Category Archives: Viewpoint

Identity Theft—My Story & Ways to Protect You 

 

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On June 12 about two-something in the afternoon, my wallet was stolen at Trader Joe’s. Leaving my purse open in the shopping cart, I had reached to grasp strawberries, coffee, and other foods. When I dug for my wallet to pay at the check-stand, all my identification, credit cards, and $233 in cash were gone. A sense of disbelief swept over me, followed by guilt for being cavalier about my purse while shopping—followed the rest of the week by a deep sense of invasion, betrayal, anger, and some depression. Probably the biggest loss was the time it took to get back my life. It’s been a week today. I’m still working on it.

In this article are contacts you will need to report key documents and information missing, to replace those things you need, as well as to protect the identity you carry in your purse or wallet in the future. Having a list helps you get organized.

I stumbled through the process of reacting and regrouping,
which often happens when you’re the victim of a crime.

Losing your identity is more traumatic than one would think. “Victims may experience emotional trauma—emotional wounds or shocks that may have long-lasting effects,” according to the Victims of Crime website. They say emotional trauma may take many different forms, and certainly feeling frozen and experiencing disbelief, difficulty with decisions, sleeplessness, anger, and stress are reactions I experienced. Here are emotions people feel as victims of many types of crimes.

  • Shock or numbness: Victims may feel “frozen” and cut off from their own emotions. Some victims say they feel as if they are “watching a movie” rather than having their own experiences. Victims may not be able to make decisions or conduct their lives as they did before the crime.
  • Denial, Disbelief, and Anger: Victims may experience “denial,” an unconscious defense against painful or unbearable memories and feelings about the crime. Or they may experience disbelief, telling themselves, “this just could not have happened to me!” They may feel intense anger and a desire to get even with the offender.
  • Acute Stress Disorder: Some crime victims may experience trouble sleeping, flashbacks, extreme tension or anxiety, outbursts of anger, memory problems, trouble concentrating, and other symptoms of distress for days or weeks following a trauma. A person may be diagnosed as having acute stress disorder (ASD) if these or other mental disorders continue for a minimum of two days to up to four weeks within a month of the trauma. If these symptoms persist after a month, the diagnosis becomes posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

    Source: http://victimsofcrime.org/help-for-crime-victims/get-help-bulletins-for-crime-victims/how-crime-victims-react-to-trauma

While some of these emotions were going on, I checked and re-checked all the places in the store where I’d stopped to consult food labels and place items in my cart, thinking I’d left my wallet there, which was silly, because why would I? It never occurred to me to look accusingly at fellow shoppers, mostly women. After hours of searching and talking to owners of shops I had visited that day, I went home and waited for a sheriff’s deputy to come over and take an incident report.

That interview was the best part of my day. Not only was I taking back a little control, but the deputy was young, pretty, impressively intelligent, and after an initial stiffness/professional demeanor, memorably helpful and friendly. She gave me advice about steps to take to protect myself from further abuse, including contacting credit bureaus to put a lock on my accounts, and other key survival tips.

Did you know you’re not supposed to store your Social Security card in your wallet? I didn’t. So I have to fill out paperwork and bring my driver’s license to the SS office nearby to order another. You can’t do that online.

Except, oh, wait, I no longer have a driver’s license. Mine was in my wallet.

The driver’s license issue was a nightmare. It took two visits to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and close to eight hours to order a new license. This task you can’t do online or at Triple A, and the DMV offices in Southern California are so overburdened with requests for the fed’s new REAL I.D. (an I.D. that lets you fly domestically) on top of the other typical and complex tasks and new paperwork requirements, that lines form around the block and it takes hours to complete the simplest things, such as taking a driver’s test. In my area, there is a two-month wait to get a DMV appointment, which cuts down on standing in the line-around-the-block but doesn’t cut down on the two- or three-hour lines inside the building. It is illegal to drive without a license, so I had no alternative to spending those wasted hours to get a new one ordered. Clearly, California DMVs are severely impacted and understaffed for serving the public’s needs.

On the day of the theft, the thief traveled quickly to a Ralph’s Supermarket in my city and tried to purchase $1514.85 in merchandise and/or gift cards. First, they used my business debit card. Bank of America automatically rejected it, presumably due to algorithms or tracking: The bank knows I would never spend that amount at a grocery store. Next, the thief tried my Mastercard. Then my American Express. I don’t know whether the person got away with the latter two or if the financial companies simply reversed the charges once I reported the loss.

In reaction, I visited the Ralph’s store manager and learned that, no, the check-out clerks don’t report an incident when a patron uses card after card after card, each being declined, for a purchase. Why not? If I had presented two cards and was turned down, and still presented a third, I would appreciate a store policy wherein the manager gets involved and even takes a report or at the very least compares the driver’s license to the person’s face. With identity theft so rampant, a store’s policy of non-intervention doesn’t work for me. It’s a failure of customer service.

Identity Theft is Rising

For the annual National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the definition of identity theft includes three general types of incidents:

  • unauthorized use or attempted use of an existing account
  • unauthorized use or attempted use of personal information to open a new account
  • misuse of personal information for a fraudulent purpose.

I am a victim of the first type—as far as I know to date. I’m still contacting agencies, such as the credit bureaus. With my Social Security card and my credit cards and driver’s license, the thief could easily buy a car. Or maybe a house.

Here are a few statistics:  In 2004, “3.6 million U.S. households learned they were identity theft victims during a six-month period.” Ten years later, in 2014, 17.6 million U.S. residents experienced identity theft” (NCVS).

A number of times the bank has cancelled my debit or credit card “for unauthorized use” by unknown parties. This inconvenience now happens at least twice per year, especially on the debit card. So frustrating!

Contact Information for Victims

If identity theft happens to you because your purse or wallet is stolen, here are a few contacts that will help you get your life back*.

Credit Bureaus:

Equifax: 800-685-1111
Experian:  888-397-3742
Trans Union: 800-888-4213

Federal Trade Commission: 877- 438-4338    https://www.ftc.gov/contact Contact them to report a missing or stolen Social Security card, to learn how to reorder one, to get info to repair your credit, and to open an identity theft account for further protection.

Social Security Administration: 800-772-1213    https://www.ssa.gov/   to print the form to reorder a SS card and to find an office near you.

California DMV: www.dmv.ca.gov  Check here to make appointments, get instructions for obtaining a new driver’s license, and find DMV field offices. You’re going to need a lot of patience!

Passport Office: http://travel.state.gov/passport for fraud involving your passport.

US Secret Service: www.secretservice.gov if someone committed credit card fraud in your name.

California Attorney General’s Victim Services: 877-433-9069 or 800-952-5225 or 800-777-9229 for a variety of services including victim compensation, rights, and support.

Orange County Sheriff’s Dept. Crimes Main Line:  714-647-7486.   Always file a “police report.”

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In addition to guarding your wallet or purse, and keeping it close to your body when out and about, here are other precautions recommended by the Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Department*:

  • Don’t carry your PIN numbers
  • Don’t carry your Passport or government Visa
  • Don’t carry more credit cards than you need
  • Don’t carry your Social Security card or number

To obtain a copy of *“Identity Theft: a Quick Reference Guide,” which includes how to respond to credit agencies, visit your local law enforcement office.

Opt-Outs:

  • Opt Out of credit card offers: 888-567-8688
  • Opt Out of solicitations on your phone (land or cell):   http://DoNotCall.gov  Call the registry 888-382-1222 to register phone numbers to reduce spam calls and/or report abuses.

Special thanks to Sheriff’s Deputy Raphael for professionalism, thoroughness, and kindness. Special thanks to friends Debra Holland and Matt Orso for being concerned enough when I was overwhelmed to bring me roses and very specific favorite See’s chocolates and for spending time. Thanks to Carl and Stacee for follow-up calls and loving support.

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Keeping the Love Alive (in your writing career)

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This article first appeared in the December 2015 issue of The Romance Insider. To subscribe, please scroll to the end of the article.

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can stop creativity dead in its tracks. With such busy lives, how do writers keep the goal in front of them? How do they sustain momentum?

If you’re the writer’s bestie, a romance reader, I’m guessing you wonder, too. How do writers overcome injury, death of a loved one, switching careers, jobs, or passions, committing to a major project, moving house, or raising a family—all this to stay on track with the dream? My own writing went underground from my mother’s death in 1991 to about four or five years ago. I met my then-contract obligation to Harlequin Books in summer 1992, but it was a struggle. So I can talk about loss, trauma, staying the course (or not) and coming back to writing when the brain isn’t as young. But let’s be positive.

How do we overcome all hesitation and crisis to sustain that haunting dream of being a published writer?

“Learning to write in a world where I am the sole provider and have multiple demanding obligations is a huge challenge,” says Frances Amati (“Heart Hound” in the anthology Romancing the Pages).  “I had to learn to carve out niches of opportunity and to quiet my mind to listen when the universe speaks to me.  It’s about being organized and effective with the little time I have. I can’t feel guilty about what I didn’t do; it is a waste of energy. I need to focus on what I can/did do, no matter how small.”

Here’s a list of focus aids (must be done regularly to keep up the spirit):

  • Frequent walks on the beach or in the woods, prayer, or listening to music.
  • Luxurious weekly bubble baths, with or without the drinkable bubbly.
  • Writing daily positive statements such as “I’m writing and loving it every day!” “I’m paying for my house on the Pacific with my writing!” “I’m expressing my misery through my writing—and loving it!” or “I’m writing. How can it get better than this?”
  • Counseling therapy. Chocolate therapy. Shopping therapy. All three, once a week!
  • Writing out your woes in a diary or to a fictitious person; mine is a letter to grandma, though both grandmas are gone.
  • Long showers. Meditation. Creative cooking. Working with animals.
  • Setting an “easy” writing schedule. A realistic one, even if it’s a half-hour a week.
  • Doing timed writings, sequential 15-minute blaze-writing sessions to get the juices flowing.
  • Allowing yourself to write crap. Every day. Thanks for the tip, Anne Lamott.

Although there’s no sure answer, the most powerful insider trick to staying motivated is to belong to a positive, driven, professionally-oriented support or critique group, even it’s one other writer. Although I was teaching and mentoring authors back in ’91-92, I did not have a critique group that I could go to for criticism, support, and encouragement. If I had, perhaps I’d be onto my 40th book instead of my 7th.

Thankfully today I have best-selling author Debra Holland (the Montana Sky series and others) as well as several other of my brightest students available for feedback. The Brontë sisters, Charles Dickens, in fact many in the literary cannon had critique groups—letter-writing, home visits, luncheons in London, and periodic discussion/critiquing get-togethers. Famously, the Algonquin Roundtable in New York in the 1920s featured meetings with writers, artists, and critics who played cribbage and poker and enjoyed daily luncheons and discussions. We have an offshoot today called the writer’s conference, where we learn craft techniques, stay up on market trends, and network with our fellows.

In year-round writing courses and critique groups, I do as much as humanly possible to keep writers motivated, but ultimately the drive has to come from within. “The support will help but the drive must be there no matter what,” asserts Alexis Montgomery (Seducing Susan). “I always think back to Karen Robards saying she wrote her first book during bathroom breaks at work, balancing a yellow legal pad on her lap…it doesn’t get more driven than that.”

One of my Wednesday-night-group writers has been in the group since the 1990’s; Dennis Phinney has written six books, has a top agent, and hasn’t sold. A full-time engineer, he’s still producing amazing work, coming to meetings, and submitting his novels and stories to criticism. It keeps him motivated; it keeps him constantly improving.

There are lots of ways to stay on course. Setting butt in chair is the first step. But like Frances Amati and so many of us, quitting the day job isn’t an option. “Thomas Hardy was an architect,” Phinney points out. “Herman Melville worked in a customs office. Today many work as teachers.” As babysitters, physicians, homemakers, scientists, therapists. As pilots, stage directors, managers, and singers. As explorers and tinkerers.

“So the dream becomes to share epiphanies and to create a work or two of excellence, or maybe even just one really great short story,” Phinney adds. “The goal is to help [readers] to think, to ask questions, to laugh, to love, to see the miracles in everyday existence; it’s also to set forth your own truth in all its damnable ambiguity.”

I couldn’t say it better.

Two closing pieces of advice: 1) Don’t do it for the money. (It may well come.)  2) Quitting is not an option.


Best-selling author Louella Nelson is an award-winning writing instructor in Orange County, CA. Her next novel, Rye’s Reprieve, will release in February 2016. www.LouellaNelson.com Graphic image by the author.

This article first appeared in the December 2015 issue of The Romance Insider.

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Point of View: Vision of Writer & Character

 

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“There is an inside to experience as well as an outside.”
–Aldous Huxley

The way a character (or author or other narrator) perceives the world and interprets it is called point of view. We are in Sally’s head and heart when we read,

Sally couldn’t wait to get into the classroom and confront the students about their cheating ways. She felt her stomach clench; she was so angry she could spit.

This is an example of Sally’s point of view (POV). We are in her head (she can’t wait to confront the students), in her body (feels her stomach clench) and in her emotions or heart (so angry she could spit). This is an example of “deep-penetration” or “close” point of view, or point of view that goes deeply inside a character and reveals their attitudes, emotions, and motivations. Nothing is held back, as it is in a more distant, omniscient, god-like point of view. Deep-penetration is not the only type of POV used today, but it is by far the most common and, some would argue, the most satisfying to readers.

Point of view is a filtered perspective on two levels. First, Sally is made up of a set of values and ethics, traits, background, economic situation, old injuries—physical, spiritual, and emotional influences—the various factors that the writer fabricated to bring her to life in the story. Second, Sally is also created from the writer’s memories, world-view, and emotions. It is difficult to separate the fabricated Sally from the writer’s world-view; the two levels blend without our notice; we almost can’t stop ourselves from imbuing Sally with some of our personal hopes and fears. That’s okay; go there. It takes courage to reveal our deepest selves—and doing so creates great characters, memorable stories.

The influence of the writer’s essence happens automatically, behind the scenes, and influences not only Sally’s persona but also the decision about who will narrate her story. There are many choices: the author, termed “authorial point of view”; the character Sally herself, as in the example above that utilizes the “deep-penetration point of view”; Sally plus a cast of other characters, called “multiple point of view” or “multiple deep-penetration point of view”; a made-up “voice” who drops into her story like a visiting aunt to explain things called simply a “narrator” (which gives “narrator” two meanings); or a god-like presence who sees into every room and every mind and dictates or comments on the action of the story, called “omniscient point of view.”

Note: Memoir is often written from the omniscient point of view but in recent years is trending toward the deep-penetration single or even multiple point of view story with omniscient passages.

As you gain knowledge about the craft of writing, you will encounter other experts who hold a variety of opinions about which point of view is best, or best for a given type of work. The varying opinions bewilder. However, the wide array of memoirs utilizing multi-character points of view, first-person or third-person authorial point of view, and a host of other combinations suggests that there is no one right way to master or to deliver point of view. That’s true whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction.

What do I recommend for new writers? I’m always suggesting the first-time student write a deep-penetration work because (a) I know a majority of readers like it and (b) the new writer tends to hold back from revealing emotions and this form encourages the opposite. The deep-penetration book is flexible; it can be written in first person (“I”) or third person (“he/she/they”) and still be an effective read.

I also recommend that writers working in a deep-penetration third-person point of view stick to one point of view per scene. Doing so develops reader loyalty to the character, makes the reading experience more satisfying than the head-hopping variety, and staves off confusion.

Ultimately the read has to be satisfying to the reader or the book may never get read let alone adopted as a favorite.

So here’s a definition:

The way a character (or author or other narrator) perceives the world and interprets it for the reader is called point of view.

The Big Two Points of View:

  1. First, omniscient point of view is found in classical literature, notably in the noir writings of the 1920’s through 50’s, and in some of today’s good fiction and memoir. Utilizing the he, she, they pronouns, the omniscient narrator is rather like a mastermind moving chess pieces on a board. In addition to masterminding the action in entire books, bits of omniscient narration appear in many third-person narratives, particularly to open the book or a chapter set in a new location.Omniscient passages are often characterized by exposition, by “telling” rather than “showing” in cinematic fashion. We “tell” children a story at bedtime, often opening with “Once upon a time.”
    Authorial omniscient utilizes the author’s opinions and perspective about the characters, their activities, their feelings, and their plans; many first-time writers cannot avoid being intrusive—a condition sometimes termed “author intrusion.”
    The omniscient narrator typically can delve into several characters’ feelings or avoid feelings altogether and report actions and reactions. The distance narrator floats above to watch and report on several characters’ activities.
  2. Second, the deeper, or deepest, reader access to character is called deep-penetration point of view. There are two types:
  • First-person narration, using the pronoun I, is both classical and used widely these days; it’s easier to learn than the other types; and most of all, it’s the most facile when you’re trying to learn how to include character emotion in your writing. Because the reader is unavoidably inside the head and heart of the central character for the entire book, and there is no omniscient presence to narrate, the writer pretty much has to devote attention to “feelings” and “motivations.” The feelings and motivations can be “reliable” (the character never lies to the reader) or “unreliable” (character lies on purpose or due to some illness or incorrect thinking or bad information).
  • The second type of deep-penetration narration is close third person point of view; it’s what huge numbers of readers enjoy reading, and the technique gives the writer a great deal of flexibility and depth. One option is to write the entire book in third-person deep-penetration point of view, revealing a central character’s mind, heart, motivations, and reactions. Another is to write it using one dominant point of view, supplementing with one or more supporting points of view that reveal other characters’ inner emotions and motivations. The pronouns he, she, and they populate this viewpoint.

In a nutshell, point of view is all about perspective–whose? It’s about seeing the world through a unique set of perceptions, senses, and attitudes. You are the god of your story: you have to decide how best to tell it. By understanding and mastering point of view, you have the power to create worlds with unique visions and perspectives.