Friday, March 30, 2018

Nerve Agents: Sarin, Tabun, Vx, and Novichok—Poisoning People for Fun and Profit #33

On March 4th of this year, a former Russian spy named Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia collapsed near a park bench in the quiet English cathedral town of Salisbury. Luckily Yulia is now expected to recover, but her father is still in critical condition. 

A man who found them described the scene to CBS: "Her eyes were just completely white. They were wide-open but just white
Salisbury Cathedral
and [she was] frothing at the mouth. Then the man went stiff. His arms stopped moving, but he’s still looking dead straight.” These are the signs of poisoning with a nerve agent, aka a “Weapon of Mass Destruction.”

The best-known nerve agent is Sarin. As a gas, it has been used for mass murder, like Saddam Hussein’s attack on the Kurds in 1988 and the attack by a religious cult on the Tokyo subway system in 1995. Its use is also strongly suspected in the Syrian civil war.

Exposure to nerve agents is lethal even at very low concentrations, and death can occur within one to ten minutes after direct inhalation of a lethal dose. They can be inhaled, ingested, or swiped on skin or clothes. A police officer who handled the Skripals was also hospitalized after entering the Skripals' home. Police think the poison had been smeared on their front door, where they found the major concentration of the nerve agent. 

Many British lives were put at risk by the brazen attack.

What a nerve agent does to the body is basically disable the “off” switch on the nervous system. This means regular body functions go on overload. The victim starts sweating, vomiting, and frothing at the mouth. Followed by convulsions. Eventually, the muscles give out and they fall. This can lead to paralysis and suffocation.

There is an antidote, atropine. Yes, that’s the atropine thatI mentioned earlier in this series. It comes from plants of the Solanaceae family like nightshade, datura, Jimson weed, mandrake, and belladonna.

Atropine can be found in Datura
The first nerve agents were discovered by Nazi scientists who were working on developing pesticides. In 1936, one of the German chemists synthesized a molecule that was highly efficient at killing insects. The only problem is that it was great at killing people, too.

It also means nerve agent poisoning can be mistaken for pesticide poisoning.

Hitler’s military got hold of the dangerous pesticide and named it “tabun” after the German word for taboo. Tabun is now known as GA. The G-series nerve agents are so named for their discovery by Germans: sarin (GB), soman (GD), and cyclosarin (GF). Although the Nazis stockpiled nerve agents during World War II, they never deployed them. 

During the Cold War, scientists worked on developing even deadlier nerve agents. And they have been used for individual murders as well as mass killings.

VX, “venomous agent X,” was discovered in Britain in the 1950s.  For years, a similar chemical called VG was sold as the insecticide Amiton, before it was pulled off the market for being too toxic.

Nerve agents were developed as insecticides
VX was the nerve agent used to assassinate Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in 2017. In spite of the fact that Kim Jong-nam had atropine with him at the time of the attack, he died of the toxin.  The poison made him immediately incoherent and he wasn’t able to tell authorities what was wrong before he died 15 minutes later. (The atropine tablets probably wouldn’t have helped anyway. Only an injection could have fought off such a lethal attack. ) 

There were long rumors that the Soviets had developed an even more powerful nerve agent, “Novichok” or “newcomer” later during the cold war. It was supposed to be undetectable by the lab tests of the time.

But there was no proof of the existence of Novichok in the west until the attempted murders in March. But now British scientists say that the weapon that attacked the Skirpals and the British policeman was indeed Novichok.

Of course the Russians deny they have any Novichok and insist know nothing of the assassination of their turncoat spy.

They are shocked, shocked at such an accusation.  

But the US, UK and European Union have retaliated against the alleged Russian attack by expelling hundreds of Russian diplomats, and the Russians have responded in kind. The poisonings have caused what is now a major international diplomacy crisis. 

Although the Russian denial is more improbable than any Ian Fleming plot, if the Novichok really didn’t come from the Kremlin, the Russian story would provide a rip-roaring plot for a spy thriller.

What if the Russians really had destroyed all their WMDs after the fall of the Soviet Union? What if one rogue spy got hold of all the Novichok, and was intending to murder everybody who knew about Novichok and frame the oh-so-innocent Russians in order to start a world war? 

All the rogue spy would need is a fluffy white cat and then he could move on to World Domination!

Where is James Bond when we need him?

Here's a List of All the Posts in the Poison Series


ON SALE for only 99c for a limited time!!

SO MUCH FOR BUCKINGHAM: Camilla mystery #5

This comic novel—which takes its title from the most famous Shakespearean quote that Shakespeare never wrote—explores how easy it is to perpetrate a character assassination whether by a great playwright or a gang of online trolls.

It's a laugh-out-loud mashup of romantic comedy, crime fiction, and satire: Dorothy Parker meets Dorothy L. Sayers. Perennially down-and-out socialite Camilla Randall--a.k.a. "The Manners Doctor"--is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but she always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way. Usually with more than a little help from her gay best friend, Plantagenet Smith.

In this hilarious episode she makes the mistake of responding to an online review of one of her etiquette guides and sets off a chain of events that leads to arson, attempted rape and murder. 

Sample reviews:
"Delicious wit, wonderful eccentric characters, and a beguiling plot. Camilla Randall is a delight!"...Melodie Campbell, "Canada's Queen of Comedy."

"Both a comedic romance and a crime suspense thriller, it presents the 'Perils of Pauline' adventures of a modern author, Camilla, whose mad-cap follies are hugely entertaining. But the novel has a serious undertone of social comment. Even the craziest of its zanies have their counterparts in the real world and the author faithfully depicts their grim, and often deadly, sub-cultures behind a veneer of knockabout wit. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys romance, and crime suspense, with a lethally satiric edge." Dr. John Yeoman.

"Anne Allen's ability to weave throughout her stories a current social commentary easily and throughout the story amazes me. She does this without jeopardizing her plot or her characters' development."...
blogger Sherrey Meyer

So Much for Buckingham is available in ebook at all the Amazons,
And in paperback it is available at

The Audiobook, narrated by CS Perryess and Anne R. Allen is available from 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Mercury: Poisoning People for Fun and Profit #32

19th century hat makers often suffered from mercury poisoning
Mercury, also known as “Quicksilver,” is an elemental metal with the symbol Hg and the atomic number 80. It’s another one of those heavy metals that’s toxic to humans—a neurotoxin that is dangerous in all its forms.

Mercury is a liquid at room temperature (which seemed really cool to me as a kid.) But that liquid easily vaporizes into the air around it. Breathing that air can poison you. Who knows how many of us destroyed brain cells by breaking a fever thermometer to play with the liquid inside when we were curious (and naughty) children?

The metal is usually found in deposits of something called cinnabar (mercuric sulfide). The red pigment called vermilion is made of ground cinnabar.

Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter was inspired by real 19th century hat makers who “went mad” with a form of mercury poisoning. It was caused by a mercury compound used in processing felt. (Although the Mad Hatter doesn’t actually show any signs of mercury poisoning.)

Uses of Mercury

Luckily, mercury is no longer used in felt, and other industries are phasing it out of use. Mercury filled fever thermometers were outlawed in the US in 2002 for over-the-counter sales

It was also in use for many years for dental fillings. I know I’ve got some.

Mercury vapor is still a very important component of fluorescent lighting. When electricity passes through mercury vapor, it produces short-wave ultraviolet light which causes the phosphor in the tube to “fluoresce” and create light.

Compounds of mercury are still found in some over-the-counter drugs, including topical antiseptics (especially as Mercurochrome.) It’s also still used in stimulant laxatives, diaper-rash ointment, eye drops, and nasal sprays. It can also be found in cosmetics, like mascara. (In 2008, Minnesota became the first US state to ban the use of mercury in cosmetics.)
The only metal that's liquid at room temperature

Mercury is also a byproduct of a number of industrial processes, such as burning coal. Vaporized mercury from coal burning can make its way into soil and water, where it poses a risk to plants, animals, and humans. 

The Three Forms of Mercury

Mercury can be found in three forms:

#1 Elemental mercury. That’s the one in glass thermometers. It’s not harmful if touched, but can be lethal if you inhale the vapor it emits.

#2 Inorganic mercury is the kind of mercury used to make batteries. It’s deadly if you eat it.

#3 Organic mercury known as methylmercury, is the kind found in fish that are high on the food chain, like tuna and swordfish. (consumption should be limited to 170g per week). It can be deadly when ingested over long periods of time, because it builds up in the system. Methylmercury is highly toxic and it forms when mercury dissolves into the water.

High level exposure to methylmercury is known as Minamata disease. 

Qin Shi Huang

Mercury in History

Ancient people all over the world seem to have  been as fascinated by mercury as I was as a child.

China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, believed that mercury could give everlasting life and managed to cut his own life short by drinking a mixture of mercury and powdered jade while aiming for that immortality thing.

The ancient Maya and other pre-Colombian peoples were also enamored of mercury and large quantities of it have been found in Mayan ruins and the pyramids at Teotihuacan.

In Ancient Egypt and Rome, cinnabar was used as a cosmetic, and the ancient Greeks used it as an antiseptic.

In Moorish Spain, it was used to make stunning reflective pools.

Mercury in Medicine

Did Mozart die of mercury poisoning? 

Mercury compounds have also been used since ancient times as a medicine. Chinese traditional medicine uses cinnabar to treat a number of ailments.

Mercuric chloride was used from the 17th-19th centuries to treat syphilis, although it is so toxic that sometimes the symptoms of its toxicity were confused with those of the syphilis it was believed to treat.

Many people believe Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died of mercury poisoning from the medicine he took to treat his syphilis.

Mercuric chloride and a mercury-honey syrup called “Blue Mass” were prescribed throughout the 19th century for a whole bunch of conditions including constipation, depression, and toothaches. 

Abraham Lincoln took Blue Mass to treat constipation. He may also have hoped it would treat his depression.

In the early 20th century, people gave their children a mercury compound as a laxative (and dewormer.) It was even used in teething powders for infants.

Mercurochrome contains mercury, but not chrome 
Mercurochrome, (the commercial name of the mercury compound merbromin) was a common item in most medicine cabinets in my childhood. 

We used it as topical antiseptic for minor cuts and scrapes. It's now banned in the US, but still widely used elsewhere.

Symptoms of Mercury Poisoning

Mercury affects the nervous system, leading to neurological symptoms:

  • anxiety 
  • irritability 
  • numbness 
  • memory problems 
  • depression 
  • physical tremors 
As the levels of mercury in the body rise, more symptoms will appear. Adults with advanced mercury poisoning may experience symptoms such as: 
  • muscle weakness 
  • metallic taste in the mouth 
  • nausea and vomiting 
  • loss of motor skills 
  • numbness in the hands, face, or other areas 
  • loss of vision, hearing, or speech 
  • difficulty breathing 
  • difficulty walking or standing straight 
  • kidney failure 
  • decrease in cognitive ability. 


There’s no standard cure for mercury poisoning. Eliminating risk factors by making changes in diet and work or living environment may help reduce the levels of mercury so people can recover.

Besides elimination of sources of exposure, severe cases of mercury poisoning can be treated with chelation therapy.

The drugs used in chelation therapy bind to heavy metals in the bloodstream so they can be eliminated. But chelation therapy comes with its own risks and side effects, so doctors use this kind of medication only when it’s absolutely necessary. 

Mercury: The Perfect Murder Weapon?

Mercury poisoning is a "zebra diagnosis"
Mercury poisoning like what might have killed Mozart happens by accident over a period of time, as the metal accumulates in the body from frequent exposure.

People suffering from depression sometimes attempt suicide with mercury. That usually turns out to be a bad idea on many levels because the poison is so slow-acting.

One man took a large dose of mercury that ended up accumulating in his appendix. An appendectomy plus chelation cured him and he was sent home from the hospital three weeks later. (I couldn’t find out if there was enough residual poison to kill him eventually.)

There aren’t many reports of deliberate murder by mercury poisoning. That’s probably because the symptoms are cumulative and can also be ascribed to many more common diseases.

Heavy metal poisoning is a considered “zebra” diagnosis. It’s so rare that most doctors don’t consider it. (The “zebra” comes from an old saying used in teaching medical students: 'When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.')

I found one case of a woman murdered by mercury poisoning, which wasn’t diagnosed until six years after her death.

This would make mercury an ideal murder weapon for a mystery novel. It’s slow acting, has few symptoms early on, and most doctors would never consider it as a cause of death. 

What about you? Have you ever read a mystery novel where mercury was used as a poison? Do you know of any real-life situations where mercury was suspected in a deliberate poisoning? 

Here's a List of All the Posts in the Poison Series

Part 28: Mustard Gas
Part 29: Antimony
Part 30: Lead
Part 31: Opium Poppy


I started this blog to test out my theories about author blogs. Posting once a month, I've managed to keep it in Google's good graces, with an Alexa rank under 2 million 347K in the US. Slow blogging works!

The Author Blog: Easy Blogging for Busy Authors is now in paperback!

Author Blog

And the ebook is only $2.99 until the end of the month
at Nook, Kobo, Apple, and Amazon
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Friday, January 26, 2018

Opium Poppies: Poisoning People for Fun and Profit #31

Poppies are lovely flowers that can add a big splash of color to a garden.

But one poppy papaver somniferum—the opium poppy—is poisonous to humans. (Other poppies, like the Icelandic and Flanders poppies, can be poisonous to horses, cattle and sheep, but not humans.)

The opium seeds, however, contain very little toxic or narcotic properties. They are often used in baking, especially on bagels and muffins, and cooking eliminates most of the trace toxins. (Not enough to pass a drug test, though, so don't eat poppy seeds if you know you're going to be tested.)

Don't eat the poppy seed bagel if you're getting a drug test
People can safely eat one teaspoon of raw poppy seeds for every seven pounds of body weight. That means, according to, that someone weighing about 150 pounds can eat seven tablespoons of raw poppy seeds at a time without ill effects.

Opium Poppy Sap

It's the white sap (called "latex') from the living plant contains that the dangerous alkaloid compound that can kill you (or, used properly, kill pain.) The latex is especially concentrated in the plant's fruit. But eating any part of the plant other than the seeds can be fatal.

Symptom of poppy poisoning are stupor, contracted pupils, slow breathing, respiratory and circulatory depression, coma and eventually, death.

That poppy latex is also the source of the drugs opium, morphine and codeine, which have been the world's preferred painkillers for at least four millennia.

Opium Poppy History

Pictures of the opium poppy have been found in artifacts from ancient Sumer. The Sumerian culture emerged in the Tigris-Euphrates region around 5000 BC.

We also know that ancient Greeks used it for its painkilling properties, who used the dried sap or "juice" as a painkiller. In fact, the word "opium" is derived from the Greek word for juice: "opos." Opium is the dried sap that is generally extracted from the poppy's fruit.
Paracelsus invented Laudanum

Opioids have been a boon to humanity ever since, since they deaden pain and induce sleep.
The name "papaver somniferum" means "sleep inducing poppy" from the Latin word for sleep, "somnum."

In the 16th century, the alchemist Paracelsus discovered that opium could be dissolved in alcohol to form a tincture that had many medicinal properties.  He called it laudanum.  By the 19th century, laudanum became a household remedy for everything from menstrual cramps and intestinal disorders to coughs and colds. It was used in many patent medicines and sold without a prescription until the early 20th century.

Control of Opioids

The addictive properties of laudanum and other opioids were not considered serious for many years, but in 1914, the US passed the Harrison Narcotics Act, which of 1914 restricted the manufacture and distribution of opiates, including laudanum.

The cultivation of the poppies themselves was banned in the US in 1942, even for California farmers growing poppy seeds as food. And in 1987, Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, was raided, his garden of heirloom opium poppies destroyed, along with all tee-shirts and other souvenirs that depicted the plant.

Gotta watch out for those opioid tee-shirts.

Cultivation of opium poppies is also banned in Canada and Australia, although it's legal in the UK for ornamental and food purposes. That's also true in most of Europe. However the poppies are banned in many Middle Eastern countries and in the United Arab Emirates you can be sentenced to a long jail sentence for possessing so much as the crumb of a poppyseed roll.

In recent years, a number of variations on papaver somniferum have been developed that produce none of the opiate latex. Those are supposed to be legal to grow in the US, but they are still controversial. Poppy seeds are also available in many US gardening catalogues in the 21st century, and prosecutions for growing ornamental opium poppies are very rare.

Banning the plants has not, of course, done anything to stem the rise of opioid addiction and overdose deaths that has recently  become epidemic in the US.

It's important to note that most of these deaths are not caused by drugs derived from opium poppies. The most deadly drugs are heroin and fentanyl, which are synthetic, laboratory-produced opioids, which are far more powerful than anything derived from the plants.

The most deadly killer is fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is over 100 times stronger than morphine—the strongest drug derived from the opium poppy. Fentanyl is a relative newcomer—invented in 1960 and approved for use in the US in 1968. It is meant to be used in surgery, but because it's cheap to make, it has flooded the streets in recent years.

So the current "opioid epidemic" has little to do with the venerable opium poppy, and banning its cultivation won't do anything to stop the deaths.

But if you do run into a real opium poppy, don't eat it.

However, your mystery novel's villain might consider feeding it in a salad to Great Aunt Agatha, the nasty old bird whose estate will come to the villain as soon as the old Aggie kicks the bucket. This could even be the perfect murder if Aunt Agatha is already taking an opioid like oxycodone after her recent dental implant surgery…

Did you know that the poppy seeds on your bagel were related to opium poppies? Do you know anybody who has tested positive for drugs when the only drug they had was a lemon poppyseed muffin?


3 Hilarious Novels for Only $1.33 Each! 

THE CAMILLA RANDALL MYSTERIESGhostwriters in the Sky, Sherwood, Ltd. and The Best Revenge in one a bargain box set for only $3.99 at most retailers.

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Friday, December 29, 2017

21 Questions about Writing: When did you decide to be a writer?

Last January, I gave this interview for "Flashes of Brilliance" the ezine for

Mostly I'd answer the questions in the same way now, except that I have two more books out: The Queen of Staves, Camilla Randall Mystery #6, and The Author Blog: Easy Blogging for Busy Authors, and we have lost the wonderful author and editor, Paul Alan Fahey, who had just launched our anthology Equality a few weeks before I gave this interview. I miss him terribly.

Q 1. When did you first know writing was the career for you?

I've written fiction pretty much since I could hold a crayon, and I had some poems published and plays produced when I was
Anne on the Wicked Stage
younger, but I didn't think of writing as a possible career until after I'd spent 25 years in the theater.

It hit me one day when I was driving home after a performance of A Comedy of Errors at the Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts. I should have been exhilarated. I love performing Shakespeare. But I realized that acting didn't feel creative anymore and I no longer felt that hunger to perform that had always driven me.

The next day I bought a copy of Jeff Herman's Guide to Literary Agents and decided to treat my writing as a career and not a hobby.

Q 2. What inspires you to write mysteries?

I've always loved to read mysteries for relaxation. 


People often ask me how I can find something as abhorrent as murder relaxing, but I'm talking about the classic British style mystery that's a puzzle rather than a gorefest. 

In a classic mystery, reason and order always triumph. I prefer to call what I write "classic mystery" rather than "cozy" because these days "cozy" suggests cupcakes will be involved. My books are darkly satiric and fairly cupcake-free. 

But what inspires me is that classic return to order. Like the resolving chord in a piece of classical music.

Q 3. Which one of your novels do you most like and why?

That's a tough question. It's like asking a parent which one of their children they like best. 

On SALE for 99c!
I do think a lot of people prefer No Place Like Home, the fourth of the Camilla Randall mysteries. It has a number of homeless characters and they are heroes, not victims, which people find refreshing.

It's also the one where I introduce Ronzo, the tarot-reading tough guy from New Jersey, Camilla's best bad boyfriend so far.

(Update: It's on sale in December 2017 for only 99c)

Q 4. What inspires you to write your blog Anne R. Allen's Blog... with Ruth Harris and give advice to other authors?

I've been in the business a long time now and I see so much bogus stuff out there. I feel the urge to help newbies fight through the fog of misinformation and scamitude.

Anne R. Allen's Blog...With Ruth Harris

Sometimes the blog can be overwhelming and Ruth and I talk about giving it up or cutting back. But writers keep telling us how much it has helped them with their careers, and how it's saved them from getting sucked in by scams or wounded by rejections. So we keep going. There are lots of writers out there making the same mistakes we did when we started out.

As we say, "We made the mistakes so you don't have to."

Q 5. How have the experiences from travelling and working in the Performing Arts made their way into your work?

Every person I've met and every role I've played has given me insight into another aspect of being human. 
As the Gypsy in Skin of our Teeth

I think my experiences have helped me have empathy with my characters. Even the nasty ones.

My varied background has also given me perspective. When you have distance from something, you can see the humor in it. My novels are all comedies.

Q 6. What is your favorite part of writing mysteries?

I love it when the story surprises me and I have to throw out my outline because the characters have taken over. 
The Latest Camilla Mystery

Very often I find I was totally wrong about who the murderer is.

I read recently that used to happen to Agatha Christie, too.

Q 8. Could you tell us a little about what inspired your main character from your mysteries?

Camilla Randall, who is a "magnet for murder, mayhem, and Mr. Wrong" was inspired by an article I read in the New York Times sometime in the 1980s. A snobby reporter wrote a profile of a young debutante that was so condescending I wanted to give her a voice to defend herself.

The Camilla Prequel

My story was just short flash piece, but the characters stuck with me—including the gay playwright who accompanied her. I later developed it into a longer story, and finally ended up writing a book about Camilla, plus the playwright Plantagenet Smith, and the interviewer Jonathan Kahn.

That was The Best Revenge, which now serves as a prequel to the other mysteries. It explains how Camilla and Plantagenet became a kind of Will and Grace of mystery-solving.

Q 9. How do you market your books? Do you have any advice for people marketing their works?

Oh, that's a tough one! Pretty much everything that worked to market books last year doesn't work now, and what works now won't work in six months. 

My First Booksigning

We are so dependent on algorithms and tech these days, and it all changes so rapidly.

The one thing that's a constant is that you need to keep in touch with your fans with a mailing list for your blog or newsletter and don't count on any one platform or retailer. 

Q 10. What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?

I suppose the biggest surprise was finding out how few books really make any money and how every book is a gamble. 

Q 11. What would you like people to take away from your books?

I want to offer entertainment for readers who don't like to be patronized. I call it escapist reading for English majors.
A Satire of Small Publishing

I also offer insight into the publishing industry and make fun of its foibles. I hope I give people a chance to laugh. I'm a great believer in the healing power of laughter. 

Q 12. What interests you the most about the art of writing?

Meeting the people. Getting to know my characters as they emerge on the page.

Q 13. How do you work out the clues in your mystery novels? Do you plan where you are going to put them in advance?

Oh, yes, I plan everything in advance, and plot all those clues. 

Then halfway through the novel, I throw it all out the window because something more interesting happens. So I have to go back and replant every clue.

Q 14. Which writers inspire you?

Oh that's a long list! My tastes are wildly eclectic. When I was young, I was a huge fan of Vonnegut. Read everything he wrote. But I also loved Dorothy Parker. And William Butler Yeats. 

I carried around a copy of the collected works of W.B. Yeats when I hitchhiked around Europe after college. Couldn't be without it.

And I still read and reread the great classic mystery writers: Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Ngiao Marsh. 

And I adore P.G. Wodehouse. And Jane Austen. The real Jane, not the spin-offs. Most people forget that she's hilarious.

Q 16. What is the most important single piece of advice you offer aspiring authors?

Be kind. Work well with others. Writers are not in competition with each other. Networking is the best way to get ahead in this business.

Q 17. What was the best writing advice that you ever received?

I had a one-on-one pitch session with a Bantam editor at a writers' conference early on when I was nowhere near ready to pitch. At the end of my stumbling presentation, I asked him if he thought my book was any good.

He said, "I can't tell you that. I can tell you it's not what I'm looking for. That just means it's not what they're buying this year. But it doesn't mean they won't be buying it next year. Keep at it." 

Q 18. Your guidebook for writers HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE…A SELF-HELP GUIDE is a collaboration with bestselling author Catherine Ryan Hyde. Please tell us about the book and how it could/can help new authors.

Our book helps new writers in so many ways. It's got all the basic information about how to negotiate the publishing industry, whether you're planning to go indie or the traditional route. It helps you decide if you want to go for a contract with the Big Five, a mid-sized press, a small press, digital first press, or totally DIY.

We also have advice on how to build platform, start a blog, use social media, network with your fellow writers, plus write a good query, synopsis, pitch, etc.

But we call it a "self-help guide" for a reason. There's a lot about how to deal with rejection, writer's block, and cyberbullies, as well as social media etiquette and the "unwritten rules" of getting along with people online.

Q 19. Members often ask how to write a query letter. What advice can you offer?

Do your homework! Most queries get rejected because they're sent to the wrong person. I get queries every day from wannabe guest bloggers. Only about 1% of them have a clue they're querying a writing blog. 

Agent friends tell me the same thing. So many writers fail to check to see what they actually represent. 

Q 20. You are bringing out two new books on January 15th, 2017. What are they about?

I was part of a great launch event on the 15th, MLK Day, at a local
Paul Alan Fahey
bookstore. We launched a fantastic new anthology called Equality, which has contributions from 25 authors—some very well known—on the subject of "what you think about when you think of equality." It's a marvelously international book, published by Vine Leaves Press, an Australian company, and edited by my fellow Californian, Rainbow award-winner Paul Alan Fahey, with contributions from authors from all over the world.

They include historical mystery superstar Anne Perry, Christopher Bram (Gods and Monsters) Dennis Palumbo (My Favorite Year) Catherine Ryan Hyde (Pay it Forward) Victoria Zackheim (The Other Woman) and many others.

Six of us were also launching our latest books. For me it was the paper and audio versions of So Much for Buckingham, #5 in the Camilla Randall series, where I tackle the subject of cyberbullying in the writing community, from the point of view of a both a persecuted reviewer and an author who makes the mistake of responding to a review, which unleashes an attack of cyberbullying that leads to murder.

Q 21. Where and in which formats are your books available?

All ten of my stand-alone books plus the two boxed sets as well as most of the anthologies are available in ebook. Most are also available in print (some large print) and four are also available in audiobook. Ghostwriters in the Sky is available in Spanish and Why Grandma Bought that Car is available in Portuguese and Italian.

What about you? Do you write? What was the best advice you ever received about writing? What made you decide to be a writer? 

No Place Like Home: Camilla Randall Comedy-Mystery #4

(But it can be read as a stand-alone)

Wealthy Doria Windsor is suddenly homeless and accused of a murder she didn't commit. But Camilla, with the help of a brave trio of homeless people, the adorable Mr. X, and a little dog named Toto, is determined to unmask the real killer and discover the dark secrets of Doria’s deceased “financial wizard” husband before Doria is killed herself.

"A warp-speed, lighthearted comedy-mystery"...Abigail Padgett
"A fun, charming novel about the rich and less so" ...Karen Doering
"A cross of dry British humor and American wackiness, and it all adds up to a fun read." ...Deborah Bayles.
"It's comedy about a dark topic – homelessness – and it succeeds without ever descending into tasteless insensitivity, or tipping over into sentimentality."...Lucinda Elliot
Available at all the Amazons and NOOK Page Foundry, Kobo and iTunes It's also available in paperback from Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Barnes and Noble, in regular and LARGE PRINT. LARGE PRINT is also available at Barnes and Noble.
Narrated by award-winner C. S. Perryess and Anne R. Allen (as Camilla)
Nearly 8 hours of hilarious entertainment!Only $1.99 if you buy the Kindle ebook