Underneath it all is a mystery to be solved that holds all the answers.

Dick Lochte teams up two highly unlikely characters in “Sleeping Dog” and takes an unusual approach in alternating first person chapters told by the two characters. Even though this book was originally published in 1985, it is still a highly enjoyable and entertaining read today. The dialog between Bloodworth and Serendipity is rib-tickling, the plot is complex with lots of twists and turns. Dick Lochte makes it easy to fall in love with Serendipity and manages to find the human side of Bloodworth making him a likable character.

FTC Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by its publisher.

San Diego author F. James Greco discusses Jerkwater Town

Jerkwater Town Cover ImageF. James Greco is a San Diego author who says he relies on his Italian-American ancestry and experience as a journalist to help mold his historical fiction. For this interview, the former teacher, attorney, self-described “belly-button” guitar player talked about his newest release, “Jerkwater Town,” what drove him to write it, and his “almost” musical career.

“From my days as a fledgling reporter until now,” said Greco, “I’ve been obsessed with picking at scars and scouring the underbelly to uncover dirty secrets of the rich and powerful often ignored or glossed over by local media. For this reason, my stories arise from factual incidents that reveal truths politicians and flack artists would rather keep hidden. My heroes and heroines become the tools for revelation and reexamination.”

In “Jerkwater Town,” a Mafia boss is gunned down in cold blood as he walks down a San Diego street. Greco bills the book as, “Why you should care.” The book interweaves historical events with the present. The story unfolds when an investigative reporter partners with an unlikely associate to find out who committed the crime.

Greco said the idea for the book came from several sources. For instance, he knew that civic leaders in Spokane and San Diego adopted ordinances to ban free speech in the early 1900s. He said, “It was an attempt to squelch labor. Also, civic leaders in both cities became rich and powerful through bootlegging during Prohibition, and the Mafia played a greater role in the evolution of both communities than the chambers of commerce would acknowledge.”

San Diego and Spokane, though separated by more than 1,300 miles, bear a common history said Greco. “I began with the premise that public figures and their minions in San Diego and Spokane have successfully painted their jurisdictions as ‘the Finest City’ populated by ‘Children of the Sun.’ I call this a travel brochure fantasy of Potemkin Villages that obscures strikingly similar corruption, crime, and malfeasance shared by the two cities.”

With a premise in mind and a desire to bring back some of the main characters from his first historical novel, Greco set about writing “Jerkwater Town.” These days, Greco focuses on more than just writing. He said, “I love all forms of music and have become obsessed with learning to play guitar. My native Italian great uncle, a capable musician and restaurant owner in Vancouver, B.C., gave me my first guitar, a beaten-up no-name with a cracked face. I should have seen that as an omen.”

In his early teens, Greco took guitar lessons from a teacher he said, “Spent two-thirds of my session telling dirty jokes and the rest giving me homework assignments consisting of unfathomable closed-chord progressions.” He said that when a pretty hippy girl moved next door and taught him to strum folk and rock tunes, he regained his enthusiasm. “I was foolish enough to believe a tone-deaf kid could warble like a canary. But, I was sure my wafer-thin guitar repertoire would impress my friends.”

During his freshman year in college, Greco’s dorm roommate was a music major. Greco said that his roommate had never played a guitar, asked to try his, and mastered it within a month. The experience crushed his musical aspirations at the time. “I never touched a guitar again until a few years ago, when my family surprised me with a Fender and a practice base.”

Greco noted that his former roommate went on to become a great classical guitarist. He said, “I, on the other hand, have mastered the belly-button-picking school of playing—the less informed would refer to this school as ‘air guitar.’ The methodology does nothing to further my ability to play an instrument, but does insure that I never miss a note.”

On a serious note, Greco added, “Justice and fairness serve as my primary guiding principles. I pride myself in being open-minded, while detesting bigotry, racism, and cruelty in all of their forms. My writing credo: stick to the facts; they play better in the end than illusion and magical thinking.”

For more information

Learn more about F. James Greco on his website at www.fjamesgreco.com.

The Barclaycard email scam

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Have you received the Barclaycard email? There are several things of note in this email. Here’s a version of one I received.

Dear Customer,

We are in the process of increasing your credit limit but would like you to confirm you agree with this decision. Please download the document attached and confirm this increase. Please note, this increase will reflect in your account in 24 hours excluding weekends and bank holidays.

Why this one is a problem

This email doesn’t have a logo, which should raise a red flag, but it’s also missing the common typos and grammatical errors. What’s really significant, however, has to do with one of my tips from two weeks ago. In that tip, I recommended checking the return address. In this case, the return address shows as barclaycard@mail.barclaycard.co.uk. Because the address is being spoofed, the normal test of checking the email address doesn’t work. The real sender, in this case, appears to be from France.

Spoofed email addresses

A spoofed email address is simply an address that has been faked. With the right computer program—something that’s not difficult to build or buy—it’s easy to tell email systems to fake the sender’s address. If, on some wet, cold winter afternoon, you’re feeling very technologically inquisitive and really intent on learning more about the sender of an email, look at the source code. There, you’ll see the return path and the real sender. You could, quite literally, blow off hours just exploring email source code for all that junk in your spam folder.

What to do

The answer is simple. Do not trust emails asking you to provide more information or to open a file. As the Barclaycard website points out here, “We will never contact you by e-mail or via a website, asking you to supply us with any security details relating to you, your credit card details, PIN numbers, or online account servicing.” Most companies have adopted the same policy, which makes dumping these emails straightaway (as the Brits would say) an easy choice.

Friday Fotos—off to Kilauea Lighthouse on Kauai

A couple of weeks ago, I promised photos of Kilauea Lighthouse. This week, our Friday Fotos are taken at Kilauea Lighthouse and the surrounding grounds. The lighthouse is now located on the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to Red-footed Boobies, Laysan Albatross, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, White and Red-tailed Tropicbirds, Great Frigatebirds, and Pacific Golden Plovers. While not a birds-eye view, these photos do let Kauai show off her natural beauty.

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Behind the story of a modern-day faery tale

The Stolen by Bishop OConnell

Bishop O’Connell’s road to publication shows the value of perseverance, not only in publishing, but also in life. For this interview, O’Connell discusses his debut novel, “The Stolen,” and his passion for kilts and swords.

O’Connell said that when he wrote “The Stolen” he wanted to bring the traditional faerie tale to a modern audience. He said, “For a long time faerie tales were how we passed history, and often taught life lessons. Often, they weren’t particularly nice lessons, sometimes as bleak as life is hard, and rarely fair.”

“The premise [for the book] came from a poem by W.B. Yeats called ‘The Stolen Child.’ It’s a beautiful piece of prose about faeries luring a child away because ‘the world is more full of weeping than you can understand.’ It really makes it sound very magical and, well, fantastical. It always felt to me like an unfinished tale though.”

O’Connell said the poem left him with many questions. “What about the parents? Is there anything more nightmare inducing for a parent than the idea of their child being taken from them? Add to that the utter horror of the child being taken by creatures that are supposed to live in children’s stories and Disney movies. Then there are the creatures themselves. What sort of monster would lure a child away from their home and family?”

With those questions in mind, O’Connell had a driving force for the book. He said, “I wanted to reach into that darkness, to remember why it is we’re scared of the dark. Don’t be mistaken though, I didn’t write a bleak and horrific story; quite the opposite. My story is about lighting the fire in the night that banishes the dark. To do that though, you need a very good reason. The poem provides the perfect motivation. What parent wouldn’t cross through hell and smack the devil in the face if that’s what it took to get their child back?”

During the writing of the story, O’Connell realized his story had changed and he was writing about less-than-perfect heroes. “The heroes in my story aren’t the kind in shining white armor, pure of heart and deed. More than anything, I wanted my story to be, or to feel, real. Real heroes are regular people who do what needs to be done. They make mistakes, sometimes terrible mistakes, but they continue on and bear the weight of their choices, good and bad.”

“The Stolen” was sold to Harper Voyager Impulse when the publisher took the unusual step of opening submissions to unagented authors for a two-week period. It took the publisher eighteen months to work through the 4,500 submissions they received, but eventually they offered O’Connell a contract. The wait to hear from Harper might seem like an excruciatingly long time, but it was nothing new to O’Connell, who said it took him ten years to write his first book. “The Stolen,” which is O’Connell’s second book, was written in three months, then edited for three years.

“My path to publication is one of those you hear about to give you hope. By the time I got my offer from Harper Voyager, I’d submitted that novel to 118 agents and two publishers. I’m not too proud to admit I submitted to a number of those agents more than once. To this day, I’m certain my name is muttered like a curse at a number of literary agencies. I refused to give up. So when I got rejected, I went back and reviewed the book. I edited, honed, and polished. Then, I sent it out again.”

O’Connell said that his road to publication taught him a valuable lesson, “You only fail if you stop trying. Until then, you just haven’t succeeded yet. I think that’s something that’s true for any dream. It took me a long time to get published. I didn’t include how many times I submitted my first novel and was rejected. In short, it’s true other’s might get to decide if you’ve achieved your dream, but you’re the only one who gets to say you failed to achieve it.”

There are several reasons why O’Connell likes swords, among those is a fascination with history. He said, “Part of me has always loved history. With only a couple limited edition exceptions, all my swords are historical in nature. I have a replica Irish hand-and-a-half sword, as well as a replica 6th century Celtic sword. I also own an actual Civil War cavalry sabre. It’s not in pristine condition, but I love imagining the history it’s seen. Additionally, there is something beautiful about a well-made sword.”

High-quality swords, however, cannot be made on an assembly line. O’Connell said, “A good sword still needs to be forged by hand, and it’s not easy. I’ve actually tried and I don’t like to talk about the results. The time, patience, strength, and passion that goes into it is remarkable.” The same might be said about a career in publishing.

On the other hand, O’Connell’s fascination with swords might be driven by something entirely different because, as he quipped, “They also have the added benefit of making me fully prepared for the zombie apocalypse.”

Alan Russell’s versatility is key to success

Guardians of the NightNot many mystery writers have tackled the murder of an angel, but that’s what San Diego author Alan Russell has done in his latest release, “Guardians of the Night.” For this interview, the award-winning author discussed his new release and his philosophies about writing.

Russell feels strongly that authors who write a book just to deliver a message or argue a cause are making a mistake. He said, “Readers don’t want an author preaching to them. At the same time I’d be lying if I said my books didn’t have issues and messages in them. In ‘Guardians of the Night’ one of the subplots involves unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. I am uneasy about the notion that we can conduct ‘video-game’ wars.”

“Guardians of the Night” begins with a homeless man witnessing what he believes is an angel being murdered. “That’s where my idea started,” said Russell. “In most of my novels, though, I like to have important plots and subplots. In this book, Detective Michael Gideon and his K-9 partner Sirius are also trying to find the identity of the Reluctant Hero—a man who averted an elementary school shooting and then disappeared. Readers will find that these two plots actually intersect later in the book.”

The author of eleven books, Russell said he tries to never write the same book twice, even when he’s writing a series. He said, ‘Readers are always surprised that I can write a laugh-out loud book like ‘The Hotel Detective,’ and then turn around and write a psychological thriller such as ‘Multiple Wounds.'”

And, speaking of versatility, Russell’s 2013 Christmas Cop novel, ‘St. Nick,’ turned into a runaway favorite this year. See my review, St. Nick—an uplifting tale, to find out why. Russell said, “Despite all my novels being very different, I never try to shortchange my readers. My goal remains the same whether I’m writing a police procedural, a suspense novel, or a whodunit—I want the reader to be satisfied.”

Alan Russell Santa

Russell, “doing time” as a mall Santa while researching St. Nick.

Russell views each book as a personal journey. As part of that journey for “St. Nick,” Russell worked as a mall Santa for an entire Christmas season. In doing research for “Multiple Wounds,” he rode along with the San Diego Police Department’s homicide teams. He said, “I was called out to several homicide scenes where I was allowed to work the scene alongside of the detectives. I’ve met with drag performers after midnight (their preferred time to meet), and done sting operations with private detectives.”

Russell even says he corresponded with a member of a German dueling fraternity for a year as he searched for the right antagonist in ‘Exposure.’ He said, “I know my books have to feel real to me if they’re going to feel real to the readers. And I am a believer in the saying, ‘No tears for the author, no tears for the reader.’ Every book is a personal investment.”

For more information

Alan Russell has won a Lefty award for best comedic mystery, a USA Today Critics’ Choice Award, and the Odin Award for Lifetime Achievement from the San Diego Writers/Editor Guild.  Publishers Weekly calls him, “One of the best writers in the mystery field today.”

Learn more about Alan Russell on his website at www.alanrussell.net or on his Facebook Alan Russell Author Page.