Monthly Archives: December 2012

BAD TRAFFICK, Leine Basso Novel #2, is now live!

Book cover for Bad Traffick, the 2nd book in the Leine Basso Thriller Series

Book cover for Bad Traffick, the 2nd book in the Leine Basso Thriller Series

Finally, after several delays, BAD TRAFFICK, the 2nd book in the Leine Basso Thriller Series (after SERIAL DATE) is available on Amazon.com! (Soon to be available on B&N, iBookstore, KOBO, etc. )  Here’s the description:

Identified as a person of interest in three cold case murders, retired assassin Leine Basso is told to remain in Los Angeles until the investigation concludes. As a favor to Detective Santiago Jensen, she accepts a temporary position as a security specialist for A-list actor Miles Fournier, who believes he is the target of kidnappers. Leine finds she has her hands full trying to protect the head-strong celebrity.

Soon, a woman contacts Miles, claiming to be his long-lost sister. Having spent his childhood in the foster care system, Miles welcomes her into his home, happy to discover he has family. She confesses her twelve-year-old daughter, Mara, has been abducted by sex-traffickers and she’s desperate to get her back, hoping that Miles will use his considerable resources to find her.

Leine learns from a contact at a rescue organization that Mara escaped and is alone on the streets in the sprawling city of Los Angeles. The traffickers are determined to track her down and deliver her to the powerful client who purchased her for his twisted ends. Running out of time, Leine must find Mara before they do, or she will be lost forever.

Here’s what people are saying about BAD TRAFFICK:

“Written at a thrilling space, with well-drawn characters and a gripping plot, BAD TRAFFICK doesn’t disappoint! It’s well-worth staying up all night to reach the end. A perfect blend of emotion and suspense, Berkom takes the reader on a roller coaster of a ride. Whip fast action! Leine Basso is a woman to root for!!” – Award-winning Romantic Suspense author Mary Buckham

“An Intelligent Thriller Worthy of the Big Screen…” – Jen Blood, bestselling author of the Erin Solomon Mystery Series

Bad Traffick takes the Leine-Santiago pairing to new heights and adds a beautifully fleshed out story line full of real characters you are going to love. Buy Bad Traffick…” – Ruth M. Ross, reader and reviewer

BAD TRAFFICK deals with the pervasive issue of child sex-trafficking in the United States. I was inspired to write this book after watching a documentary shown at a local community college regarding the trafficking of children in the U.S. It’s not something that only happens “somewhere else” – children are forced into the sex trade every day, from California to Iowa to Alaska.

Some sobering statistics:

  • According to the U.S. State Department, more than two million people are trafficked worldwide every year. Eighty percent of these victims are exploited for sexual slavery; fifty percent are minors.
  • Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world with profits in excess of $32 billion, second only to the illegal drug trade. (U.S. State Department)
  • As many as 2.8 million children run away each year in the U.S. Within 48 hours, one-third of these children are lured or recruited into the underground world of prostitution and pornography. (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)
  • Experts estimate that 100,000-300,000 American children are at risk of becoming victims of commercial child prostitution; girls and boys as young as 11 are being victimized. (NCMEC)
  • Child pornography is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. Nationally, there has been a 2500% increase in arrests in 10 years. (FBIInnocence Lost Initiative)

There are several organizations that exist to fight human trafficking. Please, become informed and help where you can. No child should have to endure a life of slavery.

-DV

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The C-Word

cookieI’ve seen the word strike fear into the hearts of many beginning writers and those well-seasoned. The bad can leave you writhing in agony. The good is worth its weight in gold.

Yes, I’m talking about critique groups.

The first thing to know about critique groups is it all depends on who’s doing the critiquing. Unless you have masochistic tendencies, DO NOT give your first attempt at a fantasy novel to a librarian who prefers hardboiled mysteries, friend though she may profess to be (I still remember the red ink- as though blood streamed across the pages, pooling at midpoint…)

Alternately, you should run like the wind if the person to whom you were thinking of handing your opus says something along the lines of, “I normally don’t like to read, but I’d have a go at your stuff…”

You’ll want to carefully vet those you allow first access to your babies. Make sure they have at least one of the following qualities before taking the critique plunge:

• They’re well-read, preferably in more than one genre. If not, they’re never going to understand why you can’t make your international thriller involving Al Qaida operatives a sweet little romance…
• They should know the difference between the following lines: “You could drive a truck through this freaking plot hole” and, “The plot could use a little more clarification here” or, “You might want to rethink this section because…”
• Knowledge of the Oreo cookie style of critique: indicate where their writing needs work and why (the cookie part), add something praiseworthy (the delicious filling), followed again by mentioning something that needs fixing (cookie again). Note: this style of critique has been described where praise is the cookie part, but in my experience too much nice doesn’t work.
• It helps if they’re writers themselves, as they’ll understand the torture you put yourself through in order to write a coherent sentence
• A person with access to a chef or well-stocked wine cellar is a huge plus and may trump any the above

You might be lucky enough to find a group of writers at varying levels of mastery who will be as vested in your work as you are. It’s possible. I’m living proof.

My critique group consists of four writers. Each delves into different genres: one writes sweet, romantic short stories, erotica and full-length paranormal. Another prefers Christian and contemporary romance. The third writes time-travel romance and thrillers. I write mystery/suspense and thrillers, with a little satire thrown in for good measure. We’ve been together for years and have gone through several metamorphoses. Discussions are interesting, to say the least.

Unpublished when we first came together, we are now all published, either with an e-press or self-published, and all are selling well. We’ve seen each other through rejections, acceptances, good and bad reviews, deaths, financial struggles and everything in between. They’re the first to read anything I write and I value their input enormously. Where else will someone tell you, “You can’t kill them like that. Here’s how I’d do it…”
The cohesiveness of the group didn’t happen overnight and we’ve had a couple of other members come and go, but the four of us have persevered. Discussion can get pretty heated over things like description, character motivation and backstory, but in the end, everyone cares and that’s what counts.

When you find a group like that, the dreaded c-word isn’t quite so dreadful.


Is Your Web Page Accessible?

Image

Imagine a potential new reader who happens upon your beautifully designed website, whether by way of that blog post you wrote about your fabulous, just-released novel, or because someone they know told them about you.

Become that reader. See your website as though for the first time. Notice the colors, the perfect fonts, the just-right images…Now, close your eyes.

What do you see?

Got it? Now imagine that you can’t use a mouse. Or are colorblind. How does your website look now?

These are questions every writer with a website should ask her/himself. If you used a web designer, hopefully she understood the implications of accessibility and developed your site accordingly. If, however, you created your own website (like I did), and only vaguely understood what “accessibility” actually meant in relation to HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (yup, me again), then you need to read this article. Why, you ask? Because you’re missing a HUGE segment of the population (some put the estimate at tens of millions) who may enjoy learning more about you and the stories you create.

And, it just makes sense.

Listen, we’re writers. We write stories. We love it when people are able to access our work. We love it even more when we get feedback. Why not use the following simple tips to make your website more accessible to another large segment of Internet users? Not only will these techniques make your website more accessible to those millions of non-traditional users, it will make it more accessible to an aging population, improve your odds with search engines, and improve readability and navigation on e-readers and smartphones. (Note: I’m making the assumption that if you’ve developed/designed your own website, you have at least a tentative understanding of HTML and will be able to follow the references in this article. If not, you may want to search HTML tutorials for more information on HTML and web design.)

Two of the most overlooked and easiest ways to make your website accessible are using headings (e.g., H1) and providing alternative text for images.

Alternative Text (alt-text) for Images: Providing alt-text for your images just means using a description in your code for the images on your website.  This includes not only .JPGs and .GIFs and .PNGs, but image maps, spacers, and even images used for navigation like bullets or buttons. When a visually impaired web user navigates to your site, they’ll more than likely be using a screen reader or talking browser, and the image text will be read to them. In Dreamweaver, the web design program I use, you can find the alt attribute at the bottom of the screen in Properties, to the right of Src. If you’re writing your own HTML, the alt=”description” goes after the image source (e.g., <image src=”images/image.gif” alt=”image description”/>

Look at the top (or side) of your home page. Do you use images for links (buttons) to different pages of your website? If so, you’ll want to provide alt-text for these elements, or the text-reader won’t recognize the navigation. If the image is a link to something, you’ll want to convey the reason for the link. For instance, say you have an image that links to your About page. You would use alt= “About” in the code. You don’t need to include “link to…” in your description. The text reader will let the user know when a link is encountered. Keep your description simple- preferably not more than a few words.

Now, look at your home page again. Are there images that are basically decorative and do nothing more than add a visual element to the page? Images that aren’t necessary for navigation should probably not have a description (although, there are good arguments for the other side so if you want visitors to know you have a picture of, say, a pug on your page, go ahead and use the text alt=”pug”. Your call.) Otherwise, use alt=”‘ (pair of quotes). This will indicate a non-essential element, allowing the text-reader to skip the description, saving your visitor time.

 If you have an image map, each area should have its own description. Again, if you’re using Dreamweaver, each ‘hot spot’ has a box at the bottom of the design screen where you can enter alt-text. For those of you creating your webpage from scratch, the HTML would be similar to this image map for an imaginary web site for bath products:

<div align=”center”><img src=”images.jpg” width=”496″ height=”451″ border=”0″ usemap=”#Map”>
          <map name=”Map”>

            <area shape=”rect” coords=”102,9,193,148″ href=”loofah.htm”
              alt=”Sponges””>

            <area shape=”rect” coords=”199,11,288,148″ href=”soaps.htm”
              alt=”Glycerin soaps”>

            <area shape=”rect” coords=”395,373,481,445″ href=”fragrance.html”
              alt=”Essential Oils”>
          </map>
Notice the text after alt= describes the image’s link in simple terms. No need to go overboard and explain, for instance, that the loofahs are from an island in the Caribbean, hand-picked by sexy surfer-boys. (Hey- it’s my imaginary web site <g>)

Headings: When I first created my author web page, www.dvberkom.com, I didn’t have a clue about CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and laboriously changed font size by hand as I created the pages. Didn’t use the H1 attribute. Didn’t use any kind of text attribute other than the default. If you design your webpage this way, a visually-impaired user will have to listen to everything on the page. And I mean everything.

The text-reader needs a way to differentiate the various areas on the page, or it thinks it’s all important. Yes, I know. YOU think everything is important, but put yourself in your visitor’s shoes. When you go to a web site, do you want to find the information you’re interested in with the least amount of navigation? Sure. So does everyone else. Visually-impaired users are no different.

 If you use headings, the text-reader is able to skip to each heading without having to read all of the text in between. This way, if the visitor wants to find out about your new release, s/he can do so without having to listen to everything prior to that information. What if this is the second time the visitor has come to your website? Would you want to have to listen to all the stuff you’ve heard before, just to get to the piece of information you need?

Didn’t think so.

 Here are some other issues to take into account when you assess your website: (Note: While there are many ways to make your website more accessible, more in-depth techniques are beyond the scope of this author and article. I’ve included links below if you’d like to learn more.)

  • Create accessible .PDF files with Adobe Acrobat, and revise existing PDFs for accessibility. (http://www.adobe.com/accessibility/products/acrobat/overview.html)
  • Include captions/transcripts in multimedia: e.g., videos on YouTube, presentations, etc.
  • Make your website navigable for non-mouse users (include the option of using the keyboard to navigate your site)
  • Offer a “Skip Navigation” option at the top of the page for those interested in jumping directly to the main content

There are several more unobtrusive ways that you can design your web pages so that everyone can enjoy what you have to offer. While my website is far from completely accessible, I’ve begun taking the baby steps to create a site that will hopefully include, rather than exclude, non-traditional web users. Creating an accessible website isn’t just good business, it’s an opportunity to foster inclusiveness and good relationships with potential readers.

Online accessibility courses (FREE):
http://www.doit.wise.edu/accessibility/online-course/

http://jimthatcher.com/webcourse1.htm

 Check your web pages for Accessibility: The following are links to accessibility toolbars to check your website.
Web Accessibility Toolbar for IE:

http://www.paciellogroup.com/resources/wat-ie-about.html

  • For Firefox (web developer extension):

http://www.chrispederick.com/work/web-developer/

 Web Accessibility Initiative: http://www.w3.org/WAI/
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C): http://www.w3.org/

 About Section 508 Standards for Web Accessibility:

http://www.access-board.gov/sec508/guide/1194.22.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 


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