20May/17

Chatting with Amazon – the Black Hole of Kindle Storyteller

When Amazon first started their drive to take over world literature, their ebook-creation arm, Kindle Direct Publishing, offered terrific customer service. Then they cut off phone support and switched to Live Chat and e-mail.

Now even those are gone. Today, if you click KDP’s “Contact Us” button, you fall into a dead-end online loop of the same prefab info you already read. There is no Contact; there is no Us.

I entered my brand-new book in Kindle’s Storyteller UK competition. I figured it wouldn’t win — I don’t have a big enough fan base, the #1 judging criterion — but this is an international mystery with a potentially wide audience, so, good exposure.

On the day after deadline, ANFTR didn’t show up among the Storyteller contestants. Why?

With no way to find out why, I tried Amazon’s UK website. Their support phone number yields a “cannot be completed as dialed” message — probably to prevent “reaching out” from across the Pond. So I tried
LIVE CHAT
Me: I’m trying to find out why my new book Another Number for the Road (ASIN: B07171PMHK) does not appear on Kindle Storyteller, although I followed all the rules & deadlines.

You’re now connected to Greeshma from Amazon.co.uk
Greeshma: Thank you for contacting Amazon.co.uk. My name is Greeshma.
Am I chatting with Carol ?

Me: Yes. Hi, Greeshma. I hope you can find out what’s going on.

Greeshma: Hi Carol .
Hope you are doing good.

Me: I try to do good always!

Greeshma: I understand you would like to find the this item . Let me check and help you with this.  [Long pause]
A member of our Kindle team will need to help you with this. Please hold on the line while I transfer the chat. One of our Kindle representatives will assist you shortly.
A Customer Service Associate will be with you in a moment.

You’re now connected to Bhavya from Amazon.co.uk
Bhavya: Hello Carol Verburg, I’m Bhavya, and I’ll be glad to help you today.

Me: Thanks

Bhavya: I understand that you are unable to find the kindle ebook on Kindle storyteller.
I’m really sorry about this Carol.
Just to reconfirm, may I know if you are referring to audible books?

Me: If you are not familiar with Kindle’s Storyteller competition, I doubt you can answer my question.
Can you connect me with someone who knows about Kindle Storyteller?

Bhavya: I will make sure your issue is fixed or transferred to concerned team. [Long pause]
Could you please let me know if you are referring to below book:
Me: Yes.

Bhavya: Thank you for confirming.
May I know if you are referring to Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk account?

Me: The Kindle version (which is not shown here) was published on Amazon UK, but I see it’s not listed here. For some reason the link above shows a paperback which is marked as a Kindle Edition — obviously a mistake.

Bhavya: The link which I’ve provided above is for Amazon.co.uk.
May I know where are you residing currently? UK or US

Me: This is the Kindle cover, but the book is identified incorrectly as paperback only. I am currently in the US.

Bhavya: Thank you for confirming.
Please give me a moment. [Long pause]
I will make sure to forward this feedback. [Long pause]
I would like to inform you that this Kindle’s storytelling competition is not held in UK and as you are referring to Amazon.com account, I will forward this issue to concerned team internally and they will get back to you via email as soon as possible.

Me: That is not correct. The Kindle Storyteller competition is based & operated in the UK.
[Long pause]
Hello? Did you hang up on me?

Bhavya: I’m checking this for you Carol.

Me: Thank you, Bhavya.

Bhavya: May I know where did you see about this Kindle storyteller competition information on our website?

Again — if you are not familiar with this competition, you cannot answer my question.

Bhavya: Thank you for providing the link.

Me: In any case, I would like to know why my Kindle book on Amazon.UK is listed as a paperback.
That is probably the reason why the book hasn’t shown up on the Kindle Storyteller competition web page.

Bhavya: Kindly accept my apology for the inconvenience caused to you in this case.
There might be some unexpected technical issue due to which the book was listed as a paperback.
I will make sure to escalate this issue to our concerned team.
May I place you on hold for two minutes while I look in to this for you?

Me: Sure.

Bhavya: Thanks a lot. [Long pause]

Me: Here is how the book is listed on Amazon.com, with both the Kindle & paperback versions shown: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07171PMHK/

Bhavya:
Thank you for this link.
I’ve forwarded this issue to our concerned team on high priority.
They will look into this and make sure to fix this as soon as possible.
Please be assured about it.
You will get a confirmation email from them within next 24 hours.

Me:
The deadline for the Kindle Storyteller competition was last night. I need action on this right away.

Bhavya:
I will request them to look into this on high priority for you.
24hours is the maximum time frame Carol. However in most cases you will get an update even before that.

Me:
Thank you. Is there no one you can connect me with who can look into it now? If not, is there a phone number I can call? It is essential to straighten this out while there is some chance my book can still be in the competition.

Bhavya:
Unfortunately there is no direct contact available for concerned team Carol.

Me:
OK, if that’s all you can do, thanks for your efforts & have a good day.

Bhavya:
I really appreciate your patience and understanding.
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Click here to find out about my latest mystery —  international intrigue, with music!
Or go straight to the book’s Amazon page for a unique e-adventure.

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12May/17

Coming in May: ANOTHER NUMBER FOR THE ROAD a Cory Goodwin Mystery

Remember the Summer of Love? What cooler way to celebrate 50 years since the Human Be-In, peace love & flowers, and Monterey Pop than with the new Cory Goodwin mystery?

When legendary guitarist Dan Quasi reunites Boston’s top 60s rock-protest band for an upscale exchange program, Cory wants to know why. A free trip to Paris? A new revolution? Or cover for murdering his vocalist?

Boom-Books is rushing the publication date to have ANOTHER NUMBER FOR THE ROAD out in time for the Bay Area Book Festival (Sunday, June 4) and the North Beach Festival (Saturday & Sunday, June 17-18). Come find us there, or pick up a copy after May 19 on Amazon.

 

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04May/17

Escape from Fiction: Lunch at the Beach

Day 3 of a heat wave. Why I love San Francisco, #6: I can clear my head with a long lunch break — set aside book-cover design, music credits, and marketing strategies to zip out to Ocean Beach for a Chino’s burrito and a walk in the hot sun and chilly sea. Three other beaches are closer, but the road to this one runs through a flower-speckled, eucalyptus-scented park, along a clifftop above the Golden Gate, to a wide stretch of sand where there’s nothing but water between me and Japan.

Or, usually there isn’t. Today the horizon’s encrusted with a rim of white, as if a glacial island had drifted in to block sea traffic. That’s the famous San Francisco fog massing offshore to invade the bay. Splashing into the shallows below the Cliff House and Sutro Park, I can feel its chilly breath. I look south and see an unexpected vagueness, a blurry octopus-arm of fog reaching across the scorching sand. People stroll into it and disappear.

Tra-la, it’s May! A lusty month for sand crabs, evidently, as well as for songwriters. Desiccated shells and legs spatter the high-tide line. Gulls fly, swoop, dive, and do their flat-footed Charlie Chaplin waddle through the foam, waiting to snatch whatever the next wave brings in. Each wave launches a flurry of scuttling as beached crabs dig for safety, or, failing, roll over and over toward the undertow. When I reach the Disappearing Fog Zone, I look down at my feet and see thousands of tiny semi-transparent baby crabs in the swirling water.

For half a minute I stop walking, to avoid stepping on them. But nature is profligate with life. Whether it’s green grass or wet sand under our bare feet, we’re always squashing something.

Nature also is profligate with beauty. The sand dollar I pick up (is it alive, to be thrown back? — no, let this bleached shell lie, a find for some other treasure-hunter) awes me with the delicately etched five-petaled design on its back; but to the gull behind me, that’s just a wrapper to rip off in search of a meal.

As humans discover that animals communicate, feel emotions, form social groups, make tools, and cross one wall after another that we thought separated us, is our appreciation of beauty the last frontier?

What about creativity? Writing, for instance?

I left my cat curled up in a rocking chair and my characters safely stowed in a French hotel room. Now I can feel someone’s breath on my neck. Not the cat. Two lovers are following me down this beach. She’s recalling something he told her in Paris: It always clears my head to be in San Francisco. Is that happening now? His eyes, hidden by sunglasses, gaze at the green-glass waves rising and then crashing into a champagne froth. Is he thinking of his friend who was bludgeoned to death long ago with a bottle of Dom Perignon? Or wondering why no surfers are out today? They pass a bevy of maidens — as common to beaches as gulls — who pretend to be scared of the water, daring and teasing, shrieking when a wave sneaks up and licks their feet. Across the sand on the inland side, pink flowers cascade down a fake-rock cliff face, under a waxing gibbous moon which floats in the baby-blue sky like a Portuguese man-of-war.

In about two minutes she will pick up a piece of shell sculpted into the shape of a gull, and carry it over to a pool where she can rinse off the sand. He’ll wait for her, until the unforgettable moment when she reaches over a log left by last night’s bonfire revelers and discovers —

 

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27Apr/17

Book Review: Carmen Amato’s Cliff Diver, an Acapulco Mystery

Cliff Diver (Emilia Cruz Mysteries, #1)Cliff Diver by Carmen Amato
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An enjoyable, fast-paced police procedural set in Acapulco, starring the department’s first and only female detective. Emilia Cruz is a workaholic who lives with her charming but slightly confused mother. Emilia’s partner is the only member of the squad willing to work with a woman; a bit possessive, Rico warns off every man who comes near her. That includes Kurt Rucker, the magnetic owner of a luxury hotel where a car scam may have originated which soon links to a kidnapping, a counterfeit money racket, and a possible conspiracy between a cartel and local authorities. Carmen Amato deftly weaves Emilia’s professional, domestic, and romantic challenges into a vivid, compelling mystery. Small personal touches morph adroitly into clues. Unlike a lot of procedurals where police corruption distorts every investigation, this one stays realistic about it; corruption is an obstacle, but not an artificial hobble to pad the plot or turn the characters into victims. At one or two points, plausibility slipped a notch, but on the whole I was sorry when the book ended, and I look forward to reading another one.

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05Apr/17

Of Chuck Berry, JS Bach, Derek Walcott, & Miranda’s Hamilton – Pt 1

I suspect the reason I was named Carol is that my grandfather was born on Christmas. When he and my grandmother had their first child, they called her Jane Carol. And when she and my father had their first child, they switched it around for me.

The good side of that was: Christmas. I loved having a whole genre of music with my name on it. On the not so good side, growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, I was drowned in grim sentimental stories like A Christmas Carol. For some reason they all featured crippled or dying children. The worst one was about a saintly girl named Carol Bird who spent Christmas being kind to the poor and then flew up to heaven.

I was rescued by Chuck Berry. His Carol was no dying angel. “I got my eye on you baby cause you dance so good!” I first saw him play my freshman year of college, in a club-sized venue at an Amherst College party weekend. Talk about dance so good — it was like watching somebody sing, play virtuoso guitar, and do gymnastics at the same time. I stayed for both shows. I went to see him again many years later, a little scared he’d have slowed down. Not a chance.

By then I wasn’t listening for “Carol” as much as “Roll Over Beethoven.” Looking back, that was an early warning shot from my generation to my parents’ generation: The times they are a-changin’.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday was three days after Chuck Berry died on March 18, and I couldn’t help thinking, Bach was kind of the Chuck Berry of his time. The pioneer who mastered the musical form of the day so brilliantly that it looked easy, and people thought, Oh, yeah, Bach, until other musicians realized how good he was and started stealing his chops. In Chuck Berry’s case that was the Brits, who weren’t blinded by the same prejudices as Americans. Two young Englishmen met on a train because Keith Richards saw that Mick Jagger was carrying a Chuck Berry album. It was like a signal. They’d both been listening obsessively to this radical new American music, figuring it out, teaching themselves how to play it. Once they got together, they recorded some of it and copied some of it, and got rich and famous. So did the Beatles. That made Chuck Berry more rich and famous, and helped keep him not just a star but a working musician to the age of 90.

So you could say, Chuck Berry launched the British Invasion, which launched the full-scale American musical revolution  — and swiveled the spotlight back to where it started, with unforgettable moments like this one, when Chuck Berry and Keith Richards join forces on “Carol.”

Part 2 of this post, which originated as the April 2 meditation for the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, appears on my publisher’s website, Boom-Books.com.

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30Mar/17

2 Reviews: The Last Days of Night (electricity) & Axeman’s Jazz (mystery)

The Last Days of NightThe Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How did America get electrified? Moore’s fictionalized account of the battle between Thomas Edison & George Westinghouse for control of what’s now a cornerstone of our lives is fascinating, & evidently sticks as close to the facts as is feasible for a commercial novel. We start at the point where Edison has made himself the Steve Jobs of his day, not just by inventing new things but by following the old cement-truck motto, “Find a need & fill it.” He’s brilliant, & he’s ruthless. Westinghouse is more old-fashioned, seeking to create the best gadget for a task. Yet it looks like he’ll be steamrolled, despite his own brilliance & his considerable fortune, as Edison applies a form of Henry Ford’s mass production to the inventing game. We watch all this through the eyes of lawyer Paul Cravath, whose future will be made or broken by navigating his client successfully (or not) through this clash of titans. Meanwhile, Paul is continually distracted by an alluring & enigmatic opera star — & by the erratic immigrant genius Nikola Tesla, who’s pivotal to the titans’ campaign to wire & light the nation, but seems not to care.

The author is a screenwriter: his sense of drama is terrific, but his prose is so clunky at times that I wish he’d partnered with a coauthor. If the writing were better, I’d have trusted the story more. It helps that Moore provides documentation at the end, showing the DMZ between what really happened & what needed to happen for this chronicle to make a good novel.

Axeman's Jazz (Skip Langdon, #2)Axeman’s Jazz by Julie Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This police procedural has nothing to do with jazz; instead, the killer is hunted in New Orleans’s self-help programs. No doubt there’s some overlap, but given the title it felt like bait-&-switch. Good narrator, good plotting; I stayed interested all the way through, mainly thanks to the main POV character, detective Skip Langdon, the one really likeable person we meet, & strong descriptions of local scenery, as well as some insightful & funny observations about Southern manners & mores. The climax was a bit too talky for me, but that may be inevitable when everybody’s in a 12-step program.

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22Mar/17

Hamilton Opens in San Francisco: Yes, But . . .

Hamilton’s audience starts gathering outside SF’s Orpheum Theatre an hour before the show.

Here’s the #1 thing to know about Hamilton:
http://www.luckyseat.com/hamilton.html
That’s where you can enter daily to win 2 seats @ $10 each for this ludicrously expensive, totally sold-out, absolutely unmissable 21st-century celebration.

Yes, a mostly rap musical about the Founding Fathers probably clashes with your idea of the most fun you’ve had in years. But, surprise! Whichever direction it stretches your comfort zone, it’ll leave you feeling expanded and illuminated.

Yes, every ticket for the show’s entire 6-month San Francisco run was snapped up long before Hamilton hit town. But you still can — and should — see it.

Yes, the list price for tickets in the 2200-seat Orpheum Theatre ranges from $100 (partial-view balcony) to $868 (orchestra). But who cares? since (1) there’s hardly any tickets for sale, and (2) there’s a daily lottery (see above).

Yes, the high prices shut out a lot of potential audience members, most critically in the young and non-wealthy brackets. But today’s the first school matinee. From the theater’s website:

“The Gilder Lehrman Institute is proud to partner with HAMILTON and The Rockefeller Foundation to offer a limited number of tickets to 10th and 11th grade students from Bay Area High Schools as part of the Hamilton Education Program. For more information, please visit to gilderlehrman.org/hamilton.”

And, yes, that ticket-sales tsunami means a bonanza for a few lucky people. But it’s also how 35 actors of multiple colors and body shapes, plus a 10-member orchestra, plus a full crew and staff, are able to support themselves while utilizing their gifts, skills, time, and labor to do the work they love.

Intermission at Hamilton: the Orpheum’s carved wooden ceilings, plaster castle walls (L), Moorish lamps, and diverse, elated crowd are an apt set for the show’s 2-level Gothic-rustic set (R), multi-ethnic American heritage, and buoyant creative energy.

Yes, Alexander Hamilton is a far more intriguing and complicated man than he looks on the $10 bill. So are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, the Marquis de Lafayette, and King George III. So are the remarkable Schuyler sisters, Hercules Mulligan, John Laurens, and others who looped in and out of Hamilton’s orbit. But how would we know that if not for this show’s brilliant creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda (book, music, and lyrics), and his collaborators Alex Lacamoire (music supervision and orchestration), Andy Blankenbuehler (choreography), and Thomas Kail (direction)?

Yes, Ron Chernow’s massive, comprehensive biography Alexander Hamilton, which Hamilton is based on, has been eclipsed by Miranda’s musical version. But nobody’s complaining.

Yes, there will be school essays, doctoral dissertations, magazine features, and blog posts written for decades to come about the ingenious diversity of Hamilton‘s music, its incisive thumbnail analyses of American history, its mind-bending approach to choreography, and much much more. But if you plan to be in the SF Bay Area in the next 6 months, this is what you need to know.

http://www.luckyseat.com/hamilton.html

 

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When I worked in an office, my colleagues kept me up to speed on tech, jargon, and TV shows. Since I became a freelancer, I’ve had to rely on magazines in doctors’ offices. Thus I’m a year late discovering the Battop Folding Keyboard. This inspired pocket-size device folds up as small as your phone, and when opened, not only lets you type in semi-comfort with your phone as a screen, but provides a stand for it. I saw it in a “gifts for under $30” spread and fell in love instantly.

There are plenty of others on the market now, naturally, but none that I’ve read about is quite this ingenious.

From the copyright front comes excellent news this week from UK solicitor Jonathan Westwood. Have you ever worried about winding up broke and/or in jail if your novel quotes more than three words from a popular song? Westwood researched this issue for his own work in progress. He concludes: “I don’t believe the use of one line of a lyric will ordinarily be considered any more unfair than extracting 300 words from a book.” Here’s why. And here’s the frosting on the cake:

“…Music publisher Warner/Chappell coerced people into giving it £1million each year to use “Happy Birthday To You” on the basis of a non-existent copyright it claimed to own. Warners had the deepest pockets with which to instruct the nastiest lawyers to bully lesser mortals for 25 years – until documentarian Jen Nelson challenged Warners’ demand that she must pay $1,500 to use the song in a film she was making. After a long legal battle Warners conceded, accepted the song is in the public domain and was forced to pay $14 million to people it had extorted.”

This week’s bad news comes from Amazon. In an e-mail which ironically declares its aim to be “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company,” Amazon informs me that, no, it can’t change the order of books shown on my Author Page. Why are three out-of-print 1990s textbooks from second-hand dealers (one with a phony cover) displayed on “my” landing page, but not my latest in-print mystery novel or memoir? Don’t blame Jeff Bezos or CS rep “Daniel B” — blame algorithms:

“…The order of the titles that appear on your bibliography is determined automatically and based on many factors, such as past sales history, current availability, and length of time the items have been listed on our site. It’s not something we are able to manually alter.”

What that says about Amazon’s definition of “customer-centric” — and Amazon’s definitions loom very large for those of us writing and publishing books — I find troubling. I’m hoping to make more headway in Round 2 — at the very least, badger them into showing the real cover for that out-of-print secondhand textbook.

 

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21Feb/17

Review: Nightshade: a riveting Only in Tokyo Mystery by Jonelle Patrick

Nightshade (Only In Tokyo Mystery #1)Nightshade by Jonelle Patrick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For a mystery fan, what’s more fun than discovering a terrific new author? I heard about Jonelle Patrick from a mutual friend who’s also her agent — a recommendation I trusted enough to buy her first book, Nightshade. Now I can’t wait to read her whole “Only in Tokyo” mystery series.

Nightshade starts with three bodies in a car in the parking lot of a Shinto shrine — an inexplicable scene which looks like a triple suicide, except that the third victim has no link to her two “parents.” When the dead girl’s best friend, Yumi, learns the horrible news, she spots other distortions in the picture the police are eager to accept. Yumi’s discovery that the detective in charge is her old school friend Kenjo, who’s grown into an unexpectedly attractive man, churns up all kinds of complications, first to the case and then to her ripening romance with a corporate heir. Woven through the Tokyo scenery are online connections which become strands in the web that threatens to drag Yumi to the same deadly fate as her friend.

Jonelle Patrick is not only an outstanding plotter (rare) but an outstanding writer (very rare). To top it off, she has a sharp sense of what makes Japan fascinating and also baffling to Americans. I was intrigued to learn about the Goth Lolita crowd, maid cafes (where the waitress’s job goes beyond serving the customer to fawning all over him), arranged marriages, the hierarchy in Japan’s police force, and so much more. This is a compelling mystery with distinctive characters, a fast-moving plot, a strong romantic thread, and a wonderful setting. I’d have preferred a full resolution at the end rather than a read-the-next-book teaser, but the core mystery was resolved, so that’s a minor quibble. Highly recommended!

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