Thursday, April 23, 2015

Through the Internet Rabbit Hole

One of the habits I have gotten into since Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead was released, is searching for my book on the web. I am clearly not alone in this. From what I gather, most working authors do it. Checking on one’s book’s web presence is part of the job of marketing and selling your work.

I have learned some interesting things from doing these searches. For one, I have found that my book can be ordered from any number of online book sellers in any number of countries around the world. It is kind of fun seeing your book (written in English) being listed on a site in, say, Sweden or Russia.

Sometimes the title shows up in a way that is totally a surprise—like when it was mentioned on the Spanish language Facebook page of a South American writer based in Paris. It turns out that he is an acquaintance of my friend Mañuco, one of the people to whom I dedicated the novel.

The strangest search result, however, was the one I came across a couple of weeks ago. The excerpt that Google highlighted read like this: “The typical story Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead of the Gingerbread Boy. Not everyone will love this modern version…” Whoa. Apparently, somebody was doing some interesting analysis of my little tale of wayward youth. Naturally, I had to read the whole thing.

But when I clicked through to the link, which was on a site called, I found a discussion board for comic books and ebooks. There was no mention of the Gingerbread Boy. Instead there was discussion, apparently among students, about an English assignment.

“I have to read 3 books over the summer for AP English,” wrote someone called Enmenre. “My parents can’t afford to buy them and they said I’ll have to read them online. Is there a website that I can download books from as documents? I want to read Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead by Scott R. Larson.”

My heart was all aflutter. Some young person had somehow heard of my book and wanted to read it! And it didn’t even seem to be a friend or relative. This was a great. Someone else responded to say that a great place to get it was a site called Booklibrary. Enmenre replied, “Guess what just happened? haha, I found the book I was looking for, all thanks to BookLibrary. YES! I’m so stocked right now, been looking like forever for this old book, and finally I found it! Loving it!”

Very cool that Enmenre was loving the novel. But “this old book”? Hey, give me a break. It was only released last June. Other commenters chimed in with feedback on the book. “This book is a fate,” said Rinbeydo (whatever that might mean). “Interesting and easy to read,” said Iculob, inserting a “WINNAH!!!” emoticon. “Don’t waste your time reading it. Nothing interesting,” wrote a spoilsport called Primourco.

I followed the link that had allegedly led the happy Enmenre to my book. It turned out to be something called, and it did list several servers around the world from which Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead could be purportedly downloaded. It even offered the choice of paperback, ebook and audio versions—which was interesting since, as far as I know (and, as the author, I should know) there is no audio version. Of course, before you could actually do any downloading, you had to “sign up.” I had come across sites like this before. They promise you all kinds of free digital stuff, i.e. games, movies, books, etc. In exchange, they want (at the least) your name and email address and maybe more personal information or even a credit card for the “membership fee.”

Did this site really have my book available for download? Something I had prepared myself for since uploading the Kindle version of Maximilian and Carlotta to Amazon was that at some point I might come across it on a pirate web site. Just about every book ever published seems to show up on these sites, as many authors will readily attest. In a strange and perverse way, the fact that someone would go to the trouble to pirate your book is actually some kind of a cockeyed compliment. At least it means that there is a demand for your work out there.

One of the strangest stories I have heard in this regard was in an interview on public radio’s On the Media program with Peter Mountford about his novel A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism. I paid attention when the interview came on because I had read and enjoyed Mountford’s book. Set in Bolivia, it has a very passing similarity to mine in that it deals with a young American getting to know something of Latin American culture. Mountford recounted how he got an email out of the blue from a Russian asking him to explain the nuances of various passages in his book. In pursuing this, Mountford learned that his correspondent had been hired to do a Russian translation of the book—one that was in no way authorized. In the end, the author decided to help the Russian come up with the best translation possible. His reasoning was that, if there was going to be a pirated Russian version out there, he would prefer that it be of the best quality.

But back to my question. Did that site really have my book for download? My guess is that it didn’t. I would guess that the site is a scam looking to rip off naive and/or dishonest consumers of digital stuff. Strangely, when I went back to the original URL, it was no longer a comic book/ebook discussion. It was now a more literary site purporting to do book reviews, but still mentioning Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead in vaguely non-sequitur kinds of ways. As far as I could tell, the web page was dynamically taking my search query and intelligently weaving it into something that appeared like a real discussion—all with the aim of directing the gullible to the scam download site.

The internet is truly a strange and bizarre (and sometimes risky) place.

So Enmenre almost certainly doesn’t exist and didn’t hear about and want to read my “old” book. So were the owners of the domain part of the scam or were they victims as well? When I went back to the URL more recently (not through a Google search), it led me to a page that looked just as you would expect something called to look. “For A Labor party. For A Workers’ International,” it intones next to a clinched black fist in front of a red star. It gives every indication of legitimately being the web site of a leftist labor organization. Its only similarity to is that it too offers to take your payment details.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bad Buzz

A couple of posts ago I proudly announced that Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead had made the list of finalists in the historical fiction category of the Prize Writer Competition of When I submitted my novel, I had no illusions about my chances of making that list. So when I exceeded my own expectations, I was delighted. I had no expectation of actually getting a prize—especially since the process favored those who could best exploit legions of fans through social media. I’m the first to admit that the whole “social media” thing is not my strong suit. Thus, there was no real disappointment at not picking up a prize.

What I did get, though, was the entitlement to put a Prize Writer Competition 2015 Finalist sticker on my blog. What I did not expect was that I would also get a genuinely and intriguing story out of the experience. was one of a number of web sites I discovered in the inevitable process of marketing my book. I learned that there are numerous such sites out there—ranging from straightforward blogs, curated by writing and/or reading enthusiasts, to more elaborate web sites that are run as businesses and therefore aim to make money. What they all have in common is the purpose of being of mutual benefit to writers, readers and, not least, the web site proprietor. belonged to a subcategory of sites that essentially want to be a destination akin to the granddaddy of book web sites, Goodreads but with a more in-your-face approach about providing services for which they can charge. Fair enough. Everybody is entitled to make a buck if they can. The truth is, though, I didn’t really know much about aside from what I’ve just recounted and the fact that it is based in London.

I know more now. While I was visiting the U.S. over the recent Easter school break, an email landed in my inbox. It was from Conrad Murray,’s publisher, and it apparently went out to everyone on the site’s mailing list. It can also be read on the site’s home page, accompanied by a photo of a forlorn-looking Murray and his dog. That is how I learned that the writers who did get selected as winners in the site’s competition had not received their promised cash prizes. It turns out that has ceased to function—although the web site is still up with its many book listings, including my own. As explained by Murray, it had been a joint project with Susannah, his partner of a quarter-century, and it all went pear-shaped earlier this year when that relationship broke down. And here’s where it gets really interesting.

He blamed Susannah’s 39-year-old daughter Charlotte who, it turns out, is rather notorious in the British press. Murray linked to a Daily Mail article from a year-and-a-half ago that details Charlotte’s somewhat spotted history and her attempts to lay claim to the estate of her father, a Scottish baronet whose relationship with Susannah years ago was, as they say, without the benefit of clergy. While Sir Malcolm supported Charlotte financially through her childhood and beyond, he apparently drew the line when she began advertising herself to well-heeled clients on escort web sites under the name of Charlie Foxtrot.

More information is available on a very useful web site that I cannot believe I had not found earlier. It is called Writer Beware and is a volunteer service sponsored by various writers’ organizations. It provides advice and information for writers with the aim of shining a light on “the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls.” It reports that, not surprisingly, the competition winners are pretty unhappy about not receiving their prizes. It also provides additional background information on the web site and Conrad Murray. Clearly, many writers believe that the web site was a scam from start to finish.

Murray says that the business’s accounts “all were systematically emptied” by Susannah, but he has promised to eventually pay the prize winners from his own personal resources—after “legal complications” have been overcome. He says he hopes to have this completed by the end of April.

Frankly, I don’t know what to make of it all. I don’t feel personally aggrieved since I never expected to get any money out of the experience. I will leave my Finalist sticker on this page for now—until such time as I become convinced that the honor is utterly bogus. But I am upset for the entrants who entered in good faith and then were promised prizes. Time will tell if Murray is some kind of con artist or just a very unfortunate businessman.

In the meantime, the best way to profit from the situation might be to write about it. The story has everything—mystery, money, aristocracy, bad behavior and more than a whiff of sex. Indeed, it has all the makings of a very interesting article—or even a book.