Thursday, December 8, 2011

Get my books for free through Amazon Prime

TAKEDOWN and Easton Hearts: The Complete Series are now free through the Amazon Prime Lending Library.

Update: TAKEDOWN will "go free" for ALL readers (not just Amazon Prime) for five days, starting tomorrow (12/10).

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Saturday, November 26, 2011

First six chapters of TAKEDOWN

Enjoy this long sample. -- A.M.

TAKEDOWN, Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

Woodbury, Minnesota
15 November 1996

It was another misdirected email floating near the middle of her inbox. The sender was romancing the woman she was not.

Jane Nelson lowered her mug onto her nephew-crafted coaster, and she settled her five-foot-two-inch frame into the work-smart swivel chair. She scanned the pile of papers strewn across her desk as she stretched her arms toward the ceiling. Then Jane leaned into the screen, clutched the ergonomic mouse, and jerked it across the pad to uncover the cursor location.

She fixed her blue eyes on her first task of the day: Email.

Jane clicked on the important memo at the top of the list. It was a reminder to attend a 10 o'clock meeting with her boss, but now it was rescheduled to 10:30 due to a conflict with his boss. Par for the course, she thought, as she read the apology. Jane exited to the inbox list and continued her scan down through the subject lines of unopened messages.

Her mouth twisted when her eyes ran across the odd subject line: Honey, Thanks for Last Night.

"Great. Another pimp to enlarge body parts I don't have," Jane muttered as she tugged the ends of her shoulder length sable hair. She made a mental note to fly by Great Clips for a trim after work. Why doesn't the anti-spam filtering software catch this stuff?

As she spread her hand to delete the message a fluorescent light above her cubicle flickered and burned out, causing her to startle. Instead of hitting the delete option she jerked and clicked the mouse, and the message was opened in a large window in the center of the screen.

Jane groaned. She turned to the right side of her L-shaped workstation to viciously pen two notes on a sticky pad: Call custodial supervisor to replace light bulb. Call IT mail services re: spam blocking.

Jane eyed the mug sitting beside her closely guarded yellow block of sticky notes. She was running low and needed to hunt up more. Sue Ratched, their office manager, considered the fake tacky sheets an expensive luxury, forcing employees to stock up before Sue's ritual end-of-quarter supply cabinet lock-up. Jane recalled how she got free pads from pilot runs back when her dad was still at 3M. Ah, the good old days.

Well, they hadn't cut the coffee yet. Jane inhaled the rich aroma as she lifted the cup to her lips. She took a sip, and turned back to the glowing screen.

Whoa and damn. Jane snorted brown liquid at the monitor.

Dear Jillian,

I'm thinking of your beauty and love, and how last night you took me to heaven. I'm the luckiest husband in the world. Thank you for all you do for me -- yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Love you,

Jack

It was another email from the sex-thank-you-note man! Jane had received one last month, and she'd decided to ignore it, figuring Mr. Romance would chat up the wife later in the day. Surely he'd realize she hadn't received the message. No harm, no foul, right? No need to embarrass the guy by replying with "sorry, you dialed the wrong number". She choked and grabbed her cleaner cloth to dab the coffee spittle from the monitor.

"You ok, Jane?" A voice drifted over the cubicle wall.

"Yeah, just choking on my coffee," she called back.

Jane felt an odd twinge. Reading this personal love note was like peeping through a keyhole while pressing her ear to a bedroom door. For pete's sake, why would a man email this to his wife anyway? Wasn't it the sort of thing you wrote on a piece of paper and slipped into her purse or lunch bag? And, anyway, didn't couples take sex for granted once they were married?

Argh. She wiped harder. She couldn't inform the guy of his mistake, because then he'd know she'd seen his intimate message. Twice! Where's the brain bleach when you need it?

Jane looked at the "from" address: janderson@umn.edu. University of Minnesota. Yep, same guy. The send-to address was jnelson@valleyview.com. It was Jane's email address, but there was an elementary school called Valley View nearby. It was common for internet newbies -- which was almost everybody these days -- to put ".com" instead of the school's correct extension --.edu -- on email addresses, and anything with valleyview.com ended up at Valley View Web Designers. Most coworkers who received mail for the school simply forwarded it to the intended recipient.

"Not happening," she said aloud. Surely he'd talk to his wife, this Jillian woman, as it was the second time he'd sent his apres-sex gratitude in ten weeks. Jane grinned at the thought. No wonder Jack-boy had to thank the woman. He wasn't getting lucky but once a month.

Slamming her pinky on the delete key, Jane drank the last of her coffee while contemplating how Jillian Nelson was, in one way, a fortunate woman. Jane's old college boyfriend never sent a note after lovemaking. Then again Ben hadn't been one for romantic touches like flowers or chocolates, either, but it hadn't mattered to Jane. She'd been over the moon for him, and besides, Ben never had money for such luxuries then, but maybe he did those things for his wife now.

Six years had passed since those carefree college days, and the what-ifs still haunted her. After Jane's accident Ben hadn't wasted any time dropping her. He'd moved on, never looking back. No young man wanted to take a chance on a woman who was recovering from a critical injury and learning to walk all over again.

Thank God for her family. Jane had the ability to overcome any obstacle with the emotional support of her sister and parents. They'd showered her with love and constant attention. They still said a better man was in her future. She simply hadn't found him yet.

Suddenly "Prairie Dog" Sandy popped her head over the cube wall, and Jane put the mental brakes on thoughts about her past. At twenty-five, Sandy McPherson was three years younger than Jane, and she loved office pranks as much as a puppy liked a frisky belly rub.

"Yo, Jane!" Sandy laughed. Her dark eyes danced.

"Sandy, you know you scare me when you do that!"

Sandy's hand flew into the air. "Oooh, I forgot. Sorry. Whassup?"

"I did get one work-related email."

"And the ones that weren't?"

"From a guy stroking his wife for good sex last night."

Sandy giggled. "Oooo, lemmee see!"

Jane laughed. "No way. It's personal. I deleted it."

"Geez Jane, did you trash it after you replied to tell him he squeezed the wrong woman?"

Jane's eyes narrowed. "Right! Then he'd know a stranger has been reading his intimate mail. How embarrassing is that?"

Sandy laughed heartily and threw her bleached blonde mane back. "It's his problem, not yours! He sent it!"

"Yes, well," Jane quickly changed the subject, "I need another coffee, how about you? We've got time to get tanked up before the nine o'clock stand-up meeting."

Sandy nodded and hurried down the aisle and around to Jane's door, and she glanced surreptitiously at the computer screen. Jane had closed her email program. "Did he include juicy details?"

"No," Jane wagged her finger as the women headed down the hall to the lunchroom. "Did you know thirty percent of emails are seen by someone other than the intended recipient?"

"Doesn't surprise me."

"That's why you should always write as if your mom is looking over your shoulder."

"Good advice." Sandy glanced sideways at her. "Hey, bad blouse!" Sandy exclaimed. "It looks spendy. Did you get a raise or what?"

Jane turned her head to find her coworker staring at her chest. Then she remembered -- bad meant good. "Thanks Sandy," she said breathlessly. "I picked it up for two dollars at the Goodwill."

Sandy's green eyes flew wide. "Get out of here! It's perfect on you. Can I borrow it for my blind date on Friday?"

Jane shrugged. "You bet. Who set you up?" They strolled into the lunchroom and approached the coffee urns.

"I found him on a message board." Sandy laughed nervously. She grabbed a paper cup and dispensed the decaf.

Jane gasped. "Sandy, how could you do something so dangerous? I'd never meet someone anonymously, online!" She lifted her mug and looked for the creamers.

"It's going to be fine. He's taking a chance too. Besides, we're meeting on neutral turf, and he doesn't have my real name or address." Sandy paused. "Yet. Think I can lose five pounds by Friday?" She smiled and winked as they turned and headed for the exit.

Jane and Sandy were the last of nine staff members at Valley View Web Designers to enter the "war room" for the daily status meeting. Accounts Manager Jim Atwood motioned for Jane to close the door, and he launched into his usual preamble.

"Good morning everyone. Anyone have a joke of the day?"

Sandy raised her hand. "How many software engineers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?"

"I don't know Sandy," Jim shot back.

"None. It's a hardware problem."

Staffers laughed politely. "Thanks, Sandy." Jim continued. "OK, now that everyone is smiling, Stan and Dave will be presenting five-minute updates on their projects."

Stan, dressed in khakis and a wrinkled maroon polo shirt, stepped up to the front of the room. He launched into his favorite tirade about changes requested by a client two weeks after signing off on the final design.

Jane blocked out Stan's rant by thinking about lying on a white sandy beach in Puerto Vallarta, a non-activity she'd enjoyed with her sister and the kids on her last vacation. Ahh, a warm beach. I need one now, and it isn't even December yet!

Thirteen minutes later they were leaving the conference room. Jane felt refreshed. She stepped into the hallway to see Shelly Steele rushing toward them in a panic, one arm in a coat sleeve and the other side of the garment draped over her shoulder.

"Something wrong? Is Annie sick?" asked Jane.

"No," Shelly replied breathlessly. "Annie's teacher collapsed over at Valleyview Elementary. The ambulance came, and they moved the class to another room, but the kids are very upset."

"Of course! Oh, my! How terrible! Annie's teacher?"

"Yes. She's in Jillian Nelson's classroom," Shelly sputtered as she backed away and hurried to the front door.

Jillian Nelson. Jane doubled over. The news hit like a hammer to her gut.


Chapter 2

Jillian Nelson, 32, died suddenly on November 15th at Valley View Elementary School in Woodbury. She was born July 10, 1964, in St. Paul to Charles and Phoebe Nelson.

Jillian graduated from St. Paul High School in 1982. She was a graduate of University of Minnesota, where she met and married Dr. Jack Anderson. She taught first and second grades for six years. She will be missed by present and former students.

Jillian was an active member of the East Side Lutheran Church, belonged to the League of Women Voters, and played the flute in the Lakeside Community Orchestra.

Her other interests included gardening and reading. Jillian also devoted time and energy to fundraising for American Cancer Society.

Jillian Nelson is survived by her husband, Jack; mother, Phoebe; sisters, Virginia and Sammy; brother, Carl Nelson; four nieces and three nephews.

She was preceded in death by her father, Charles Nelson.

Donations may be sent to American Cancer Society.


* * *

Across town, Jack Anderson bowed his dark head as he read the obituary in his bright kitchen, overwhelmed with grief from the sudden loss of his wife due to a brain aneurysm. He wondered how he'd get through this nightmare as he struggled to put his marriage and life into perspective.

His friends and colleagues had rushed in to fill the cracks. They established a support group; Claire Hill was the anchor of the bucket brigade. The silver-haired and widowed math department administrator had already arranged a dinner team. If he didn't have an invite to a faculty home then he'd be eating at her table. In fact, Claire was in his study right now, at 7:30 AM, answering calls from family, arranging pickups at the airport for Jillian's uncles and Jack's brother, and working with the funeral home on memorial service details.

Jack glanced at the newspaper headlines before tossing the Strib onto the Formica counter next to the citrus-smelling handmade cards from Jillian's students. He smiled grimly as he remembered how Jillian kept him up on grade school pop culture. Scented markers were all the rage with 8-year olds.

While teaching had brought her great joy, Jill's personal life hadn't been as satisfying, and he was to blame. Jill's biological clock ticks had been nonstop and deafening. After nearly two years of trying to get pregnant, and tears falling every month, they jumped onto the fertility merry-go-round. After discovering his zero sperm count as the culprit, intimate life hit a wall. From that moment sex was like a visit to the dentist for Jill -- necessary but dreaded, and put off whenever possible. They'd begun to talk about alternatives, and Jack tried to amp up the romance, but by then Jill was unmoored and drifting farther away, as he battled his own feelings of inadequacy.

Jack was pulled from his thoughts by Buddy's sharp bark. The black lab sat at his side, giving him the food stare down.

"Sorry, Buddy. How could I forget your breakfast?" Jack petted Buddy, scraped a hand through his own thick dark hair, rose from his chair, and headed to the pantry.

"Food!" Jack scooped a cup of kibble into the blue bowl and set it on the mudroom corner rug.

"Woof".

Buddy wolfed his chow, and Jack waited until he cleaned the last kibble from the bowl. Then he put Buddy out the back door on his chain.

The cold nipped at Jack's face. Frost wrapped the tree branches outside his Lake Phalen bungalow, and a light wind waved winter on.

He and Jill had chosen the house because it was between their work locations. He was a young graduate student when he met her at a party hosted by mutual friends. At the time he thought work should come before seeing women. She'd quickly turned his priorities around.

Claire entered the kitchen with Phoebe. Funny. His mother-in-law must have arrived through the front door without his notice.

"Oh, Jacky!"

They embraced in the usual fashion, but tighter, and he felt the dampness on her cheek. "I know. It hurts so much, Mom."

Phoebe stepped back and wiped at her eyes. "A mother is supposed to go before her daughter."

Jack inhaled raggedly. "I know. A husband should go before his wife."

"Jacky, I'm going to miss her so much." Her voice was a stage whisper, and he had to lean close to hear. "We'll get through this somehow."

"Somehow," he echoed. Jack took Phoebe's hands and led her to the table.

"Sit," he ordered.

She slumped into the chair like a lump sack of potatoes.

Jack liked his mother-in-law. She'd always bragged on Jillian's "great catch", sometimes to the point of embarrassing him in front of others, but over the years he'd come to accept it as her way of loving him.

Meanwhile, Claire, lurking near the coffeepot, cleared her throat. "I know it's difficult, but we have to discuss a few arrangements. I just got off the phone with the funeral home. They're planning a special visitation after school tomorrow for the children. Closed casket. Betty Dornfeld has September field trip photos of Jillian and her class to display, and the PTA has arranged transportation so all the children can go. The parents will bring treats, and they'll supervise a balloon release in the parking lot following the visitation. The children will each write a note to Jillian on an index card, to tie to their balloons. They want this to be a positive celebration, filled with good memories of their teacher."

Phoebe cried. "Oh my. Oh my." She pushed gray hair back from her face and searched for a kleenex in her purse.

Jack swallowed hard.

Claire continued. "The kids need closure. The parents decided on this. They hope you agree and can both be there. I know it's hard."

"I wouldn't miss it," Phoebe whispered. She blew her nose.

"Nor I," Jack blurted.

"I want to be there too," Claire added. "The regular adult visitation will commence after the special children's hour."

They nodded.

"Jill's sisters are on their way over. We can discuss the other arrangements when they get here."

"Thanks, Claire. You're the best. I don't know what I'd do --"

"No problem. I've been through this myself. It makes me feel good to help another."

The doorbell chimed, and Claire jumped. "You two stay put. I'll get it".

Jack rose and poured coffee for Phoebe. They heard voices at the door, and Claire returned with a large spray of roses. When she placed them on the table Phoebe pulled the card from the tiny envelope and read it aloud.

"So sorry for your loss. Jane Nelson."

Jack wrinkled his brow. "I don't remember anyone named Jane in your family."

"Neither do I."


Chapter 3

Dan Decker smiled and shook a hundred hands at the front of the receiving line in the lobby of the Chelton College library.

As the institution's largest benefactor, "Danny D" played the confident and generous philanthropist to perfection. After all, he'd recently been lauded by US Business Today as one of the five wealthiest and most successful investment fund managers in the world.

He was also the biggest fraud and master glad-hander on Wall Street. Every day Dan prayed for a miracle to save his fund, but only divine intervention could save a Ponzi scheme.

"Double D! So great to see you," gushed Chelton College Board chairman Kevin Crenshaw. "Nothing like coming back home to the corn fields and cows!"

Dan forced a laugh. "Did I see you chasing the cows off Old Main Square as I drove in? A visit to Iowa sets my feet back on the ground," Dan Decker beamed his trademark grin and pumped Crenshaw's hand.

Kevin Crenshaw, CEO of a local auto parts manufacturing company, grimaced and slid his fist onto his hip. To his credit, he'd saved the college with an emergency loan of $3 million dollars to fund day-to-day operations. That was five years ago, and during the crisis he'd also taken over the chairmanship of the school's board. Reluctantly, he made the call to their most famous and wealthiest alum, while holding the creditor wolves at bay.

Kevin Crenshaw didn't harbor any love for Dan Decker. Thirty years earlier they'd been classmates and frat brothers at Chelton. Kevin had studied hard, graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He built relationships with his professors, and he found work in the town, eventually buying out a small company and building a successful manufacturing operation.

Dan, a handsome devil, had gotten by on his good looks and charm. When he wasn't in the campus bar downing Leinies with a young coed on his arm, he could be found rifling through the frat files for papers to rework for his Econ classes. He had enough respect for Chelton. After all, it was a line on his resume, and he met his wife there during his senior year.

Kevin lobbed the Hail Mary to save Chelton, but Decker got the credit for saving the school. After all, Decker had opened an artery for the small liberal arts college, to the tune of $65 million and growing. They'd renamed a building for him, and one for his wife. Now he was in line for an honorary doctorate, to be awarded next May at Chelton's graduation ceremonies.

While Decker had executed for the college, he'd also hit the wealth trifecta for himself. Grateful Chelton alums invested in his fund. Other nonprofits paid attention, and seeing Chelton thrive with spectacular returns, they wanted in on the Decker action. Hollywood celebs, business tycoons, and old money -- they all piled on.

And how was Danny paying great dividends to all the investors? With the money from new investors, of course, but it was becoming increasingly difficult for the doctor to find new organ donors. Short a miracle, Decker knew his funds were terminal.

"Mr. Decker!" It was Blanche Hollman, the elderly registrar. Her eyes were misty. "We can never thank you enough!"

Dan took her hand. He bowed his head and cleared his throat. "We all do what we can. I'm blessed to be able to help." It was true. He'd started with the best intentions. Save the college. Worry about recouping the money later. The sun continued to rise each day, and it kept edging him toward his worst nightmare. Pension funds were invested. Nurses and bus drivers and police and firefighters now depended on Decker fund growth for their retirements.

He'd had a couple of close calls. There was the guy working on his Math PhD. He interviewed Dan several times about his investing methods and success, but Dan had always been able to put him off. The worst one was the Colombian nut in Alabama. He was a gifted analyst, who'd been asked to look at a friend's fund statements, and it didn't take him long to figure out Dan's scheme. The leech had called Dan directly. Then he'd mailed his findings off to the SEC.

Fortunately, Dan had plenty of friends at SEC. Even more fortunate was SEC's slew of lawyers in the enforcement division, but nary a forensic accountant to investigate anything. Some SEC lawyers were even invested in Dan's funds. If you scam it's best to scam big. Big makes it the SEC's problem too, he thought. They didn't want the public exposure on it. Not during this administration. They'd do what they did best -- kick the can down the road. But for how long?

Bill Stone, Chelton College president, escorted Dan to a chair on the dais. The presentation was scheduled to begin in five minutes. A new scholarship program was being named for Dan, and the first ten recipients were to be introduced -- eager and innocent and ambitious young men and women who knew nothing of the complexities of real life.

Dan Decker looked at his assigned seat and frowned. It was bonded leather, the stuff made from scraps! He was bloody donating enough for top grade analine leather. Damn it, all he had built was at risk, and it had all started with the call to "save the college." Now they expected him to sit in bonded leather?

It was an insult, but he had no choice, so he sat and smiled tightly out at the room.

Bill Stone stepped to the podium to introduce him. While Bill droned about "Danny", their Iowa farm boy who was now a New York hot shot, Dan mused about how none of them would ever know how a small college in Iowa had started a chain of events to ultimately impact the entire US equity market.

He was at the point of no return. The college had consumed his $65 million. He'd won the battle at too great a cost. He couldn't claw back the hundreds of millions he'd paid to his investors in dividends. Now he closed his eyes and decided to shoot one big wad, throw one roll of the dice, double down, and sell his soul to the mob.

The "Double D" knew he could no longer count on duping the next investor, and just this week Alan Greenspan had given a speech in which he brashly suggested that "irrational exuberance" had "unduly escalated asset values." Even Greenspan knew the emperor had no clothes. Hell, thought Dan, the Dow was up over 100% in four years. How much longer could the party continue? He was sure of the imminent collapse, and when it came to pass his investors would cash out, and his jig would be up. Danny Decker felt a burning in his stomach and his palms itched. He had to act soon . . .


Chapter 4

It was a dishwater-dull December day. Low temps had gone negative, and four inches of snow had accumulated. As always, hardy Minnesotans boot-shuffled through the black and white early morning rush. Jane carefully drove through snow flurries and five synced green lights on Valley Creek Road to arrive at the strip mall where Valley View Web Designers leased office space.

Ten minutes later her boss ordered her to go fishing.

She recoiled.

"Mille Lacs isn't frozen over yet," she argued across his wide oak desk. "Did you hear about the guy who went through White Bear Lake on his ATV?"

Rob Lawter's thirty-some eyes glared. He leaned back in his chair and spread his hands, locking them behind his head. "It's been stunned-mullet cold since then. We're two weeks into December. Anyway, you'll stay near shore, in a sheltered bay. The ice is thick enough," he explained.

"You find this highly amusing," noted Jane.

"Every man here would kill for this assignment, and that's why I had to give it to a woman. Besides, it's good business. All-Pro Tackle has the hottest-selling jigs in the upper-midwest market. The CEO, Al Longren, is taking you out for a research trip, and they're ready to pay big money to us to design and implement their online store. The project includes loading up their entire catalog of fishing and outdoor gear."

"OK, OK. So . . . do you slip a big walleye into my briefcase in dry ice, so when Al's not looking I hook it on my line and pull? I mean, how do I impress the guy? I haven't been fishing since I was fourteen." Jane frowned.

Rob flashed a wide grin and laughed. "Al doesn't know that. You put a line down a hole in the ice and appear to be fascinated with the process. You know, like sex," he winked. "Look, you're the best fit we have for this account. You've set up the shopping carts, and you work well with new clients. Besides, Al will like you. He's divorced."

This comment raised Jane's hackles. "What does his marital status have to do with anything?"

"I'm saying he'll appreciate the company of a young woman. The divorce wasn't his fault. The wife wasn't a keeper. It happens." Rob looked at his watch to signal the end of the meeting.

Jane rolled her eyes. "That's what they all say, but this guy was probably spending too much time fishing. On frozen lakes. In freezing weather," she added for emphasis.

"That might be the case," Rob argued, "but you'll be well-paid for your time shacking up with Al in the deluxe heated and furnished ice shanty with nearby toilet facilities." Rob picked up a Mille Lacs Tourism Council brochure from the briefing pile he'd placed in front of her, and he waved it to show her the beautiful summer lake view splashed across the front. "I've done my research."

"Well, you hooked me with 'nearby toilet facilities'," Jane shot back. "When do I go?" She thought about the books and magazines she'd take along to read while she sat waiting for the big one -- the one with slimy fins and scales -- to bite.

"Thursday. Spend a few hours on researching this new account today and tomorrow. Bill it to 60100."

She nodded. "Right. Fishing tackle. Hey, I'll need a fishing license. Can I bill it to 60100 too?"

"You betcha."

"Thanks. I think." Jane rose and quickly exited before her boss came up with another task to assign to her.

Well, this beats the hair products account, Jane thought as she strolled back to her cubicle. If she slam-dunked this one she should get the promotion to Advanced Senior Associate. Then she'd need to order new business cards, and she'd finally get the ones with the updated company logo.

Jane settled in and spent the next ten minutes reading through the materials Rob had given her. Sandy popped her head over the wall.

"You got the handy web-safe color chart?"

"Sure." Jane grabbed the cheat sheet from between manuals piled on the corner of her desk. She handed it up to Sandy. "Keep those images small so they load fast."

"You bet. Thanks. What have you got there?" Sandy pointed to the slick brochures Jane was holding.

"New client," explained Jane, "sporting goods." Jane held up the glossy marketing pieces. "All-Pro Tackle. They've racked up impressive sales since their introduction of colorful new bass jigs made from space-age materials two years ago. They need an online store."

"Dang. I don't get anything exciting. Rob likes you," Sandy blurted. "I've got five mortgage companies. Everybody's starting one. Must be easy and profitable."

"Yeah, they hang out a shingle and they're legit." Jane picked up a bifold piece. "This fishing account isn't exactly every woman's wet dream. I have to go up to Mille Lacs and freeze my privates in a cold ice shack on Thursday. You know, to experience the 'All-Pro Difference' firsthand."

"Seriously?"

"Seriously. Hey, looky here." She waved a trifold lit piece. "This says All-Pro has leapt ahead of their rival, Tacklemart." She laughed. "Is this pee-your-pants exciting or what? It's gonna keep me up at night."

She looked at photos of the CEO, Al Longren, sprinkled throughout the marketing pieces -- Al holding a string of large fish, Al casting, Al setting the hook, and Al reeling 'em in with a big smile. Ruggedly handsome, Al was clearly the face of All-Pro Tackle. Jane held up the brochure to show Sandy.

Sandy's mouth fell open so wide her back fillings were visible. "Owweee. He'd keep me up at night. Hot, AND he can haul in the fish. Will he be up at the lake?"

"He's the CEO. His name is Al. Yes, he'll be there."

"Lucky you, Jane! You'll be cloistered with Robert Redford in a parka! Need any tips on proper baiting technique? Hey, call me when you're up there and tell me all about it!"

"I don't think Mille Lacs has cell phone service, Sandy. Dem' dere walleyes don't use no stinkin' cell phones," she quipped.

"Then call me as soon as you get off the lake! I want a complete report. Promise?"

"Okay." Jane grabbed a lock of hair at the back of her head and twisted it between her thumb and index finger.

Sandy's phone rang at that moment, and she disappeared below the wall.

Jane sighed and turned to her monitor. She was writing a PERL hack for another client. The fix applied a special discount to purchases made on Tuesdays. She read through the checkout subroutine and found the place to hook in the new code.

A few minutes later she finished the hack and ran a few tests. It worked. Ready to go live. Next, Jane began tapping away at search engines with query terms: Bass fishing. Tackle. Bait shops. She read pages about lures, reels, and rods, and then stumbled onto sites touting Canadian fly-in fishing, how to hire a guide, and lodges and camps in Ontario. Then she checked out the competition, Tacklemart. Their site boasted a chat room for anglers.

Jane was familiar with the Java chat software they were using on the Tacklemart site, and, in fact, she'd installed a chat room using this same package, PopChatLive, last month for an insurance company client. She wondered what competitive fishermen talked about. Maybe she'd pick up some tips to use on Thursday.

Without giving it another thought, Jane tried using the administrator logon and password she'd been given by the PopChatLive software vendor.

Voila. It worked. Jane laughed and silently congratulated herself. Incredible. They never change these backdoor logins. So much for security, she thought.

Jane wasn't surprised to find the chatroom empty, but within seconds of arriving there were two joiners. They started chatting, seemingly oblivious of her presence. She decided to lurk. At first it was the usual idle chatter. These guys knew each other. Then three more joined in, and at precisely 3:30 pm the conversation took an odd and abrupt turn.

BadBass: Are we all here and using encrypt?

DoubleD: Here

Crash: Here

FiveStar: Here

Caver: Here

Odd, Jane thought. Why did anyone need encryption to post to a fishing board? Fishing tips weren't THAT secret, were they?

BadBass: Good news, DoubleD.

DoubleD: Yeah?

BadBass: We've co-opted 3 quants at major brokerages. Meet Crash, FiveStar, and Caver. Crash is the Great One.

DoubleD: Excellent. Welcome!

Crash: We need this as much as you do. Our hedges are about to blow up.

DoubleD: How does it work?

Caver: Sleeper code. It goes out with the weekly security patch to their servers, next week. It's even going to the berg. We pull the trigger with a very specific outlier trade when we are ready to activate the code. It will look like a fat finger. A mistake. The algos will be triggered to sell, sell, sell. The G boys will be happy to accept the fat finger explanation.

FiveStar: Hell, they'll kill anyone who says otherwise. We've got three inside SEC who'll go to the mat for us. Not to mention high FBI.

DoubleD: Good. When?

BadBass: Early January. After the Santa rally.

DoubleD: How long from event start to finish?

BadBass: 15, maybe 20 minutes. One quick yo-yo at warp speed.

FiveStar: Nobody gets hurt.

Crash: Only the day trading pigs but they don't count.

Caver: And a few stupid retails with limits.

DoubleD: How much of a haircut?

BadBass: 20% enough?

DoubleD: Heck yes. How can you be sure that's all it will be?

BadBass: Because we'll all be covering shorts and buying at that point for the ride back up. The programmed value boys algos will kick in.

DoubleD: Right.

BadBass: We'll notify you a week ahead on the other public board. You know the handshake. Remember to spread your shorts around.

Jane couldn't believe what she was reading. She frantically hit the screen print key combination.

BadBass: Signing off now. Have a good weekend everyone.

Crash: There's someone else in the room with us! Look at the crawl beneath the window.

Jane looked down and saw "6 guests" where it should have stated only five. Damn software bug. Why was the admin included in the count?

BadBass: I'll take care of it. Everybody off.

Everybody off? Jane quickly exited the chat room. Suddenly she felt dizzy. This was nuts. She felt safe behind Valley View's company firewall . . . still, these guys were pros. If they wanted to know her location they'd likely find it. Who were they? Was this a hoax? Why would anyone plan to crash US stock markets in a fishing chat room?

Because nobody expected a scheme to be hatched there?


Chapter 5

Jane woke at 5 AM, and from her second-story apartment bedroom window she saw a half-inch of frost covering her windshield. Ugh. Five layers of clothing and a lean-into-it scraping later she was on her way, serenaded by the defrost fan running at full tilt.

Jane felt uneasy as she steered her red Chevy Cavalier through the darkness, and up I-694 past the Oakdale exit on her way to meet Al Longren, king of All-Pro Tackle, for the drive up to Mille Lacs. She'd called the Minneapolis FBI office the day before, and the lady on the other end had taken her name and cell phone number. She promised Jane an agent call back, but she was still waiting for the call.

The good news: At 5:30 AM traffic was light. Serious fishermen like Al insisted on starting early, even if the two hour drive up to the lake meant they wouldn't actually put a line in the water until around 8 AM, that is if Al had a power ice auger.

Jane met her man at the Northtown Mall parking lot in Blaine. It was easy to spot him, as his black SUV was the only other car on the east side of the lot. He was wearing a large tan parka and red ski cap. Longren put out a camo-covered paw to shake her gloved hand.

"A pleasure to meet you," he nodded.

"Likewise," she bit off. It was too cold to waste words.

Longren looked like he could easily operate a manual ice auger one-handed. His shoulders were two axe handles wide, and although he lacked Babe the Blue Ox sidekick, Mr. All-Pro Tackle seemed friendly enough, and eager to get going.

Jane left her car to wait out the day in a far corner of the mall parking area. She grabbed her purse, book bag, and bag lunch to transfer to Al's Ford Bronco. Al, acting the gentleman, opened the passenger side door. Jane kicked dirty snow off her boots before stepping in.

Al's car smelled like fish, not rotting fish, but a fresh fish, lake-y smell. It wasn't bad, and when she sat down Jane decided the heated leather seats made up for any slightly off-color odors. She wondered if the seats were original equipment or an after-market install. Al seemed like a customize-it, gadget guy.

They made small talk as they headed toward US-169.

"We'll hike onto the lake at Cove Bay," Al muttered. "My fish house is close in right now," he explained.

Al's car warmed quickly, and he stripped off his cap to reveal short, thick sandy hair. His gloves came off massive hands and he unzipped his jacket. Jane followed his lead and removed her wool beret. Al's blue eyes glanced approvingly at her shiny dark shoulder-length hair and ample lips.

Al talked about business. It was safe, and Jane relaxed. A smile lit his rugged features when Jane took a pen and notepad from her purse to record important points.

"Your boss said you use those Mac computers," he commented.

"Yes."

"Aren't you all worried they'll go out of business?"

Jane bit her tongue. Educate the client, educate the client. "Apple? No. Photoshop renders images faster on the Macs, and the machines don't crash nearly as often. They don't get viruses. We're more productive because we don't waste time putting the chain back on the bicycle every time it falls off. And you know, Steve Jobs is back at Apple, and he's brilliant."

"Oh." He adjusted the rearview mirror.

As they passed Princeton Al talked about his patent pending on bass jigs. By the time they neared the Milaca exit he'd moved on to sizes, colors (chartreuse-pumpkin was a hot seller) and an explanation of glow-in-the-dark synthetic crawdads. As they flew by Onamia he waxed on about manufacturing issues and outsourcing to China to keep costs down, because, after all, the competition was already there.

Jane took copious notes and maintained an engaging expression throughout the drive. It was tiring, but she nodded, suggested tips and testimonials pages for the site, and she even offered to create original animated gif images, like fish jumping onto hooks.

Al liked her marketing ideas, and he had a few of his own. He'd visited the Tacklemart website too, and he wanted his to be better. Jane assured him they'd provide a better and more delightful customer experience.

Al decided to park in a lodge lot, as they planned to walk out onto the ice. His fish house was a safe-looking thirty yards from shore. Al pulled two sleds from the back of the SUV, and he loaded rods, tackle boxes, buckets, an ice chest, and the auger onto the larger of the two. There was room for Jane's purse and book bag.

"You didn't tell me I'd be a mule," she joked.

"I'm an organic guy. Besides, Rob said you're the best he has," Al commented, "and I figured he meant smart and strong." He paused. "I didn't count on pretty."

Jane reddened and turned away.

"I hope I didn't embarrass you."

"It's ok," she sputtered. "I'm not used to hearing such fluff and nonsense."

He looked surprised.

"Let's go catch some fish."

"You bet," he replied. "I'll be fishing outside as well. Heck, this is great weather."

Jane groaned inwardly and yanked on the sled rope. She trudged forward quickly, leaving him to catch up with his heavier haul.

After they arrived at the fish house they unloaded everything, and Al spent a few minutes showing off the tackle and putting it on the lines. "I'll teach you how to jig." He positioned Jane to watch him. "I'm using a half ounce lure. You keep the lure one to two feet off the bottom, and jig. You let it touch the bottom and then bob it up a couple times." He jerked slightly on the rod. "Let it fall back down to touch the bottom, and then go again. See?"

"Yes, I see."

"Keep your rod down, so you have room to jerk when you get a bite. If you have the rod up at a ninety degree angle," he demonstrated, "you can't jerk farther back."

"Makes sense."

"I'll teach you the finer points as we go along. I'm going to start you with a heavier jig because you have to learn how to feel what's going on down there, and a beginner needs to start with something they can feel."

"Sounds good." She nodded.

By early afternoon, using the All-Pro lures baited with minnows, they'd scored their walleye limit, all keepers, and Jane caught one over 30 inches long. They also hauled in a mess of perch.

Around 1:30 PM they started packing up. "I didn't think we'd make our limit so soon," Al lamented.

"I didn't realize I'd have so much fun," Jane admitted.

He looked at her as if she had two heads. "Of course it's fun, and challenging. You can't see what's under water. You rely on skill and intuition, and there's luck involved. It's like life. Will you come out again?"

Jane thought about it. "May I bring my friend next time?"

"Of course. She's single?" He smiled broadly.

"In fact she is, but she might be dating someone."

"Ah. Well, we'd better get back. Your boyfriend will be waiting," Al said a bit too offhandedly.

He's fishing for more than walleye . . . and I'm not going to bite. "Yes, it is a poke back to the cities," Jane replied in an even tone.


Chapter 6

It turned out Al Longren liked Neil Diamond tunes -- and singing the lyrics off-key between verses -- as much as he liked fishing. Jane listened to "Play Me" and "Forever in Blue Jeans" and "Kentucky Woman" five times each before they rolled into the Northtown Mall lot. If Al had played Diamond's croons in the shack she wouldn't have needed fancy lures. Jane would have reached down the holes and killed the fish with her bare hands.

She tried to shake off the music headache. As it was still early -- a hair past 3 PM -- she decided to stroll inside Northtown to do some shopping before heading home. Maybe she'd treat herself to an Orange Julius. It was too late to return to the office anyway, and the large mall was a tempting offering after spending the day in an eight-by-ten foot ice shanty.

After she stowed her stuff in her Cavalier she turned and thanked Al, and they set up a time to meet at the office the next week. Then Jane stuffed her hat in her pocket and bare-headed it to the east mall entrance, to dive into a mind-numbing and relaxing window-shopping experience.

The Karmelkorn aroma hit her as she swung through the double doors, and the breeze blew her hair in five directions. She pushed it back behind her ears, unzipped her jacket, and walked over the bright tile to scan the mall directory. Then she remembered her promise to call Sandy, so she sat down on a green bench in the concourse and pulled her coveted Motorola StarTAC clamshell phone from her purse. She punched the buttons.

"Valley View Web Designers, Sandy speaking," came the voice at the other end.

"Hey Sandy, Jane sang out. I survived the fishing trip!"

"Great! I'm multitasking. Wait while I put you on speakerphone." Sandy paused. "Go ahead."

Jane hated speakerphone. Sandy loved it. "You're working smarter, not harder, Sandy, but now you sound like you're talking from inside a tin can."

"Stop gassing about it, Jane. I'm increasing my productivity. I can bill a client while we're talking. So, how'd it go?"

"Well, there's nothing salacious to report, but guess what? I caught an enormous walleye!"

"Yeah? Maybe it was a set up."

"No way. It was my own skill and genius, I tell ya'."

"Awesome. You're an "afishionado". Get it?"

Jane groaned. "You and puns."

"It's the highest form of humor!"

"So you say. How's things at the office?"

"You didn't miss much here, Jane. Only the strange men in the parking lot watching us all come in after lunch."

"Strange men?"

"Yeah. They were sitting in two standard government-issue looking cars. You know, the black ones with the big bumpers. Shelly thinks they're gearing up to arrest those crooks two doors down from us."

"The nail salon?"

"SCOM Finance. Does the place seem like it's not on the up and up or what? People call it "scum" finance."

"Geez, I dunno. Sandy. I've never been in there."

"I can't wait to get the perp-walk photos. So . . . was Mr. Tackle . . . as hot as the ice was cold?"

"Eh. Easy on the eyes, but he listens to Neil Diamond."

"Oh," she laughed, "you have my condolences."

Jane heard something fall in the background, and a muffled scream, and . . . someone making popcorn? Pop, pop, pop. Must be noise from the Karmelkorn stand.

"Sandy, what's going on there?"

"Shit!"

What the hell?

Suddenly Jane heard high-pitched screams and running. Heavy footfalls. She thought she heard . . . what? Gunshots? People were yelling in the cubicles, followed by more fearful screaming.

Sandy was sputtering. "No. No!"

Then Jane heard another voice she couldn't identify, close by. "One is missing. The one on the board named Jane Nelson. Her magnet is in the "out" column." Something in his voice silenced Jane. It was gruff and urgent in tone, and creepy.

Sandy's voice again. "No, oh please don't. Don't shoot!"

Jane's pulse raced. Her vision blurred, as if she were being sucked into a black vortex.

"Where's Jane Nelson?" shouted the strange voice. "I heard someone else in here when I came down the hall. "We're missing one!" he shouted.

"I-I-I d-don't know. She didn't come in to work today. She's with a client." Sandy was breathless and her voice was strained. She was scared. Then it sounded like she was choking and vomiting.

Jane's heart pounded panic. Her fingers clutched the phone in a death grip.

The mall Muzak system droned a stringy version of "Silent Night". Crowds of Christmas shoppers were toting colorful bags, strolling and chatting, oblivious to the massacre happening in real time on Jane's phone.

Sandy begged for mercy. Three shots pierced Jane's right ear. She felt a sudden tightness in her chest, and her brain screamed. "Oh, oh, oh," she gasped.

No! Next Jane heard the sound of a chair collapsing, followed by staggering footsteps, and then quiet. In her mind's eye she saw Sandy folding to the floor, and she knew she'd never erase the image from her mind.

Jane's hands were shaking, and she dropped the phone to the floor, her head suddenly light, and her thoughts a jumble of confusion and panic and adrenaline.

They'd killed. They'd asked about her. They were looking for her.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

TAKEDOWN featured on Kindle Books for A Buck

Thanks to Michael over at Books for a Buck, I woke up to extra sales this morning.
Here's the post. I'll report results later today and tomorrow.

Update at 6 PM: I've sold 14 books so far today, and ranking fell from 174,000 (last night) to 5911 just now. Not bad!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Before the Snow Flies


We're working in the 'hood today. Holiday lights and hockey rinks are going up!

Wrastlin' chains onto tires is the most G-rated fun you can have, especially when the chains don't fit (well, ok, they did go on, AFTER I convinced the in-house engineer to let some air out of the tires).

The snowblowers are ready (see pic). Mission accomplished. Bring winter on!


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Candy Bag Springs Leak

Safe Halloween Treat Handling:

1. Do not purchase the candy more than 10 days before event. To avoid house egging, do not purchase off-brand, cheap candy.

2. Store candy in hidden, high place, out of sight and away from dog.

3. Mention stash to husband only because I could get hit by a bus, and in such a case he might need to hand out the candy on his own.

It turns out #3 was a big mistake. He trotted into the living room with an open bag of Kit Kats a few moments ago . . . now I HAVE to get hit by a bus to prevent candy consumption.

Argh.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Title Envy

Never underestimate the power of a great title.

Consider the following:

People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves To Unsuspecting bystanders and what to do about it, by Gary Leon Hill; 2005 (Weiser Books)

Great title. I've known actual living people who try to attach themselves to others, so it makes perfect sense that dead ones would try to do it too.

For the clueless, Hill's book is available on Amazon.

The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification, by Julian Montague; 2006 (Abrams Image).

This book was written by a graduate of Hampshire College. Surprised? Me neither. Stray shopping cart identification could have been his "design-your-own" major. Only $13.57 on Amazon.

Living With Crazy Buttocks, by Kaz Cooke; 2001

The review describes this book better than I can:

"To be fair I have to say I have no idea what's between the front and back covers of this book, but to be honest, WHO CARES!? Just having a book with this title in your Library instantly will take your collection from Drab and ordinary to exciting and racy, go ahead and take the plunge, you know you want to."

and finally,

How to Sh*t in the Woods, 3rd Edition: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art, Kathleen Meyer

Don't laugh. This book is in it's 3rd Edition (2011), a bestseller in the outdoor category since 1989, with over 2.5 million copies sold. Who knew writing about human waste could be pure gold?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Embracing My Inner Geek

I have one of those "G" marriages. A geek marriage. When the kids turned out to be geeks (beautiful geeks, but geeks nonetheless), it wasn't worth fighting. Instead I celebrated the culture, like waking to a geek pride parade every day these past 20 some years . . .

We even try to out-geek each other, and my husband upped the ante when he purchased a geek vest a few months ago. With 22 pockets, a built-in personal area network (PAN), and four fashion colors to choose from, it was a techno-textile wonder. Kindle, iPad, iPod, iPhone, water bottle, keys, sunglasses, even a laptop computer ALL fit in this vest.

Envy ensued, and I had to purchase one of my own. Readers, this is the real deal. I'll never carry a purse again, and going through airport security is infinitely easier when you remove the vest, fold it into the plastic bin, and breeze on through.

Check out the goods here.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Occupying Fall Street

This is a tree farm, just across the road. We're in the midst of the best fall color show in a decade; that's my excuse for not writing much today. I've taken two bike rides, and the colors keep calling to me.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Why you can never go back . . .

So, we were trolling Wisconsin, visiting old friends.

Hunger struck, and I mentioned a restaurant where I'd worked when I was in college, circa 1978. My tech huband had never seen the place; it was the summer he spent making a name for himself as an intern at Kodak or Xerox or some other now-defunct east coast corporation.

On the drive to the restaurant I mused about waitressing at the Home Plate Inn. Humble as it was, the place gave me experiences I just couldn't get anywhere else. I mean cool stuff, like wearing a baseball jersey while sliding over grease-slicked floors on Friday Fish Fry nights, and even cooler stuff, like trying to learn enough German to speak with the local farm boys, and then not learning enough German, which led to mixing drinks the Germans never ordered, and then having to drink those drinks myself so my employer wouldn't find the evidence of my error, which led to dumping a strawberry schaum torte on a woman wearing a white linen dress.

Well, to get to the point of the story, I can't go back to the Home Plate Inn because, as we learned when we drove up to the place, it's now a strip joint.

"You worked here?" husband joked as we drove into the lot.

I looked up at the sign (Gentlemen's Club, All Nudes). "Oh, I guess I forgot to tell you about that," I quipped, "but hey, maybe they still have the fish fry."

"I doubt it," he rejoindered.

"You think, at least maybe, they have free WiFi?"

"Not likely."

"OK, OK. Exotic male dancers? I could go for that."

He rolled his eyes. "There's a McDonalds back about five miles."

I smiled. "Well, they do have that senior discount cup of coffee. You know, I used to work at this place."

"Yep. I'll save a mental image of you pole dancing with a platter of cod, for later." He winked suggestively.

"Fine, honey, but don't forget I also served cole slaw with that. Cole slaw has so many possibilities. And french fries."

After all, a man who doesn't read romances, even the books his wife writes, needs a fantasy ;-)

More about the controversial gentlemen's club in Lebanon, Wisconsin.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Blog Dog


Max wants me to put down the pen and play. This is his classic "Stop working so hard, I'm bored!" look.

Time for a frisbee romp in the yard!

QR Code


How cool is this? Create your own QR Code for your blog or book page here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

TAKEDOWN News

Thanks to a reader for sending in today's "News of the Strange Coincidence."

It appears that TKDN (Takedown Entertainment) is the object of a classic "pump and dump" scheme.

Amazingly my book about a financial market crime is titled "TAKEDOWN". Is it a sign? Reader, you be da' judge!

Here's the email my new best friend received from Townhall.com (yes, subscription to their newsletter includes this nifty spam service -- these people eat their own):

What Wall Street Doesn't Know About This Budding Billion Dollar Industry Is About To Make Us Rich!

And there's one company offering us a chance to cash in on "The Fastest Growing Sport In The World" and its Billion dollar profits. But the time to get in is NOW!

Greetings,

What I'm about to share with you is hardly common knowledge…

Only a select handful of Billion dollar investors like Mark Cuban even has a clue as to how lucrative the information I'm about reveal really is.

You see, over the last decade, a world-wide phenomenon has been bubbling just below the surface, it's a phenomenon that's been waiting for that one, opportune moment to create a whole new generation of Millionaires…

And that moment is now.

For the past 6 years, Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA, has steadily built itself a global audience, quickly becoming one of the fastest growing sports, and industries, the world has ever seen…

But it wasn't until the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) recently signed a long-term deal with major network, Fox Sports, that it really started getting attention from the mainstream.

Now, I'm sure you're thinking, "That's great. But why should I care?", and that answer is simple.

Exponentially growing profits.

Because this Billion dollar industry is only now coming out of its infancy stage, we'll never get a better chance to grab a hold of these profits than right now…

And while many of MMA's avenues are privately owned and closed to people like us, there is one of only a handful of companies, that is offering us a pathway to MMA's Billion dollar profits...

Takedown Entertainment (TKDN).

There's no denying, MMA is about to pop…

And you don't need to be a loyal follower or rabid fan of the fastest growing sport in the world to cash in on this global movement.

The best part?

Other than a few in the know, MMA has yet to capture the attention of Wall Street, but it's about to in a BIG way – and it's all going to change on November 12th, 2011 at 9 pm…

That's the moment the Billion dollar MMA industry goes Primetime on Fox!

That's why it's so important to put TKDN on your radar now!

There aren't words to express how big this sport and industry are about to become…

Imagine if the NFL went public back in 1964, before it become the most popular televised sport in America, and were able to get in for just 75 cents…

Imagine how much money you'd have in your pocket right now…

Millions?

Billions?

Either way, that's exactly what we could be looking at by getting into TKDN today!

Once you get all the facts in my following Special Report, you'll see, just like I do, why getting in on the bottom floor of this about-to-explode industry is really a no-brainer decision.

To Your Future Wealth,



Shawn Ambrosino
Head Analyst, M3 Profit Accelerator


PS. I can't stress this enough: we can't wait on this one. Because on November 12th, our chances to profit from the booming Billion dollar MMA industry will be cut in half, if not more! Get all the details in my special report now for the proof as to why TKDN could be the most lucrative trade you make in 2011!

Monday, September 12, 2011

DCR Reviews Easton Hearts Series


After Paula, at DCR, featured TAKEDOWN she asked me if I was the same Anna Murray who wrote the "Un Hearts" books. She said she'd read all three, enjoyed them, and would I be okay with her doing a review of those?

Paula posted her review today!

Thanks, Paula and DCR!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hanging in the 'hood


So, we were dining on the deck. Fine dining at chez Murray includes the pleasure of watching husband wash down my famous grilled sliders while watching Anderson Cooper on his iPad.

But this wasn't to be a normal tranquil evening. A "whooooosh!" broke the silence.

"What's that?" husband muttered.

I looked up from my Kindle and scanned the eerie backlit glow cast upon his face.

"Ben Bernanke. I heard he's dropping money from helicopters."

"No way," he twisted in the fraying Target deck chair we won three years ago. "We wouldn't get so lucky."

I looked up at the sky. "Oh my!" Grabbing my camera, I took the shot you see above.

(Yes, they did survive, no thanks to our ballistic dog -- Max, protector of the land, mineral rights, and skies above the homestead. Gentle reader, I won't include the photo of what he did to these people after the tree got done with them).

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

TAKEDOWN to be featured on Daily Cheap Reads

Paula, over at Daily Cheap Reads, has notified me that TAKEDOWN will be featured tomorrow night, starting at 8 pm.

As an extra incentive for readers, I'm putting the book on sale for 99 cents.

Daily Cheap Reads is an excellent source for good, affordable ebooks. Paula is a voracious reader. I've found her picks to be very good, and that's why I'm so pleased TAKEDOWN was chosen to be highlighted on the site.



Monday, August 8, 2011

Markets got you down?

It could be worse. You could be Jane Nelson, in TAKEDOWN.

She knows her 401K is going to dive, dive, dive:



But seriously, Jane's financial problems are just minor heartburn. After all, she's running from killers who plan to eliminate her for what she knows, and that's just a second-degree ulcer compared to the burden of saving the world from financial collapse.

So . . . the market is down a bit. Things could be worse. Much worse. Read TAKEDOWN, and you'll actually feel good about today's headlines.

On sale for a limited time on Amazon!


Update: A reader just told me he saw this movie trailer over the weekend, and he said it reminded him of TAKEDOWN.

Update 2: The algorithmic trading described in TAKEDOWN was a large factor in the recent. 2.2 trillion haircut in the markets.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Interview on the Deck: Anna Murray

When a guest interrogated me recently, I decided to turn it into blog fodder.
Enjoy.

Anna

Q: How did you get into this writing gig?

I love to read. I went on a binge in 2002, reading over 350 historical romance novels, along with history books. A Wyoming historical journal essay about a western town inspired me to write Unbroken Hearts in 2002-3. It was edited and revised at least ten times (I stopped counting!).

I went through the query-go-round, and almost made it (one publisher requested full MS and sent it through their ringer), but no cigar. Looking back, the rejections were the best thing that could have happened, because I've made far more money on the book as a self-published work.
The big publishers can't come close to the 70% royalty rate that Amazon is offering, and advances are low in the genre.

I published my first book on Amazon in March, 2008.

Q: How many books have you self published?

Four. Untamed Hearts and Undaunted Hearts are the sequels to the first western historical romance. TAKEDOWN is my latest. It's a contemporary romantic suspense/thriller.

Q: How do you write a story?

I start with the broad story arc and characters. I develop an outline, and this goes through several iterations as subplots and color are added. It continues to expand until it becomes the book. This is also known as the "Snowflake method."

Q: What advice would you give to new authors?

Write in scenes. I typically have 3 scenes per chapter. Every scene, whether it is action, dialogue, internal monologue, or narrative, must move the plot forward.

Will you write plot-driven or character-driven books? Decide which is your strength.

Writing is difficult, as it requires macro and micro skills: Envisioning broad plot and characters, and, at the detail level, picking apart sentence structure, grammar, spelling. Very few people operate at both levels. Proofreaders and editors are critical.

Q: How long does it take to write a book?

The first book took 8-10 months, but now it goes faster because I have an established process.
When I'm "heads down" writing I'll spend 4-5 hours a day working, and I can finish a book in 4-5 months at that pace. I'm always doing research alongside, always reading historical stuff. I read 30-40 history books before I started the first series.

Q: Tell me about your latest work.

TAKEDOWN combines many life experiences I've had with a thriller plot line. The heroine in TAKEDOWN, Jane Nelson, receives the same "thanks for sex last night" misdirected emails I received when I ran a community website, but of course they lead to more interesting problems for her.

In addition to writing, I've worked as a programmer, systems analyst, and web designer for 20+ years. I'm also an avid stock market investor, and I belong to the Investor Village AAPL (Apple) Sanity community, where my friends from Wall Street and beyond inspired ideas for TAKEDOWN.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Indie Author Rock Stardom

TAKEDOWN has been chosen as one of six books highlighted this month on Moses Siregar's "Indie Author Rock Star" site!

Take a look at the site. This is the "American Idol" for indie books, and it's an honor to be included with such tough competition.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tech Corner: Adding book covers to Kindle uploads

Thanks to a thread over at Kindleboards, I realized I needed to include my book covers in my ebook files.

The covers appear on the product pages, and I thought it was enough. Who looks at a cover after they purchase the ebook? Besides, a file without a large image file is smaller, and takes up less space on the reader's kindle or iPhone or computer. I figured I was doing the reader a favor by leaving it out of the file.

Today's discussion on Kindleboards convinced me I was wrong.

I logged onto my Kindle Direct Publishing account, downloaded the book files (in the html converted format), and began the adventure of adding the covers.

Below I have a step-by-step tutorial on how to do this, and I hope it saves other authors/publishers time and frustration.

HOW TO ADD YOUR COVER TO A KINDLE EBOOK FILE:

Note -- replace the brackets in the code below with < or > (blogger won't let me show HTML tags with the correct brackets -- it thinks I'm trying to put HTML commands into this post).

1. Make a jpg file of your cover. Keep it small enough, in pixels about 500-600W and 700-800H. You can scale your existing cover down using a graphics program.

2. Put your book file and the cover image file into a folder together. Open the book file in a plain text editor (like textwrangler) or an html editor (Dreamweaver) to edit the html directly.
After the [body] tag enter the following code:

[div id="cover"]
[center][img src="yourcoverfile.jpg"][/img][/center]
[/div]
[mbp:pagebreak /]


Save the file after making these changes.

3. Zip the files together. Do this by right clicking (ctrl-click on a Mac) on the folder containing your files. Select the "compress" files option in the menu that pops up. The zipped file created by the compression option will show up on your desktop.

4. Log into KDP, and upload the zip file (Upload Your Book File - step #5) for your book. Preview your book. You should now see your cover at the beginning of your book.

5. Save and publish your book in KDP.

Voila. Not only does this add the cover art to your ebook, it also allows the reader to see the cover when they use the right arrow button from the main list on their Kindle device.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Friday, June 3, 2011

RIP James Arness

I'm a western fan, and of course I was a 'Gunsmoke' fan as a kid.

James Arness attended the same college I graduated from (Beloit College), and I've always considered the young Arness to be the best match to play Cal Easton in the movie version of Unbroken Hearts.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Spitzer on Madoff Ponzi Scheme

The hero in TAKEDOWN mentions the failure of the SEC and the regulatory capture of that agency.

Spitzer speaks as former NY attorney general in an excellent two-minute interview here. Watch what he says about SEC.

The reason he didn't know about Madoff was that Markopolous (the whistle blower) wasn't sending his data to the NY AG. Markopolous (who has a great book about his role in the Madoff case) was trying to work with the Feds.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The author reads Undaunted Hearts

Instead of printing the first chapter, I've read it for your listening pleasure.

When will this end?

Once again, TAKEDOWN imitates real life. My heroine stumbles into a chatroom and discovers a Wall Street criminal scheme. In today's real life version, a New York artist finds a discarded laptop computer that is still hooked up to the Goldman Sachs network, and it continues to receive incriminating emails from the GS banksters.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

Every research day feels like a Memorial Day as I sift through Civil War stories for possible inclusion in my next book, Healing Hearts.

The US Library of Congress has an extensive collection of war photographs, well worth browsing. This one is a tintype of a Confederate soldier with sabre and revolver from the Liljenquist family collection.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Excerpt: Untamed Hearts

Untamed Hearts is the second book in the Easton Hearts Series.

Excerpt Copyright 2011. All Rights Reserved.

July 1874
Montana Territory


Roy Easton picked his way toward Ingston, smelling of campfire and trail dust and disappointment. His mind wandered to the banked coals of Anna Mae's passing; even after these dismal weeks the slanderous accusations cut deep as bullwhip lashes.

Six years of protecting Wounded Colt hadn't made a lick of difference. Faster than barbed wire raced across the territory, rumors about the Anna Mae affair had ravaged Roy's fine reputation. His claim of innocence fell on deaf ears in a boomtown-turned-dead-end-canyon. Their passing judgment had run roughshod over his youth, heart, and dreams.

Now he was fenced out -- stripped of his badge. Good deeds he'd done over the years were forgotten -- how he'd restored law and order after Dullen's range war, for example. Tongues had set to wagging, as they were wanton to do when there was a succulent, headline-begging scandal bucking on the breeze.

The grisly incident left a hollow ache in Roy's belly, a raw, dry throat, and a ragged hitch when he inhaled too deeply.

Roy sighed as he reined in at a small rise folding in an easy curve around the eastern edge of the town. Framed by dark shoulder-length hair, his cobalt blue eyes scanned the scene. In the late afternoon haze below, the citizens went about their usual business -- filling wagons out front of the mercantile, visiting the barber, and drifting into the saloon to toss back the local heat.

Roy stood in the saddle and squinted. The prey he hunted wasn't visible; he'd lost the trail a mile back. Those vermin wouldn't be fool enough to tangle directly with his iron. He'd catch up with that fuss soon enough. After all, he had all the time in the world.

Roy's gaze drew in a smooth arc and held steady on a pair of men ambling alongside a woman -- a slight, will 'o the wisp beauty who toted a riot of blazing red hair pinned haphazardly atop her head. Curiosity kicked, and he watched as the trio loaded supplies onto a string of packhorses. The young woman's graceful movements, and the fancy riding clothes draping her figure, gave her the appearance of a swan tucked into a nest of crows. Roy chuckled to himself, and abruptly he stopped; he'd ridden a good two months and hadn't heard his own laughter, and just now he didn't like the sound.

He forced himself to quit admiring the woman and returned to think on practical matters. Roy needed to scare up supplies. He figured he'd slip in and out of the town, invisible as a drag rider -- the one behind the herd that nobody takes notice of, because they're riding up ahead, driving the herd and sucking down all the clean air.

His outlaw grin angled toward the sky, Roy leaned back in the saddle and tugged his hat brim lower. Digging his heels tightly into the flanks of Pilot, his dark stallion, he exhaled. His eyes were fixed sternly on the trail ahead as he galloped down the hill.

Men on the main street recognized Roy; a man didn't serve as sheriff for six years in Montana territory without being well known, or even a legend. Cool and watchful, the locals nodded or averted their eyes. Roy kept a healthy distance; he'd fielded enough reckless remarks to last from here to six-feet-under.

Just as he eased by the livery a leathery voice barked.

"Easton! I got business with ya'!"

Damnation. Roy groaned. It was Jeb McLeod, and the old codger was soaped into a hefty lather. Roy conjured a mock-friendly grin and edged closer to the stable entrance. As he ambled he stretched to his full height, an act that slid his new gun belt -- with its twin Colts -- down to ride low on lean hips. As he regarded McLeod's crusty visage he nursed a slim hope that Jeb's shouting would ease a notch, so as not to telegraph their business to the whole blasted town.

"Something eatin' at you, Jeb?" Roy's drawl wavered.

"Easton, there ain't no fool willin' to buy yer darn mules! Ya' owe me their board for pert near two months!" The liveryman's deep eyes burned like two devils riding over a gray-salted beard.

Roy hesitated. He widened his stance; all was quiet except for the sound of his spurs clanking against the gravel. He yanked his hat from his head and slapped it against a hard buckskinned thigh. Trail dirt flew six feet in every direction, and McLeod wheezed. When the air cleared, Roy twisted his mouth into a disarming smile that flashed fine white teeth.

"McLeod," he angled, "folks say you're the best mule trader this side of the big river. I say those are fine animals."

Jeb scowled. "Yer four-footers are eatin' up my hay!"

Roy winced. In a last-ditch attempt to move the liveryman's booming voice off the street he strode past the man, and into the dank stable.

As Roy swept past the cross buck doors he scratched the five-day growth itching his face. His eyes adjusted to the dim light, and he cast a lazy glance at his mules -- four sturdy johns and three mollies. Instantly they knew their master and eagerly twitched their long ears. Their noisy brays filled the large airy space, a painful reminder of why he'd given the cumbersome burden over to Jeb the previous month with the promise of a large commission -- if the liveryman could unload them onto an unsuspecting greenhorn.

"Heck, these mules can do anything," Roy opined as he wiped sweat from his brow with his bandanna. If they want to, he added in silent afterthought.

Jeb's reply was a loud grunt and a disbelieving shake of his grizzled head.

Roy sliced a hand through the musty stable air.

"Just look at Sunday. Why, she's got a good mouth, if you don't look too deep. She's the prettiest molly a man's ever laid eyes on. And a lady can't resist Monday with her big brown eyes! But heck, she's not just some frilly bit of frippery! No sirreeee! She'll pick up all four feet . . . once she trusts a fellow."

Roy's shining eyes flickered down and collided with McLeod's hot glare. He hadn't figured on locking horns with this man. Roy swallowed hard and thrashed on.

"Tuesday follows Monday just like a calf follows it's cow-mama, and Wednesday over there—"

"Whoa!" Jeb snarled, annoyed as a man dragged to church by his wife and then forced to endure the rantings of a long-winded preacher while his chores piled up back at the homestead.

"Git those mules outta my place, Easton! Pay yer bill, an' haul yer freight." McLeod's half-toothed don't-mess-with-me scowl drove his point home.

Roy slumped his shoulders forward, and he thrust his hands deep into his pockets. So that was the way of it. Plain as paint peeling on a post, folks didn't want Roy Easton or his stock littering their town.

He heaved a sigh. "OK, I'll settle up. But I need to add a reserve mare in the deal."

McLeod spat and waved a hand.

The transaction complete, Roy tugged his hat back on his head.

He swiftly harnessed his mules. Deftly he guided his traveling circus back out into the fading light, where the mule string cast long forlorn shadows down the main street.

Roy halted his string and moved up and down the line, smoothly stroking each mule with ranch-rough hands. He checked hooves for stones, and then he swung up onto Pilot and leaned forward to pat his loyal companion's shining neck.

"Just you, me, and the critters now," he muttered.

Roy yanked his hat lower, and, despite the lack of wind and dust, he pulled his bandanna up to ride an inch below his eyes.

He tiptoed his parade past the Ingston newspaper office. He bet that Hugo Dorwart, owner of that pungent press, would be occupied deep in the back of the shop, diligently penning his latest attack piece.

An uneasiness rose in Roy's chest as he stole past the shop. This would be a hell of a time to run afoul of the damned town crier. Theirs was a war of words, fierce as any gunfight, just lacking the finality of a high noon shoot out.

Roy continued on, and wandering by the mercantile, he caught a glimpse of the two dusty drifters he'd sized up to be the red-head's companions. They stood at ease as they leaned against the hitching rail and rolled cigarettes. Meanwhile their animals slurped at the public trough.

Not ten feet further he spied the young woman as she lithely stepped from between two packhorses. Roy's indigo eyes slanted her direction. His gaze gained in intensity as her slender-but-womanly form leaned over the wooden crib. Absent his sister-in-law, he figured this lady was easily the finest-looking woman for five hundred miles. He fixed his stare to see if his hunch would play out.

As he closed the gap he noted full breasts straining against her blouse, and the hint of thick bright hair coyly peeking from under a dark, broad-brimmed hat. The soft tendrils boldly mutinied, daring to drop and lightly caress her shoulders when she tilted over the water. Roy smiled as he watched slim white fingers chase after those unruly locks and herd them back into the hiding place. Then the lovely woman swung her arms forward, cupped her small hands gracefully and dipped into the cool liquid.

Roy sucked wind in so fast it struck like lightning against the back of his throat, and his bandanna captured a thunderous groan as he exhaled. His tongue felt numb, and his mind was blank as a brand-new slate. He frantically tried to push away the thought of how it could be if he had no soiled past, and no shaky future; and as he watched the woman close her eyes and bring those small hands to her face he saw only the wonder of nature, the comfort of perfect harmony, and the pleasure to be taken from admiring astonishing beauty. She uncoiled those slender fingers as a dove softly unfolds wings. The softness splayed flat, splashing and briskly rubbing cool refreshment over velvety cheeks. He watched as her fingertips dragged down the delicate curve of smooth neck, to the hollow of her throat, seeking the shadowed places where droplets lingered. The beautiful woman smiled brightly at the simple ablution.

Roy dropped Pilot's reins and shoved a rough shaking hand through thick, dark hair. Carelessly he waved his arm in a broad circle. He needed to dismiss her as a soft, simpleminded, and, no doubt, useless woman.

But just then the sepia sun lowered a notch, angling dusky gold rays off the water that reflected obliquely, and they revealed almond-shaped spring-green eyes, windows into a woman wholly formed. Those eyes merrily danced with undeniable humor and intelligence.

Damn, he silently cursed.

She thrust her strong chin forward. Her hands floated down like two leaves gently falling, and they innocently smoothed over her tan blouse.

To Roy's hungry eyes it was seductive as hell. He swallowed; his throat was cotton-dry. A light breeze coiled and snaked against clammy skin, and he began to feel a tingle creeping up his spine.

She reached up again, and, without fair warning, boldly removed the hat. A thick raging fall of fire fell to her waist.

Roy was suddenly hard as a brick. "My God," he muttered under his breath.

She seemed to sense his stare, and turning unexpectedly, looked in his direction.

Had his expression not been buried under his hat and bandanna, she'd have seen Roy's unabashed gawking, taking in every curve and angle.

A new rawness galloped through his head, and he couldn't corral it. Intriguing women -- the sort that rode keen thoughts into a man's imagination -- didn't pass through these parts every day. Heck, one didn't pass through every year. Impulsively he committed her to memory, to be safely tucked away and roped again at the end of the day, when he relaxed on his bedroll next to a warm fire.

But, just as his mind was etching the texture of those brilliant tresses, Tuesday hacked out a "haw-haw". The other mules immediately joined in, and Roy's reverie was instantly buried in a raucous braying avalanche.

"Ugh." Reluctantly he dismounted, planting his feet firmly back on hardpan reality. He adjusted his gunbelt and strode toward the mercantile.

Time to get a move on. Daydreams about fancy women were a pleasant distraction, but it was as close as he'd get to this one, he reminded himself. He sighed and booted the store door open.

Roy knew anger wouldn't solve his problems. Thanks to the scandal in Wounded Colt, the sun had set on Sheriff Roy Easton. Move on. He'd live alone and die alone.

Still, a part of him was driven by a lust for redemption, for a territory's forgiveness of a sin he didn't commit. Somehow, beneath the pain, desire burned. He needed a last chance at reconciliation with the town that had served as judge, jury, and executioner when they found him guilty and imposed this sentence of exile.

****************

Untamed Hearts is available on Kindle for $2.99.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Today could be your last chance to buy a book

Today, May 21st, could possibly be The Judgement Day.

If you are inclined to believe, please consider a book purchase (see list on right sidebar). When we arrive on the other side (and I know I'll be there because I've lived a saintly life), I'll have wonderful prizes for anyone who has my books on their Kindles or other devices (yes, take those with you because there's LOTS of time to read in heaven).

Happy J-Day! Let the housework and laundry pile up. Relax and read a good book.

Update 7:45 CDT: Never mind. Carry on.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

How to boost your ebook sales

You're a new author. Nobody knows your name or your work. You've plotted, written, rewritten, beta-tested, edited, and commissioned cover art. You're now ready to load your baby up to the digital store.

You are worried. There are a million other books a reader can choose. How will your book stand out?

First of all, try to choose a category that fits your book but isn't crowded. You won't get the top 100 easily in the general romance category, for example. The book at #100 on the romance category list has a ranking of around 500 today, so the book is probably selling over a hundred copies a day. Instead, pick a sub category (gothic, paranormal, time travel), or a less crowded category (family saga), if it can be a fit for your book. This will give you a chance of getting on a top 100 list somewhere, and that means higher visibility.

Forget the tweeting and facebooking. I don't do it. I find my time is better spent in writing another book. Do make sure you have an Author Central page on Amazon, with a nice author bio. If you can add blog entries discussing your book it's a plus.

Set a low price on your book. I like the $2.99 price point. On Amazon you can gift copies of your book to friends and family. Try to gift your book to 50 people, if it is in your budget to do so, and gift them all at once. Your friends will cash in their gifts, usually within a day or two of receiving the gift email, and this will boost your rank, hopefully to levels that get you onto the "hot new releases" top 100 list in your genre, or even into the regular genre top sellers lists.

Some of your early readers will write reviews. DON'T ask for reviews. Don't even hint that you expect a shill from Mom, sister, or your best friend. A review should be given freely, and a coerced review is not only unsatisfying for the writer, but can also lead to resentment from the reader. If your book is good then the reviews and sales growth will happen organically. If you pour those nasty chemicals on the lawn it will be green today, but the pond will be polluted tomorrow.

Finally, be patient. Buzz takes time. Work on the next book.