Happy New Year 2017

In a lot of ways, 2016 is not a year I’m sad to close the door on (there was an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, all the great celebrities died, and Trump got elected); however, I learned more than I have in years passed and that makes me hopeful for 2017.

It’s the five year anniversary of blogging about my New Year’s resolutions. This year, I’m making a change. I’m not going to resolve myself to lose weight or take better care of my skin; instead, I’m going to share a few of the things that made 2016 a watershed year for me, and how excited I am to continue great progress in 2017.

As far as earnings go, 2016 was the sixth year in a row that I increased my yearly net income. I don’t have a traditional job, so I have to hustle for everything I have. I’m very lucky to work with some great people who have offered me incredible opportunities, and continue to help me in the pursuit of my professional and financial goals.

I started the year writing for the same businesses I always have. My main gig, which is ghostwriting blog posts for corporations, and my side gigs, which are writing for content sites (scripted.com, contentwriters.com, etc.) and rewriting the same four novels I’ve been writing/rewriting the last six years. About midway through the year, I wasn’t able to score high paying gigs on the content sites, which led to me blogging and making more videos and things in my free time. I also reworked an old romance and published that, Blood on The Vine. Click the link if you want to check it out (message me for a free copy if you’re interested in reviewing it).

Last year, I set a goal to double my income. Sadly, I did not reach that goal, but I did better than 2015. I continue making decent part-time income with my main gig (the business blogging I do for a marketing company on the west coast). Earlier in the year, I successfully negotiated a higher rate for earnings per article, in exchange for more thoughtful, well-researched, and technical content. That got us though some financial struggles in the first part of the year. I think everyone pretty much agrees that 2016 was a shitty year, and my personal life was not excluded from that. Instead of dwelling on my problems, I made a few tweaks to my character, dusted myself off, and resumed business as usual.

I didn’t expect business to boom as much as it has, but that’s why I keep a dream board. I keep it near my bed, so I see it often. It helps me to visualize myself with more opportunities and more cash in my pocket. Although I lost a few content farm gigs in 2016, I’ve more than made up for it. I’m writing for TheRichest.com right now, a site that pays per view instead of per word. It’s working out better than I’d hoped. It pays more than I make supplementing my income with content farming.

THE JOBS THAT ACTUALLY PAY WRITERS A LIVABLE INCOME

I used the last part of the year to make some really positive changes in my life. Together my husband and I improved our marriage, increased our income, learned to save a little bit, and endured some family drama. In the end, we feel triumphant that we’re better off at the end of 2016 than we were at its beginning. So, what’s in store for 2017?

I’m hopefully going to earn an associate’s degree in communications, and then start college at Buffalo State. I will probably start in Buffalo in 2018. My grades are excellent, but my courses may be harder later on.

We’re buying me a hybrid vehicle shortly after the New Year. This makes me so damn happy because I have been working at home and without a car of my own to drive forever it seems like. I had a Mercury Sable like six or so years ago. I have my heart set on a used Prius and a modest budget because I refuse to take out a loan, which shows that I’ve grown more financially stable/responsible in 2016. I have ridiculous shopping urges, and an adopted urge to ignore problems. Bob does too, but changing our financial habits was one of the things we learned to do together this year.

One of my goals for 2017 is to use my new website www.DebtFreeDot.com to kind of talk about all the crazy money shit I’ve been through and put myself through, and the weird way we came out on top. It’s not really an advice site, as much as I want to use it to talk about stupid shit I’ve done and the sometimes weird methods I used to sort it out. If it helps someone that would be cool.

I’m looking foremost to more experiences with my family in 2017. I would like us to spend more time outside. It would be nice to try bike riding, to walk Alabama at Genesee County Park, and to attend more sidewalk events and music performances. Strengthening our bond is necessary as we’ve already proven our resiliency, as I’m sure most people can agree that if 2016 was a roller coaster, it was a broke-down one on the loop-di-loop.

YOU CAN CHECK OUT MY TRAVEL RESSOLUTIONS ON

Get A Job Writing For A Popular Website

Small websites aren’t where it’s at. They can’t afford you, so make them do their own blogging. The time you spend writing should be comparable to an hourly job, and you set your per hour rate. I like to work part time for a minimum of $16 an hour. I don’t put a cap on my earnings, and at times have earned ridiculously more per hour, but sixteen is my minimum wage.

Only Apply To The Big Websites

Small websites don’t have the budget for you, and they can go under at any time. Popular websites aren’t going anywhere – that’s job security; plus, they have more money, so they can afford you. They typically pay in one of two ways: per word or per view. If you’re paid per view, you have a window for unlimited earning potential, but this only works if your articles get a lot of traffic. Never trust an offer that pays per view from a website that doesn’t see at least a million views per day; this almost guarantees you’ll be writing for free.

To find a popular site in your niche, just Google what you’re good at. Do you want to write about gardening? Can you prove your chops (these sites want to see examples of your hard work)? If so, send a cover letter asking for work to every high ranking website you can find in your niche. The bigger the net you cast, the larger the fish you can catch.

How To Check A Website’s Traffic

If you want to know if it’s worth your time to query a particular website, all you have to do is Google it. Lots of websites look like they get tons of traffic, but in reality do very poorly. If you’re getting paid per view, this isn’t going to do you much good. If you’re getting paid per word, go for it but be prepared for fallout later (missed payments, longer waits for payouts, and sudden loss of work). The secret is to have lots of eggs in different baskets, so if something falls through you’re still making money. The other secret is to avoid that pitfall altogether and only apply to gigs that are guaranteed to survive, such as hugely trafficked websites.

To see if a website is popular, Google its alexa rankings and the website’s name; for example, “alexa rankings somewriters.com.” This should give you a pretty good idea of how much traffic the site gets. To see how valuable a site is, just alter your search a bit. Search “how much is somewriters.com worth.”

I get paid per view to write for TheRichest.com. It’s awesome because the website is very popular. Alexa ranks it as number 1,478 in the US and 3,858 globally. That means my articles have the potential to go viral, and one viral article pays for any that didn’t go viral. It’s the only position I currently hold that pays me per view and it’s my favorite writing gig because it’s fun and pays handsomely.

Overall, it’s important to know the value of something before you dive in. This will help you ensure that you always get paid what you’re worth, and that you are successful in promoting your brand as a writer. From time to time, you may be offered good deals from low-traffic websites, and these will be good for a time, but they’re not sustainable for the long-term. If you want more opportunities, renown, and money, you’ll heed my advice and send your applications to big sites only.

Get A Job Writing For A Marketing Company

5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Write For Small Businesses

5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Write For Small Businesses

I’ve taken on a lot small business clients over the years. Stay away from this type of work; or, if you must do it, make sure you’re still hunting better opportunities. I’ll tell you a story I lived over and over again with ecommerce clients in five points, which proves you shouldn’t write for them.

1. They Chew Your Ear Off

Usually, my small business clients are ecommerce clients looking for two or more weekly blog posts. They are willing to pay $25 per blog post, but they almost always want to talk on the phone or Skype before you start writing. This is the first of many unnecessary meetings. Rest assured, I’m not doing it anymore and neither should you.

Editorial feedback is all I should hear from them, but it’s never that way. They always want more from the relationship. Sometimes, I’d try being upfront about cost. I’d let them know my time is precious and valuable, and usually I’d get promises for more money down the road for additional services. It’s exhaustive communication, and it’s something most writers can’t afford. It doesn’t help the client’s business either.

That isn’t to say these relationships aren’t endearing. Small business owners are rightfully proud of their companies. If I could afford it, I’d listen to them tell me that all day long. I had to learn to say no, and I hope you can too; especially it’s important to shut down the rude clients. These are the ones who baited me with opportunities, only to chew my ear about themselves.

That being said, some of my best business relationships started out as small jobs. I always look forward to phone calls from my friend Sandra in California who once hired me to write posts for her website, www.Hempista.com. The difference is Sandra and I are a bit alike, we are colleagues. She never sought me out to mentor her business, but rather she mentors me and equally dispenses insight and anecdotes with me.

I should note that Sandra is not in the ecommerce business, but rather is the successful author of The Cannabis Spa at Home. Connections such as that are invaluable to growing your successful writing business, but not everyone you work for will have such an impact. If you find your client is demanding too much time, walk away because it’s not a real opportunity, and it’s sucking up time you could be using to land higher paying jobs.

2. They Can’t Afford You

In my experience, small businesses don’t have the money to really do what needs to be done. That’s why I avoid them at all costs now. I made the mistake of seeing their long-winded communication efforts as an opportunity to sell my skills. It wasn’t.

If I was only being asked to write blogs and nothing else, I wouldn’t have asked about their goals in regards to content. They called me anyway. In some cases, I was able to sell social media work, but the ROI on social media posts isn’t good. I would tell them that, but they never listened. This is because social media work is cheap, but cheap stuff doesn’t improve their website or my life, but it would keep me communicating with them. I know my worth, but they still tried to stretch the buck and get more hours out of me than they were willing to pay for.

Small business will nickel and dime every opportunity you present to them. They won’t pay you to promote anything you create for them with your Google AdWords account. Even when I offered special discounts only I could receive, they were reluctant to create a budget for me to advertise with, but they’d sure talk discuss it to death. And, this is almost every small business client I’ve ever had – I’m basing this on a lot of work.

Think about it this way – you’re getting paid $25 to write a blog post that takes 1 ½ to 2 hours. Factor in all the time it takes to communicate with them and all the services they refuse to buy from you, and your hourly rate is going to go way down. You’ll make more money picking up articles at a content farm than enduring drawn out, unfruitful meetings.

3. They Steal Your Good Ideas

You’re full to the brim with good ideas; they know it and you should know it about yourself. Personally, I have a growing expertise in analytics and driving traffic with outbound links. I am a seasoned content writer with knowledge of Google’s complex algorithms, and I’m a talented saleswoman. There are clients who’ve attempted to exploit this. My first encounter with this misbehavior came years ago when I was first starting out.

A local plumbing company had contacted me to write content for their site – very cheap content. Their site’s SEO was being managed by HubPages, which was a bit suicidal for what they wanted (dominance over some expensive keywords and phrases, including “Rochester plumber”). Still a bit green, I jumped at the opportunity to work for a local business, and showed the owner’s son where links where broken, where content was missing, and exactly what I’d do to clean it up. I also told him what type of inbound and outbound content was needed to improve their Google rankings.

I wasn’t upset when he started to do the work he’d promised to pay me for himself. He quickly learned that it sounds easy, but it’s not and it’s time consuming. I realized they would not make a budget for me, and I was content to move on; however, he was not keen on letting his guru go. He repeatedly called and texted me with his questions. And, if I didn’t respond, he’d send another message a couple hours later with many question marks.

He unabashedly worked on the job they’d promised to hire me for, and then sought me out for solutions when things didn’t go his way. When I tried to explain this, he treated me like a petulant employee. He told me that the money would come when I did my job, which was shocking because I’d planned to do the job. I wanted to; instead, I was asked for a tutorial and then left hanging.

A few months later, the owner’s son contacted me again. Nothing had gone their way in regards to HubPages and his own attempts at content marketing. I told him I’d be happy to do the work for a retainer fee of two hundred dollars, which is cheap. I’d never do that amount of work for so little money today, but this was seven years ago. He said no. He said he was just hoping I could help him out again, and then he linked me to where he was struggling. I blocked his email address from ever contacting me again.

4. The Work Dries Up

As far as blog posts are considered, the thing they initially hire you for, there always comes weeks where they don’t want them. To that, my response is always the same – Google rewards blogs that have at least three posts a week. You will lose out if you don’t publish at least the two you initially wanted. They don’t care, probably because they can’t afford it.

It’s crazy, but even on the weeks I wasn’t getting paid, my small business clients would still want to gab. They will call you about stuff that doesn’t even pertain to you, such as their other business needs or even their personal lives. This is usually when I quit. I either send an email saying I’m too busy to continue, or we ghost each other. They’ll feel me pulling away, so they’ll get back online to find another writer to exploit. The sad thing is they probably don’t even realize what they’re doing, and their websites often are big failures until they finally, if ever, get their online marketing in order.

5. They Don’t Pay Enough

At the end of the day, the struggle isn’t worth the fifty bucks you may make per week with a small business client. I learned I can do better, and I get paid way more for less headache-inducing projects. We don’t need these types of clients. They need us (that’s for damn sure), but we don’t need them; especially because they’re not willing to pay our worth.

If you’re struggling to find writing jobs. Check out these links. They outline where you should apply to find the best jobs online – the ones that are the lowest maintenance and pay the most money.

Get A Job Writing For A Marketing Company

Get A Job Writing For A Popular Website

In the meantime, you may have to work with some small businesses to supplement your income, but you can escape the merry-go-round if you keep searching for better opportunities. That’s what I did. They can’t afford you, but there are plenty of places that can. Gravitate toward larger companies, corporations, hugely trafficked websites/blogs, and marketing companies. Good luck and leave a comment if you’re got feedback, have questions, need a word of advice, or just want to say hello.

Get A Job Writing For A Marketing Company

marketing company

Everyone has to start somewhere, so if you’re writing for content companies you’re not doing yourself a disservice. I’ve made thousands of dollars writing for content companies. ContentWriters.com once paid me more than $400 to write a single blog post. They didn’t even publish it. Had they published it, they would have paid me an additional $500. The problem is, you don’t get gigs like that every day. They are few and far between, but it was nice to add that $400 to my regular income.

See, that’s what you need – steady and regular income. That’s what I needed, so I started applying to basically anything that promised regular work on various freelance job boards. Don’t do that though. Job boards are a waste of time. I’ll tell you how to avoid the pitfall of wasted applications, and hone in companies who will respond.

Marketing Companies NOT Content Companies

As fate would have it, I stumbled into my steady gig – a marketing company that pays writers to ghostwrite blog posts for their clients. It’s not going to make me famous, but it has provided me with reliable income for more than four years. I started at $0.03 per word and wrote 500 to 600 word blog posts in excess of ten to fifteen per week. It was exhausting, but I was able to negotiate a higher rate. Now, I can make a decent week’s pay with eight to ten articles.

So, the real question is how you can do it without making the same mistakes I did. I sent out innumerable queries and copies of my resume before my steady gig called me. I wasn’t specific about who I applied to (I queried law firms, content farms, popular blogs, and more). If I had narrowed my search only to marketing companies, I would have found reliable work sooner. Look for companies that promote their clients online. You can start your search locally, and then expand to big cities across the country.

It’s not hard to find marketing companies that will pay you to write, if you know where to find them. Avoid job boards. Instead, use LinkedIn and Google to search for them. On LinkedIn, you can search for marketing companies (you can’t message them unless you pay, but you shouldn’t message them on LinkedIn anyway), then use Google to find out more information about them. From there, you can see if they have a hiring portal or use an email address to write the company’s CEO or editorial staff. Ask for a job, and then be prepared to do this twenty more times.

Always Be Querying And Applying

The secret is to keep at it. Apply with as many companies as possible, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Make connections with other marketers/writers and ask them where they work. I’ve helped a few close friends score some great jobs over the years.

Just recently, I helped one of my best friends get a job with the same marketing company I work for. This was a real feat because I’d asked them to hire friends before, but they weren’t needing any new hires. They hired her straight away because they happened to really need people this month. Also, she’s smart and very uniquely talented, which helps a lot when you’re trying to score writing gigs.

Don’t be afraid to apply for the same job a few times. I’ve done it, including recently when I applied to TheRichest.com for the third time and got the job. TheRichest.com isn’t a marketing company, but rather a popular website/blog, which I get into in the next segment (link at the end of this article). Basically, I applied to them three times over the last year and a half, and now I’m writing there and I couldn’t be happier.

Get Your LinkedIn Together

Be on your a-game in regards to your online presence. If your Facebook truly is for friends, make it private. I keep mine public because I welcome a lot of extra attention and don’t fear anyone seeing what I post there. Potential employers will have a look at anything and everything that’s visible about you, so Google yourself and see what’s out there.

Your LinkedIn page represents you as a business. I look at it this way: I’m my own business, and LinkedIn is my storefront. I make sure it includes sample documents and links to stuff I’ve published. My bio reflects more of what I want to be doing, rather than what I’m actually doing, in order to attract the right employers.

Check out the next guide:

Get A Job Writing For A Popular Website

5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Write For Small Businesses

The Jobs That Actually Pay Writers A Livable Income

woman typing

I learned a lot this year, and I want to share it with you would-be writers. If you’re dreaming of working at home, maybe you have kids like I do, this is probably among the best opportunities out there. You only need a desire to write stuff – if you’re someone who enjoys it, and many people do, you could be successful – and, you need to be dedicated to finding the right opportunities, which I’ve outlined for you below.

A Quick Word Of Advice:

Please keep in mind, how I determine success is a bit different. I have my husband’s income to supplement my own. He makes more than I do. I’m in school and have two daughters and two stepdaughters to look after. I already lack time, so it works for me that there isn’t always full-time work, vacations aren’t paid, and there’s no benefits (unless you can afford to set them up for yourself). I’m not going to be lame and share my yearly income, but I will say that it’s between $10,000 and $15,000 per year.

To some that’s not a lot, but for our family it has served us very well. If you’re like that, then click away because these articles tell you how to apply for the good jobs. I didn’t pick up these tips from some manual either. These are my personal experiences. I’ve been in this business for six years, and have successfully grown my business each and every year in both profits and renown, but I’m not some anomaly. I truly believe anyone with a passion for writing can do it.

Get A Job Writing For A Marketing Company

Get A Job Writing For A Popular Website

5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Write For Small Businesses

Fake News is an Epidemic. You’re the Cure.

(I wrote this article for my English class, but in light of the terrorfying Pizzagate shooting, I wanted to share it here. Fake news is dangerous, but together we can stop its widespread dissemination. Keep reading to learn why fake news is spread, and what you can do to stop it.)

I to consider myself a bit of an expert on online news, blogging, publishing, etc. I work for an outreach content company, which publishes content to popular blogs and websites. My company represents some household-name brands and businesses, and it’s my job to create newsy articles that reference our clients as experts, and those articles are published on third party sites which I can’t name because I’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement, but it doesn’t really matter anyway.

What matters is that sometimes readers don’t know when they’re being advertised too; and, although I don’t write fake news, my job is an example of content that’s used to elicit click-through that drives traffic to our client’s webpages. Because my articles are informative and honest, this isn’t a bad thing. But driving traffic and click-through is the point of fake news too. It’s designed to trick you into clicking on advertising. If that doesn’t upset you, consider that it’s also causing widespread hysteria, disease outbreak, and it’s undermining our politics. There’s hope because together we have the power to stop fake news, and once you learn the motivations of its authors you’re going to want to fight.

Fake News Affects Us All

Despite my professional background, I’m no expert at spotting fake news, hoax videos, or hyperpartisan blogs posing as legitimate news sites. Even the most discerning among us fall victim to faux-news. Earlier this month, Fox News host Sean Hannity falsely reported that President Obama and the first lady deleted a series of tweets endorsing Hillary Clinton. Hannity, a household name political commentator, fell victim to fake news. And, this isn’t solely a republican issue. Plenty of democrats and Independents have fallen victim to fake news hoaxes too. Last March, a false story claiming Elizabeth Warren endorsed Bernie Sanders for president was shared at least 700,000 times. No surprise, it was completely falsified information.

The fake news problem isn’t politically centric; in fact, most fake news is bipartisan. It’s meant to captivate everyone, such as in 2014 when NationalReport.net shared Ebola reports and added to mounting fears and widespread hysterics. The Ebola outbreak wasn’t so much an outbreak as it was a few quarantined people across the country, but NationalReport.net claimed one-in-five Americans would contract the virus by 2016. Because of outrageous and untrue claims, Ebola went from a minor crisis to a major one. Arguably, many of National Report’s followers probably understood it was satire; however, the site looks legitimate enough to confuse people and therein lies the problem. Fake news sites are rarely labeled as such, which can be confusing. National Report even labels itself “America’s #1 Independent News Source.”

Satire isn’t Fake News… Well, not exactly…

I’m definitely not condemning all satire. A bit of satirical hysteria is humorous; it has its positive benefits for society, media, and even journalism. So many of us are fans of The Onion, the farcical news publication responsible for countless readable and harmlessly hilarious gems, like the story and accompanying video: “Child Bankrupts Make-A-Wish Foundation with Wish for Unlimited Wishes.” It’s realistic enough to trick us for a moment, but too outrageous to remain believable for long. That’s the kind of satire I triumph; however, the amount of traffic these pieces garner has inspired the worst among us to deliberately create fake news stories that are intended to harm.

Fake Healthcare News Has a Death Toll

In most cases, political and healthcare fake news is the most damaging. The impact of fake news on our political processes is alarming, but health-related fake news can physically harm people, which makes it extremely dangerous. The ongoing anti-vaccination movement is a perfect example of fake news influencing people’s health. No matter where you stand on the vaccination issue, you can acknowledge that misinformation is rampantly spread, and the health and safety of your children aren’t the author’s true motivation.

In 1998, Lancet published an oft-referenced study that asserted vaccines could be connected to autism. PBS’s award-winning program NOVA addressed this connection in a piece titled, “The Autism-Vaccine Myth,” which reports that the study was retracted in 2010. Yes, the study so often referenced by anti-vaxxers was debunked years ago, and found to have “serious flaws” and “apparently falsified data.” Moreover, it involved only 12 participants, which is so small a concentration group that the conclusions can hardly be considered concrete; yet, anti-vaxxers subsist despite outbreaks of preventable diseases, such as the Disneyland California measles outbreak. The CDC practically begged parents to vaccinate their children, especially before travel, when measles reached a 20-year high in 2014.

American parents are reasonable, so what’s behind this decline in vaccinations? Meghan Moran, PhD, associate professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health, Behavior and Society, led a study that analyzed 480 anti-vaccination websites and promoted the study’s findings on November 3rd, 2015 at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting. Researchers discovered that more than two-thirds of the scientific information these websites presented was falsified, and 3 in 10 avoided referencing science altogether; instead, they used personal stories and anecdotes to emotionally sway their audience. It’s hard to argue with a crying mother convinced that vaccinations caused her child’s autism; however, consider the irrefutable true stories of parents on trial for refusing to vaccinate their children who later died of preventable diseases, such as the Canadian couple whose 19-month-old died of bacterial meningitis and who faces charges for neglect.

Fake News Reporters are Richer than You

Deceptive health reports are created to alarm you; because, if a post alarms you, you’re more likely to share it. This puts more money in their pockets. They pray on your emotions for profits. The underlying subterfuge is to emotionally motivate you into clicking on their advertising. Consider that most anti-vaccination websites promote healthy eating and alternative medicines, and that their advertisers are likely to sell products that fall into the categories of holistic or organic. If you use a link on their website or click on an advertisement, they earn money for that click and if you purchase something they earn even more. This has made some fake news purveyors incredibly rich.

Digital Culture Correspondent Laura Sydell wrote the piece, “We Tracked down a Fake-News Creator in the Suburbs. Here’s What We Learned” for NPR’s All Tech Considered. Sydell and her group wondered why anyone would publish fake news, particularly an item printed on The Denver Guardian’s website, which according to Snopes.com, “…is simply a fake news web site masquerading as the online arm of a (non-existent) big city newspaper.”

The Denver Guardian falsified the article: “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide.” The story is entirely fabricated, yet was shared on Facebook more than half-a-million times. With help from a Berkeley-based engineer, NPR tracked down the site’s owner, Jestin Coler, in a California suburb, and he shed some light on the shocking and selfish motivations of fake news reporters.

“And as the stories spread,” reports Sydell, “Coler makes money from the ads on his websites.” He refused to admit his actual earnings, but considering he’s a “godfather of the industry,” it’s not a stretch to assume it’s a comfortable living. “…he says stories about other fake-news proprietors making between $10,000 and $30,000 a month apply to him.”

“The whole idea from the start was to build a site that could kind of infiltrate the echo chambers of the alt-right, publish blatantly or fictional stories and then be able to publicly denounce those stories and point out the fact that they were fiction,” Color admits. He also says that he’s tried to write fake news for liberals, but they’re less likely to fall for it. He has found it’s more profitable to lie to conservatives.

Color seems to have lost his way, as he’s hardly made efforts to control or eliminate the spread of misinformation and seems only motivated to continue the practice despite insidious consequences. After publishing a story claiming that Colorado residents used their food stamps to buy marijuana, actual legislation was proposed in Colorado to prevent it from happening. If pursuing legislation based on the evidence of fake news isn’t a waste of taxpayer money, I don’t know what is.

Although he doesn’t defend his business, Color admits to owning a number of fake news sites and will continue to spread fake news despite how damaging and costly it can be to tax payers. He admits to being a registered democrat and has some reservations about the lies he disseminates, but insists that if he is to give up fake news reporting someone less ethical will take his place. In regards to journalism, I find it doubtful that there are practices less ethical than a democrat disseminating widely-shared lies that undermine his own party’s chances at a fair election process.

How Do We Stop Fake News?

It’s all incredibly upsetting and it doesn’t matter if you’re democrat, republican, or something else. It doesn’t matter if you’re anti-vax or pro. At the end of the day, we’re all being lied to, and that’s not okay. This is a bipartisan problem if ever there was one, and it will take a conjoined effort to stop fake news from spreading.

Is the solution to remove advertising? Will that slow fake news down? Google thinks it can help, which is why the search-giant has announced plans to restrict fake news sites from using their advertising network, AdSense. Unfortunately, Coler is undeterred by the AdSense crack down, and that gives me cause for worry. As a marketer, I know he has very little to fear losing Google’s AdSense revenue.

“There are literally hundreds of ad networks,” he warns. “Early last week, my inbox was just filled every day with people because they knew that Google was cracking down – hundreds of people wanting to work with my sites.”

Is it then a government issue? I’ve wondered if the government could intervene, if laws can protect us from lies, but satire is a form of protected speech especially when it’s aimed at politics or used to censure government. If our political leaders intervene on this pervasive media, how do we stop them from targeting legitimate news and media? Opinions may be attacked, and the government may infringe or amend our first amendment rights. The right to create editorials and publish opinions and bias is inalienable, so policing satire would be too slippery a slope. The government should not be the deciding factor on what is counterfeit and what is just biased or bad reporting.

Be the Change You Want to See in the World…

If you ask me, the solution is pretty simple. It’s up to us, as private citizens, to be proactive in the fight against fake news. We can police fake news ourselves by avoiding obscure websites, even if their credentials seem legitimate. Remember, the Denver Guardian claimed to be an offshoot of a larger newspaper. A quick search can help you determine if a news source is legitimate or not. If you’re lucky, the article will already be debunked by a fact checking site, such as Snopes.com or (my personal favorite) FactCheck.org.

Although fake news stories are often indistinguishable from real news stories, they almost always come with attention-grabbing headlines. These headlines are called click-bait, which are intentionally provocative to get your traffic and incentivize you to share. Don’t buy into the click-bait; instead, hold off on your emotional response until you’ve fully researched the article’s sources. If it’s legitimate and a topic you’re still passionate about, go ahead and share it. If not, report the content to Facebook. On Facebook, you can report fake news by clicking the menu in the upper right-hand corner of the post. It’s shaped like a “v.” From that menu, click “Report post,” and follow the instructions. Facebook won’t immediately remove the content, so you’ll want to leave a comment and let others know it’s fake. Include reference links, so people can follow-up on its legitimacy.

Never be afraid to speak up about fake news. Unfortunately, not everyone will like having their shared content challenged; however, you’re working for the greater good. The rampant dissemination of fake news is dangerous, but sharing it isn’t shameful. At some point, we’ve all fallen victim to fake news. Rather than shame friends and family for sharing it, appeal to their good nature and empathize with them. Place blame where it deserves: on the shoulders of its creators who don’t create fake news to help anyone but themselves.

Works Cited

Dou, Wenyu, et al. “Brand Positioning Strategy Using Search Engine Marketing.” MIS Quarterly 34.2 (2010): 261-A4. Business Source Complete. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Scuteri, Rick. “Sean Hannity apologizes for fake story on Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton.” The Boston Globe, Associated Press, 02 Nov. 2016, www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2016/11/02/sean-hannity-apologizes-for-fake-story-michelle-obama-hillary-clinton/ZauQiewDXeO4ARJUsid1ZJ/story.html.

Rosenberg, Eli. “Fake New York Times Article Claims Elizabeth Warren Endorsed Bernie Sanders.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 01 Mar. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/03/01/us/fake-new-york-times-article-claims-elizabeth-warren-endorsed-bernie-sanders.html.

LaCapria, Kim. “Snopes’ Field Guide to Fake News Sites and Hoax Purveyors.” Snopes, David and Barbara Mikkelson, 02 Nov. 2016, www.snopes.com/2016/01/14/fake-news-sites/.

Agni, Jane M. “Infectious Disease Expert Says One-in-Five Americans Will Contract The Ebola Virus by 2016.” National Report, 2014, www.nationalreport.net/infectious-disease-expert-says-one-five-americans-will-contract-ebola-virus-2016/.

Caron, James E. “The Quantum Paradox Of Truthiness.” Studies In American Humor 2.2 (2016): 155. Humanities Source. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

“Child Bankrupts Make-A-Wish Foundation With Wish for Unlimited Wishes.” The Onion, uploaded to Today Now! Program, 20 Mar. 2008, www.theonion.com/video/child-bankrupts-make-a-wish-foundation-with-wish-f-14202.

Moran, Meghan B., et al. “Information scanning and vaccine safety concerns among African American, Mexican American, and non-Hispanic White women.” Patient Education and Counseling, Vol. 99, no. 1, Jan.2016, p. 147-153. www.pec-journal.com/article/S0738-3991(15)30053-7/abstract.

Willingham, Emily and Laura Helft. “The Autism-Vaccine Myth.” Nova, PBS, 05 Sept. 2014, www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/autism-vaccine-myth.html.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Measles cases in the United States reach 20-year high.” CDC Media Relations, CDC, 29 May, 2014. www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p0529-measles.html

Khandaker, Tamara. “These Anti-Vaccination Parents Are on Trial for Their Son’s Death.” Vice News, Vice Media, 09 Mar. 2016. www.news.vice.com/article/these-anti-vaccination-parents-are-on-trial-for-their-sons-death.

Blom, Jonas Nygaard, and Kenneth Reinecke Hansen. “Click Bait: Forward-Reference As Lure In Online News Headlines.” Journal Of Pragmatics 76.(2015): 87-100. ScienceDirect. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Sydell, Laura. “We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator in the Suburbs. Here’s What We Learned.” All tech considered, NPR, 23 Nov. 2016. www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/11/23/503146770/npr-finds-the-head-of-a-covert-fake-news-operation-in-the-suburbs.

Mikkelson, David. “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead.” Snopes, David and Barbara Mikkelson, 05 Nov. 2016, www.snopes.com/fbi-agent-murder-suicide/.

Schmidt, Samantha. “Facebook and Google take action against fake news sites.” Washington Post 15 Nov. 2016. Academic OneFile. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. www.library.genesee.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.library.genesee.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=gencc_main&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA470262311&sid=ebsco&asid=353ce88a56614495a1da645381a1e25e

The Top 10 Sequels that Never Should Have Been

Hollywood frequently ignores common sense and churns out sequel after unwatchable sequel while failing to make smart sequel choices. I mean the new ghostbusters would have been awesome if it was a sequel rather than a remake, right? And, if you base a film on a book, the film’s sequel should only exist if there’s a sequel in print. (That one makes me really mad.) Anyway, these are my picks for the shittiest, hardest to watch sequels that were a waste of talent and money. Also, I’m going to skip the obvious stuff because everyone knows Batman and Robin was insufferable.

1. Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

Obviously I’m biased because, as a 90s kid, I had Adventures in Wonderland, which took denim-clad pre-teen Alice through a bedroom mirror (looking glass) into Wonderland and a world of adventure. Had I not the privilege to view that, I think I still would have hated 2016’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass.”

It was terrible, despite a talented cast. I should note, I don’t believe any of the cast gave a wholehearted performance. The setting was Wonderland, but the cast’s mood was dispirited and bored the entire film. Also, it was graphically cheesy, like an episode of Once Upon a Time. And, all the obvious metaphors about time’s unfortunate and permanent un-changeability didn’t cause me to reflect on time itself, but rather when the movie would end. (Spoiler alert: it never ends).

2. Bridget Jones Baby (2016)

The original Bridget Jones released at a time when I was still willing to watch a film and then read the book. I adored both the novel and the film, read the second book, and then welcomed the sequel to the film Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, but I just can’t with Bridget Jones’ Baby because it wasn’t written by Helen Fielding.

The most atrocious thing about this is that there is a third book; it’s just not about a pregnant Bridget Jones. The third film is not based on a book because Hollywood imagined it more believable that Bridget would divorce Darcy and find herself pregnant at 47 unlike the novelization, which picks up after her husband Darcy has died when she is 50 years old. She starts dating again. It could have worked, but ultimately they chose a cutesier rom-com set in a delightful London that doesn’t exist in real life and shouldn’t exist in fiction because everyone knows London is far from enchanting.

Oh and women don’t jump around on their beds like an excited Tom Cruise. In the film, Renee Zellweger who plays Jones jumps up and down on her bed, and just…I don’t know… Maybe I’m cynical, but this sort of behavior makes me want peg her with a pillow, drop her on her ass, and scream that she’s setting women back fifty years.

3. Every Subsequent Robocop Sequel

Sorry. I wrote that wrong. I meant every Robocop movie ever. They all suck. End of story.

4. Blues Brothers 2000

Of all the films on this list, this one I don’t hate. It’s not a terrible movie; I mean, it’s not that bad, but I was a kid in the nineties. It wasn’t my thing. I could watch the first movie, but I wouldn’t pause on TNT if the Blues Brothers 2000 was airing. That being said, it’s not the actual film that makes this sequel so terribly bad; it’s the damn response from its fans.

Blues Brothers 2000 continues to be a source of contention with baby boomers and gen x-ers; although, the debate over the film’s worthiness is less prevalent today. My mom and her friends subjected my fourteen-year-old-self to endless bitching and debates over the worthiness of this film. Therefore, this sequel or tribute or whatever, is unworthy.

5. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

The original My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a refreshing romantic comedy based on the one-woman show written and performed by Nia Vardalos. Vardalos wrote the script for the film, and went on to star in it. I fell in love with Vardalos’ portrayal of a plain girl and her controlling family. And, I hated the sequel because it’s a stupid, uninspired cash grab.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (I know, what a creative and brilliant title) was grueling, cheesy, and predictable. It was unoriginal at best, and a nauseating snore-fest at worst. Also, could Greeks be more stereotyped than they are in this film? Doubtful.

6. Evan Almighty

Evan Almighty: a movie so shit, my eight year old begged me to turn it off. “Can we watch something else, puhleeeese?” It was too boring, and not funny. It’s labeled a comedy, but I failed to find the humor. Dare I say, it caused a humor drought?

Hollywood, please stop basing movies off Old Testament bible stories. I’m 🙏🏻 praying Hollywood quits this practice. To be fair, the first filmed sucked too, but Evan Almighty sucked even harder. It was an unnecessary waste of money, and the reason Hollywood doesn’t greenlight comedies with a big budget.

7. Cars 2

Go ahead. Judge me for including a Pixar animated film. I’ve got kids, and childlike wonder. I wouldn’t called the first Cars good, but it was watchable and had its moments. Plus, it was cool to look at.

Pixar has had some memorable titles, but that haven’t hit as hard as unforgettable titles, such as Tangled, Monster’s Inc., and Finding Nemo. Those films are classics that will be enjoyed for a lifetime. Wall-E, A Bug’s Life, and Cars are examples of just-okay Pixar films. They don’t warrant classics, yet Pixar merchandised the shit out of Cars and gave us Cars 2, the terrible sequel.

Cars 2 is so bad, it’s more memorable than the first film. I’ll never forget it, despite only watching it one time. I remember wishing I was tired enough to fall asleep, just so I could escape such a crappy and undramatic sequel.

8. American Psycho II: All American Girl

Although I loathe Mila Kunis as a feature film actress, she’s not the only reason this movie sucks. Her terrible delivery is a factor, but it’s not the reason the movie sucks. The number one reason this film is awful is because YET AGAIN Hollywood made a sequel where no novelization exists.

American Psycho is a horror novel by iconic Bret Easton Ellis, and he never penned a sequel. Ever seeking a cash grab, Hollywood decided to greenlight a sequel anyway. The result is a slash and stab horror flick that doesn’t hold a candle to even the cheesiest of eighties gore films. It’s so bad and it tries so hard, which makes it excruciating to watch.

9. Dumb and Dumberer

Dumb and Dumber is one of my favorite films… Don’t judge me… Anyway, when they didn’t cast Jim Carrey or Jeff Daniels in the sequel, it was obvious it would be bad. Dumb and Dumberer lacks energy, plot, oh and jokes. Yeah, there’s not much to laugh at here except about how bad it is. That being said, I actually liked Dumb and Dumber To.

10. Back to the Future III

Back to the Future III may very well be my first encounter with a disappointing sequel. I adored Marty McFly as a kid. If six year olds were allowed to get tattoos, I would have Marty McFly tattooed over my heart right now. Unfortunately, the third film was a real snoozer let down. I won’t bore you with the details because you already know this film sucks, but I will tell you that Amblin Entertainment spent $40 million on this piece of garbage, and it earned more than $200 million worldwide.

So, what have I learned writing this list? I learned the 90s were a rife with terrible films and sequels. And, I learned I’ll never trust a sequel that’s not based on a novelization if the first film was. And, I learned that Hollywood will spend money on shit and ultimately make even more money selling that shill because we’re all sheeple with no standards. Hey, don’t feel bad. I watched these movies too.

How to Make Money Using Your Social Media Accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Etc.)

Social media icon

Okay – first things first – I must issue this disclaimer: I rarely earn money on social media. I spend money on social media. I sometimes use it as a marketing tool and buy ads, etc. These ads do generate revenue for my businesses, but that’s not what I’m going to teach you. I’m going to teach you how to use your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. to generate profit and score free products. The only reason I don’t use these methods is because I own websites and write for businesses, and I do most of my marketing there.

Sign up as an Affiliate Marketer

I primarily use shareasale.com because their interface is simple and easy to use. ShareASale has thousands of merchants looking for marketers, so it’s a great place to start; however, it’s not the only place to sign up as an affiliate. A simple Google search will introduce you to millions of brands, businesses, and affiliate groups to join. (Just be sure to do your homework because there are plenty of scams out there too). Amazon and eBay have their own affiliate programs if you want to promote products.

To be successful as an affiliate marketer, you should focus on selling just one or a few items. This is called a niche. FYI: I am so bad at this. I am like a fish out of water, or a writer without a niche. I just share whatever floats my boat in the moment, but you shouldn’t follow my style if you want to make a lot of money. Instead, you should focus on a niche, something you’re an expert in and sell that. It could be a cool application or a beauty brand you love.

A final word of advice: DON’T OVERSHARE. People won’t follow you if you’re posts are boring, salesy, or spammy. In fact, you could end up blocked or reported. The secret is to create engaging posts and thoughtful content that’s relevant to your followers.

Get Paid to Twitter

If you don’t have a Twitter – sign up. It’s simple and the posts are short (140 characters or less), so there’s not a huge time commitment. You’ll need to build up a following; if you already have more than 500 followers, you’re ready to leverage these followers and earn some money. How much you get paid is dependent on how many followers you have, so if you’re one of those with 10,000+ followers, you could make some serious cash promoting products and services.

Here’s where you sign up to get paid to Tweet:

SponsoredTweets.com

Linqia.com

BlogHer.com

SocialSpark.com

Create Ads for Local Brands and Businesses

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and more have really simple ad development interfaces. Despite their simplicity, many small businesses don’t leverage these platforms for advertising. To cash in on this, create a flyer with some information about social media marketing. Let businesses know you’re available to create ads for them at a low rate, and include some stats or an infographic showing how social media marketing can generate more business. You can mail this flyer or deliver it in person.

Facebook sells ads for as little as $5, so businesses have an opportunity to try your service without spending a fortune. Double the ad cost to earn money for yourself. So, if a business chooses to purchase advertising for $500, you would charge $1,000 and keep $500 for yourself. No matter if you create an ad for $5 or $500, the time and effort is always the same. It takes less than an hour to create these ads, so you have an opportunity to make a lot of money.

Ask Businesses if You Can Manage their Social Media Accounts

Just like the above, you can promote yourself as a social media account manager. It will be your job to post to the company’s social media pages, and promote their content and services. Just like you log into your own social media accounts, you’ll log into theirs and schedule posts.

You can sell yourself hourly or charge a flat rate. I charge a flat rate of $25 per month for two posts a day, and I use HootSuite to create all eight posts on a single day (and it takes less than an hour). For additional posts, I charge just $2 and allow companies to purchase unlimited posts. It’s a sweet gig.

Earn Free Stuff by Becoming an Influencer

So, this one isn’t going to earn you any cash, but it will ensure expensive, awesome, new products are delivered to your doorstep every week. I love influencer marketing. It’s fun because of these sites, I have some stuff I never would have been able to afford otherwise (designer makeup, kitchen gadgets, smart devices, etc. etc.) All you have to do is sign up at these sites, and wait to be selected for sampling.

Influenster.com (MY FAVE!)

BzzAgent.com (MY SECOND FAVE)

CrowdTap.com

Smiley360.com

HouseParty.com

MomsMeet.com

SheSpeaks.com

Final Thoughts:

The most important thing is that you remain authentic. A lot of your social media followers are your friends and family, and they don’t want to feel like you’re using them for profit. Be yourself and gain more followers the organic way. This means, stay of social media trains (like for likes, paid likes, etc.). If you’re genuine and professional, you can earn some nice side-income via social media with little effort on your part.

Self-Love is Self-Preservation so Be Your Authentic Self

One of the best things we can do for ourselves is to be true to who we are. Before we can do that, however, we have to find out who that is. This process often takes a season, a stretch of time, to become familiar. There is no set time frame for this powerful phenomenon, everyone has their own clock.

The Days of Being Like Everyone Else…Or At Least Trying…

Youth, for most of us, is a season in which we work hard to suppress our budding individuality. We study others to mimic or puppet what seems to be acceptable. We hide our angst by covering up our feelings and pushing them way down within ourselves: so that no one can see. We don’t even realize that we are hiding the best of ourselves, the rarest form of who we are, all for the fleeting pat on the back called social acceptance. We spend a great deal of our young years lost in this holding pattern, only to realize that we aren’t happy and we don’t know who we are.

The Weight of Inauthenticity…

Even an empty box can be heavy sometimes. Especially if you carry it long enough. Your hands get tired, your neck and back become rigid and tense, and your legs start to drag. Anything fraudulent becomes a burden if you are forced to uphold it for too long. It’s hard to stay in character after the curtain falls, but the person afraid to be himself or herself has to wear the masque long after the stage has gone dark.

When the Levy Breaks…

When the moth is ready, the true butterfly emerges. When you get tired of being tired, the floodgates open as you let go of the world of expectations and judgments that have been impressed upon you. After all the unnecessary layers have fallen away, you’re left with the truest version of yourself. This is the authentic self, unlike any other, the original blueprint. At this point, life truly starts from a pure and genuine source. This confidence and authenticity are what fuels independent political party beliefs. When there is no mainstream candidate that reflects your feelings and beliefs, the authentic individual can stand alone.

Having the courage and self-love to be yourself is priceless. Without it, we’re ill-equipped to handle the many changing faces of the world. The authentic self should be everyone’s goal and destination.

An Excerpt from my New Book “Blood on the Vine”

Blood on the Vine

The following excerpt is taken from an all-audiences portion of my book. If you’d like a peek at the steamier scenes, head over to Racy Reads Blog: “Blood on the Vine” Sample for an R-rated excerpt.

The excerpt is below, but here’s a brief synopsis so you can get a feel for this story:

Miranda Knight has returned to her picturesque childhood home on Seneca Lake. The estate-turned-inn is every bit as haunting and beautiful as she remembers, but is home to more secrets than ever before. As Miranda investigates the disappearance of a former owner, she meets Aldo, a rich Mediterranean vintner. Their whirlwind romance is nothing like she’d imagined, but she can’t help falling in love with him despite his penchants for rough sex and playing hard to get. The other man in Miranda’s life is Ashton, who may or may not have murdered his wife, but who has the most beautiful blue eyes Miranda has ever gazed into. Miranda feels an attraction to both men, but only one is sincere. The wrong man is harboring a dark heart that threatens Miranda’s life and the future of her childhood home, The Molly Grange Inn.

This book is an erotic thriller with strong sexual scenes. Mature readers 18+ only.

Chapter 5 – Miranda hears a knock at the door…

I drew my satin robe around my arms and shoulders and cinched it at my waist, and slipped my feet into my slippers. I felt adequately covered to open the door.

“Besides,” I whispered. “If they’re knocking on my door passed midnight what do they expect me to be wearing?”

It dawned on me that if they could hear me crying, perhaps whoever was beyond the door could also hear me criticizing their late night visit. I took a moment and a deep breath before reaching for the door. As I went for the handle, I jumped because whoever was on the other side knocked three more times.

“I said just a second.” I shouted.

There was no one there. It didn’t seem possible, but there was no one there. The final three knocks had happened mere seconds before I pulled open the door, but the hallway was empty as far as I could tell. It was dark, but I felt certain I’d know if someone was there. I stepped a couple feet beyond my doorway and looked up and down the hallway; certainly it was dark, but it wasn’t so dark it could hide an adult person, a child maybe, but not an adult. Directly in front of me was the massive staircase, brown balustrade and white steps. On the second floor, I could just make out the light of a small sconce. I wished there were lamps lit at this hour on the third floor. On one side was the large balcony, empty and locked up for the evening. The doors to various guest rooms remained closed, but I knew the rooms were unoccupied. There were many closed doorways I couldn’t see because they were eaten up by darkness and distance, but it occurred to me that my visitor could be hiding in one of those doorways. He or she was certainly not nearby, which disturbed me because who could move so quickly to knock and in an instant be gone?

“Hello?” My voice was shaky and seemed inappropriate in the quiet hallway. Behind me, I could still just barely make out Frederick and his French accent calling out his wife’s name, but the hallway itself was undisturbed and it seemed impolite to be shouting into its quietest recesses even knowing that besides myself and the Showalter’s there weren’t any guests or staff on the third floor.

“Is someone there?”

A cool breeze floated from nowhere and caressed only the skin of my cheeks, like two icy hands rubbing against my skin. I looked at the balcony; the doors were firmly shut. The curtains over the windows were not billowing, as they would if a breeze were floating in from the outdoors; and, yet, the cool breeze had found its way under my chin and caressed up my throat and under my chin in a come hither motion. I felt a big gust of air, almost like a body moving passed me and then it was gone. I took another couple steps into the hall, as if pulled by some mysterious force. That’s when I see her, a dark haired woman skipping steps two at a time and heading toward the first floor. I’d have missed her if not for the lit sconce hanging from the wall of the second floor landing. I gave chase.

“Hey, wait a minute.” I called. She doesn’t bother stopping, much less slowing down or issuing a response. And, she looked a little old to be playing late night games of ding-dong-ditch. Just as quickly as I’d seen her, she was gone. I gave chase, unsure I was seeing things. On the second floor electronic candelabras lit up the hallway, but I caught a glimpse of her trailing black hair sweeping behind her as she turned the corner toward the first floor landing. On the first floor, I lost sight of her, but the cook was sitting in the tea room with the door open. The color drained from his red face at the sight of me, having not expected to see anyone awake at such a late hour. Once composed, he stood and greeted me with a warm welcome.

“Can I get you something?” He asked. “Some tea or something to eat?”

“No.” I said. I was distracted by the back door, which was left open perhaps by the dark-haired woman.

“Did you see a woman pass by here? Long dark hair?”

He looked at me as though I were crazy.

“No ma’am. You’re the only guest.”

“Yeah, but maybe she works here?”

“Everyone’s asleep… Are you feeling okay?”

I don’t bother trying to explain what was inexplicable. The back doors led to the veranda. I thought she must be there because who else would open the doors in the middle of the night? It didn’t occur to me that maybe they left the doors open at night to keep it cool on the first floor. It was a sweltering summer after all; even the night air was acrid and lacked a breeze, which reminded me of the cool air I’d felt upon opening my door on the third floor where it was hottest because only the guest rooms were air conditioned. I shook these thoughts from my mind and focused on the task at hand, which was to solve the mystery of the raven-haired girl. I told myself she’d simply mistaken my room for someone else’s, but the cook had confirmed I was the only guest.

She was not on the veranda unless she was hiding in the shadows. The moon was behind dark clouds, so the only light source was the flickering gas lamps out by the edge of the property too far to provide even a glimmer in the shadowy recesses of the veranda’s corners. And, what were they doing on? Hadn’t Nancy told me they were broken?

My mother had decorated the veranda in twinkling Christmas lights that stayed plugged in year-round. The new owners hadn’t thought of lighting up the veranda, which was a disappointment because I longed to be transported to that faraway time, where as a child and surrounded by ambient lighting, I’d jump the two steps down into the grass and catch the fireflies that hovered just inches above the manicured grass of our sweeping backyard while my father and grandfather watched from seats on the ornately decorated veranda, which featured imported Italian furniture, a vintage baby grand piano, and a huge Persian rug. These things had sold with the property, but somewhere along the line had been liquidated, and the replacement furniture was simple white wicker and no lights. I imagined the elegant parties we’d throw out on the west lawn, which was hidden from me in the darkness and yet was so vivid in my memory I could recall every detail. The heated lamps that speckled the property and the dining room tables with huge floral arrangements, the big band with brass instruments and electric guitars that played the classics until the wee hours of the  morning, and my mother and father dancing and laughing not fighting and name calling. It was a better time because grandfather was there to oversee things.

I couldn’t see my former home for what it is only what it was. I didn’t see the wrought iron tables, the bland wicker furniture. It wasn’t a Knight’s Inn anymore, but rather the Molly Grange Inn, which was shabbier to be sure, but not entirely lacking charm and yet in that moment it was A Knight’s Inn to me. Despite being shrouded in darkness, the door had closed behind me and the cook, likely assuming I’d headed back to bed, had turned off the hall lights, so I was surrounded by lightless shadows and black, and yet on that warm summer evening I was seeing my old things. I was nostalgic again, and as in a dream things were hazy, but my memory had remained so intact and strong. I was able to trace the steps my little legs would take to jump those two steps to the soft earth and race across the west lawn to where I’d leap into my father’s arms, and he’d dance holding me and my mother close. Like a specter, I am frozen in time standing in the grass, but in my memory the dark lawn is lit up with so many torches that I can see the sparkle in my father’s beautiful blue eyes. I take off running again, must like I did when I was a child, only there’s nothing there now…only darkness. My memories fade, and I turn around to realize I’ve ran so far I can barely make out the house, much less the veranda. I’m lost in the darkness of a moonless evening, trapped alone on the highest point of a rolling hill that sweeps from the west lawn to the east, a full grown woman trapped not just by a frightened body, but held hostage by the misery that is nostalgia.

The gas lamps are below along the properties edge. I’m halfway to where they are blazing with a burning temper. They impose on me in a way they hadn’t before. Before, I’d been happy to see them lit, happy to see they’d lasted as long as they have, happy to see that someone was maintaining the pathway I’d hiked alongside my grandfather countless times; now, despite providing a small amount of light which was solace in the darkness, they seemed threatening. They weighed heavy on my heart, and each burning lamp was a reminder that there was no recapturing my youth because the real joy of the inn was the people who’d inhabited it alongside me and they’re all gone. I felt mocked by the dancing flames, and ached to snuff out every flame of those imposing gas lamps. And, just like that, I was crying again…The girl who never loved, never cried had cried now twice in one evening and begged the universe for love… What was happening to me?

No father. No grandfather. I’m all alone, I thought. Perhaps that is why the lamps were so intimidating? They were the only witnesses to deep and meaningful conversations I’d shared with the men I’d trusted to look after me, and the one I’d trusted to keep me safe and who’d made the terrible choice to take himself out of my life forever. For the first time in what felt like decades, I remembered what it felt like to hold hands with my father and grandfather and happily hike the mile’s journey passed the gas lamps to the vineyard on the other side. The sound of my labored breathing due to falling tears interrupted the silence and I wished desperately that someone would come along because I was so completely and desperately alone.

And, there she was the pale, raven haired girl. I could barely make her out from so far away; I’d forgotten I’d put myself on an adventure to confront her for her late-night knocking, and catching a glimpse of her heading between the two tallest gas lamps, which mark the entrance to the trail, was proof that I’d not imagined her and it was a welcome distraction from my sad thoughts and memories. I called out, but she’d already disappeared between the trees. I gave chase once again and raced down the hill while taking care not to trip on the pieces of a large retaining wall whose cement pieces jutted out of the ground like ancient ruins forgotten by time, but not forgotten by my inner child who seemed to recall every dip and divot in the great lawn. Just as I hit the trail’s entrance, I saw her dark hair disappear around the bend and caught the color pink on the ruffles of her shirt before she blinked out of sight again. I scratched my head and wondered why she was running and how she was able to keep such a quick pace when I was out of breath and panting, and no longer capable of moving faster than a light jog.

It was too hot on the path to continue running. Wide enough for three people to walk if they stayed close together, the gas lamp torches lined the entire narrow path and it was hot traipsing through the center of it between the burning lamps, which lined the path at alternating positions and beyond which there was a tree line, which looked like a tall black wall impenetrable by sight in the darkness. It felt like I was cooking in a narrow oven, but I continued a brisk pace down the curvy trail jogging around corners and admiring how well the space had been maintained. It was free of brush and roots and that meant someone had been caring for it, yet Nancy had indicated it wasn’t frequently used on account of the electrical issues. Around another corner, I catch sight of her determined face. She’s pale, pretty, and likely to be around my age, early-thirties. She’s wearing a pink sweater and shades of lighter pink from a t-shirt billow out from its bottom edges and catch in the wind as she runs, but that’s all I can make out before she’s disappeared around another bend. Did she not see me, I wondered? I wasn’t so far behind, but there was a slight chance she didn’t know she was being followed, or perhaps she thought I was chasing her.

“Hey,” I called out. “Wait up! Please, I’m in a bathrobe and slippers! I saw you back at the Inn!”

There’s no way she didn’t hear me, and then it occurred that maybe she was in danger; why else would she be running out of the hotel and into the woods so late at night.

“Do you need help?” I shouted. Suddenly, my shouts were haunting me in the forest which was too eerily quiet. I trailed off, no longer wishing to experience the chilling vacancy of a forest which answered no reply to my calls. No response, and yet I was certain I’d hear it if she’d yell and she must have heard me; although, judging by the pace she’d kept thus far, she was likely to have covered a lot of ground. I kept rigidly still and listened intently for any sound from the forest, a rustling of leaves or the familiar kee-kee of a small killdeer which nested in tall trees and was known to sing its gentle song at night. The forest was silent except for the hisses of gas being burned by the lamps whose flames danced menacingly over my head.

“What’s this chick’s problem?”

I wondered aloud, but under my breath. I had to break the silence, so I started walking and listened to the sounds my slippers made kicking up dirt and leaves.

“Am I even sure this is the woman that knocked on my door?”

The knocking was so hard and heavy… It suddenly occurred to me that I’d never asked the cook about the knocking. The soft, gentle tapping could have been anything. At the time, I was convinced someone was knocking, but perhaps it was another noise; perhaps, it was some noise associated with the nocturnal activities of my carnal neighbors. And, the cook was awake. Was he responsible for the knocking? Had he accidentally knocked on my door? He was certainly more capable of pounding out such loud knocks; more so than the small woman I was chasing through the woods at night. Despite this logical reasoning, I continued to walk, one fuzzy slipper in front of the other. Just as they had in my youth, the torches casted more of a shadow especially when one spits a bit more gas and the flames flicker higher and catch on the iron sides of the windowed box that housed the flames and stopped them from sending embers into the woods to catch fire. These shadows had a chilling effect on me and slowed me down. I wanted to catch up with her, but it had to be well after midnight and I was only halfway down the path. It was still another half mile at least to Bianchi winery, and there was no telling even if that’s where she was heading, and if it is did I really wish to follow? Would I go knocking on a stranger’s door at midnight to ask after her? And, what if I couldn’t find my way through the rows and rows of grapevines to the main house with no light to guide me? In my youth, I’d held my father’s or grandfather’s hands and he’d led the way, but I’d never gone walking in the darkness by myself. I couldn’t fathom what had possessed me to go running around the property in my pajamas in the middle of the night to chase some woman who clearly did not want to be caught, and I had that childlike feeling that something sinister lay around every corner and the silence of the wood was unnerving. I beg nostalgia to give me a break and stop reminding me of the times I’d ventured into these woods alone, never at night, but even in the day it could be a creepy place, but hadn’t there been noise? Birds chirping? Bull frogs croaking? I told myself it was only quiet because the forest’s creatures had heard us running, and that had scared them into silence, but that didn’t explain the lack of crickets or any sort of rustling, and somehow the gas lamps actually made the woods seem darker as they cast no light behind them but for a few inches.

“Stop.” I whispered. My feet obeyed and stopped their slow shuffling. There was no point in chasing her. The whole thing had been an exercise in futility and it had left me rather exhausted, and impatient for my bed and the relative safety of the inn. It was all too odd and imposing and that feeling had come on so suddenly, like the shift from a strange dream to a full-on nightmare, and what was I even doing near Seneca Lake? I promised myself that tomorrow I’d give up the foolishness and take the borrowed car, sure to arrive sometime in the morning, and head to my mom’s and never look back. I take one more look around and realized I’d made it to the old bench; it was just sitting there, beautiful, a safe place to rest tired legs. I’d spent a great deal of my youth sitting on that bench, greeting people as they made the mile trek to the vineyard or bird-watching with my grandfather. I couldn’t resist relaxing on its warm wood one final time, at least to catch my breath before I turned back.

It had held up so well, a testament to my grandfather’s ability to work with his hands, but still surprising none the less considering the areas harsh winters. I’d have to thank Mr. Belanger for doing such a great job maintaining the old pathway and keeping the elements from ruining the bench that had meant so much to my youth. It was all too obvious that I’d grown; my legs no longer swung just above the ground. I was all at once overcome with emotion, both happy and sad, content and longing, nostalgic and stuck in present-day realities. The pressure my brain felt was overwhelming, so I closed my eyes and slumped down in my seat until my head could rest against the back of the bench. I don’t know if I fell asleep, but when I opened my eyes again everything had gone dark. If I thought the gas lamps were imposing before, I hadn’t yet felt the very real and much worse imposition of impenetrable darkness because I was plunged into darkness and immediately I longed for the lamps to cast light on my way again. I couldn’t see the hand in front of my face. I blinked many times, closed my eyes tight, prayed for the lamps to come on, and then opened my eyes again. They adjusted only slightly to the darkness that impeded my ability to see the path, which with all its twists and turns would be impossible to navigate in the darkness. How had every single gas lamp simultaneously gone out like that? I guessed that was what Nancy had meant when she’d said they were broken; that’s why it wasn’t recommended that guests come down here in the evenings. I estimated myself to be about three quarters of a mile in. Sometime in the last few minutes, a breeze had set in and without the warmth from the gas lamps, my body grew cold and I shivered both from the cold and from the panic that was beginning to set in. The darkness was weightier, thicker than when there’d been light, as though I were swimming in Jell-O and my legs went rubbery when I stood up, so I immediately sat back down and tried to clear my head which was swimming in thoughts, such as worries that I’d get lost in the woods and devoured by a bear or freeze all night waiting for the sun to come up.

For the second time that night, tears slipped from my eyes and slid down my cheeks. The tears further blinded me, but I stood up anyway. It occurred to me that I could use the lamps to guide me. They weren’t so far apart… If I went slow and kept my bearings, I could make it home. It was so dark, so thickly dark, but with ringing ears and a body on the edge of swooning, I stood up and lunged across the path and took told of the lamp directly across from me. I grasped the pole, which was frighteningly cold. It wasn’t even a little bit warm, which caused me to push off from it and my legs, still wobbly, collapsed underneath me so I was sitting in the dirt. It took me a minute to find the slipper which had slipped off my foot and landed at the path’s edge, thankfully not in the woods.

“Get it together,” I whispered.

I wiped the tears from my eyes, took a deep and steadying breath, and then stood tall on my own without support. I took a few more deep breaths to steady my racing heart. The whole experience was maddening. I prayed it was all a dream and that any minutes I’d wake up in my comfy bed, back up in the Josephine Suite, my old room. The chilling breeze drew me back to reality. It wasn’t a dream, so I had two choices: stay in the woods or use the lamps as a guide to escape the woods. The crunch of leaves somewhere behind me gets me moving, and I touched the cool lamp again and speed walked to the next. A second crunch, louder and nearer to me, causes my heart to sink to my stomach. I hold desperately to the lamp post and struggle to see into the darkness. My heart sinks further when I heard the faint click of a cigarette lighter, which ripped through the silence of the forest like a lion’s roar, vicious and unmistakable. I know that sound. I couldn’t forget that sound. My grandfather made that sound all the time when he lit cigars with a silver Zippo lighter. It wasn’t my imagination. Sweat poured from my temples to my chin despite the chill in the air, and I didn’t bother to wipe it away. I was stunned, shocked still and white knuckling the lamp post because I had nothing else to hold onto and no way to see in order to run.

“Wh-who-who’s there?” I stuttered.

I prayed it wouldn’t be my grandfather who answered. I’d run screaming into the forest if it were him. I lean toward the sound, trying desperately to see and praying that it was the dark-haired girl; perhaps, she’d returned to check on the crazy woman who’d been chasing her earlier. I gently sway in the stranger’s direction, listening for another sound and praying I would not hear one. The lighter clicks again, does not light, and shivers are racing down my spine. A third click causes the flame to ignite finally and it’s the outline of a man before me, which causes my heart to sink further into my stomach and I was suddenly nauseous. I felt as though I’d swallowed a handful of pills and they were swirling about in my tummy. Thankfully, it wasn’t my grandfather’s shape before me. He wasn’t slim and tall, but rather rotund and short. Seeing a stranger in the woods left me longing for ghosts because it was completely dark and he was eerily silent; clearly, I thought, he is here with plans to kill me. The odor of a fragrant cigar filled my nostrils and despite that it was terrifically sweet smelling, it threatened my already fragile stomach and I coughed but held back vomit. Quite suddenly, my fear spurned me to action and I stepped away from the lamp, my only guide in the darkness, and backed away from the man. I planned to turn in run, but first I would watch him to make sure he didn’t come any closer.

“What are you doing out here by yourself?” He spoke, finally. “All alone in the dark.”

“None of your business.” I fired back. “Stay away from me.”

“Calm down.” He said, and I heard the unmistakable crunch of leaves as he moved toward me, but could not see in the dark to be certain.

“Stay back.” I cried.

“Relax.” He said. He sounded gentle and concerned. “My name is Aldo Bianchi. I own the winery at the end of this trail… Just up the way there. Do you need help?”

He spoke gently, slowly, as if he were speaking to a woman on the ledge of a building about to jump off. He thought I was crazy, and all at once I wasn’t surprised by that considering I was out in the woods alone and in the dark, wearing only a nightgown, robe, and slippers. I recognized the name; although, it took me a moment to recall him. I was still suspicious because how could I be certain he was telling the truth. I took another step backward when I could see him coming toward me in the dark, his hand just visible inches away. I turned to flee, but tripped over an exposed root. Aldo leaned forward and gave me his hand, but I refused to take it. He placed it into his pocket instead and dug around looking for something; a gun? A knife with which to slip my throat?

“Relax.” He said in a calming tone, still speaking to me as though I were crazy. “I’m going to give you my lighter. You’ll need it to see… Unless you prefer to continue wandering around in the dark?”

I reached up and took the lighter from his hand. He kept his hand open, and I placed mine in his and he helped me to my feet. I’m grateful and less afraid, and once I light the lighter I recognize his dark features and know that he is telling the truth. He’s a grown man, older than me, and incredibly handsome.

“Aldo.” I whispered.

“At your service.” He answered coyly.

“Do you remember me?” I ask.

“I can’t say I do, but it’s hard to see out here.”

I moved the lighter closer to my face, but was careful to keep it away from my hair which breezed around my face in the breeze which had appeared once the light had disappeared.

“Miranda Knight.” I said cautiously. It took him a moment and then he said, “Little Miranda Knight.”

“At your service.” I said with a laugh.

“Of course I remember the little girl with bouncing curls who used to run through my father’s grape fields with wild abandon.”

“Well, I’m not so little anymore.”

“Even in the darkness I can see that.” He said, and I could sense him sizing me up. I couldn’t see his eyes, but I could feel them tracing the contours of my body barely illuminated by the flame of his tiny lighter. My arms and legs lit up in goose pimples, and I was all at once excited to see the boy I’d forgotten I’d had a bit of a crush on growing up.

“What are you doing out here, Miranda?”

“I was following a woman… She was running from something… See, she knocked on my door… I’m staying at the old inn, and she knocked on my door and then ran away.”

“So, you were chasing a woman who knocked on your door?”

He sounded incredulous and I was terribly embarrassed. I attempted to explain myself better by describing her pink shirt, long dark hair. His body tensed; even in the darkness I could see him stiffen. Perhaps he saw her too, and that’s why he shuffled on his feet. I asked him if he had, and he laughed casually and spoke in a perfectly relaxed tone, which did well to ease my initial nervousness.

“I haven’t seen a woman, but I haven’t been out here long.”

“Do you know if the gas lamps will come back on?”

“They haven’t worked in years.” He said matter-of-factly.

I wrote a brand new book, and it would be amazeballs if you would read it. As always, free copies to anyone willing to leave an honest review on my Amazon page. So far, feedback has been great for this sexy, new paranormal romance.