Something Old, Something New!

2020 and 2021 have been years like no others. I believe few people will argue with me on this.

I have definitely been challenged over the last two years. I have learned to live with routines which five years ago would have been unimaginable. Little things such as wearing a mask, no makeup, curtailing my restaurant outings, cancelling vacations and Christmas celebrations, limiting my shopping excursions, and doing everything social with Zoom have turned out to be more impacting than I’d have thought possible.

Here, in my small hometown in Puerto Rico, we have taken Covid very seriously. It is routine to be denied entry to a restaurant or a doctor’s office if you have no vaccination record. Masks have been required everywhere you go. Most cashiers and store clerks will remind you of social distancing. Restrictions are loosening now, but at the height of the pandemic, the native population was most cooperative. Visitors and tourists were a different story.

In my town, it’s difficult to find fresh imported produce such as apples, strawberries, peaches, broccoli, etc. because of the backlogs at the shipping ports in the USA. The produce is pretty much rotten by the time it hits the shelves.

Prices have sky-rocketed. Normally abundant items such as firearms and ammunition are in very short supply. Construction materials are so expensive that many people are opting for container houses, prompting me to wander about the impact of the next hurricane. The economic and social impact of the pandemic have been strongly felt.

Still, the number of deaths did not stop our ability to maintain our infrastructure. Electric power, water services, government, police departments, and hospitals were affected but not stopped. We must consider ourselves lucky. Imagine, just imagine, that our planet had been hit by a virus which killed four people out of ten.

Imagine a pandemic where three billion people died instead of six million. It is possible. It makes one think about the fragility of life on our planet. It makes me think about the first book I wrote back in 2012. It was titled Daniel’s Fork and retitled later as Hunter’s Snare. I staged the setting as taking place 80 years after a pandemic.

Obviously, 80 years after gives very little view of the pandemic itself. The world I created is a pastoral world where the very few survivors give birth to new generations living in begin-again, agrarian societies. Daniel’s Fork is like Anne McCaffrey’s Pern but without the dragons.

Four years ago, I began to write a new Daniel’s Fork novel going back to the pandemic years. I was motivated to do this by the criticism of a dear friend who could not understand why my characters spoke old English peppered with modern phrases or how they could possibly have toilets. She absolutely could not accept that democracy-loving Americans would go back old systems of government without democracy. She claimed Americans would never accept it.

I was resolved to show the evolution which resulted in the “stilted” language adapted by the descendants, as well as the little quirks which caused a society to have toilets and shotguns but no electricity. I wanted the reader to understand why a democracy-loving society had opted for lords who ruled for life and were not elected.

I soon after began writing the Angel’s Guardian series (paranormal romantic thriller) and somehow, lost sight of the Daniel’s Fork novel I had begun earlier. Always meaning to finish the series but always getting sidetracked, it took the 2020 Covid pandemic to bring my focus back to the old novel. The real-life lessons learned made me go back to reconsider and rewrite several of the chapters in First Lord, a novel which has been four years in the works.

As I hinted before, many of my chapters required a rewrite. If we could run out of hospital respirators two weeks after the Covid pandemic, imagine what would happen if four out of ten people died instead of two in a hundred.

That would be four out of every ten doctors, nurses, senators, truck drivers, train operators, supermarket workers, cargo ship captains, internet techs, etc. Production would come to a standstill in days and transportation would soon follow. The burials alone would become impossible to carry out. I am sure that under such conditions, the fools ranting against mask restrictions and social distancing would be no problem. They’d be the first to go.

My book could not even come close to the reality the few survivors would face. As pertains to my democracy-touting friend, I would have to refer her to news reels of the capitol being sacked in 2021. Needless to say, I am glad I did not finish First Lord back then. Now, I can incorporate lessons learned during this pandemic into the rewritten chapters. Hopefully, a much more realistic and compelling story will be the result.

Lessons Learned

I began self-publishing back in 2013 with the publication of my first book, Daniel’s Fork. As a fledgling author, I was navigating unknown waters without map or compass. I was naive and full of false expectations, listening to any advice I could get from people who knew even less than I did. Needless to say, I made many mistakes, and I had a hard time recovering from many of them.

I had no real grasp of what the writing process required. Lord Peter Whimsey (famous fictional detective by Dorothy Sayers) once complained that people often said they would write a book if only they had the time to sit down and write it, as if sitting down was all it would take. I was one of those people!

To benefit from the experience, mentorship, and peer review of my betters, I jumped into the exciting and energetic social networks, joining Facebook writer and review groups, going on endless Twitting campaigns, and learning all about Cover Reveals and promo blogs. It was an exciting time, and one which taught me many valuable lessons.

My peers read and critiqued my work, often giving me conflicting opinions. This was anxiety producing because I was convinced each one knew so much more than I did, and I would often rush to change whole chapters based on advice received. For example, one author told me I had too much description. I needed more dialogue. I spent weeks re-editing and adding dialogue.

The next reviewer said my work had too much dialogue and read like a play. I needed more description! Back to the drawing board I went. One “editor” I paid to edit a novel added hundreds of commas to my work and changed every “eye” to “orb,” and “blue” to “azure.” I had to explain to her the rules of comma usage; not every comma is an Oxford one. I also insisted my character did not have azure orbs.

I soon learned to learn from the right sources. I learned reviews are subjective, driven by the reader’s character. I learned it takes more than a college degree to make an editor. I learned Amazon does not put your books in front unless you are already a best-selling author. I learned editing programs give suggestions; they are incapable of knowing the exact intended use of the word.

The most valuable lesson I learned is that because my books are self-published and my property, they are not set in stone. I can do whatever I want with them: publish them, unpublish them, lower the price, raise the price, give them away for free, change the title, change the cover, etc. Unlike traditionally published books, they can evolve!

Using the lessons I learn, I make changes to them over the years. When I make changes, I upload those changes to my seller sites and make them available to all previous buyers. But, I also can make more dramatic changes, the equivalent of a plastic surgery overhaul. I am currently doing that to my Vampires in the Mist novella series.

Writing a novella series was an experiment I approached with much enthusiasm. At present, there are six volumes in the series. Because of the length of each volume, eighty to a hundred pages, the price must be very low. The low price makes it impossible to profitably promote each volume.

Hoping to make the series more profitable, I have decided to merge it into full-fledged novels. The first three volumes have been re-edited and merged into the first novel, Rose and the Vampires. The second three volumes were merged into Rose and the Witches. These are not boxed sets; these are seamless, re-chaptered, stand-alone novels.

The individual novellas (Once Chosen, Veil of Mist, A Raven for a Crow, etc.) will no longer be available for sale. They have been unpublished from all sellers. If you own them, do not buy the new books. If you kept from buying them because you do not like the serial format, these new novels may be just right for you.

Warning: the series has strong sexual content, taboo topics, and scenes of violence. These are not for younger readers or adults who want clean and wholesome novels.  

Debloat Your Kindle Fire!

Do you long for the perfect e-reader? The perfect e-reader would have exactly what you want. Mine would have no bloatware at all. It would not give me recommendations. It would have no ads of any kind. It would open directly to my library and treat all books, regardless of where I bought them, the same.

I can hear the indignant chorus of readers out there screaming at me: you get what you pay for! If you want an Amazon tablet for $50.00, you will have to put up with the ads and proprietary programing which wants you to buy all things Amazon.

However, that is not the case. You can spend $250.00 on a brand-new, state-of-the-art device and still have all the bloatware the cheap one has. Changing companies just exchanges one company brand for another. Getting an Android-based tablet or reader just gets you Google’s control rather than Amazon’s. I was contemplating a Kobo reader hoping for a more streamlined experience, but I believe there is little difference.

There is an alternative, but it was one I was loath to try. One can root a device or use third-party apps to customize it. I went that route a few days ago. Let me tell you about my experience. I used the Fire Toolbox, an app freely available on the internet and designed to do various tasks for the Kindle tablet.

I own an iPad 2019 which I use for surfing the web, playing games, and all else. It’s a wonderful device. However, using the iPad to read is inconvenient because of its size, folio cover, and the attached Bluetooth keyboard.

To read, I have used the Kindle Fire tablet for years. It is way cheaper than the Kindle e-readers, super sturdy, and I can send any book to it using the Send-to-Kindle app. My latest has the 7-inch screen and is the perfect size for me. I find anything bigger is clumsy to hold and inconvenient to carry in my purse.

I downloaded the Fire toolbox and followed directions carefully. Your tablet must be connected to the pc. My first stumbling block was the failure of my PC to see the Kindle Fire. After trying different fixes, it turned out I was using the wrong USB cable. My cable was for charging only and not data transfer. I had to purchase one which was good for data transfer. No problem.

I followed instructions on setting my Kindle Fire to developer options. It’s the only way to make intrinsic changes to the tablet. This was not hard to do. Then, I got to the meat of the issue. The Fire Toolbox offers a lot of options, some of which made little sense to me. Some, however, were pretty clear. The option to change the launcher and the one to remove all bloatware were the ones I was after.

I followed directions and removed all bloatware. Sure enough, the result was a Kindle Fire with a bare desktop. However, it was too bare! Along with Alexa, Smart Home page, and all the Prime stuff, I’d lost my Kindle icon, access to my kindle library, and basically most functionality.  

This would be great for those readers who want to install Google services and the Google store, and Chrome browser.  I did not wish to turn my Amazon sales generator into a Google sales generator. I want my Kindle books, my Kindle app, and my Kindle library. I just do not want all the other crap which gets in the way.

Thankfully, the Fire Toolbox is designed to undo everything you don’t like and restore the Fire back to its “before” state. I did exactly that. Then, I opted for individual removal of items. I clicked on all the things I wanted gone and hit debloat.

Once again, I lost my Kindle apps. I began to think that maybe what I wanted was impossible. I restored everything again. I got to thinking about the system. It must be some apps are co-dependent and necessary for the Kindle library. So, I tried again. This time, removing each item I did not want individually.

It’s important to note that as Fire Toolbox removes an item, its icon disappears from your tablet’s desktop instantly and the other icons rearrange themselves. I removed Alexa and observed that the Kindle app did not disappear. Obviously, Kindle app did not need Alexa.

I then continued, one app at a time: Import Photos went, All the Prime apps went, Weather, Music, blah, blah, blah. Finally, I was left with the Clock, Calendar, Camera, Help, Files, Silk Browser, and Appstore.

I realized that if you remove Appstore, you lose Kindle Apps! I took these few apps, placed them all in a folder I labeled “Utilities” and left my desktop uncluttered. Only three items sit on my desktop: Kindle App, Settings, and the Utilities folder. Above these sits the “New Items” carousel. It cannot be removed unless you debloat the Fire entirely as I did the first time.

My “For You” screen still shows recent items and mostly book and video recommendations, but I seldom visit that screen. My “Library” screen shows just that: items I have in my library. All in all, I am pretty happy with the results. My Fire Tablet is exactly what I want it to be, a dedicated e-reader.

If you decide to use the Fire Toolbox, pay meticulous attention to the directions and warnings. Amazon’s automatic updates will try to re-install all the bloatware, so you must turn them off.  If you decide you want the entire system back, you easily can revert the process and get back all the extraneous apps.

Get Your OverDrive!

I buy a lot of books. Some of the books I buy are by traditionally published authors whose books sell up to three and four times what I get for one of mine.

I often resort to borrowing books from the library, especially if it’s a popular series and each book is more than $10. If I like the book, then I feel confident about buying the rest of the series.

I use a sweet little app called OverDrive to borrow library books. You can download the app from the Google Play Store, your Apple store, your Kindle App store, etc. 


To use OverDrive, you must have a library card from a public library: any public library in the USA that is listed in the OverDrive directory. I believe that just about every public library is listed.

You add your library to the Overdrive App, log in, and search for the author you want or the book you want. Some books may be signed out, but you can put a hold on the ones you want, and as soon as a book is available, the library notifies you by email.

There are audio books also available. When you borrow the book, you can choose Epub or Kindle. If you use Kindle or Kindle App, you can download the book easily by choosing Kindle.

The book appears normally in your Kindle Library. When the borrow expires, Kindle returns it automatically. The books are checked out to you for 21 days, and you can check out multiple titles at the same time. There is no charge.


There are bestsellers and novels by popular authors available. You are limited only by what the library has. If the book you want is not on the list, you can use OverDrive to recommend to the library that it acquires the title.


Are there negatives? The only one I see is that the latest releases are grabbed quickly, and you usually must wait a few weeks to get them. If you are willing to wait, you can read them for FREE! Really for FREE with no strings attached.


Also, you need to have a library card. Library cards are specific to individual libraries. Libraries only issue free cards to their area residents. You borrow from the one library which issued your card. Your catalog of books available depends on what your library has.

I don’t live in the USA mainland. I live in a USA territory whose libraries are limited to the school system. I am lucky my adult children live in Florida, and I spend months there every year. My daughter-in-law was able to procure a free library card for me. I treasure my card.  

You can, if you are willing to pay, get a library card from a library outside your area of residence. However, these cards can cost anywhere from $50 to $100 a year, and the libraries which have such programs are few.

Click on the link below to visit the OverDrive site. OverDrive also offers Libby as a reading alternative. Both do the same thing, but Libby has a different look.

Link to OverDrive

DRM IN BOOKS

Many of us love to read on e-book readers or on our telephones and tablets. I love taking my entire thousand-book library with me inside my purse when I travel. My one small Kindle can hold thousands of books and weighs only a few ounces.

You can get books in Mobi, Epub, PDF, etc. from many online sources and install the appropriate book file on your device. This is called “sideloading.” You can sideload freebies from dozens of internet sites.

If the book file is in the right format for the device, you can sideload it. For example, you can send a Mobi or PDF file to a Kindle Fire, and it will open and be readable. However, if the book is DRM protected, the device will not open it, regardless of file format.

A DRM-protected book may not be shared, re-sold, or sometimes even used by more than one device. You cannot copy it or print it. You may not convert it to another format. The book is not really yours. You have permission to read it, but only in the approved device, for as long as the device can open it.

I read on several online posts that all Amazon books are DRM protected. That statement is not correct. When I upload my manuscript to Amazon, Amazon gives me a choice as to DRM. I never DRM my books, and they sell on Amazon. Amazon sells millions of books without DRM, most by self-published authors.

That’s right. Many books sold by Amazon do not have DRM. It’s up to the author or the author’s publisher. Books you buy from traditional authors and publishers are always DRM protected.

Can you remove DRM protection? Is it legal to do so? Is it easy to do so? Once DRM is removed, what can you do with the book?

With the right App, DRM is easily removed from a book. It is illegal to remove DRM in the USA. DRM is placed on books to protect them from piracy and safeguard the author’s work. The problem is that to do so, it must be done at the cost of your rights of ownership.

If you remove the DRM, you can convert the book’s format, copy it, save it to a private directory, and open it with a third-party device. If you remove the DRM and start selling files as if the rights to the book belonged to you, some angry publishers with an army of lawyers will surely come after you.

Do I remove DRM from books I buy?  As soon as I buy a book, I download it into my Kindle App on my PC. I open my Calibre App and import the book from my Kindle directory.

My Calibre App has a plugin installed which removes the DRM protection upon first opening the book. Calibre does not come with the plugin. You must download it from its creator’s website and add it to Calibre.

I now convert the book into several formats: Epub, PDF, and Mobi. I save a copy to a thumb drive and one to my external hard drive.

Of course, nothing is ever as easy as it sounds.  I find the older Kindle App versions work best with the Calibre Plugin. Apple books are another story. Apple makes it almost impossible to export books anywhere other than their own devices.

Why go to so much trouble? Because when I buy a book, I want it to stay bought. I strongly believe that $14.95 buys me a book, not a rental to a book. In addition, I have little faith in the honesty, goodwill, or resiliency of mega corporations.

Companies that seem invincible today go by the wayside tomorrow, disappearing with all your content. Because laws now protect the corporations over the individual, I know that if Amazon or Apple pulled all my books, for whatever reason they felt necessary, I would certainly lose them, and my money would not be returned.

Itunes used to be quite useful when importing iBooks to your PC. It no longer handles iBooks at all other than audiobooks. You can share an iBook or email it to yourself and open it in your PC, but all you get is a link which opens the book in apple’s library. It is not the file itself.

I would never sell or make a profit from something I have not created. However, when I spend $14.95 per eBook from my favorite traditional authors, I expect to enjoy them for the rest of my life. If my iPad dies, and I don’t have $800 to spend on another, I’d like to take my iBooks and read them on a cheap Kindle or a generic tablet or my Android phone or even my 2008 stone-age PC.

I have many favorite authors, and they write two and three books a year. That’s a lot of money I have invested. Reading is my favorite pastime. I expect when I’m too old to walk, I’ll sit all bundled up in bed, sipping a cup of tea, reading an old eBook copy of Amelia Peabody’s Egyptian adventures.