Thursday, October 27, 2005

A.C. Crispin -10

I need to consult with Victoria Strauss before continuing the story, and I will invite her to begin posting here, because, from now on, it was HER story just as much as it was mine. Hope that's okay with everyone?

I asked Vic the other day if she wanted to join me in doing a joint blog about Writer Beware and writing. She indicated she'd like that.

I hope that would be okay with y'all?

If the blog works out well, we're going to link to it on our respective sites, and give it a name. Anyone have any suggestions for a a suitable blog name?

By the way, Victoria has the cover art for her new book up on her site, and it's great! It's www.victoriastrauss.com

You should go check it out.

Does anyone who's reading this have any questions for Writer Beware? I'd be happy to answer questions about scam agents, or publishers, or give advice to those who are aspiring writers.

It's what Writer Beware DOES.

As for me, I'm working away on Winds of Vengeance, book 2 in the Exiles of Boq'urain trilogy. At some point I might post a few paragraphs here.

Okay, here's today's writing tip! WHEN WRITING A SCENE THAT'S HIGHLY TECHNICAL, AND YOU AREN'T AN EXPERT IN THE SUBJECT, BUT HAVE JUST DONE THE RESEARCH TO WRITE THE SCENE, WRITE THE SCENE FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF A CHARACTER WHO IS NOT AN EXPERT IN THE SUBJECT MATTER. WRITE FROM THE POV OF SOMEONE WHO HAS JUST THE ORDINARY KNOWLEDGE LEVEL. THAT WAY YOU CAN MAKE SURE THE READER LEARNS JUST WHAT HE OR SHE NEEDS TO KEEP READING, WITHOUT HAVING TO CLUTTER UP THE SCENE WITH UNSPOKEN "SUBCONTEXT" FROM AN EXPERT CHARACTER.

-Ann C. Crispin

Monday, October 24, 2005

A.C. Crispin - 9

A.C. Crispin

ENTER A HERO:

About this time, after the Deerings had been indicted, when law enforcement was paying attention to their scam, I spoke to agent Clay Mason, telling him about Martha Ivery, and asking him which office would handle the Catskills area of New York. Special Agent Mason told me it would be the Albany Field Office of the FBI.

So one day I plucked up my courage and called them.

I was SOOOOO LUCKY. When I asked to speak with an expert in white collar crime, they referred me to a man named Paul Silver. Paul listened to me patiently, took notes, and then told me that the FBI had an "unofficial" dollar amount of $100,000 in losses that had to be met before they could begin an active investigation. He didn't know anything about publishing scams, but he was quick-witted and patient. He listened, asked questions, and told me what Writer Beware would have to do in order to get the FBI interested in the case.

I was SOOOOO LUCKY. Since that time, I've spoken with many FBI agents on different cases, and some of them have been disappointingly unsympathetic, even indifferent, to the plight of scammed writers. For some strange reason, writers just don't seem to elicit public sympathy when they get taken, the way groups like the elderly do.

Instead there is often the unspoken, but real, judgment that "they had it coming, if they were that stupid."

I don't agree.

I've never been the kind of person to "blame the victim." I think that attitude, frankly, sucks.

But anyway, now Vic and I had our marching papers. $100,000 (or pretty close) in losses. If we could find that many victims and get their documentation, and get them to register official complaints, we might be able to get the Feds interested in pursuing the case.

We had our work cut out for us!

Okay, more later this week...but for now, here's today's writing tip: DON'T EVER USE COLORED PAPER FOR A MANUSCRIPT. OR WEIRD COLORED INK. OR UNUSUAL FONTS. FOR A COMPLETE, FREE MANUSCRIPT PREP GUIDE, VISIT THE SFWA SITE. IT'S
www.sfwa.org

Happy writing!

-Ann C. Crispin
www.accrispin.com

Friday, October 21, 2005

A.C. Crispin - 8

I think seeing the Deerings go down scared Kelly O'Donnell/Martha Ivery (Martha Ivery is her real name...she had at least 6 aliases at one time or another). Kelly had done some work with them...either "selling" books to Sovereign press, or possibly with the Deering Literary Agency "selling" book's to Martha's "PressTIGE" Publishing Company.

Anyway, after the Deerings were indicted, she became a lot more aggressive in defending herself, making a lot of threats. Any writer that dared to complain about her was subjected to threats, withering scorn, harrassment, etc. On at least one occasion Martha phoned Child Welfare Services in a town on a former client who had dared to complain publicly about her, calling in an anonymous tip from a "concerned neighbor" that the woman was beating and neglecting her children.

Martha also defended herself on the Aol boards under a plethora of names, including the SN "Howard Stern." She announced that Victoria Strauss and I were terrorists who had bombed the World Trade Center (the first bombing, not the 9/11 one), that Writer Beware was a front for the Mafia, and then she began claiming that she was keeping tabs on my movements. She claimed to be watching me every moment. Of course the things she claimed to be doing, for example, "I watched you go through the drive in window at the bank yesterday" were obviously bogus, at least to me. (I bank by mail.)

I ignored her. She then claimed to be my literary agent, and got people to sign on with her in that way. She claimed to have the franchise to publish Star Trek novels. Nobody ever accused Martha of being timid. Chutzpah was her middle name. When some would-be Star Trek authors actually bothered to READ the copyright page on the Star Trek novels in their collection, and saw the name "John Ordover" given as the editor of the Star Trek collection, and dared to ask if she really had the franchise, Martha assured them that she (Martha Ivery) was really the head of Pocket Books, and that there was no such person as John Ordover.

It sounds so over the top that it sounds like I'm making it up, doesn't it?

At one point she had her son in law (I think it must have been he, or maybe her husband) pose as an FBI officer and call someone on Aol who had warned writers to stay away from her. The man threatened the Aoler with arrest, beatings, and jail time.

Wow, just remembering back that far...it's pretty amazing.

At any rate, all of this back and forth stuff continued for a while.

Next post: What Writer Beware was doing about Martha Ivery and, enter a Hero.

Today's writing tip: IF YOU FIND YOURSELF DRAFTING A STORY THAT YOU HAVEN'T THOUGHT THROUGH, WHEN YOU GO BACK TO RE-READ IT, KEEP ASKING YOURSELF: IS THIS REASONABLE? DOES THIS MAKE SENSE? plus the corollary: NEVER SUBMIT A FIRST DRAFT!

-Ann C. Crispin
Author: STORMS OF DESTINY/HarperEos
www.accrispin.com

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A.C. Crispin 7

Hi, folks!

I'm back after a relaxing, but rainy, week at the beach. Luckily Cape May has lots to do besides swim. The Victorian architecture is gorgeous, and most days we didn't actually have rain, just clouds and a bit of drizzle here and there.

We walked on the beach, took trolleys around the town, climbed a working lighthouse for a night tour, and I went on a ghost trolley excursion. Cape May has a LOT of ghosts. I didn't see any, though. (smile) I love learning about local ghosts when I travel, though. I've only written one ghost story, however. It's on my website, written with Christie Golden, and you can read it for free. The title is: "Though Hell Should Bar the Way" and it's a sequel to Alfred Noyes famous poem we all had to read in high school, "The Highwayman."

My website is: www.accrispin.com

You can also read the first 100 pages of my new book, Storms of Destiny, there.

Okay, don't have time for a long entry today, but I'll finish up the story of what happened to Dorothy and Charles Deering.

The Deering-scammed authors, as I told you previously, had banded together right about the time that Victoria Strauss and I were first discussing forming Writer Beware.

These authors managed to bring their plight to the attention of an FBI agent named Clay Mason. Ladies and gents, this guy is a true hero. He listened to these authors, and began investigating the situation. It took him months to interest the State authorities, including the US Attorney, etc. Finally, he got a search warrant and turned up at Charles and Dorothy's offices with a TRUCK, and cleaned them out. He wound up hauling away tons of manuscripts, most still unopened, that the Deerings had lying around. After they cashed the checks, why should they bother to do anything with the manuscripts?

Dorothy Deering and Charles Deering were shocked that their little game was coming to an end. The evidence, as gathered by Special Agent Mason, proved in no uncertain terms that these people were scamming writers both as literary agents and also as publishers.

Matter of fact, the case was completely documented in a very good book, called "Ten Percent of Nothing: The Literary Agent from Hell" written by former FBI agent and Professor of Criminology, Jim Fisher. Yes, the same Jim Fisher who had first begun tracking writing scams at around the same time as Kim from The Write Connection was tracking them.

You can find the book on Amazon.com and it is a FASCINATING read: a true crime anatomy of how a writing scam works. I highly recommend it! (And guess what? I'm mentioned in it!)

The Deerings, and their whole crew, Bill Richardson, and Dorothy's stepson, Daniel, all faced charges. Dorothy, as the ringleader, got 46 months in Federal prison. Charles, her chief accomplice, got 41 months. Daniel Deering, Dorothy's stepson, was placed on probation, but he failed a drug test, so he wound up in the slammer anyhow. Bill Richardson, Dorothy's thuggish brother in law, was the one who cut a deal with the authorities to squeal on the others. He did only a year because he cooperated.

All of this happened back in the late 90's, so the Deerings are out of prison now. But for some reason, they haven't tried forming another literary agency or publishing house. (grin)

As for the writers...well, it's sad. Dorothy and Charles had run through all of the money (and it must have been a couple million, they were raking it in) living in a high rolling fashion, buying houses and cars for relatives, etc. The victims got almost no restitution. They did, however, get the rights back to their books.

Read Jim Fisher's book if you're interested in the anatomy of a writing scam. It's a real eye-opener.

Hope y'all are doing well. I'll continue with the Kelly O'Donnell part of the tale next post.

Oh, before I forget!

Today's writing tip: MANY BEGINNING WRITERS TEND TO OVER-USE ADJECTIVES AND ADVERBS. YOU WANT YOUR WRITING TO BE LEAN, AND UNCLUTTERED. SO IF YOU HAVE A TENDENCY TO USE TOO MANY ADJECTIVES AND ADVERBS, WHEN YOU FINISH A CHAPTER, GO BACK AND CHECK EACH PAGE FOR ADJECTIVES AND ADVERBS. CUT OUT HALF OF THE ONES YOU FIND, AND SEE HOW MUCH "LEANER" YOUR WRITING IS!

-Ann C. Crispin
Author: STORMS OF DESTINY/HarperEos
www.accrispin.com

Friday, October 07, 2005

A.C. Crispin 6

I'll be on vacation for the next ten days, so the blog will be on hiatus till I return. I'm looking forward to a few days of rest and recreation by the seashore!

See you when I get back.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A.C. Crispin - 5

A.C. Crispin

"It must have been fate."

Yesterday I mentioned that my research into both the Kelly O'Donnell scam and the Deering scam had brought me into contact with several people: Kim from Write Connection, Jim Fisher, the former FBI agent, and Victoria Strauss, a SFWA member who writes fantasy novels (and GOOD ones, too!). Victoria had started a website called Writer Beware.

As I found out more and more about scams, I decided that SFWA should make information available to aspiring writers to help them avoid writing scams. Science fiction and fantasy has a tradition that was handed down by Robert Heinlein (one of the most important s.f. writers of all time), of "paying forward."

Mr. Heinlein put it like this: "You can never pay back the people who helped you when you were starting out as a writer. You can only pay forward."

SFWA's bylaws contain wording about "educating the public" about writing and s.f. publishing. I decided that SFWA really should take an official interest in helping aspiring authors avoid writing scams, since no other professional writers group seemed to give a hoot. (And this is still true, I'm afraid.)

Jim Fisher told me the sobering fact that scams aimed at separating aspiring writers from their hard earned money were the fastest proliferating "new" con game on the internet. Millions of dollars were being lost every year to these fraud artists. It was a very sobering thought.

Even as the anti-Deering writers group gained momentum, and law enforcement began, at long last, to show some signs of taking an interest, Kim of the Write Connection was forced to shut down. She was literally under seige of lawsuits from several of the wealthier scam agents, such as Cynthia Sterling of Lee Shore, Kelly O'Donnell, and Dorothy Deering. Jim Fisher, too, was coming under fire for his "Fisher Scale."

Both Kim and Jim told me that if I could use the databases they had compiled of scam agents and publishers, I could have their databases. They were quitting the scam hunting business.

Now, as you folks must have noticed, a computer whiz I am NOT. But there was this lady, Victoria Strauss, who already had a site called Writer Beware. And, furthermore, she was already a SFWA member and a well-published author.

I called her up.

That first conversation was rather awkward, if I recall correctly. (Maybe it was awkward when Stanley first encountered Livingston in that jungle. Or when Lewis first met Clark when President Thomas Jefferson introduced them. [If he did indeed introduce them. I didn't bother to look it up. (grin)]) I rattled on about the info I had been offered, in my capacity as SFWA Eastern Regional Director, and how I thought Victoria was just the person to take over these dabases, and was she willing?

Victoria didn't say much. She didn't say no, however. She asked for some time to think about it. I called her back in a week or two, and then, wonder of wonders, she said, "Yes."

Victoria and I began talking on a regular basis. At first we just exchanged information on writing scams. Then we talked about how much we hated scammers. Then we began talking about writing, and our lives as writers.

Soon we were talking about everything under the sun. We had both found a strong and lasting friendship.

SFWA agreed that I could found a new committee, called the "SFWA Committee on Writing Scams." I agreed to be Chair, and Victoria agreed to be Vice-Chair.

Scammers, look out!

Tomorrow: What happened to the Deerings, and Kelly O'Donnell.

Today's writing tip is: IF YOU FIND YOURSELF RESEARCHING A SUBJECT YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING AT ALL ABOUT FOR A BOOK OR A SHORT STORY, IT'S OFTEN USEFUL TO CHECK OUT A KID'S BOOK FROM THE LIBRARY FOR A BASIC INTRODUCTION TO THE SUBJECT.

-Ann C. Crispin
Writer Beware
www.writerbeware.com
Author: STORMS OF DESTINY/HarperEos
www.accrispin.com

Monday, October 03, 2005

A.C. Crispin 3&4

A.C. Crispin

Well, how annoying. I wrote a whole blog yesterday and it went right into thin air and never got posted at all. I am NOT getting the hang of this, I guess. I suppose this one will go POOF! too, and if it does, I quit.

Humph.

Well, I'll give it one more try. And I'll save that blog on an email so someone can maybe volunteer to post it for me as a comment, or something...because Aol won't allow me to cut and paste stuff into internet sites, who knows why?

You're probably wondering why I stay on Aol? Everyone knows it's not a "real" ISP. I do it because there seem to be hordes of aspiring writers on Aol who wander into the author chatrooms and post on the message boards, wondering how much they should pay an agent. Or how much it's normal to pay a publisher.

(sigh)

It's nice to be needed, as they say...

Anyway, I'll try again with the Kelly O'Donnell saga.

After I had determined to my own satisfaction that Kelly O'Donnell was a scammer, I began watching for her online, and every time I saw her in the Writers Cafe, hunting for prey, I'd pop in and tell people not to pay her money. I began to really cut into her business, I think, because she became more and more hysterical in trying to discredit me, and then she began making threats about how she was going to sue me, etc.

By this time had my dander up, and I'd researched her pretty thoroughly with editors I knew in the publishing industry (the REAL publishing industry) and they told me that when they received submissions from O'Donnell Literary, they were promptly roundfiled. I couldn't find any books supposedly "sold" by Kelly through any venue except vanity presses. She "sold" stuff to her own PressTIGE imprint, and also to Cynthia Sterling's Sterling House Publishing. A quick glance at that website led me to realize that was a vanity press, also.

About this time, I encountered Kim, from the Writer's Connection. Kim had been scammed a couple of times, and was determined to fight back against scammers. What a brave woman! All on her own, she'd compiled a database of scam agents and publishers. Kim was the one who told me about the Deering Literary Agency, and Sovereign Publishing. I began checking them out, too, and they were every bit as bogus as Kelly O'Donnell.

Tipped off by Kim, I signed on to some message boards for authors who had realized the Deerings were scamming them, and who had banded together to exchange information and offer emotional support to each other. These poor writers had hired Dorothy Deering of the Deering Literary Agency as their literary agent. Dorothy claimed to be the daughter of William Morrow, of the Morrow publishing empire. She was raking in victims for her agency and "selling" their books to two bogus companies, Northwest Publishing, owned by James van Treese, and, later, as Northwest began to flounder, (which is about when I arrived on the scene) to Commonwealth Publishing in Canada, owned by Don Phelan, a former scam literary agent who realized that he could make more rooking authors with so-called "Co-op" publishing contracts. Northwest had come up with the idea originally. They convinced desperate authors that publishing was a risky business, so they should sign "co-op" or "joint risk" or "joint venture" contracts in which the author and the publisher split the cost of producing the book.

Of course Northwest and Commonwealth put in no money...but you knew that, right?

Also during this time, as I talked to my husband about what I was discovering about all of this, he told me that he thought I should write an article on my findings for the SFWA Bulletin. (My husband was President of SFWA at that time, and I was Eastern Regional Director.) I determined to do exactly that.

Around this time, a number of things happened:

1. The number of Deering victims appearing on the message boards had grown to dozens of writers. I started posting to their group, urging them to get in touch with both State law enforcement and Federal law enforcement. I knew the FBI covered white collar crime, and these scams were certainly criminal!

2. Kim of the Write Connection encountered Professor Jim Fisher of Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. Jim was a former FBI agent who taught criminology classes at the University. He had become interested in the problem posed by writing scams when one of his friends was scammed. Jim Fisher also had a database of scuzzy agents and publishers, and had developed guidelines called "The Fisher Scale" to measure the legitimacy of an agent. I learned a LOT from both Kim and Jim Fisher.

3. I discovered that my friend Brenda Clough was also researching writing scams at the request of the SFWA Bulletin editor. We decided to combine forces and do a series of articles for the Bulletin.

4. I discovered that another SFWA member, Victoria Strauss, had a site called Writer Beware, because she, too, had realized that writing scams were proliferating at an alarming rate.

Tomorrow: It must have been fate...

Okay, so now let's see if this post, too, will vanish into the ether, or whether it will turn up on my blog. I did cut and paste it so I kept a copy.

Oh, and before I close: Writing tip for the day! WHEN WRITING DESCRIPTIONS OF CHARACTERS AND DESCRIPTIONS OF SETTINGS, AS WELL AS NARRATIVE AND ACTION SCENES, BE SURE TO UTILIZE ALL FIVE SENSES! MOST BEGINNING WRITERS TEND TO FOCUS ONLY ON SIGHT, AND SKIP OVER SOUND, TOUCH, SMELL AND TASTE. USE ALL OF THE FIVE SENSES!

Best,

-Ann C. Crispin
Author: STORMS OF DESTINY/HarperEos
www.accrispin.com
Writer Beware
www.writerbeware.com

Sunday, October 02, 2005

A.C. Crispin - No 3

I hope there is no law that says you have to do this every day, or I am dead meat. Yesterday I didn't even sign onto the computer at all. Went to a baseball game with my husband.

Let's see, where was I? Oh yes, Installment 2 of the Kelly O'Donnell story, aka How Writer Beware Began.

By the time I'd finished fencing with Kelly O'Donnell, and showing her up in front of the Aol chat as a fake, she was raving mad, and making all kinds of threats. Meanwhile, I began checking around to see how many other fake agents were on the internet. The answer was...A LOT. Hundreds.

My husband, who, at that time, was President of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (I was Eastern Regional Director) suggested that I ought to write an article about this proliferation of scam agents on the internet for the SFWA Bulletin. I decided that might be a good idea, and I set to work, researching in earnest.

While I was doing this, I ran into a nice lady named Kim, who ran a small, fan-based site called The Write Connection. Kim had been scammed by several fake agents, and decided to do something about it. So she founded The Write Connection, and began keeping a database and publishing the names of the scam agents she encountered. Kim was also on Aol, and the two of us began Instant Messaging about Kelly O'Donnell, and other scam agents and scam publishers she'd encountered. Kim was the person who "introduced" me to Charles and Dorothy Deering, of the Deering Literary Agency, and Sovereign Publishing. All purpose scammers -- they'd get you coming and going. First you'd pay a reading fee for them to read your manuscript. Then they'd tell you it needed editing, and you'd pay thousands of dollars for a worthless editing job that involved little more than a spelling and grammar-check program. THEN, after the victim was good and softened up, and getting pretty desperate because he or she had been receiving nothing but rejections from commercial publishers in New York, Dorothy Deering would "sell" your book to her own vanity press, Soverign Publishing. Of course she didn't admit it was a vanity press. She called it a "co-op publishing venture." Scam agents and publishers are masters of what I call weasel-wording.

Of course the several thousand the author put into the project was all the money that was ever invested. And for their thousands of dollars, the poor author would get a hundred sub-standard books...if he or she was LUCKY.

People who came into the project later got zip for their "investment."

The Deerings were real masters at the "art" of rooking writers. Funny thing about scam literary agents and publishers...almost all of them, if you trace them far back enough, started out as writers who were trying to get published, and couldn't sell their books.

Go figure, huh?

Okay, it's time for the Writing Tip of the Day: WHEN WRITING EITHER SETTINGS OR DESCRIPTIONS (OF PEOPLE OR PLACES), DON'T FORGET TO USE ALL FIVE SENSES IN YOUR DESCRIPTION. BEGINNING WRITERS TEND TO USE SIGHT ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY. DON'T FORGET HEARING, TASTE, TOUCH, AND SMELL!

Have a great Sunday!

-Ann C. Crispin
Author: STORMS OF DESTINY/HarperEos
www.accrispin.com
Writer Beware
www.writerbeware.com