Jennifer Astle

February 26, 2009

Book Review: Duma Key by Stephen King

200px-duma_keyI must admit up front that it is tremendously difficult for me to NOT like Stephen King’s writing. From the time I read Gerald’s Game at the age of thirteen (I highly doubt that 13 year olds were the target market for that particular book…), I was hooked.  Since then I could be considered what Mr. King refers to often as Constant Reader.

Duma Key is the story of Edgar Freemantle, a millionaire who loses his arm in a construction accident, and eventually moves to the Florida coast while he tries to rebuild his life.  During the course of his new self discovery, Edgar learns that he can paint.  However, those of you who know King know that there must be something supernatural behind his new found talent.

This is a good place to note that I read Duma Key directly off the heels of The Stand.  I’d always had The Stand on my bookshelf, but hadn’t gotten around to reading the 1000+ page behemoth.  Those of you familiar with the book know that a, if not the central protagonist is Abigail Freemantle, or Mother Abigail as she is more frequently referred to.  Coincidence?  The Dark Tower fans might not think so.

Back to Duma Key.  The first half of the book draws you in, as you witness Edgar advance from his hospital bed to a small art gallery where he is quickly becoming a local celebrity.  King describes the painting richly, and could convince the reader that he is a painter himself.

Edgar’s experience painting while living in “Big Pink”, an old beach house owned by Elizabeth Eastlake, the local eccentric and rich lady, inevitably evolves into something more sinister.  Without offering any spoilers, I say that when King discovered this aspect of the story, he could have gone in a completely different direction than the one Duma Key taken in the second half of the book .

That being said, the direction he does take is true Stephen King form; a mixture of personal and supernatural failures and triumphs, rooted as firmly in the human condition as it is in tales of ghosts and other menacing creatures.   There is, however, a moment in the book where you will find yourself scratching your head and saying “Where the hell is he going with this?”  If you can get through that part, you will be satisfied with the result, especially if you are fond of rainbow colored frogs with “teef”.


February 25, 2009

Con-Artists Posing as Employers: Beware!

In an effort to offset my income, I’ve been looking for administrative work.  During the course of my job search I started to notice something fishy.   I had applied to several administrative and marketing jobs which all appeared to be reasonably legitimate.  It wasn’t until I got some responses and started to do a little research that I learned of large and pervasive schemes that are currently being advertised as “careers”.  Two of these schemes seem to be the most common.

1)  “Entry-level marketing jobs”. Here is an example of the type of job postings which fall under this umbrella.

[Un-named] Marketing Group is now offering positions at the entry level for sales and marketing.​ Our firm has a very high success rate of developing SPORTSMINDED individuals into TOP PERFORMERS in a management capacity.​ We are seeking inexperienced professionals that would like to take their “Winning Mindsets” and apply them to lucrative business careers.​ We want to develop our own people, (starting in entry level), rather than hiring people with habits counteractive to our mission.

Our field of expertise is executing business customer acquisition campaigns for Fortune 100 companies.​ We are not an employment or temp agency.​ We are an outsourced sales and marketing team.​ Our clients need us to communicate with their customers since their telemarketing and direct mail channels are failing.​ We provide the human interaction our clients so desperately need.​ We’re currently expanding in 4 new markets across the country.

Seems legitimate, doesn’t it?  Guess again.  These “event-based” marketing firms are essentially door to door sales.  When you interview with them, you are informed amidst a big speech about how you will become a marketing manager in 6 months – 1 year, that your role as an entry-level assistant is to sell products or go door to door handing out free tickets to entertainment or sporting events.  It’s not marketing, it’s selling Girl Scout cookies (without the chocolate!).  Often, these companies fall under one or two parent companies, and are each strategically given several different names. However, the postings are well written and any young person struggling to find work will see “sports” or “entertainment” and jump at the opportunity to work for the company.  Until they discover what really happens.

2) Administrative Assistant Wanted. This is a tricky one because a lot of administrative jobs are legitimate.  However, occasionally you’ll receive an email like this (I left the company name as is because this was their direct response sent to my inbox);

Thank you for taking the time to reply to our
job posting here at Zephyr Research.

Our company develops market research for national
finance and investment companies. They depend upon
our online data collection methods so they can
develop better marketing campaigns.

Because this job position requires excellent data
entry skills, we ask that you take our two-part
data entry test. At the end of the test, you
will have an opportunity to submit your resume.

For Part 1 of our test, you will access one of
our websites which has been customized for this
test. Part 1 should take you less than 2 minutes
to complete and is 3 pages long.

You will be tested on your ability to follow
directions and your accuracy rate. Therefore, it
is crucial that you enter all of your personal
information correctly on pages 1 through 3 as it
will be matched with your resume information.

Also, be sure to answer every question, even those
that seem survey or opinion oriented. You may answer
those questions however you choose, but if you skip any
of them then your test cannot be processed.

IMPORTANT – Once you complete page 3, be sure to
write down the first 3 words of text that you see
on that page, because you will need those words to
complete Part 2 of the test.

You can access Part 1 of the test here:

Once you complete page 3 of Part 1, go to
Part 2 of the test here:

When you are finished, you will be automatically taken
to our resume upload page. After you submit your
resume, we will contact you with your test results
and your application status.

Again, thank you for showing a sincere interest in
our position.

Georgia McNeal
HR Director
Zephyr Research

When you click on the link to take the “test” and complete the “application” you are brought to a site encouraging you to sign up for some product or service which has NOTHING to do with your career.


It is simply a scam to harvest mailing lists, and to convince unsuspecting job seekers to sign up for something they don’t need or want in exchange for a pay check.  The pay check, of course never comes because neither does the interview.  If you’re lucky, you might get an exact copy of the email, “signed” by a different name, but with the same title at the same company.  Slick, guys.

Oh, and in case you can’t decipher the tiny blue print at the bottom of the screen shot, it says;

* We will never rent, sell, or give out your personal information. We hate spam too! *

Injury, may I please introduce you to my friend, Insult.

So, as if you didn’t have enough to be afraid of what with the economy, job loss, two wars, and global warning, now you have to be afraid of people harvesting your information while you conduct an honest job search.  That said, these scams are avoidable.

  • Don’t send your resume to job postings unless the name of the company is clearly listed, as well as a contact person for the hiring process.  Most legit job postings will refer you to someone as a point of contact.  No name? No resume!  If you find yourself intrigued by one of these jobs, send a brief query letter asking for more information about the role.  If you get the email above, or anything that doesn’t resemble a real email, written in haste by a real, busy HR person, it’s probably a scam.
  • Pay particular attention when applying to jobs posted on Craig’s List.  Yes, companies are posting legitimate jobs there, especially since the service is free while Monster and Careerbuilder charge employers for their job ads.  However, the above rule applies.  Do some research, ask questions, protect your information.
  • If you are given a company name that by all other standards appears to be legitimate, Google it.  Google it like it’s a long lost lover. If there is one post calling it a scam, it may just be a disgruntled employee, but read what they have to say anyway.  If they are disgruntled, perhaps you could end up the same way.  If more than one site indicates it is a scam, it is.  Run.

February 24, 2009

Let Me Review Your Book!

Filed under: Book Reviews, Fiction, Nonfiction — Anonymous @ 5:56 pm

I would love to begin a series of book reviews.  If you are interested in having your book reviewed please visit the Contact page and drop me a line.  On average, and depending on how much work I have, I can finish a book in under a week.  I’d be thrilled to read your work, comment on it (constructively of course) and link back to where your book is sold.  Sure, I could spend all of my time reviewing Stephen King, but he gets enough attention as it is (Sorry, Mr. King, but it’s true).

You sell your books and I build my library.  It’s a win-win situation!

– Jenn

The Truth and Lies of Freelancing

It’s a tough economy out there, but you didn’t need me to tell you that, did you?  The last figures show that approximately 5 million Americans are now unemployed, mostly due to the weakened job market.  But while some are sitting around answering polls about their current employment status, others are doing something about it; freelancing.

When I began freelancing, I did what any good former professional student would; research.  I wanted to know exactly what I was getting into besides being able to perch myself up in my office with my coffee and write in between spells of my CNN, Jezebel, and HuffPo addictions.

The average site dedicated to helping the freelance writer will usually contain a list that goes something like this; Set up a blog or web page,  get a Skype account, set up an Elance portfolio,  monetize your content, and so on.  The big thing that seems to be inexplicably missing from all of these sites is a description of what it is really like to be a freelancer.

Here are my thoughts.

  • Lie:  You become your own boss. Yes, it is true that you decide what time your alarm clock goes off in the morning, no one is going to yell at you for taking a nap at your desk, and you can wear your pajamas to work.  But truth be told, your new boss is your client.  So instead of being completely independent, you may go from having one boss to several.  Each client will have their own set of criteria, style, quirks, and budget.  The only control you have is choosing which clients you service.
  • Truth:  You have to be organized. Repeat after me, I have to be organized.  I know we just went over the “no boss” thing, but set yourself a schedule complete with daily goals the same way a manager would monitor your productivity.  Otherwise, you may end up reading about the Octo-mom instead of completing projects…
  • Lie:  Write, and they will come. Sure, setting up a website and purchasing some ads might gain you some exposure, but although writing (or whatever service you offer) is the most important aspect of your business, so is finding work that pays.  Clients generally don’t go looking for freelancers via their individual websites (unless they are well known or have been previously used by said client).  They post their gig to a freelancing job board and then wait for the responses to pour in.  And they pour.  Remember, the writing is the easy part, it’s how you market yourself that will determine how much money you make.
  • Truth:  You don’t need to have a huge portfolio. Most clients don’t want to see your life’s work.  They want to see between 1-3 samples of your work that is most closely related to the gig they are seeking to fill.  If you see a job you are “write” for (oh, I’m so punny…), draft a sample that suits the project.  I did this for one project and landed one of my highest paying regular clients this way.  Customize it.  That really grabs the client’s attention, as opposed to sending a political journalism piece to a celebrity gossip blog which will promptly get your inquiry tossed.
  • Lie: You’ll make as much as you did before you freelanced. Unless you write for a particularly well paying niche market, or you are a well-respected writer, chances are you will start off at a pittance of what you made before.  You might be lucky (or talented) enough to land a large, well-paying contract, but the truth is you will probably start somewhere near 0.02/word whilst writing a page here and a page there for a number of different clients.  Repeat after me; I am not Carrie Bradshaw and I won’t be making $4/word at Vogue…at least not yet.   Speaking of money; Google Adsense – two thumbs down and the same goes for most PPC advertisers.  I’ve come to learn that it’s best to avoid alienating your clients and readers with an ad-free blog or by running a site worthy of hosting ads independently and that can be tailored to the tastes of your readers.
  • Truth: Writing for free can pay off. A lawyer knows that pro bono work can benefit them in a number of ways, and so should freelancers.  Doing this not only builds your portfolio and keeps the wheels greased in between jobs, but you could earn valuable referrals and future paying clients.  Be wary of scams, but at the same time consider doing some work for free or in exchange for other services like web design.  Other gigs may offer similar services in exchange for content.  A lot of “new sites that are launching soon” will offer the promise of pay “when the site become profitable” in exchange for your services now.  Yes, you could potentially get in on something lucrative, but for the most part you’ll be working for free.  Proceed with discretion.
  • Lie:  You’re a writer. Okay, so this is a partial truth, but you are also much more than that.  You are your own accountant, PR and marketing person, secretary, web designer, etc.  Buy the hats and wear them accordingly.   Close Word and open Excel.  Start a database.  I keep three; Contacts, Freelancing Gigs (complete with income history), and Publishing (where I track submissions to literary journals and agents).  Don’t know how to use Excel?  The “Help” button is a wonderful thing.  If you’re still stuck, buy a calculator.  If you’re really serious about freelancing, draw up a business plan and determine how much you want to make and how much work you’ll need to do to make it.

One last thought…

The media is all over the freelancing industry, noting a rising trend in the number of people either choosing to freelance or being forced to for lack of traditional employment opportunities.   Yes, it can seem scary to lose a regular pay check given the current state of things, but you’re also doing the economy a favor by creating your own job, and if you’re successful enough, possibly others down the road.

“More companies are using freelancers because their businesses are becoming more project-based, one expert said.

“As business models change, you get a lot of organizational upset and that adds to the economic uncertainty,” said Joe Pastore, professor emeritus of management science at Pace University. A business “really can’t see out much more than a year perhaps. And you’re operating from business cycle to business cycle.”

There are also big economic incentives to hire freelancers, he said. Businesses cut the costs of benefits and payroll taxes and often don’t have to buy new equipment or find work space for a freelancer.

And Pastore said because of the bureaucracy of many companies, it’s much easier to get a freelancer approved for a project with a specific short-term time period than it is to get a new full-time position approved.” Via CNN.

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