James Moushon enjoys wearing three hats

Game of Fire by James MoushonJames Moushon and I met at the Tucson Festival of Books in 2013. James recently released his third Jonathon Stone Mystery, “Game of Fire.” In “Game of Fire,” CIA agent Jonathon Stone is brought up against his old nemesis, Tay Minh, when the investigation into an arson fire indicates it might have been an act of terrorism.

When asked why he wrote “Game of Fire,”  James said, “There still remains a huge divide between the North and South Vietnamese immigrates. Each year someone in the Garden Grove area (Little Saigon) of California will fly the North’s flag or display a picture of Ho Chi Minh and violence will occur.”

“The story is based on the Anti-Ho Chi Minh protest during the New Year celebrations of 1999,” said James. “A Vietnamese-American video store owner caused controversy when he displayed in his store a portrait of Vietnamese communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. Several demonstrations came close to a full scale riot in front of the store.”

Born in Illinois and a graduate of Bradley University in Peoria, James helped lead the startup of the electronic forms industry in its early days. That background of providing an industry with published literature, software products, and training seminars, eventually led James to seek a more creative outlet. He said, “I am currently wearing three hats. I am a mystery writer, a book publishing blogger and a computer consultant.”

Even though the Jonathon Stone mysteries have a CIA operative as the protagonist, they are written in the style of cozy mysteries, i.e., no graphic sex, violence, or language. James pulls on his computer background to make them as accurate as possible. He said, “I do a lot of research. Coming from a computer background, I handle all my writing chores with a database system and some custom programming I threw together. Story lines, character profiles and even common editing problem-areas are neatly controlled. I even use my own software to do the ebook conversion to check out how the ebook format will appear on the various ebook devices.”

James is also concerned that the locations he describes in his books are accurate. “The places I use in my books are places I have firsthand knowledge, backed by a detailed study. I lived in the area the story takes place and the scenes are really snapshots of the good times I had there. I tried to stay away from LA and concentrate on some of the little-known sections like Belmont Shore, Huntington Harbour, Signal Hill and, of course, Little Saigon.”

Book summary

An explosion and fire rocks a Southern California mall and it is quickly determined to be arson. The timing of the incident is special because it interrupts the Tet New Year’s Festival and Parade in Little Saigon, an area just east of Long Beach.

Enter veteran CIA Agent Jonathon Stone. Already in pursuit of the gunrunning Minh family, he connects with a special FBI task force to assist in the investigation of the explosion and Minh quickly becomes their number one suspect.

Stone teams up with FBI Agent Jodi Shannon to pursue the people behind the arson fire. Jodi is a serious, no nonsense agent who leads the FBI Arson Task Force. While she fights to solve the mystery, she also fights Stone’s advances. As always, he tries to mix business with pleasure.

More information

James Moushon runs three blogs as well as his own website. Those sites are:

Website – http://www.jamesmoushon.com/

Blogs:

eBook Authors Corner – http://bit.ly/TauYkJ

HBS Author’s Spotlight – http://bit.ly/QVEMix

HBS Mystery Reader’s Circle – http://bit.ly/19Nfrx8

McKenna checks out the hotel phone call scam

iStock_000024086772LargeThe hotel phone call scam is back in business. A friend of mine just told me how her son received a phone call in the middle of the night while he was staying at a hotel. Sometime in the middle of the night, the phone in her son’s hotel room rang and he was told that there had been a “glitch” in the computer system. The caller was apologetic, but explained how all of the credit card numbers had been lost and the hotel needed to reconstruct the billing information.

Being somewhat groggy—he’d just been woken from a sound sleep—her son gave the caller an address, but balked when they asked for his credit card number. He told the caller he’d go down to the front desk to give them the card, at which point the caller hung up.

This particular scam has been around for years. It usually travels around from state-to-state so the scammers avoid getting caught. In my book, it gets an F rating for courtesy—who wants to be woken in the middle of the night? It’s tough enough to get a good night’s sleep in a hotel without having some scammer pulling this stunt.

There’s not much you can do about it except to report the call to the front desk. Most likely, they’ll tell you there’s not much they can do about it either, but that other guests are receiving similar calls. The hotel phone call scam is currently making the rounds, so if you’re traveling and a very courteous person asks you for your credit card number in the middle of the night, you’ve got my permission to be not so nice in return.

Behind the story of the Nora Abbott mysteries

Broken Trust by Shannon BakerShannon Baker is the author of the Nora Abbott Mystery Series. In this interview, Baker talks about the series, which is set in Flagstaff, AZ and raises environmental issues that could affect the Hopi Indians and the world.

“One of the reasons I love writing fiction is that I don’t have to vote on the issues,” said Baker. “I get to present both sides of everything through my characters. Like people, most issues have good and bad. Sometimes I have an opinion and the most fun for me is giving a character the opposite opinion and letting them convince me to change my mind.“

Baker’s protagonist is Nora Abbott, a strong environmentalist. While Baker worked for an environmental nonprofit, she says she’s not sure she fits the definition, perhaps because she’s too open-minded. “In my books,” said Baker, “I don’t have to defend anything. The characters get to have their say.”

The Nora Abbott Mystery series, according to Baker, is a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians. That interest began in 2006 when she moved to Flagstaff. She said, “There was a huge controversy raging about man-made snow on the San Francisco Peaks. Those peaks are sacred to 12 tribes and featured in their creation stories. I started researching Hopi and was fascinated by this tiny, ancient, mystical culture. They believe they hold responsibility for the balance of the whole world.”

After learning more about the tribe and its history, Baker says she’s not going to dispute that claim. She said, “How could I not write about it?” The second book in the series, “Broken Trust,” goes deeper into this issue when Nora Abbott takes a job at Loving Earth Trust in Boulder, CO. When she encounters several murders, Nora enlists the aid of her mother and a Hopi kachina to stop an attempt to decimate one of our greatest natural resources.

One of the things Baker learned when she started writing about the Hopi, was how difficult it would be for a white person to get information. “Hopi are extremely secretive and protective about their rituals and beliefs. I’ve been really fortunate to know a couple of Hopi who’ve read my books and given me advice. Theirs is a complicated and rich history and so thick I couldn’t possibly cover it all in one book. Nora gets to learn along with me as each book explores a different aspect of the Hopi.”

During the past few years, Baker has been living a somewhat nomadic lifestyle. She said, “I didn’t set out to be gypsy and poor Nora has been dragged along with me everywhere. I escaped from Nebraska in 2004 and landed in Boulder, then off to Flagstaff, back to Boulder in 2012. In the meantime, we bought a house in Tucson where we plan to be in 515 days, when real retirement commences so I’ve spent bits of time there. Sadly, and thankfully temporarily, I’m back in Nebraska.”

One of those people who loves the outdoors, Baker considers herself lucky that she will soon have the Grand Canyon and the Rockies in her backyard. Baker quipped, “Now all I have is windswept prairie.”

The future will bring more Nora Abbott mysteries, according to Baker. So far, Nora has been in the iconic landscapes of Northern Arizona, the wilds of the Rockies and Boulder, CO. She added, “In book three, Nora gets to hang in the red rocks of Moab. I don’t see her coming to Nebraska, though I am working on a new mystery series set in Nebraska cattle country.”

More information

“Tainted Mountain” and “Broken Trust” are published by Midnight Ink (www.midnightinkbooks.com). “Tainted Mountain,” the first in the series, is a New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards finalist.

Learn more about Shannon Baker on her website at www.Shannon-Baker.com.

Attorney General says bitcoin creates regulatory challenges

Bitcoin-Graphics-300x211On Tuesday, April 8, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the House Committee on the Judiciary to express concerns about the long-term viability of virtual currencies such as Bitcoin.

In his address, Holder said, “Virtual currencies can pose challenges for law enforcement given the appeal they have among those seeking to conceal illegal activity.  This potential must be closely considered.  We are working with our financial regulatory partners to account for this emerging technology.  Those who favor virtual currencies solely for their ability to help mask drug trafficking or other illicit conduct should think twice; the Department is committed to innovating alongside this new technology in order to ensure our investigations are not impeded by any improvement in criminals’ ability to move funds anonymously.  As virtual currency systems develop, it will be imperative to law enforcement interests that those systems comply with applicable anti-money laundering statutes and know-your-customer controls.”

Bitcoin has become increasingly popular as an easy way to move money, but the collapse of Mt. Gox bitcoin exchange in February dealt a serious blow to the integrity of the currency. Further complicating matters are the wild fluctuations in bitcoin valuation, which has made bitcoin a popular commodity among day traders, yet may make it difficult to establish as a viable long-term currency.

Interview with international bestselling author MJ Rose

Collector of Dying Breaths by MJ RoseThe latest novel from international bestselling author M.J. Rose, “The Collector of Dying Breaths,” has just been released. For this interview, Rose talked about what was behind the novel and how she became fascinated with the concept of souls leaving a body with the dying breath.

Rose was doing research on another book when she learned that Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, who both believed in reincarnation, supported the idea that in death, the soul leaves the body with its last breath. Rose said, “Edison’s dying breath, collected by his son, Charles, is in fact on display at the Edison Winter Home in Fort Myers, Florida.  I was totally taken with the idea of our souls being expelled in that last breath and it became the thesis of my novel.”

“There is a lot of fact mixed in with this fictional tale,” said Rose. “The main historical character is a 16th century perfumer named René le Florentin, who was an apprentice at the Officina Profumo–Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, one of the world’s oldest pharmacies. Founded in 1221 in Florence by the Dominican Friars, the pharmacy was famous for its herbal remedies and potions.”

“When Catherine de Medici was young she bought scents and creams there. And when the fourteen-year-old duchessina traveled to France to marry the prince, she took René with her. He and Catherine are credited with bringing perfume to their newly adopted country.”

As part of her research for the book, Rose found many fascinating practices. She said, “There was an ingredient used in perfumes and remedies in the middle ages called ‘momie’ that is certainly one of the most fascinating I’ve come across.

“Momie is found in the tombs of the people who have been embalmed with spices, as they used to do in ancient times. It’s found near the brain and the spine. Instruction manuals from the 15th century suggest it should be shining, black, strong smelling, and firm. And that the white kind, which is rather opaque, does not stick, is not firm and easily crumbles to powder, must be refused.”

Rose did extensive research on middle age practices because she wanted the science to be historically accurate. When it came to dialogue, however, she chose a different path. “I read as much as I could get my hands on of things written during the period. But this is fiction and I wanted it to be a good read so in the end I closed all the research books and wrote from the characters mind. After all, there’s no one alive who knows for sure how people sounded in conversation in the 1500s. We only know how they wrote.”

Through the ages, the concept of reincarnation and other worlds has fascinated mankind. Rose wanted to look closer at this fascination. She said, “I was exploring this idea, expressed so well by H.G. Wells.

‘You may think me superstitious, if you will, and foolish; but indeed, I am more than half convinced that he had, in truth, an abnormal gift, and a sense, something—I know not what—that in the guise of wall and door offered him an outlet, a secret and peculiar passage of escape into another and altogether more beautiful world.’”

With all of her research into past lives and reincarnation, would Rose want her dying breath captured for possible reincarnation? She said, “I think that we need to live our lives for the present . . . as if it is our one and only wild and wonderful life. If it turns out we do get to come back then I’d want to start fresh and so I hope my last breath is expelled near an open window on a balmy night so that it can blow away and mix with the stars.”

More information

M.J. Rose is the international bestselling author of fourteen novels, one of which, “The Reincarnationist,” was the basis of the television series “Past Lives.”

McKenna takes on the Terrible Three tax scams

Business UnderworldIt’s that time again—April. Those good old April showers bring May flowers. The days get a little warmer. The birds start to sing. And, yes, even the tax man starts to sing, “My turn, my turn.” The trouble is, the tax man who is singing may not be for real. Each year, the IRS publishes its “Dirty Dozen” tax scams. Well, this year, I’m starting “McKenna’s Terrible Three.” So, here we go.

In first place on the McKenna’s Terrible Three list are the scammers who take the personal approach and make threatening phone calls, promising to have you thrown in jail unless you pay your taxes in GreenDot Money Paks. Seriously? Money Paks? Most of us would say, who would fall for that? Yet, people do. In that moment of panic, their brain stops working and fear runs the show. I’m pretty sure the IRS would prefer to be paid with a check or, better yet, an electronic funds transfer.

Second place on the list goes to those who prefer efficiency. These are the guys who send out those emails demanding you click links or you will face dire consequences. The links, of course, go to sites where you might pick up some fancy little malware or a virus. My advice? The only thing you want to click is the delete key to send that email into the trash.

How about free money from the IRS? You’ve got to be kidding me, right? People are going to fall for this? But, yes, they do. So, let’s be clear. People! The IRS is charged with collecting taxes, not running contests.

Okay, that ought to cover it. If you fall for one of these scams after this warning, Bob over at the IRS is definitely not going to forgive your taxes just because you didn’t pay attention. Don’t believe me? Call him up and ask.

The Chase falls short of what it could be

The Chase by Evanovich and GoldbergNick Fox is a world-class con man. Kate O’Hare is a kick-ass FBI agent. The two began working together when Kate eventually tracked down and arrested Nick. Together their job is to bring down the bad guys—those that always stay one step ahead of the normal law-enforcement channels.

The characters, both Nick and Kate, tend to be somewhat one-dimensional. He’s a dashing, handsome, and brilliant playboy type who is as smooth with the ladies as he is with a set of lock picks. Kate is tough, smart, and beautiful, capable of catching the eye of any man she wants, especially one with a love of life such as Nick.

The premise, finding the worst of the worst, as far as criminals go, and bringing them to justice, is popular with today’s writers as well as readers.

The problem with “The Chase” is that it, much like the characters, falls flat in several ways. Where the banter between the characters should be sharp and witty, it feels like a huge cliché. Dialogue is not crisp and sharp, but convenient and designed to move the plot forward in obvious ways. The other major issue is changes in point of view. The authors alternate point of view constantly, which removes any element of suspense.

The good news is that plotting and pacing are well done. This story moves quickly from scene to scene to a final climax that puts both characters at risk. Readers who want the equivalent of a TV series on the written page should enjoy “The Chase.”

Behind the story of The Shroud Key with Vincent Zandri

The Shroud Key by Vincent ZandriVincent Zandri is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. His latest release is “The Shroud Key,” which Zandri calls “a few years in the making.” In this interview, the man who wears many different writing hats talks about how the novel came about and his dedication to the craft of writing.

“I’ve always been fascinated with one man up against it all,” said Zandri. “I’m interested in how a man or woman holds up under incredible stress and seemingly unbeatable odds. Then, just when you think their situation can’t get any worse, it gets worse and then some. I like to see how they react to that as well.”

In “The Shroud Key,” Zandri’s protagonist has a knack for finding trouble, yet that character did not come to him without a great deal of thought. According to Zandri, it all began with an old movie. He said, “I read an obscure article somewhere that attributed an obscure B movie from 1954 as being the inspiration for Indiana Jones. It was called ‘Secret of the Incas’ and it starred Charlton Heston as a former pilot turned tour guide in Peru who was out for the big score in the form of ancient Incan gold. The character intrigued me because he was as smart of Indy, but much rougher around the edges. I wanted to come up with a similar character who was both smart and tough, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.”

Zandri is a part-time resident of Florence, Italy. He spends a few months there every year. Zandri said, “It was there, while walking the cobbled streets that I came up with Chase Baker, an ex-patriot resident of Florence who is a novelist and a part-time tour guide/part-time excavator/part-time private detective who goes on the hunt for an archaeology professor who’s gone missing in Post Revolutionary Egypt. The hunt for the professor inevitably puts him on the trail of the most elusive archaeological treasure known to man: The mortal remains of Jesus Christ.”

With a Renaissance Man protagonist in mind, Zandri set out to write a book that brought in exotic foreign locales and was part archaeological hunt, part adventure, and part romance. One of his first steps was to begin researching the locations, which took him far closer to danger than he thought it might.

“I traveled to Post-Revolutionary Egypt to research The Shroud Key,” Zandri said. “The burned out state building, which is situated directly beside the Egyptian Museum, still smelled of smoke, and there were signs of unrest everywhere, especially in the square. The Muslim Brotherhood was entirely entrenched in Cairo and all the walls of the buildings were painted with portraits of black-masked members of the Brotherhood who had sacrificed their lives in the name of their beliefs. They were depicted as floating to heaven with a pair of black wings on their backs and an AK-47 gripped in their hands.”

While Zandri might have been able to garner some sense of the pervasive unrest and violence in the area through news reports and pictures taken by journalists, none of that would have given him the first-hand sense of danger experienced by those who live there, such as the man hired as his guide. “I was riding in the back seat of a van my fixer was driving between Cairo and Aswan when we were deliberately run off the road. As we sat in the ditch shaking our heads, trying to get our bearings, I was convinced that the van would soon be riddled with bullets. The bullets never came, but ‘The Shroud Key’ did.

In addition to his work as a novelist, Zandri is also a photo-journalist, a travel writer, an essayist, a blogger, and a screenwriter. Zandri also said he strives to improve his writing skills with every book so readers will enthusiastically tell their friends about his books. “I am fascinated with writing, writers, and the writing life,” said Zandri. “If I were to draw a parallel to another line of work, it would be like the fishing guides down in the Keys who fish every day for their daily bread, and then spend their free time fishing. I’m fascinated by words.”

For those who are aspiring writers themselves, Zandri has a piece of advice he learned from a colleague at RT. “If you want to be a successful writer, you must learn to write interestingly about a teabag.”

More Information

Learn more about Vincent Zandri and all of his novels on his website at www.vincentzandri.com.

McKenna on the USPS Shipping Notification scam

iStock_000024086772Large

How many times to I have to say it? Spelling matters!

Fake shipping notifications are nothing new. We’ll all seen them show up in our email. A couple of years ago when these first started showing up, these innovative scams were very effective. Today, these scams have become so commonplace they’re almost laughable. Two identical USPS Shipping Notification scam emails showed up today. The only difference between them  was their return address and the URL of the link within the email.

The current fad is to send a message which reads:

Our courier couldnt make the delivery of parcel to you at 25th March.

Print label and show it in the nearest post office.

Because I like to look at the upside as well as the down, let’s take a look at the full scenario.

Good news: The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well on the internet.

Bad news: The guy behind this template can’t spell worth a damn. Once again, we have to put up with poorly written spam.

Good news: Whoever bought these templates overpaid. With luck, they’ll be disappointed with the results they achieve and will give up on this line of work.

Bad news: The sellers are probably having a Walmart-sized super sale and there will likely be many more emails coming. More bad news: They’re probably happy with their line of work while the rest of us must wonder, what’s next?

The best solution for dealing with these is to simply mark them as spam and hope your email program flags future iterations of this particular scam so you won’t see it again.

By the way, in the time it took me to write this post, another shipping notification came in. Another scammer scammed with an inferior product. If they handed out brains along with all that initiative, the rest of us might actually be in trouble.

Behind the story of The Discarded

The Discarded by Brett BattlesBrett Battles, the author of twenty-two novels, says that the idea for Quinn, his protagonist in his upcoming novel “The Discarded,” came to him while he was in Berlin more than ten years ago. Find out how Battles “met” Quinn and learn about his new release in this behind the story interview.

“The first time Quinn came to me was while riding the train in Berlin,” said Battles. “I just suddenly had this image of a man quietly sitting in the car, surrounded by those living their normal lives. No one looking at him, no one realizing his life was nothing like theirs. That he had just come from a job. And his job? That of a cleaner, the guy you call when you know you’re going to have a body that needs to disappear. The train was clacking away, and there he was, just across the aisle from me.”

That incident was more than a decade ago, but today Battles is still writing about that man. He said, “For ‘The Discarded,’I wondered what would be the ramifications if a retired operative was being haunted by the last job he did and his desire to find out what happened.” In the book, that operative is the former mentor to Quinn’s partner and girlfriend. Battles says that was his starting point for the novel, which triggers an investigation into events of the past. Battles added, “With that, I had the basis for an exciting adventure.”

Battles sees himself as a storyteller, not one who writes about issues. However, he does wonder if readers pick up on an underlying theme in his books. He said, “No matter what the situation or the danger or the current sentiment of society, doing the right thing as opposed to turning your back is the only real choice. Whether the readers pick up on that or not, I have no idea.”

While he writes about the theme of doing the right thing, Battles said, “Whether it’s stopping and helping a stalled motorist out of the road, opening the door to a building you weren’t even going into for someone whose arms are full, or giving words of encouragement to someone you don’t know when you see that they need it, I see those kinds of situations all the time.”

The reason the theme resonates with Battles may well stem from an incident that occurred when he was young. “Those don’t seem like difficult decisions, but many people talk themselves out of helping in seconds, saying someone else will take care of it. One situation that has always stayed in my mind happened when I was a kid, probably around 12 or so. I was at boy scout camp with my troop, and my dad happened to be one of the adults who’d come along. We were in our hut, kind of a large tent with bunk beds, when we heard someone scream out. My dad immediately ran out to see what was happening. There was a swimming hole in the middle of camp, like a small pond dug out for the specific purpose. One of the kids was in the middle, obviously in distress. While everyone else stood at the edge of the pond trying to figure out what to do, my dad immediately jumped in, swam out, and helped the kid back to shore. There was no hesitation. He just went, despite the fact that the kid could have panicked and pulled my father under. Again, you wouldn’t think diving in to help someone would be a difficult choice, but there were several other adults around who didn’t.”

Battles has carried the theme into his latest novel. When Quinn is asked to find answers about a package a friend once delivered, he faces a dilemma Battles describes as: “Some jobs are easy to forget. Some take more time. And some will haunt you forever.”

More information

Learn more about Brett Battles on his website at www.brettbattles.com. “The Discarded” is scheduled for release on March 28, 2014.