Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Making Fact Into Fiction

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Ooh, a theme! Monday we talked about making stuff up. Tuesday we talked about fabulous non-fiction. 

And today--the truly and wonderfully talented (and dear friend of the Reds) Annette Dashofy is doing both. As she realizes how facts in her life--somehow become fiction. 

But which came first? Fact or Fiction?

ANNETTE DASHOFY: I recently attended a book club that had read Circle of Influence, the first of the Zoe Chambers Mysteries. Having just read it, the members had the story fresh in their minds. 

Having written it a number of years ago and currently having completed the seventh in the series, I did not.

This is something no one tells you when you’re taking writing classes and workshops. You will not be able to remember what happened in what book and will, at some point, look like an idiot when a reader asks you about a specific detail of an early story.

Besides the embarrassment of forgetting many of the minute details, I was pleasantly surprised and honored by the bulk of the discussion, especially regarding how a story I wrote more than ten years ago is still relevant in today’s world. I had no way of predicting the #MeToo movement or the current spotlight on powerful men with their skewed sense of entitlement. Or how a tale about small-town politics could echo themes of national unease.

Okay, that last one? Maybe I did. Some things never change, no matter your political persuasion.

After the meeting, I started pondering the age-old question, which came first? Fact or fiction? Do I take a factual news story and base my fiction on it? Or does fiction sometimes become fact?

The answer is: YES.

I frequently take an actual news story and play the “what if” game, taking the facts in a totally different and fictional direction. Such was the case with Circle of Influence. But the fictional direction seems to have developed into a stronger truth than the boring old reality that sparked the idea.

In my fourth Zoe Chambers Mystery, With a Vengeance, the whole fiction-becoming-fact thing has scared the bejeezus out of me. When I created the story out of a tiny fragment of a news article, I never dreamed that the number of police officers being ambushed would skyrocket. 

(When you’ve written fiction and then see it becoming reality in the news, you get a little sick to your stomach. More than a little.)

In my new book, Uneasy Prey, I have blatantly ripped the plot from the headlines as well as from my own experience. Con men posing as utility workers take advantage of the elderly. It’s happened for years. It continues to happen today. Everyone thinks it won’t happen to them or their loved ones. Guess what? It happened to my mom, two doors away from me. I thought I’d trained her better than that.

Once she’d realized she’d been duped, she was mortified. And she was lucky. She wasn’t hurt. She wasn’t even robbed. But my “what if” mentality didn’t have to venture far to find the potential for disaster.

Or for a story.


--> My prime reason for writing mysteries is to entertain. A secondary goal is to make my readers think and feel. This time, I confess, I also hope they’ll go one step further and not trust the friendly conman at their door wanting to gain access to their home. I hope my story will stick with them. I hope they’ll remember what happened to the characters in Uneasy Prey and follow Chief Pete Adam’s advice. Don’t let them in. Call 911. You won’t be bothering the police. It’s why they’re there.
HANK: So interesting!We just did a story about people who pretend to work for the utilities--then get our account number and switch you to another company!
Have you ever been approached by a con artist?  Or know anyone who fell for it? Or heard any warnings recently? I bet no one is taking Facebook quizzes anymore....

On the way to the emergency room, an elderly woman regains consciousness long enough to inform paramedic Zoe Chambers that her fall down the basement steps was no accident. Before she can say more, she succumbs to her injuries, launching Zoe and Police Chief Pete Adams into the investigation of a burglary ring targeting the area’s vulnerable senior citizens.
 
Zoe—in spite of Pete’s objections—takes it upon herself to act as protection detail after the con men, disguised as water company employees, set their sights on Zoe’s beloved former landlady. It’s a decision that eventually puts Zoe in harm’s way.
 
With Zoe already recovering from one close call, Pete must race against time to stop the crime ring—and a dangerous killer—before they strike again.

Annette Dashofy is the USA Today best-selling author of the Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township. She’s a three-time finalist for the Agatha Award: Best First Novel of 2014 and Best Contemporary Novel of 2015 and NO WAY HOME has been nominated for the 2017 Agatha for Best Contemporary Novel
UNEASY PREY (March 2018) is the sixth in the series.

Links:

83 comments:

  1. Congratulations on the new book, Annette . . . It’s interesting to see just how often fiction becomes reality and to see how writers use bits of reality to spin exciting tales. I’m looking forward to reading “Uneasy Prey” . . . .

    I think many of the unsolicited [scam] phone calls we receive are the same sort of effort to con good people. Although we’ve never fallen into their traps, many scammers manage to entrap the unwary. And those Facebook quizzes have definitely acquired a bit of a sinister aura . . . .

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    1. So true! On the today show today, they had instructions for how to find out what Facebook knows about you, and how to take it off! Did you see that?

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    2. Did not see that Hank. where should we look??

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    3. It is probably on the today show website right now… When I get to a computer, I will post it!

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    4. Thanks for the tip, Hank.

      I found it: https://www.today.com/video/here-s-what-facebook-netflix-candy-crush-and-other-apps-know-about-you-1196840003715

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    5. I didn't see it, either; [we were driving to Virginia] . . . thanks for the information and the link . . .

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  2. So true, Joan. I think cons are inevitable. These guys are always looking for a new way to get what they want. It's scary and we need to be vigilant. Always.

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    1. And you wonder… What if they just decided to use their “cleverness” to do good things, you know?

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    2. I do wonder that. Hackers too. They're so smart, why not do something good instead of preying on their fellow humans???

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  3. By the way, a big thank you to Hank and the Reds for having me here today!

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  4. My copy of Uneasy Prey is on its way! Just yesterday my beau, a painter and carpenter, got a long phone call from a national agency that claims to connect contractors with clients. They wanted his SSN and a credit card number and really pressured him, saying, "Don't you want work?" He kept saying he was uncomfortable with it and finally hung up. I did some research online and it turns out it's not the sweet deal they made it out to be. Sheesh!

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    1. When people call me at work trying to sell me stuff, they always start off like they've talked to me previously.

      This is never the case. So I don't want to talk to them. Either I blatantly call them out for lying to me and hang up or I tell them that they have to talk to my boss. Except I make up this "boss" person and give them the secret identity of a superhero or supervillain. It totally screws with them.

      I have at least two people that are my bosses who don't exist outside of Marvel and DC Comics.

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  5. Edith, they're so persistent! Hanging up is all you can do. I rarely answer my landline anymore, but when it's your business number, that's not an option.

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  6. Hi Annette, WPA buddy! I'm looking forward to reading your new book. Con men preying on the elderly is just sickening. I sorry to hear it happened to your mom.

    Have you heard of the scam where some robo call tries to get you to answer "yes," then uses your voice signature to authorize fradulant charges? Ug.

    http://abcnews.go.com/Business/fcc-warns-consumers-phone-scam/story?id=46405703

    I only answer my landline or cell if it's someone I know. Despite having both phones on the Do Not Call list and NoMoRoBo, I still get calls every day.

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    1. Cathy, you are so right… They are diabolical! I especially hate the ones that seem to pick up in the middle of a conversation… Or when the chuckling person says oh, sorry, you’re so hard to get hold of! Grrr.

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  7. Oh so true! I hardly ever answer my landline… Actually, I never do, unless it is a number I know.How do you handle that you all? Do you still have land lines?

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    1. We got rid of our landline more than a year ago, and now my husband and I don't answer our cell phones for unknown numbers at all. If they're legit, they will leave a message and we can call back. No message, we assume it was a telemarketer/survey/scam.

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  8. Hi, Cathy! Yes, I have heard of that one and in fact, had a con man try to catch me in it. They'd spoofed a local number and I was expecting a call, so I broke my own rule and answered the phone. The guy on the other end immediately said, "Can you hear me?" I just hung up. If they ask, "Is this Annette?" I don't say "yes," I say, "speaking." But the "can you hear me?" sent my con artist Spidey sense tingling.

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    1. Oh , exactly! “Can you hear me” is just to get you to say yes.

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    2. "Can you hear me?" is utterly devious because it's hard to NOT answer this question. I like your reply, Annette. I either say "speaking" or "this is she." Always confuse 'em with correct grammar. :)

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    3. Cathy, I was so tempted to answer "NO" to the question, but I feared they might be able to twist that around to use against me too. When in doubt, hang up.

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  9. Congrats Annette! My mother in law took a call a few years back and the scammer told her that her grandson was in jail and needed money. Andrew? she asked. And then they had a name. Luckily she checked with my hub before wiring any $$!

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. That is so unbelievably horrible, isn’t it? Because it is so possible, you know? But so targeted…

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    3. Or there's the thing on Messenger where a "friend" messages you because they're stranded somewhere and desperately needs money. I figure, if you're a close enough friend to ask ME for money, you have my cell phone number and can call me.

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    4. Over 20 years ago, scammers tried this on the local bank. The bank was told my father and another board member had been in a terrible auto accident and several thousands of dollars were needed by the hospital ER before treatment could be given. Two quick phone calls to Dad’s home and to that of the other board member. The third phone call to the police. I don’t remember what the final outcome was. How do scammers get such longevity out of the same song a different verse?

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  10. We did a story once about the scammers who try to convince you they’re calling from the IRS That if you don’t send them money, they will send out a warrant for your arrest..

    We got them on the phone, by pretending to fall for it, and they Insisted they were from the IRS. We, however, were calling from inside the real IRS!

    When we told him that, they said oh… We never said Internal Revenue Service. I said: what is IRS then? And why are you telling me to send tax payments?

    And they said: we are the Indian railway service!

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    1. Oh. Hank. That would be funny if it wasn't so horrible. So many people fall for that one! Everyone is terrified of the Big Bad IRS. Indian Railway Service? Not so much.

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    2. You know, Ross got one of those phone calls. He didn't give them any money, but he called me up right after and was VERY worried that we were really in trouble. And he was a lawyer who had worked in banking for close to a decade! If someone like that can be fooled, anyone can.

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    3. I know, Annette! You can see me in the story on video, I burst out laughing! Not very reporter like, but authentic.

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    4. Julia, that's so true. Intelligent people are not immune. These guys know how to manipulate the heartstrings and have a answer for every question you throw at them.

      Although, Hank, the Indian Railway Service is probably the funniest answer I've ever heard!

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    5. Seriously? We've gotten that call... on the answering machine since I never pick up a number I don't recognize. They got me once, though, by having CALLER ID show my own number. I picked up. Duh.

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    6. Having worked as a CPA for years I can guarantee the real IRS never makes first contact by phone. Never! And I've gotten those calls too. They come in waves. Makes me want to rip out our landline phone and get rid of it.

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  11. Hank, the only reason I still have a landline is because my husband refuses to give it up.

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    1. Well, I think it’s all about 911, right? If you call 911 from a cell phone, the dispatcher does not know where you are. Only with enhanced 911 from a landline are they more likely to know. That’s why when you call from my cell phone, or even a landline now, the operator will say 911, >>where<< is your emergency… So they are sure to know.

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    2. That's true, Hank. And for us, our cell service is sometimes questionable. So I don't press the point, although certain times of the year I want to rip the thing out of the wall!

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    3. In my office, we have VOIP phones. Because the server is in Philadelphia, that's the area code. We are in Pittsburgh. So if we have to call 911, we have to use a cell phone otherwise we are connected with Philly EMS.

      Mary/Liz

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    4. Hank, if you sign up for smart911 (it's free) you can register your cell, address, med alert info, pets in the home, etc. and when you call 911 from your cell, dispatch will have all the info.

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  12. Annette, I can so relate to forgetting details in previous books. I figure it's like anything you write down - I put it on paper so I don't HAVE to remember it! Still, it's embarrassing when you, the author, are caught flat-footed in front of a fan. I like to point out that the reader may have only finished the book last night - I finished it ten years ago!

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    1. Exactly! Someone will say, in the Wrong Girl, why did Jane do XYZ? And I’m like … Oh dear, I have no idea. Once I knew, of course, but no longer…
      Someone once said to me: didn’t you write the books? Well, of course… But it is difficult to explain :-)

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    2. That's precisely what happened. I was thrilled they were so involved in the story, but I have no clue why so-and-so did such-and-such.

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    3. One time I turned it back and said, "Why do you think he did?" The discussion became interesting and I was off the hook!

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    4. I've been known to forget the identity of a character. There are a lot of people to keep track of in multiple novels!

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  13. Before we were assigned our landline number, someone used it on a car loan application. Once a quarter, the defaulted car loan is sold to a new debt collector who calls us. Once, the debt collector did a reverse lookup and gave the repo guy our address and told him to tow our car! Fortunately, the car was locked in the garage. I called the police who sorted out the entire situation, after they verified my car title.

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  14. Annette - the new book sounds great, and the cover is terrific. Our neighbor's 13-year-old daughter, home alone from school one afternoon, let a pair of those fake "utility workers" into the house. Fortunately all they did was take stuff.

    Your poor mom! Because there's nothing that makes you feel older than old is getting scammed... or otherwise victimized when you should have known better. We were pickpocketed (happened twice to us in Barcelona - they prey especially on older American tourists.) - My THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN is about real estate scams, like getting duped into signing away your home with a sketchy "reverse mortgage." I got help on the legal issues involved from Red's friend and author Michele Dorsey who's also an attorney.

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    1. Thanks, Hallie. You're so right. That incident made her feel old and stupid. That made me as angry as the actual con.

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  15. Congratulations on the new book, Annette.

    I don't think I've ever been confronted by a con artist.

    Unless you count my Nigerian Prince
    Or that gypsy who found the gold ring in front of Sacre-Coeur.
    Or the 2016 election.

    Is there something wrong with me?

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    1. Thanks, Ann. And consider yourself lucky!

      Except for the election thing. *sigh* *NOT GOING THERE TODAY*

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  16. Annette, I'm so pleased for all your success! And very pleased that there's a new Zoe Chambers book to read. My husband has gotten hooked on them, too, thanks to my evil ways of recommending my favorites. Heh, heh.

    So far, touch wood, we have not fallen for any scams that we know of, but as we get older it's getting scarier. My husband is a super nice guy who wants to help everyone, and I have to get strong with him sometimes and remind him that everyone is not as honest as he is. But he used to buy all those lousy light bulbs from the "disabled vets". We still have some of them around.

    As for scam callers, I've gotten good results from two methods. For my Android phone the app Caller Name ID shows far more information on callers than I had previously, and it blocks "suspected spammers" for me, sending them directly to voicemail.

    On my landline, which previously rang at least a dozen times a day with robocallers, I'm down to zero non-family members be using the feature Cincinnati Bell provides called Call Reveal. When someone dials our landline number a voice prompt requests that the caller press an additional number in order for the call to be completed. Robocallers cannot do this, nor can "boiler room" callers, because they are hooked up to autodialers without any way to press additional digits.

    Since the mid-term elections are coming up I'm thrilled that both these measures are working well, because I was already about to go bald from pulling my hair out!

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    1. Thank you, Karen! For the kind words AND for hooking your husband on my series!

      I worry about my husband too. He's another one of those "nice guys" which leaves him a prime target for some of these cons.

      I have the Caller ID thing on my cell phone. Love it! But my landline provider doesn't offer that service. Yet. I keep hoping.

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  17. Now if we could just figure out a way to keep the crooks out of our credit cards. In the last three years I've had to get six new card numbers, thanks to hackers and thieves.

    Does anyone have any tips for that aspect of Internet safety?

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    1. And ID theft. So scary! And really, I don't know there's a fail-safe way to entirely avoid it. I'd love to hear if there is one!

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    2. WOw, Karen..do you know how that happened? Could you trace it at all?

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    3. No, but this last time whoever stole my number charged several of the same things, with a couple different companies. Same amounts, five times each. So weird.

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  18. Fascinating. Somewhere in your brain you imagined the possibility -- the story arc comes from your real logic and intuition about what could happen. No surprise that it can work out that way. I know Hank's stories are often based in her news experience. I wonder if she has had the same experience as you?

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    1. Denise, in my case at least, there's another consideration. When something awful happens or I'm going through a rough patch, my writer brain kicks in and asks, "How can I use this situation (or emotion) in a story." A little bit like making lemons into lemonade. If I have to suffer through something, I darned well better get a story idea out of it!!!

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    2. Yeah....the fictionalization is always different, but there's a domino that falls in real life that leads me to the new "But what if..."i

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  19. I have not taken Facebook quizzes for a long time. I hope I have taught my kids to be suspicious enough not to get conned, but not so suspicious they fall into paranoia.

    Congrats on the new book!

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Thank you, Mary. And yes. It's a fine line.

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  20. I find it scary when a book I've read then becomes fact. And I usually think of the author and wonder how they are taking the news. Obviously, it's a fine line. I wish it weren't. I much prefer my murder and mayhem only on the page.

    Congrats on book six!

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    1. Thank you, Mark!

      And yes, I much prefer my murder and mayhem only on the page too. Especially when it's a page I wrote! Definitely freaky.

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  21. Congratulations, Annette! Number seven! That's wonderful. I, too, get the basis of many of my stories from actual news events - manipulated and twisted for my own purposes, of course. As far as I know, I've never been conned, but maybe I'm living in blissful ignorance :) Looking forward to Uneasy Prey.

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    1. Trying to find an April Fool's crack about that, dear Jenn!

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  22. Thank you, Annette, for this interesting post. I've nothing to add to the discussion. The Nigerian scammers have stopped contacting me!

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  23. Once again, the Reds' blog has read my mind. Hahaha! I just purchased your latest book, Annette, for my Kindle. What got my attention first was the cover, and then I started reading about the series, and then I couldn't resist buying Uneasy Prey. I am usually a stickler for starting at the beginning of a series, but I'm thinking I will go ahead and read Uneasy Prey and then catch up. One reason to go ahead and read this one is the subject matter. I worry about my almost ninety-year-old mother-in-law, who still lives in her house alone. Yes, she's a smart lady, but these people are so slick and good at getting a foot in the door that I stay concerned. She does take precautions, such as keeping her storm door locked, so if she does open the door, but we think we have her convinced not to open the door at all if it's someone she doesn't know. But, then there are those scenarios that come to mind, like what if someone is telling her through the door that a family member is in the hospital or in trouble. As she has both a daughter and a son and both female and male grandchildren, it would be easy to bring up a family member problem.

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    1. Yes, and you know? Part of it is because people that age (!) are..polite. And the scammers rely on it.

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    2. YES, that's the big problem, Hank. I never EVER thought my mom would fall for a friendly face, but she did because she didn't want to be rude. It's much like stranger-danger with our kids. Bad guys do not look like ogres. They smile and act like the professionals they're pretending to be. Kathy, I hope this never happens to your mom. Maybe let her read the book! It might make her think twice.

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  24. I've sold stuff on eBay and in the early days of doing that I got screwed by a couple of scammers. But since they went to online payments that really hasn't been an issue.

    I try to avoid doing quizzes and I never accept any invites to games or apps on Facebook.

    As for landline phone calls, I have given up answering anything that isn't someone I know. As for that scam of saying someone I know is in jail and needs money, that one wouldn't work on me simply because if anyone I knew was in jail, they wouldn't be dumb enough to call me looking for money.

    Annette, I really like how your series sounds and I ordered the first book this afternoon.

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    1. Smart man, Jay. About avoiding getting duped, I mean. But also about buying the book. Heh!

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  25. HANK HERE: And yeah, Annette! Now that Jay brings it up--it reminds me to ask you: tell us more about your books! And do you think they have to be read in order?

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    1. Thank you, Hank! My books follow Paramedic/Deputy Coroner Zoe Chambers and Police Chief Pete Adams as they work together (and sometimes not-so-together) to solve crime in rural southwestern Pennsylvania. Hank, you once dubbed them "not quite cozy" and I still like that. They're more traditional, bordering on police procedural, but with humor. If you read them out of order, you won't get lost. The mystery is always self-contained. But I pride myself on characters and relationships that grow and develop, so you might want to read them in order to follow that development.

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    2. And, by the way, for you eBook readers, the first in the series, Circle of Influence is currently on sale for 99 cents across all platforms, but only until Sunday. The sale was supposed to end on Thursday, but I got my publisher to extend it as a holiday treat.

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  26. I did fall for a computer scam. Something came up on my computer last year saying that my computer had a virus and that I should call the Microsoft number on the screen. At least I didn't do that but I looked up Microsoft on my phone. The people who answered did scans and said they would protect my computer. I was so upset the whole time that I just wanted it to be over. Next day at church people told me that I was scammed so I called to cancel. The first man insisted they were part of Microsoft even though that wasn't the name on the e-mails I received. I called later and was firmer, and they didn't charge my credit card. It was very scary. I'm usually more alert but my brother was dying so I was more vulnerable. By the way I looked on Microsoft's web page and couldn't find a phone number anywhere.

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    1. Oh, I'm so sorry, Sally. "Vulnerable" is such a good word. They prey on the vulnerable.

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    2. Good for you for fighting back! Yay!

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