NY Post Article - Slashing of 9/11 Victim Benefits

I am so thankful that Melissa Klein of the NY Post cared enough to do an article regarding Congress’ failure to adequately fund the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

I have documented the problems that the 9/11 community is having to deal with recently on my blog, but it is nothing compared to the views generated by a major New York City newspaper publication. I grew up reading the post, but never thought I would one day be featured in an article. I hope that if there is a next time that it will be to highlight one of my new books, because that would mean we had resolved the gross deficiencies of the Victim’s Compensation Fund.

For more information about the battle that heroes and victims are having to wage with Congress, please read Melissa’s article below:

NY POST ARTICLE: 9/11 FIRST RESPONDERS BENEFITS TO BE SLASHED - by Melissa Klein

And for more information, read up on my blog posts:

NEVER FORGET THE HEROES

SEPTEMBER 11TH - YES THEY HAVE FORGOTTEN

STABBED IN THE BACK (AGAIN) - 9/11’S FORGOTTEN HEROES

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Challenges for Writers: Overcoming Literary Hurdles (Reviews)

Do you remember where you were when you first learned there were over seven million books in the Amazon Kindle Store? Hopefully it wasn’t just a moment ago.

It’s a staggering number, especially when you are about to release your first book. Hell, let’s be honest, it’s staggering even if you’re releasing your fiftieth book, but as difficult as it might seem, there are ways for you to reduce that number.

My writing career officially began in 2012, when I sat down and began work on my first mystery novel, Perfect Pawn, but its foundation dates back to a conversation I had with my wife in 2001. I’m glad I didn’t know back then the extent of the daunting road that lay ahead for me. As I mentioned last week, I have authored a total of ten books, along with two novellas, and I am currently writing my latest work-in-progress. During that time I have done a lot of things right, but an even greater amount of things wrong.

As an up and coming author, you need to accept that when you put the proverbially: The End, on your book, it is a lie. It would be nice if it was true, but that’s just not reality. Your job as an indie author is more like that of a general contractor.  Now that the foundation is complete, you have to focus on getting the rest of the job finished.

If you read last week’s post: Challenges For Writers, maybe you decided that cover design, editing and formatting just isn’t your thing. I can’t find fault with that thinking because not everyone has the time or the background to undertake those tasks. Most indie authors have full time jobs, so focusing on writing when you can, and outsourcing the other stuff, is probably the best option. But there are things beyond those critical issues that you will also need to address.

For the most part, when authors such as James Patterson, Lee Child, or J.D. Robb finish a book they do a lateral pass and their publishing houses take over. As an indie author, you are that publishing house. This means that if you want to effectively compete against those seven million other books on the market you are going to have to do some heavy lifting for yourself. This is where the proverbial rubber hits the road. I would love to be able to tell you what to do, but as I previously mentioned, I am still learning as well. I can only give you advice about what hasn’t worked for me.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing, all that matters is what you are doing.

I’d originally wanted to address several topics in this post, but I realized it was getting a bit long. So I decided to address them individually. This week I am going to touch on the topic of Reviews. In the upcoming weeks I will talk such issues as: Social Media, Publicity, Stagnant Sales, Keywords and Ads.

Begging for Reviews – Go on Amazon and look at your nearest competitor and marvel at the astronomical review numbers they have. All of a sudden that concept of ‘redistribution’ begins to sound a lot more palatable.

Damn you, James Patterson………………

Damn you, James Patterson………………

Once you start to compare your numbers against theirs its hard not to get bummed out. Hell, you might even begin to wonder if your own mother hates you. I mean, she still hasn’t written a review for you and you gave her that free book years ago. Trust me, you’re not alone.  I can’t begin to tell you the number of free books I have given out to family and friends over the years, but I can tell you the number of reviews that it has generated; which coincidentally is the same number of Super Bowl appearances by the Detroit Lions: ZERO.

Let’s be honest, reviews are really important to authors for a variety of reasons, including:

1) Writing books is a really poor way to make a living, unless you enjoy a regular diet of ramen noodles and tap water, and reviews are your only source of literary validation

2) They factor into the algorithms that sellers like Amazon use when they recommend books to others

But are they worth the time and effort you put into trying to generate them? Sadly, the answer is no, at least not from your inner circle. If you are interested, I have written a more in-depth examination regarding the problem that authors face, in terms of reviews, here: The Labyrinthian World of (Fake) Book Reviews

Since that article, I have reached the conclusion that it is just not worth the effort, at least when it comes to your inner circle. Here is my advice to you: Stop asking and if you feel like giving a book away for free, do it without any thought that you will get a review. You’ll save yourself from a lot of disappointment.

Your focus should be generating enough sales of your book(s) from other sources that will lead to organic reviews. What you (and potential readers) want to see on your Amazon Review page are the ones listed as: Verified Purchase. This means that the review is an organic one from someone who purchased it through Amazon. You know who also likes it? Amazon and their algorithms.

Beyond that, are the reviews by folks listed as: #1 REVIEWER, TOP 10 REVIEWER, TOP 50 REVIEWER, TOP 100 REVIEWER, TOP 500 REVIEWER, TOP 1000 REVIEWER, HALL OF FAME REVIEWER. Next to the aforementioned James Patterson endorsing your book, nothing says ‘buy me’ more than a review from an established Amazon Reviewer.

That being said, you want those reviews to be 4 & 5 stars, so it behooves you to make sure your book is the best it can be when you publish it.   

Next up I will be discussing the topic of Social Media.

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Stabbed in the Back (Again) – 9/11’s Forgotten Heroes

It pains me greatly to have to write this, but the reality is that the overwhelming majority of politicians in Washington, D.C. truly wish we would all die. That may sound harsh, but there can be no other answer to explain their callousness when it comes to this issue.

Every September 11th, they seize on the opportunity to wrap themselves up in faux patriotism, jump in front of the cameras, and boldly proclaim that they will #NeverForget, but the reality is that come September 12th, they have already FORGOTTEN.

Let me explain to you what is at stake here. Right now, there are thousands of first responders and victims of the attack who are dealing with terminal illnesses, as a result of their exposure to the toxins at Ground Zero. For some it is not a simple cancer diagnosis, but multiple cancer diagnosis. Many are incapacitated to the point that they cannot work, meaning they are left with skyrocketing medical bills along with their own personal bills. The stories are heartbreaking.

Imagine being one of these heroes, who spent countless hours of self-sacrifice at Ground Zero, risking their lives for others, but now you have to struggle to come up with enough money to keep a roof over your head? Yes, this is happening in America today. What’s worse is that the very system setup to help, has been slow-walking the processing of claims for years. My own VCF claim for cancer has languished in some federal employee’s in-box for well over a year and has not even been looked at. My lawyers tell me that it will be an additional six months to a year before it is even reviewed. I can guarantee you that every payday those dedicated employees are getting THEIR checks on time. I’m not sure what these employees are being paid for this work, but I can tell you that the Special Master in charge of running this program earns close to a cool quarter of a million dollars a year for running this debacle.

When the original Victim’s Compensation Fund was created, shortly after the attacks, it was NOT out of the kindness of their collective political hearts. They did it simply because they were playing a game of CYA. Why you ask? Well, for starters, the government lied to us by claiming that the air was SAFE, even though they knew it wasn’t. Then, they decided that in exchange for their quick settlement we could not sue the airlines or the government. But that original VCF plan only ran for a short time and was shut down.

It took a number of years, and a growing community of sick first responders and victims, before the politicians acquiesced. In 2010, they passed a new iteration of the VCF called the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, and then in 2015 they reauthorized, providing coverage for victims through 2090. The only problem was that they never adequately funded it. In fact, it was ridiculously underfunded. To be clear, the government was intimately aware of the escalating cases of deaths and diseases from exposure to toxins at Ground Zero and opted to slap a Band-Aid on the wound.

On February 15th, 2019, a notice went out from the Special Master. It effectively notified those who had claims waiting to be processed by the VCF that the fund was running out of money and that any awards would now be slashed by 50%. It further stated that any new claims that were filed would see a 70% reduction.

 

Mind you, this is the same government that sends billions of dollars annually to FOREIGN governments, but turns a blind eye to the heroes and victims of the worst terror attack in U.S. History. What has become of this great nation when we send more money annually to the nation that the 9/11 attack was launched from then we provide for the victims during the life of the program?

The government would like you to believe that the effects of the attack ended shortly after September 11th. Here is a newsflash: On September 11th, 2001, I lost 23 NYPD brothers and a sister. Since then, we have lost nearly 6x that number and those are only the ones that the NYPD has gotten around to approving. The actual number is probably closer to 200, if not more, and it will only rise. I wish I could tell you the number of FDNY, but it is safe to safe that it is even higher for them.  The reason that the numbers are even this low is because these agencies, in concert with the city, are trying to fight the awarding of any additional line of duty designations. In the end, it is all about money. The government certifies your illness as being directly attributed to the attack, but the city ignores it.

You would think getting approval for the funding of the Zadroga Act would be a political ground ball, but you would be wrong. To date, there are only 21 sponsors in the Senate and only 93 in the House; which means that of the 535 total members of Congress, 421 have FORGOTTEN. What is equally galling to me is the fact that from the Republican side, MY party, there are a combined total of twenty-five. Yep, those same folks who wrap themselves up in the flag every year and proclaim #NeverForget are a bunch of lying SOB’s. Hell, I can’t even get my own Congressman, Rodney Davis, to respond to my communications to him, let alone to co-sponsor the bill. All he can come up with is catchy tweets once a year.

This will not change unless Americans do something about it. If you are one of those people that reminisce every year about where you were on the morning of September 11th, then you need to do something for those people who were THERE on September 11th.

The heroes and victims of 9/11 are sick, dying and running out of time. They need YOUR help and they need it now. Contact your Senators and Representatives and DEMAND that they treat them just as well as we treat our ‘friends’. No more Foreign Aid until America’s heroes are taken care of first.

Media Outlets: If you are interested in discussing this matter, please CONTACT ME directly.

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Throwback Thursday - Behind the Scenes (NYPD Intelligence)

Readers of my books know that I reference a lot of different places and agencies. Many of them are part of the backstory for my characters, so I thought I would start something new called: Throwback Thursday.

From time to time I will present you with a brief history of one of the units or locations I write about, to help you get a better understanding of the character’s story.  Today’s Throwback Thursday post pertains to something near and dear to my heart: NYPD intelligence.

In Perfect Pawn, readers are introduced to retired NYPD Detective James Maguire. For a period of time he was assigned to the NYPD’s Intelligence Division (now known as the Intelligence Bureau). What many do not know is that the command’s roots can be traced back to Lieutenant Giuseppe ‘Joe’ Petrosino and the Italian Squad. Lt. Petrosino was instrumental in pursuing the organized crime group known as the ‘Black Hand.’ Petrosino was killed while investigating the group in Palermo, Sicily.

It would be nearly fifty more years till the Intelligence Division would be tasked with providing dignitary protection, but in an ironic twist, during his infiltration of an Italian anarchist group, Petrosino uncovered a plot to assassinate then President William McKinley. Petrosino alerted the Secret Service, but the President ignored the warning, even after then Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt, who had been an NYPD Commissioner, vouched for Petrosino and his abilities. As warned, the group followed through and McKinley was assassinated during his visit to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo on September 6, 1901.

Following Petrosino’s own assignation, by the Black Hand in 1909, Acting Detective Sergeant Charles Corrao took over the Italian Squad. At that time the city was dealing with a string of attacks with explosives, as the Black Hand had now begun to use bombs as a means of extortion.  On one occasion Corrao grabbed a bomb from Black Hand member Giovanni Rizzo’s hand and defused it while the man fled. After a subsequent chase, and an exchange of gunfire between the two, Rizzo was captured.  For his actions, Charles Corrao was awarded the newly adopted NYPD Medal of Honor and the Rhinelander Medal for Valor on May 18, 1912. The NYPD’s Bomb Squad has its foundation in these early bomb investigations.

As the years progressed, the role of the Intelligence Bureau would adapt and expand. What started with investigating Italian organized crime (the Black Hand Squad) soon included communist activities (the Red Hand Squad). The Red Squad then became known as the Bureau of Special Services and Investigations (BOSSI), which was focused on domestic groups like the Black Panther Party, Weather Underground and the Students for a Democratic Society. Along the way, they picked up the dignitary protection assignment. In the early 70’s BOSSI was reorganized and retitled the Intelligence Division. Following the September 11th Terror Attacks it was expanded to a global unit and renamed the Intelligence Bureau.

My time in the Intelligence Division was an incredible part of my career with the NYPD, so it is only fair that it also plays a pivotal part in the character of Maguire. I’ve stood next to presidents, the Pope, and more foreign and domestic dignitaries than I can count. I’ve ridden in motorcades and I’ve watched them with a birds-eye-view from helicopters. It is simultaneously exhilarating and nerve-wracking. One of the things you learn quickly is to never be complacent.

One story that drove that point home rather quickly occurred back around 1995/6. The Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, was traveling in his motorcade. At the time, because of the elevated threat risk, the Israeli PM got what amounted to a Vice-Presidential level motorcade package.

At the last minute we got word that a decision had been made to take the secondary route, which involved the Belt Parkway.  I was assigned to huntsman, the helicopter which provides aerial surveillance along the motorcade route, and things were going along quiet well; at least until the thought occurred to me that traffic was really, really light coming from the opposite direction…… Anyone who has spent 15 minutes in New York City can tell you that traffic is never light.

I instructed the motorcade to slow down and told the pilot to head forward to see what was causing the delay. My initial thought was a motor vehicle accident, which would bring the motorcade to a halt unless we got a lane cleared. My fears were surpassed when I gazed out the front window of the helo and saw that the Mill Basin drawbridge was in the upright position as a large vessel lazily made its way in from the Atlantic Ocean.

Oops.

This resulted in an immediate frenzy of colorful communication between me and my USSS counterpart, as we tried to get the motorcade to come to an almost screeching halt. I will never forget the sight of the motorcycle officers, from the Highway Patrol, racing up to the drawbridge to get them to drop it back down in place.  How we managed to unscrew that one in time, remains a mystery, but we did. The motorcade never stopped moving and I don’t remember ever using the Belt Parkway for as long as I was in the Division.

In Chapter Five of Perfect Pawn I provide the reader a glimpse into the world of presidential protection. For many, it is the closest they will ever get to being inside the bubble. It was from this period of time in my career that I drew on inspiration for not only the role of Maguire, but his friend, Rich Stargold, who is a composite of some of the people I worked with in the Secret Service.

Someone once asked me if I missed it and my answer is: Yes, every single day.

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72 Poplar Street, Brooklyn, NY (Former home of the Intelligence Division) - Author Photo

72 Poplar Street, Brooklyn, NY (Former home of the Intelligence Division) - Author Photo

Challenges for Writers: Slip-Sliding Down The Rabbit Hole

In his book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, author Lewis Carroll was kind enough to provide the perfect metaphor for us as writers.

If you are like me, it can sometimes feel that we are tumbling head-over-heels down a Rabbit Hole in the pursuit of our chosen profession.  The casual reader (along with your family and friends) has a skewed sense of what it actually means to be a writer. They see folks like James Patterson, J.D. Robb and Lee Child and think that we all fall into that category, but that’s like comparing someone who plays for the New York Yankees with a Double A player on the Trenton Thunder.

The harsh reality is that the role of an indie author is much more complicated.

As an up & coming author, you need to realize that your ‘work’ does not end with the final draft of your book. In fact, it is only the beginning and there will come a point in time when you look back fondly on the writing phase as being the fun part.  As of this post, I have authored a total of ten books, along with two novellas, and I am currently working on my latest work-in-progress. You would think that I would have a firm grasp of the publishing process, but you’d be wrong.  I learn new things pretty much on a daily basis; which I guess is a lot better than not learning.

For someone just starting out you need to face the fact that, unlike the authors listed above, you probably do not have access to publishing resources, meaning: Tag, You’re it. When addressing this issue, you have two choices: 1) Pay someone to do it, or 2) Do it yourself. Personally, I opted for the latter, because I have always been a hands-on person, but that does not mean it will always work. You have to know your limitations.

Your first concern, upon completing what you believe is the final draft of your book, is to get it edited. I know, I know, you’re sitting there going: “I took AP English, I’m good.”  - No, you’re not.

There is a lot more that goes into the editing process than just grammar. Authors wear one hat, editors wear a different one. We create stories in our mind, which we think we translate well onto paper, but sometimes we forget to add some of the details. An editor will go through and pick that up, because they don’t have the backstory floating around in their heads. If they have questions then the reader will be left with questions, and that only works in cliff-hangers, not the middle of your story. If you do not know someone who can help, then this might be an area where you want to pay, but be prepared for sticker shock: Grammar Nazis are not cheap.

Beyond the text, one of the critical parts of a book, that is often underappreciated, is formatting it. Simply put, people expect your book to look like any other book produced by a legacy publishing house.  Take the time to learn how to format correctly. If you want to be a professional writer, your book has to look like it was professionally written. Go to your library (ever writer should have one in their home) and peruse the interiors.  Make sure you learn how to emulate what you see. If you want to be the next James Patterson, ensure that your book is on the same level as his.

Consider the writing process like mowing the grass. Most anyone can take a patch of rich soil, sprinkle some seeds on it, water it and grow a pretty nice, grassy field. But if you don’t maintain it, it will end up looking like crap. The more upkeep you do, the better it looks and the more it will be appreciated.

Cover Art is another critical area that is often overlooked. There is an old saying that goes, “You only have one opportunity to make a good first impression.” You could have someone create an amazing cover, but when you shrink it down to thumbnail size, which is what most of your potential readers are going to see, it looks like an undefined blob. Conversely, I have seen some folks who grab the first ‘clip-art’ image they can get, slap it on the cover and think, “I’m done.” – Well, in a way you’re right and so is your book.

There are several critical things to consider:

1.       Is it appealing looking to the audience?

2.       Does it correspond to the plot of your book?

3.       Can you see the title clearly?

4.       Can you see your name clearly?

5.       Does it look cartoonish?

 Whether you agree or not, the truth is that people do judge a book by its cover. You could have written the next Hunt for Red October, but if your cover looks like it was put together by an 8th grader for art class, the odds are pretty good that a potential reader is not going to be willing to plunk down their hard earned cash just to give you a chance. You have to make them want to buy your book instead of that best-selling author’s book.

Remember, you’re a combatant in the ‘thumbnail wars’ so fight accordingly.

When I wrote my first book, Perfect Pawn, I thought I had nailed it on the first go-round, but as time went on I began to rethink that. Over the years I had grown in experience; so I went back and made alterations to not only the text, but to the cover as well.

Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate things from time to time.

Coming Up Next: REVIEWS.

That is, after all, what we should be focusing on after we launch our books. If you are not driven to be a best-selling author, then ignore everything you have just read, because it really doesn’t matter. Write your book, publish it, and walk away. But, if you are like me, and do want your book to appear on the NY Times Best-Selling List, then you have to be prepared to do the heavy lifting.

Next week I will be discussing some of the things you can do to boost your sales.

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