Stories about travel, life, writing and parenting my college-age children (who think they don't need any more parenting). Oh! And the occasional amazing photograph (I like to play pro photographer on vacations.)
Here it is: I am extremely annoyed with freelance writers who will do anything for a buck.
All right, at the moment I'm mostly ticked off at myself for falling for a scam facilitated by the skills of a freelance writer. But the scam got me thinking about some of the immoral freelance writing jobs I've encountered since deciding to earn my living this way.
First of all, THE SCAM:
It was around 10:30 p.m. a couple of weeks ago. I was on my laptop while hubs was watching T.V.
"Oh, hey," he said, looking over at me. "If you're online, can you order me that Super Amazing Diet Product (SADP) I was telling you about?"
"What was it again?" I asked absently.
He described the news article he'd read online about SADP. "The reporter included her journal entries for four weeks. She was really impressed by how effective it was at helping her lose weight and feel healthy."
I did a search for the article. Sure enough, a nice, little news story written by a "Channel 6 News" reporter, her picture was by the piece and everything.
"Free trial! Sure, I'll order it—there's nothing to lose… Nothing to lose, nothing to lose...(Can you hear the echo in here?)
So a few clicks and credit card numbers later and his free trial was on its way. In retrospect, I can't believe we fell for it. We are plenty old enough to know if something sounds too good to be true, it is. I'd like to blame my gullibility on the late hour. Blame it on my hubby. But alas, I can't. The next day, I mentioned it to my mother, my personal wise woman of all things nutrition related.
"Oh Holly, that's just a big scam," she said. "I tried the real stuff from the health food store and it didn't do anything. I think that article is a scam, too."
In the light of day, I found the article again. Unbelievable! I spotted something critical I'd missed the night before. In small print at the top of the page was the word "Advertorial." Barely noticeable with all the "Channel 6 News" logos and network television symbols decorating the page. (As was SADP's intent.)
NOTE: For my non-writer readers, an advertorial is essentially an advertisement in an article format. Advertorials are a common form of advertising and not intrinsically bad, but I feel this one was shady as it simulated an actual news story written by a reporter.
I buzzed back to SADP's website and read the fine print of the Terms and Conditions. The program is set up to begin charging unsuspecting free-trial users $80 a month, plus shipping and handling if they don't cancel within a specified time period (conveniently, often before they've even received the trial product.) The website had an "easy button" for cancelling online. Great, I clicked it. "For an additional $20 in stuff, you can cancel right away," it said. No. Flippin'. Way. I called customer service instead. The automated system disconnected me. Three times. In short, every way the company "offered" to let me cancel, didn't work. Even their contact address was an unclickable link!
I finally sent off a blistering e-mail announcing our official cancellation of their slimeball product and letting them know I'm monitoring daily and if they try to stick one measly penny on my credit card, I'm disputing it.
After spending two hours messing around with this ridiculousness, I fumed, thinking about the writer who'd been hired to compose that lying-pile-of-horse-hockey article.
How could he or she sleep at night?
I locate writing jobs, including legitimate advertorial projects, through a variety of reputable sources. Yet I've still come across some pretty pathetic stuff. One company I encountered hired writers to write high school and college students' term papers! I was horrified. I know seasoned professional writers are aware of this. But if you're a newbie, I'm telling you now, don't do it. It's not worth it. It's better to hold out for the legitimate jobs. They really are out there. And at least you'll be able to sleep at night.
Unbeknownst to me, I'd been driving around for months with an expired driver's license. I'd received my license plate renewal form in the mail, but I promise there was no hint about my driver's license needing renewing as well!
After completely freaking out, I fluffed my hair, put on a pretty top and hustled myself over to the Secretary of State's office. Breezing in, I was surprised to find no wait and a pleasant-faced woman behind the counter called me over.
She waved a dismissive hand after I explained my predicament, "Oh, don't worry, that sort of thing happens sometimes. We can fix it."
I sighed with relief.
"Allrighty, all I need you to do is look at the screen here and read the first line to me," she picked up her pen and started some paperwork.
I stood on tiptoe and peered at the screen. There were three columns of rectangular boxes all filled with letters. Well, almost all.
"Excuse me," I said, settling back on my heels. "Is the far left box supposed to be empty like that?"
Pleasant Face looked up from her work and frowned. "Nooooo. Why don't you try angling the box lower so you don't have to stand on your toes." (Yeah, it's that being five-feet tall thing.)
"Ah." I tipped the box down and looked again.
You know those 3-D pictures kids often have? The kind where the image changes depending on what angle you're at? Well, that's what the far-left box was doing.
"Excuse me," I said again. "Now it's sort of fading in and out."
This time Pleasant Face arched a brow at me. "Hmmm…never mind. Just read the middle and right-hand boxes.
"Okay." I pressed my face back against the screen. I widened my eyes. I narrowed them. Then I blinked rapidly several times in a row.
I finally finished and looked up, hopeful.
Pleasant Face looked back at me. And blinked. "Um…no."
"No. Do you wear glasses?"
My mind was racing. "Uh..glasses? Well, yeah. But I don't really need them. I only have them so I can clearly see the expressions on my son's face while he's playing soccer."
"Uh-huh. Maybe you should go get them."
That screen was just dirty! I thought as I scrounged through the glove box of my car to dig out my glasses.
I'll bet it just had a bunch of fingerprints all over it. That's the problem.
Polishing my lenses, I walked back inside. Then I polished the little screen and peered through the viewer again.
Funky! All the letters were crystal clear! I read them off without a hitch and looked back at Pleasant Face.
"Perfect," she beamed.
I smiled triumphantly.
"Allrighty, now I'll just have to add that restriction onto your license…."
My smile slipped. Restriction? What the heck?! I'm not supposed to need a restriction. My mother, my father, they need a restriction. I'm only 48 years old. Aren't you supposed to be like…I dunno…70 or something when you need a restriction?!"
"Allrighty, now step over here so we can take your picture. That's such a pretty shirt!"
Who cares about my blasted shirt! I have a RESTRICTION!
She snapped my dazed expression and I left clutching my new restricted temporary driver's license, still in shock.
I know I shouldn't be surprised when stuff like this keeps happening. I mean, I recall last year's "Bag" incident all too well. But for some reason I remain in complete denial that my body is aging. In my lovely fantasy world, my hot, new hubby and I graduated from college only a few short years ago. Just a couple of D.I.N.K.'s having fun…
I don't wanna wear my glasses all the time when I drive. I don't wanna! I don't wanna! I don't wanna!
And the trouble is, I'm gonna end up getting busted because I keep forgetting to put the stupid things on. Because I really can see without them. I can!
"We are always the same age inside." ~ Gertrude Stein
Title: The Informationist Debut Author: Taylor Stevens Genre: Thriller Publisher: Crown Publishers, March 2011
While I normally include a short excerpt, because this book doesn't officially release until March 8, 2011, I'm going to hold off on posting this until I run my interview with the author after the book's debut.
Main character, Vanessa "Michael" Munroe is in an unusual line of work. She deals in information. Impossible-to-get information. And yet, get it she does—for her rich and powerful clients—using her unique set of skills in some incredibly creative ways.
Through the story we learn that Munroe was born to missionary parents and grew up in Central Africa. She ran away at age fourteen to take up with gunrunner Francisco Beyard and his team of mercenaries. In dealing with these dangerous men, Munroe learns lessons in survival that no teen should ever have to learn. But when she finally escapes, she is able to parlay her hard-earned abilities into a lucrative career.
In this captivating tale, nearly a decade has passed since she left Africa, and Munroe is hired by a Texas oil billionaire to find his missing daughter. In taking the case, Munroe is forced to head back to the country of her childhood. As she is pulled deeper into the mystery of the missing girl, Munroe finds herself betrayed, abandoned and left for dead. She must rely on her skills to escape the jungle and finally put to rest the demons of the past that torment her mind.
If you're looking for exhilarating action, intricate plot twists, compelling characters and a strong female protagonist (with a dash of a love story thrown in), The Informationist, by debut author Taylor Stevens has it all. I don't normally read the Thriller genre, but I've been expanding my reading repertoire, and was honored to receive a galley copy of this book to read.
I liked the strength of Stevens's main character. Vanessa "Michael" Munroe is confident, she is sexy, she is intelligent, and she is extremely dangerous. She is a chameleon and a hunter and has been likened to across between Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander and Jason Bourne. (Stevens admits she was inspired to write by the Jason Bourne trilogy.) Yet beyond Munroe's tight control, we are given tantalizing glimpses of an emotional depth and vulnerability there as well.
Aside from the riveting intensity of the story itself, the author effectively intertwines her intimate knowledge of Central Africa's violent political scene and rugged terrain, which really drew me in. I could literally feel the gritty sand, sweltering heat and buzzing insects, see the sparkling ocean and thick jungle foliage as I moved with Munroe from one dramatic situation to the next.
I found this book to be a real pager-turner from the get-go, effectively holding my attention in the grip of the world Stevens created. It was really a great read!
The Informationist is due out in March; you can pre-order a copy HERE.
About The Author
The author's personal background is as intriguing as the book she's written. Taylor Stevens was born into a communal apocalyptic cult. Raised in communes across the globe, her innocence and education came to an abrupt halt at the age of 12. Without access to books or television, Stevens secretly entertained commune children by making up fantastic stories until these "sins" were discovered by cult leaders. Her handwritten books were destroyed, and she was ordered on threat of "a whole lot of pain" to never write again. At the age of 29, Stevens broke free and now lives in Texas, juggling full-time writing with full-time motherhood.
Look for an interview with Taylor Stevens in an upcoming post!
PLEASE NOTE: Because I know there are some teens who visit the ol' blog, I've decided to create a "Holly's Arbitrary Content Rating." And I'm rating The Informationist: SBA*(*As in SHOULD BE AWARE this book does contain violence, strong language and sexual content.)
ADDITIONAL NOTE: I was given a galley copy of this book to read, but aside from that received no compensation for my review besides the gratification that I'm helping a really great author promote a really great book.
My mother always has beautiful gardens. Growing up, my family was treated to a profusion of obscenely healthy house plants clustered en masse in front of our windows. Outside, there was a bountiful vegetable garden, endless raspberry bushes laden with ripe fruit and…flowers. Those gorgeous splashes of color whose fragrant blossoms decorated our landscape from spring ‘till late into fall.
My mother has the greenest thumb of anybody I know. Seriously, all she has to do is look at a plant, and it immediately grows several inches and begins blooming. And although my mother has shared many of her fine qualities with me; a talent for art, a love of books, even a few freckles, alas, her green thumb is not among them.
I love flowers. Unfortunately, they don’t love me.
When my hubby and I bought our first home, unaware of this serious deficit in my biological makeup, I excitedly purchased an array of blossoms to line the front of our new little home. I happily troweled the dirt, planting my colorful impatiens beside feathery wands of astilbe. After hours of labor, I stood back and brushing soil from my hands, admired the effect I had created. Stunning.