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More Home Defense Techniques for Any Characters

by Piper Bayard of Bayard & Holmes

"Maybe you should ease up on the burglar."
Appropriate force for home invader.

Genres from thrillers to crime to romance and others often include scenes where characters need to hide or seek out secure places. In my last article, 5 Home Defense Techniques for Any Character, my military and intelligence veteran writing partner Jay Holmes and I discussed the benefits of perimeter lights, security cameras, dogs, and brains. Today, we’ll look at more ways that we and our characters can shore up our home defenses.

Know Our Neighbors

There are only upsides to our characters getting to know their neighbors when it comes to home security.

  • They know who belongs in their neighborhood and who has no business being there.
  • Neighbors who are their friends will naturally notice suspicious people around their homes and likely call the police.
  • They become aware of neighbors who are dealing drugs or committing other home-based crimes.
  • They make friends - not the online distant kind, but the kind who bring casseroles when they have surgeries.
talking to the neighbors

The best way our characters can get to know their neighbors is to take walks. Notice what people have in their yard, what cars they drive, whether they are home during the day, etc.

Holmes is a living example. When he moved last year, he started walking in the neighborhood as soon as he had a contract on his house. He spoke with every person he saw outside and was often invited in for tea.

Two months later when I visited, we took a walk, and he knew who was just divorced, who had kids and how many, who had served in the military, who was disabled, who was remodeling, etc. He had been inside two-thirds of the houses for three blocks in every direction before he ever spent a night in his own. In other words, if we and our characters just talk with our neighbors, it can make all the difference for home safety.

Exercise Driveway Vigilance

It’s always best to get in and out of the car while safely inside the garage. However, many people use their garage for either storage or a work space, or they don’t have a garage. That leaves the driveway or parking lot, and those are fertile grounds for many crimes from carjacking to kidnapping.

To keep our characters safe, they need to exercise extra caution when getting in or out of vehicles. Have them look around before they get out of their cars and check the surrounding area and the back seat before they get in. For an expanded discussion of driveway crimes, see Writing Believable Driveway Crime: Carjacking & Kidnapping.

Do Not Use the Garage Door Opener in the Car

Many cars today come equipped with a button that can be programmed to open our garage door. We and our characters should not use them. That’s because most people leave their cars in the driveway at least now and then. All a criminal has to do to get into the home is to break into the car and put up the garage door.

Keep Key Fobs Secured

Criminals can hack vehicles with keyless ignition systems from outside a building. This is called a “relay attack,” and it can be accomplished with cheap equipment found online or at an electronics store. One character holds a key fob relay box close to the outside of a building. The box picks up the signal from an unprotected key fob inside and relays it to a second device that a second character holds near the car. This fools the car, and the vehicle can be unlocked and/or started. Great for car theft, planting surveillance devices, hiding in a back seat or trunk, or, if the car’s garage door opener is programmed for it, to get into the house.

tinfoil and keys

To protect against this, our characters can keep key fobs in plain old candy, cookie, or chocolate cocoa tins. If our characters want to be fancy, they can get Faraday cages to enclose their key fobs. That said, they need to make sure the Faraday cages work. Mine didn’t, which is why I switched to a candy tin.

If our characters need to make do in a pinch, they can also wrap their key fobs in tinfoil. They should be sure to wrap the tin foil around and fold it over at the edges so that it is well-sealed. (See picture.) This is also a way to secure a phone, though I would recommend two or three layers for a phone.

If our characters are traveling and don’t have access to a tin or tin foil, putting the key fob in a microwave also works. If none of those are available, they should put it as far away from the vehicle as possible.

tin foil around key fob

Use Irregular Timers

Have characters hook up timers to lights, curtains, shades, and small appliances in their homes and set them for irregular intervals to make it look and sound like someone is always there. Most burglaries occur around 10 a.m. because that is the most likely time that no one will be home. Burglars wanting to avoid encounters with homeowners will back away from a home that appears to be occupied.

If All Else Fails

If an intruder is a home invader, they are altogether a far more deadly animal than a burglar. 

intruder sneaking into house

If all precautions fail, and our characters experience a home invasion while they are present in their homes, they should not grab a knife and start hunting down the invader in their home. I’m sure we’ve all noticed how badly that goes in fiction.

Instead, our character should grab a weapon, preferably a firearm, a crossbow, or some other lethally forceful projectile. Then they should make their presence known and dash for their bedroom to get behind the bed and call 9-1-1. If our characters do not have weapons, they need to look around the room they are in and improvise. (See 10 Common Bedroom Objects to Use as Weapons and 10 Common Kitchen Objects to Use as Weapons.)

Wait, what? Why not just attack?

The home invader might see our character first and get the jump on them. Gaining a defensive position is the better option, particularly if the invader wakes up our characters in the middle of the night.

The other reason is that an attack might be a needless risk. Most of the time, intruders enter homes to commit burglary. They don’t want encounters with homeowners, and if they realize someone is at home, they leave as quickly as they can.

If the intruder knows our character is in the house and the intruder stays, they don’t just want our character’s Pokemon collection. If the intruder enters the bedroom where our character is waiting, it is one of the few clear-cut cases in life when all force is necessary force. Our characters need to bring the full fight without hesitation the second that door is opened.

At the end of the day, there is no fool-proof way for our characters to stay safe, whether in their homes, in their driveways, or out on the streets. That’s just the nature of life. However, situational awareness and simple safety precautions do eliminate ninety percent of random crimes against our characters.

Moral of the story: Don’t let our characters be low-hanging fruit.

What questions do you have about home defense? And please share any home defense techniques you already use down in the comments!

About Bayard & Holmes

Bayard & Holmes

Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes of Bayard & Holmes are the authors of espionage tomes and international spy thrillers. Please visit Piper and Jay at their site, BayardandHolmes.com. For notices of their upcoming releases, subscribe to the Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing. You can also contact Bayard & Holmes at their Contact page, on X (formerly Twitter) at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or at their email, BayardandHolmes@protonmail.com.

Bayard & Holmes Spycraft Essentials

All photos are non-editorial and paid for from Deposit Photos except for the tinfoil pouch for the keys which are property of Piper Bayard.

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The Value of Paid Book Reviews: Are They Worth It?

By J. Alexander Greenwood

writer looking at a book review

Reviews. They can be notoriously difficult to come by, especially honest and impactful ones.

As a fiction writer with nearly two decades of experience, I know firsthand how challenging it is to garner the kind of reviews that build buzz and drive sales. Good reviews from “civilian readers” on Amazon and other sites are essential for credibility and visibility. But sometimes you need the authoritative touch of a known reviewing behemoth to give your book an extra boost. And they are usually not free.

But are these paid reviews really worth the investment?

Let’s explore the pros and cons to help you make an informed decision.

Firstly, caveat emptor! While reputable entities like Kirkus Reviews offer genuine critique and exposure, the industry is also plagued by less scrupulous operators. These scammy paid reviewers often promise glowing reviews in exchange for a fee, regardless of the book's quality. Unlike professional reviewers, their feedback is often vague and overly positive, lacking the critical insight that can genuinely benefit an author.

This practice not only undermines the credibility of the review but also can harm the author's reputation in the long run—and Amazon is generally not a fan. Be sure to vet any paid review site thoroughly. And remember, you get what you pay for.

Another respected paid book review service is Foreword Clarion Reviews. I have not used them, but I do like their Indie focus and may try them out. Their reviews can add significant credibility to a book, making them a valuable tool for both traditionally published and self-published authors.

Here's a list of several others, paid and free, worth considering, including Midwest Book Review, which did me a solid on my last book. They are great reviewers, but candidly, their website is no great shakes. I use them because they have a great reputation, and it looks great to blurb them on a book jacket or Amazon listing.

But let’s talk more about the industry heavyweight, Kirkus Reviews.

The Kirkus Review Model

Kirkus Reviews, founded in 1933, has a long-standing reputation for providing thorough and critical reviews of both traditional and self-published books. Their reviews are known for being brutally honest, which can be a double-edged sword. Imagine my trepidation on submitting one of my books to Kirkus—and then imagine my elation when the review was extremely positive!

A glowing review from Kirkus can add significant credibility—which may explain why the book they reviewed was one of my top three grossing books. Bear in mind, though—submit your best work, because a negative Kirkus review can be a tough pill to swallow.

The question remains: are these paid reviews worth the investment?

Pros of Paid Reviews:

Paid reviews, such as those from Kirkus, offer significant benefits including credibility and exposure. A positive review from a reputable source like Kirkus can enhance a book’s legitimacy, particularly for self-published authors. Such reviews are powerful marketing tools, useful for book covers, websites, and promotional materials, potentially influencing readers.

Added value: experienced Kirkus reviewers provide constructive feedback, which, even if critical, can be invaluable for a writer’s development. Positive reviews can increase a book's visibility, influencing libraries and bookstores to stock it, as they often rely on trusted reviews for their purchasing decisions.

Cons of Paid Reviews:

Despite their benefits, paid reviews have notable drawbacks. The cost is significant, with standard Kirkus reviews priced at $450 for 250 words and $599 for 500 words, which can be a financial burden for indie authors with limited budgets. Additionally, there are no guarantees of a favorable review, and even with payment, a negative critique can harm a book’s prospects.

Moreover, the market perception of paid reviews can be skeptical; some readers and professionals view them as less trustworthy. However, Kirkus’s established credibility can mitigate this skepticism to some extent.

In Review…

I believe paid reviews from entities like Kirkus can be worth it. They offer credibility, exposure, and valuable feedback, but they do come with significant costs and no guarantees. For some authors, the investment pays off, while for others, the risks might outweigh the benefits. Remember, there are many paths to success in the world of publishing, and a Kirkus review is just one of the marketing tools at your disposal.

Have you used paid review services? Tell us about the experience!

About J. Alexander

J. Alexander Greenwood Author Picture

J. Alexander Greenwood is an award-winning writer, public relations consultant, podcaster, speaker, and former journalist and broadcasting executive. He is best known as the author of the John Pilate Mysteries and host/producer of the Mysterious Goings On podcast and the PR After Hours podcast. Alex is also the author of the Amazon Top-Selling eBook/audiobook, The Podcast Option. You can read his blog at JAlexanderGreenwood.com.

Top image by J. Alexander Greenwood via Dall-E

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Using Light and Shadow to Convey Mood

by Angela Ackerman

haunted conference room

Fun things can happen at writing conferences, especially after hours. In fact, a year ago I was winding up a conference with a drink along with a few others, and as the hour grew late, the interesting stories started to come out. You know, the ones spoken in a quiet voice: paranormal experiences, ghost stories. One writer passed on a bit of lore regarding the hotel we were in: one of the conference rooms was known to be haunted.

I perked up. She was speaking my love language.

And I wasn’t the only one. Someone asked for clarification on the conference room name, and then three of us stood, ready to investigate. We glanced about for staff who might try to dissuade us from poking around, but the common area was suitably quiet for the late hour.

Off we went to meet the mysterious Rundle room ghost.

We found the conference room unlocked and so slipped inside, giggling enough for women half our age. Someone had left the lights on, bathing the rose-cushioned chairs in a cheery glow. A wooden lectern stood at the front, presentation screens to either side, all ready for the next presentation. To all appearances, the room was empty save for us.

Right away I could see a big problem with the mission, so I crossed to the wall panel of light switches and snapped them off.  

A gasp shot out of the dark. Hmm. Maybe someone wasn’t quite as into this experience as I was?

A moment later this was confirmed. One of our trio exited with a, “Nope, I’m out.”

In my mind, my action was logical. What self-respecting ghost would emerge into this bright light? Better to turn those off and sit, breathing in the dark…waiting for the temperature to change…a sound that shouldn’t be there…a touch. Oh yeah. Creepy.

Did I believe in the Rundle ghost? No. But I was setting the mood so this would be more of an experience. And maybe it worked a little too well, because as the minutes stretched, the darkness began to crawl into my head. Every little noise sounded suspicious, and I grew slightly unnerved, wondering if I’d made a mistake.

Just as I altered the mood by flipping light switches, writers can do the same through strategic descriptive choices.

Emotionally speaking, light and shadow influence us, and it can influence both characters and readers. Places that seem familiar and safe by day can feel very different at night. Likewise, the mystery and uncertainty present in a murky locale will dissipate as the sun climbs the sky. When we change the quality and amount of light, we can shift the mood in our scene without changing the setting.

For example, consider a classic, L. M. Montgomery’s description of Birch Path, a recurring location in her Anne of Green Gables series:

It was a little narrow, twisting path, winding down over a long hill straight through Mr. Bell’s woods, where the light came down sifted through so many emerald screens that it was as flawless as the heart of a diamond.

We can easily envision this scene under the trees. The green-tinged sunlight gives the scene a lighthearted, cheerful feel, and though the season isn’t mentioned, late spring or summer is inferred, simply by referencing the light.

But the same path traveled later in the day by a character in another frame of mind can look and feel vastly different. Here is Birch Path again, traveled by a more mature Anne in the third book of the series:

Anne felt lonelier than ever as she walked home, going by way of the Birch Path and Willowmere. She had not walked that way for many moons. It was a darkly-purple bloomy night. The air was heavy with blossom fragrance—almost too heavy.

The darkly-purple light, combined with Anne’s loneliness and the cloying odors, give the scene a heavy, melancholy feel that wasn’t there before.

Because light and shadow lie within the realm of universal symbolism, people tend to respond to them in a feral way: well-lit areas are deemed safer, putting us at ease, while darker spots have more weight and feel heavier both on the body and the spirit.

When setting the mood for your scene, consider the lighting. How much light is there? Where does it come from? Is it hard or soft, comforting or blinding? Is it constant and totally revealing, or does it allow for shadows and hidden places? Questions like these will serve as a guide for how to light a scene to set the desired mood.

You can also draw upon personal symbolism—meaning derived based on a character’s personal interactions and history--if you’ve taken the time to set it up so readers pick up on its significance. Light itself may represent pain, exposure, risk, or danger to a character who lives safely below ground, or by the necessity of survival, is only able to come out at night. We need only look at vampire, werewolf, and demon fiction to see this played out within a story.

When you’re looking to steer the emotions of your characters and readers, use light and shadow, because they will do the work for you. (Weather has this ability, too!)

And what of the Rundle ghost, you ask? Well, after sitting in the dark for a few minutes asking if anyone was with us, we decided our otherworldly friend was a no-show. We left, but on the way out, met a maintenance man. After explaining our after-hours mission, he pointed us to a different conference room where an apparition was known to lurk. My fellow ghost hunter and I zipped up a floor to investigate, but again, it was a paranormal bust.

The tale does not end here, however. In that second conference room we ran into a housekeeper who shared two room numbers where the staff had seen things. But due to the late hour, we decided to call it a night and pick up the trail at next year’s conference.

This will be in two short months, so stay tuned…I may just have a ghost story of my own to share!

Do you use light and shadow to bring forward a specific mood? How did it impact your characters in the scene? 

About Angela

Angela Ackerman

Angela Ackerman is a story coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, and its many sequels. Available in nine languages, her guides are sourced by US universities, recommended by agents and editors, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, and psychologists around the world. To date, this book collection has sold over a million copies. 

Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers®, as well as One Stop for Writers®, a portal to game-changing tools and resources that enable writers to craft powerful fiction. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Top image by Writers in the Storm via Canva.

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