The Savvy Author


Author's Notes for UNREPENTANT: Pray for Us Sinners


The horror of sex trafficking mentioned in this book is, unfortunately, all too true and is a thriving underworld business. Internet websites, many of which have been successfully shut down by law, have made it all the easier for sex traffickers to advertise. Young girls and boys are kidnapped and sold into slavery where they are raped and forced into prostitution. ECPAT USA (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes), an Anti-Trafficking agency, states that the average age of these innocent children is between 12 and 14 years of age. There have been cases of girls as young as 9 years old who are forced into this lifestyle with their virginity sold to the highest bidder.

Many never escape from their captors and fall victim to brutal living conditions, physical abuse, forced drug addiction, and disease. Too many others become “the lost ones” as noted in the book and are either murdered, OD on drugs, or commit suicide.

Missouri Senator, Claire McCaskill, addressed this issue in the United States Senate. “This past year, (2016), a 15-year-old girl was rescued from sex traffickers in St. Louis after being sold at truck stops in Missouri, Florida, Texas and New Mexico for nearly two months. This young woman was courageous enough to share her story, which I told in the Senate hearing I co-chaired about trafficking and the notorious website Backpage. Now we owe it to her, and the thousands of other child victims across the country, to do everything in our power to stop this horrific crime.”


                                        Kristen Houghton


Sometimes It Pays to be a Bitch, Cate Harlow!

In the soon-to-be-released UNREPENTANT: Pray for Us Sinners, book 3 in A Cate Harlwo Private Investigations, I had a male character call Cate Harlow a bitch. If she is, that only means that she's a strong woman.

I was a nice girl, a people-pleaser — and I looked the part. California blonde, a ready smile, and soft-spoken: a nice girl. I got good grades, played on the girls’ tennis team where I would never, ever argue an umpire’s call, and was always pleasant to everyone. The problem was that I never spoke up or voiced my own opinion, no matter how much I may have disagreed with others’ politics, beliefs, or ego-driven opinions. I just nodded my head, smiled, and let them think I agreed with them even if I knew they were wrong. Of course, I wanted to be a nice girl and not, heaven forbid, a bitch!

The word “bitch” gets overused quite a lot for women. It seems that whenever a woman asserts any type of authority, there is bound to be someone who doesn’t like it, and the title “bitch” gets bandied about. Granted, women as well as men are apt to use the word when referring to a female who has been especially nasty, or one whom they feel has used her position of power in a negative way.

I once worked at a newspaper where people completely avoided, if at all possible, one woman who worked in Human Resources. As a newbie I never had any dealings with her, until one day there was a mistake in the deductions on my pay stub. I asked to see her and went in breeze-y and pleasant, expecting that we would resolve the problem without incident. I came out frazzled, teeth clenched and shocked. I was also mad as hell. She had made the 20 minute session as unpleasant as hell.

“What is her problem?” I asked a colleague who saw me coming back to my desk in a snit.
His response was a simple summation: “Her? She’s a bitch” — and he was right on target.
Alright, it was what it was, and I did kind of accept the use of the word. Certainly I thought that particular woman in HR was a definite bitch. I was the nice girl, remember?

But “bitch” is also a word that is too often used to describe a powerful woman, a competent woman, or a woman of strength. The greatest women of all time have had the title used to describe them, albeit not always to their faces. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, England’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, etc.

Actually, the word bitch can be traced way back to Elizabeth I of England. Incensed by her rejection of his marriage proposal, King Philip II of Spain called her “a power-sated bitch.” He was further humiliated when his Spanish Armada was soundly trounced by the petite queen’s navy. Her own brilliant military and naval acumen were salt in the wound to his ego.
Very few women are true bitches when the word is used to denote a vicious mean-spirited person.

The vast majority of women who have been called bitches have been women of strength and courage who used their minds to create positions of power in the world and made sane, competent contributions in business, medicine and government. A CEO of anything is still a CEO regardless of gender. They have to make tough decisions that may not be agreeable to all who work for them. Men are not seen as bitches of course; they are seen as tough, strong, leaders. Why can’t that appellation be applied to women as well? Is being called a bitch a new type of modern compliment?

Maybe, just maybe, being seen as a bitch can a good thing to be. If being a bitch means that you are a woman who expects respect, who is a force to be reckoned with in business, politics and in life in general; if it means that you can be forceful when needed, make serious decisions and be a leader, then it is a positive affirmation.

I asserted my own authority last week. Having made dinner reservations for four at a swank restaurant, I was annoyed to see that another party of four people, without reservations, had pushed their way to the hostess and was being led to a table. I excused myself through the crowd, walked up to the maitre d’ and said, firmly but pleasantly:

“I’m sorry, but that table is for my party. We have reservations for eight o’clock, we’ve been waiting for thirty minutes. These people just arrived, and I heard them say that they do not have a reservation. I would like you to do the right thing and seat us first.”

The maitre d’ then told the hostess that those without reservations would have to wait until all parties with reservations were seated. As we were being escorted to our table, I distinctly heard one of the men in the other party say, “What a bitch!”

I took it as a compliment.


Authors Need to Get a Life (outside of writing, that is!)

If you’re in the field of writing the changes are good that you tend to face more rejection and less acceptance than those in any other profession. No other group of people face criticism and rejection as often as we do. Truthfully, though we may rant and rave, we have no choice but to accept it; it is after all part of the “game of publishing.”

Quitting this artistic profession we have chosen is not an option. Writers write because there is something inside us that drives us to create stories, write articles, and put ourselves out there for others to see, possibly reject, and comment negatively on our work. It is almost masochistic! How many rejections can you take before you quit? The answer is we’ll take them all and we will never quit.

A writer’s life is not without its occupational hazards. Writing can become all-consuming even though no author is the same when it comes to their own schedule of writing. Some write four to five hours a day straight through, some as much as eight. Some break up the hours; Dan Brown once said in an interview that after two hours of intense writing he would get up and use the vertical machine in his office to clear his head and get his body moving.

Then there are the writers who closet themselves in their writing areas almost 18 hours a day and rarely emerge outside of a quick bathroom run! Truthfully I did this with my first book, And Then I’ll Be Happy! I basically had no social life and my husband told me at one point that he saw me so little that my face was becoming just a blurred memory. But I didn’t care; I was on a creative roll and I had to get that book written! Now I write for two to three hours a day, more if I have a major deadline, but it is never an all-day marathon, not any more.

While it is fairly accurate that writers are misunderstood in general, (we’re artists!); not many people can, or want, to do what we do. The process of writing changes the way we look at the world, we see what others don’t and that often sets us apart. But the truth is that, being consumed by the writing muse can be detrimental to your writing.

Does that sound crazy? How can doing nothing but write hurt our writing? It can and it does.
Mental fatigue is one way that ruins an author’s creativity. Anyone who has had the exhausting experience of all-night cramming sessions for college exams knows all too well about mental fatigue. It has been shown to reduce the creative spark rather than enhance it. Then too there is the very real danger of depression; being alone all the time with very little outside contact can lead to this potentially dangerous evil in a writer’s life.

You need to have an outside life away from the writing one and surprisingly the two “lives” can not only co-exist very nicely but your “outside life” can be beneficial to your creative life by refreshing your thought processes. Too much alone time can lead to the dreaded writer’s block.

Getting off your computer, up from your chair, and out into the world is a bit scary because you’re “leaving work undone,” I agree but it is necessary for your metal and physical health. Just going for a walk, calling, not texting or emailing, a friend or family member to make a human connection is a productive time away from your computer.

And, if you’re like most writers, your author’s subconscious is creating and storing new ideas that will benefit your writing. Socializing by going out to dinner, a movie, or a museum are great places to observe people and settings for character development and story lines.Taking an exercise class, or seeing a film, is not wasted time. Besides refreshing you it will lead to some heretofore untried writing experiences.

As writers we will always be thinking about our characters, the current and next stories, the articles begging to be written, and the deadlines we face. Taking some time to live your “outside life” will make you a refreshed, relaxed person who faces the profession of writing with new eyes and a healthy perspective. Combining our creative and outside lives make us winners.

Happy writing!


Forget Amazon Rankings and Just Write!

Book sales are very important to an author. It’s a nice feeling to see a book into which you’ve poured heart, soul and an incredible amount of time, produce healthy sales. The problem is that not all places that put up sales and author rankings are equal or tell the whole truth. A good example of this problem is Amazon.

I know an author who measures his days by his author ranking and book sales numbers on Amazon. If his numbers are “good,” he’s in a happy frame of mind. But, oh, when those numbers drop! He is down and miserable wondering what he can do to raise his numbers to what he feels are acceptable levels. In fact, he spends so much time on publicity schemes that he doesn’t write the 1,000 words a day he has promised himself he would do. He is getting far behind in his outlines and the writing schedule for his new book all because of his rankings.

What authors forget is that the rankings on Amazon don’t tell the whole book-selling story. Amazon is not the be-all and end-all of the book-selling world. Not selling well on Amazon doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t selling well on other book selling sites. Sales from those other sites won’t be reflected in Amazon sales, nor will your author ranking. I know this because my own books sell very well, and my Nielsen rank is high, even when the sales figures are lower on Amazon, because the giant online store tracks only its own sales. An author’s overall success as a writer is not linked solely to Amazon. How can you tell how many books you’ve actually sold on Amazon from your sales rank there? The answer is simple — you can’t.

Barnes and Noble also has rankings which seem to be a better way to judge your sales numbers because, unlike Amazon, 95 percent of what B&N sells are actually books and ebooks. It is the same with online and brick-and-mortar independent bookstores. You may find better sales figures at BookFinder, Abe’s Books, a local book shop or independent booksellers.

The rank for one book in Amazon online stores varies from country to country. Each store represents a different demographic or market. Let’s say a book ranks #10 in (Australia) but ranks #11,264 in (U.S.A.). Sales figures will differ accordingly. Also, Amazon claims that the Bestsellers Rank is calculated hourly, but Amazon’s information about true rankings are meager at best.

The info available may state that the ranking of bestsellers is updated every hour but it seems that most rankings are not updated that frequently. Here’s how it really works: The sales standing of books ranked #1 to #10,000 are recalculated every hour. Books in the #10,001-#110,000 are recalculated daily, not hourly, and those over #110,000 are ranked monthly. Big difference. And while the Amazon ranking of your book is good to know, it doesn’t necessarily match the royalty statement from your publisher. That statement is gathered from the sales data of all book sales, not just from one source. If you are truly concerned with your book’s sales and your author ranking, send an email to your publisher requesting the info he or she has on the book.

Writing is a time-consuming, deadline-oriented profession. If you’re not actually writing, you’re thinking about it. It is like no other profession in the world because it is with you all the time. How many of us have gotten up in the middle of the night to jot down a story idea, a character’s line, or a scene? You love your passion and you are consumed by it willingly.

Authors who start to worry about their Amazon ranking should be aware that by doing so they’re allowing Amazon to define their success. My advice is to just keep writing and find good ways to publicize your book — 80 percent writing and 20 percent smart publicity is best. Remember that a well-written book that drawers readers to you is your best publicity. The sales figures will, eventually, take care of themselves.


More: Coming in December, 2016

It's almost here! Magic, Murder, Mystery-can our NYC PI Cate solve this case in New Orleans? coming December, 2016
UNREPENTANT-Pray for Us Sinners
book 3 in A Cate Harlow Private Investigation

Amazon Book Publishing Book Reviews Book Sales Nielsen Ratings

Why (Most) Childfree Women Are Successful

"If you want to be successful in your career, don’t have children."

Female Speaker at Women and Business conference

It’s interesting to note that while women have significantly advanced in their chosen professions, there is still a huge imbalance in the number of women who have made it to the top of their fields. What isn’t so surprising is that the women who do forge successful careers are mostly child-free. Not having children seems to be a plus in the career department.

Nothing gets the pot stirred like a statement that some women do not want to be mothers... ever. They’re not postponing it, they’re bypassing it altogether. And in reality, there are many women who feel that being mothers hampers their careers and their choice of lifestyles.

Believe me when I say that this post is not written as a slur on any woman’s choice to become a mother, nor is it written as an all-out paean to child-free women. It is what it is — the observation that to succeed, you need to focus on what you want without distraction. To do that, you need to put what needs to be done high on your list of priorities. Men have been doing it for years without anyone thinking less of them. Whether in the corporate, financial or even artistic realms, to reach the top in your career requires a single-minded drive, dedication and passion.

Girls are taught that motherhood is a desired natural state; a state which is a normal progression in our lives as females. Even today, the emphasis is on motherhood first, career second, and that is wrong. Motherhood doesn’t define womanhood.

In the book The Barrenness, a fictional work by writer Sonja Lewis, the sensitive topic of a woman’s choice whether or not to have children is wonderfully addressed. Should the thirty-something protagonist put her career on hold and have children or not? It’s a choice many of us face.

Motherhood is draining; you can’t deny it. Yes, motherhood can be a beautiful experience, but only for those who truly want it. Unless you have a strong maternal drive and feel your life would be incomplete without a child, having one is an illogical choice; it doesn’t make sense financially, health-wise (think: sleep deprivation) and can restrict you from living the type of life you want to live — especially if that life includes a high-powered career requiring long hours and travel.

Raising a child is time-consuming. Why is it surprising that some women choose to dedicate that child-rearing time to their careers and adult relationships? And why, if we do that, are we considered selfish? Where is it dictated that we have to give our time, our energy and our lives to another being? Because society or religious views say we should? To me, that argument is insufficient,

Career, personal freedom and finances are some of the top reasons many women choose not to have children. They value the time and effort it takes to become secure in a career and they are enjoying the intellectual and monetary perks it provides. Choosing other pathways to personal satisfaction, it seems, can be equally — and for some, more gratifying — than mothering.

In the Psychology Today article, “Choosing to be Childfree in a Changing World,” author Ellen Walker, Ph.D. states that 43 percent of college-educated women between the ages of 33 and 46 are child-free. More and more women are skipping out on what has generally been viewed as a necessary life experience without regrets.

Successful career women from journalist Diane Sawyer to actors Cameron Diaz and Marisa Tomei to media mogul Oprah Winfrey are successful and child-free by choice. Dame Helen Mirren, whose acting career has spanned several decades, has this to say about her choice to be child-free: “I always did — and still do — value my freedom too highly (to become a parent).”

The ‘Great Kate’, Katharine Hepburn, focused on what she wanted in her life and what she wanted was a career and the ability to do as she pleased. When interviewed about her life she said, “Being a housewife and a mother is the biggest job in the world I’m sure, but if it doesn’t interest you, don’t do it — I, personally, would have made a terrible mother.”

I applaud women who are mothers and work full-time outside the home and would never judge their choice to do so. But I also applaud and admire women who have made a bold and non-conventional choice to not be mothers. Being true to yourself and your own needs should be paramount. The truth is that most women who have achieved professional success have chosen not to have children.