Follow Me: An Instagram Influencer Discovers the Dark and Dangerous Side of the Internet

Being a social media influencer with over a million followers means never feeling alone but it also means opening your life to a stalker as Audrey Miller soon finds out.

          With over 1 million Instagram followers, social media influencer Audrey Miller never feels alone and loves the rush she gets from her fans’ adulation whenever she posts. It’s a great way to lift her spirits when she’d down. But maybe it’s not quite as good as it seems. After her roommate announces her boyfriend is moving in so Audrey needs to move out, she takes what appears to be a dream job at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

Kathleen Barber

Sure, it’s high pressure and she still needs to keep up with her social media, but all seems well despite her creepy upstairs neighbor. But of course it isn’t. A long time stalker, who first started following Audrey when her only social media outlet was just a WordPress blog, is still keeping tabs on her. But as Audrey upped her influencer credentials, his obsession has increased so much that he’s now hanging out in the darkest and deepest corners of the web learning how to isolate Audrey so she’s his and his alone.  

          The idea for Follow Me began when author Kathleen Barber was meandering through the internet, a place she describes as full of unexpected rabbit holes. As a former attorney who with her husband left high profile jobs as lawyer and traveled the world, Barber was a sucker for killing time by reading quirky legal articles and stories online.

          “Then I came across a post from someone who thought their boss was accessing employees’ home security cameras,” says Barber, whose first novel, Are you Sleeping (now titled Truth be Told) was adapted for an Apple TV+ series by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine media company. “I thought it was fake.”

          But further research showed Barber, who grew up in Galesburg, Illinois and graduated from Northwestern University’s law school, that there was even a subreddit or online specific community about on controllable webcams. Barber had never heard of them but after further research she discovered that it’s possible to install a RAT or remote administration tool to spy on people through their computers without their knowing about it. The RAT tool can be used just to play tricks such as hiding someone’s Start button or putting porn on their computer to some serious stalking.

          “And it doesn’t even take much skill,” says Barber who was amazed at how easy it was to do after doing more research. “I did a lot of reading on the subject—so much so, that if someone were to look at my computer’s search history, they’d find very dark and disturbing things. That’s when I decided to write Follow Me and to put a sticker over my computer’s webcam.”  

The Splendid and the Vile. A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz

          When New York Times bestselling author Erik Larson (Devil in the White City; Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania) moved to New York five years ago, he had what he describes as a revelation. He had watched, horrified, as 911 unfolded on CNN.

Author Erik Larson

          “But I wondered what was it like for people living in New York to have their city invaded and all the fear they must have felt,” he says. “Then I started thinking about the bombing of London by the Germans during World War II. It was 57 nights of consecutive bombings. 911 shook us all but how did Londoners cope, knowing that every night their city would be bombed—that every night, hundreds of German bombers were flying over with high-explosive bombs?”

          At first Larson thought he’d tell his story about an ordinary family living in London at the time.

          “Then I thought why not a quintessential London family—the Churchills,” he says. “So much as been written about him, but this gave me the lens through which to tell the story.”

          The result is The Splendid and the Vile. A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz (Crown Publishing), Larson’s saga about how Churchill, as prime minister, kept the country strong and together through his wit, his ability to speak to everyday people and by his own determination during the time of the Blitz from May of 1940 through May of 1941.

          ” I think the things that surprised me the most was the fact that Churchill was a lot of fun,” says Larson.  “Even though his staff was really overworked, even though they knew Churchill was inconsiderate, but he worked just as hard or harder than anyone. They loved working with him, he was able to do that.”

          He also had some intriguing habits—his drinking and his long soaks in the bathtub, smoking cigars and having his secretary take dictation, getting out, naked and wet to answer the phone and then getting back into the tub.

          Churchill was also fearless and without vanity says Larson.

          It drove the Nazis crazy.

          Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, cursed him, writing in his diary, “When will that creature Churchill finally surrender? England cannot hold out forever!”

          His speeches were so effective with the British that Goebbels was alarmed when he learned that Germans were listening to them as well and ordered them to stop, saying it was treachery.

          “Churchill would visit a city that had been bombed, and people would flock to him,” says Larson. “I have no question that these visits were absolutely important to helping Britain get through this period. He was often filmed doing so for newsreels, and it was reported by newspapers and radio. This was leadership by demonstration, by showing the world that he cared, and he was fearless.”

The Girl in White Gloves: A Novel of Grace Kelly

A beautiful Hollywood star; a handsome rich prince. It should have been perfect. But, of course, it wasn’t.

The surprising–and unprecedented–news that Harry and Meghan have withdrawn from the Royal Family last month stunned the globe and spurred conversations about individual pursuits versus familial and sovereign duty. It makes one wonder what if Grace Kelly had been able to break away from royal life and pursue her own dreams once she became disillusioned with her life as a Princess? The comparison is apt. Both Meghan Markle and Grace Kelly, two American actresses who made headlines when they married international Princes and gave up their careers and financial independence to serve their royal subjects.

That’s why the timing could not be more perfect for the release of THE GIRL IN WHITE GLOVES (Berkley 2020) by Kerri Maher). The novel is a vivid reimagining of the exhilarating and sensationalized life of Princess Grace of Monaco from the acclaimed best selling author of The Kennedy Debutante. Maher takes us into the inner life of an almost mythical female historical figure. Luminescent with golden hair and blue eyes, Golden Globe- and Oscar-winning actress, Princess—and fiction’s newest “it-girl”—Grace Kelly. was the favorite of many directors including Alfred Hitchcock. She was also the epitome of class.

The picture of perfection on paper, in the history books and from the public’s perspective, Grace Kelly’s life appeared as pure fantasy. A spectacular beauty from a prominent Philadelphia family, her dreams of becoming an accomplished actress came true and she was a star in many mediums—stage, television, and film.

But Kelly gave it all up when she assumed the role of a real life princess after marrying Prince Ranier of Monaco in a magnificent wedding ceremony. Becoming a Princess may be every young girl’s fantasy., but neither fame nor royalty (as Meghan Markle might have discovered) is as charming as it seems, and Kerri Maher takes a closer look at the woman behind the headlines in THE GIRL IN WHITE GLOVES.  This compelling novel provides insight into this real-life Cinderella story: the good, the bad, and the not-so-happily-ever-after.

As for Grace, she knew what people saw. She was the Cinderella story. An icon of glamor and elegance frozen in dazzling Technicolor. The picture of perfection. The girl in white gloves.

But behind the lens, beyond the panoramic views of glistening Mediterranean azure, she knows the truth. The sacrifices it takes for an unappreciated girl from Philadelphia to defy her family and become the reigning queen of the screen. The heartbreaking reasons she trades Hollywood for a crown. The loneliness of being a princess in a fairy tale kingdom that is all too real.

Hardest of all for her adoring fans and loyal subjects to comprehend, is the harsh reality that to be the most envied woman in the world does not mean she is the happiest. Starved for affection and purpose, facing a labyrinth of romantic and social expectations with more twists and turns than Monaco’s infamous winding roads, Grace must find her own way to fulfillment. But what she risks—her art, her family, her marriage—she may never get back.

Kerri Maher is the author of The Kennedy Debutante, which People magazine described as “a riveting reimagining of a true tale of forbidden love,” and This Is Not a Writing Manual: Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World under the name Kerri Majors. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and founded YARN, an award-winning literary journal of short-form YA writing. A writing professor for many years, she now writes full time and lives with her daughter and dog in a leafy suburb west of Boston, Massachusetts.

Praise for THE GIRL IN WHITE GLOVES

“The stunning and very human story of a beloved icon…. Full of nuance and poignancy—this novel is gorgeous.”— Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author of The Queen’s Fortune
 
“[A] fascinating, deeply researched novel of the extraordinary Grace Kelly … establishes Maher as a true force in biographical fiction.”—Beatriz Williams, New York Times bestselling author of The Golden Hour

The Other Mrs.

         After staying up late reading The Other Mrs. by Chicago author Mary Kubica, I have a word of advice for women out there. If you’re husband’s sister commits suicide and her home on a remote island off the coast of Maine is yours if you agree to live there and take care of her defiant teen-aged daughter, just say no.

An isolated island, a frayed marriage and a spooky house where the last owner died in the attic--so what could possible go wrong? Everything in this new suspense-thriller from Mary Kubica.

         But unfortunately, Sadie, a Chicago physician didn’t do that. Instead, after a brief lapse in consciousness where she walked out of an operating room and was later found on the edge of a roof, she and her husband Will—a charming and handsome man with an eye for ladies—take the offer. Sadie was about to lose her job and her license and besides, she’s just found out that Will was having an affair. So the couple pack up their children and move into Alice’s home. It’s the kind of place where doors squeak at night, the wind howls outside and the frayed rope Alice used to hang herself still swings from the rafter in the attic. Then, things take even more sinister of a turn when Morgan, a nearby neighbor is found murdered in her home.

         Obviously, the move was a bad choice and to make it worse, Sadie, working as a doctor in a clinic, still finds herself losing track of time and what she is doing. Add to that, she also worries about Will, a stay-at-home dad for their two sons, and his friendships with pretty mothers whose children play with theirs. If he cheated once, will he do so again, she wonders. Even worse, though Sadie never met Morgan, an elderly couple claim they saw her tear out a chunk of her hair during a fight in the days before her murder.

         This is Kubica’s sixth novel and her last five have made the New York Times and USA Today best seller list.

         “I love to work under the surface with people—there really is so much we don’t know about people,” says Kubica, a former high school history teacher who starts with a premise for her plots and then let’s her writing—and her characters—take her along for a ride so to speak. “My characters really drive what I write. I can start off in one direction and then the book can go a different way.”

         Kubica seems to live a normal life. That is until after her teenaged children go to school, then spends her days in this dark, psychologically twisted world of sublevels and secrets. Two of her favorite authors are Megan Abbott and Paula Hawkins who also write about women in peril who are often unreliable narrators—causing readers to wonder if they can believe their stories. It all adds to the suspense. But readers should understand, Kubica is often just as surprised as they are.

         “I have no idea what to expect,” she says. “But it’s fun.”

Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope

Tightrope tells the tale of an America that is still in the process of losing well-paying jobs, where people work two or more jobs just to make ends meet, where one illness can turn into a bankruptcy for those who are uninsured or underinsured and where opioids and other drugs lead to incarceration, early death and family destruction

              “You wrote about my life,” I say when Nicholas Kristoff and his wife Sheryl WuDunn call me from their hotel room on a stop of their multi-city tour promoting their new book Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope.

              I tell them about growing up in East Chicago. Sure, it was always a blue collar town but when I was young both East Chicago and, across the Columbus Avenue bridge, Indiana Harbor where I grew up, had a vital economy, two separate but thriving downtowns and work for all those graduating from the two high schools, Roosevelt and Washington.

              My mother worked at the East Chicago Public Library for 50 years and in the 1960s bought clothes at Broadway Dress Shoppe with its sleek curved window exterior. Albert’s Jewelers had a store on Main Street, and I remember my dad saying they held on as long as they could as Indiana Harbor continued to lose population and other stores closed as the manufacturing slowed down before moving. My friends and I perused the racks at the Mademoiselle Shop on Main Street, wondering if we could talk our parents into buying the latest Bobby Brooks sweater and skirt set. We bought Nancy Drew books, dress patterns and sodas at one of the two dime stores just down the street.

For children’s clothes there was Jack and Jill’s owned by my friend’s family. After he retired, my father would walk from our home by St. Catherine’s Hospital to the Olympia, the ultimate busy Greek diner or as a family we’d eat at the Trolley Diner.  I’d buy freshly made bread on my way home from school at the bakery; my Romanian grandmother would get freshly butchered chicken at a meat story further south on Main always asking that the head remain on so she could make sure it really was fresh. Both the A&P and Kroger’s in Indiana Harbor gave out stamps that you’d paste in books and exchange, when you had enough for items in a catalogue.

Both downtowns were vital and busy, there were no empty store fronts. I told Kristoff and WuDunn, the only husband and wife journalist team to win a Pulitzer Prize. about how kids would graduate from high school and go straight into the mills, even those who in other cities would have gone to college. The starting pay was at least four times more than minimum wage at the time. It was hard work, sometimes dirty and dangerous but my friends whose parents worked in the mills had good solid middle class lives with the added values of health insurance and pensions and saved money because they wanted their kids to go to college. When there was a strike—particularly one that lasted for weeks and weeks—there was a feeling of unease and sadness and even fear. The annual fair held at the Katherine House where I went to day care was canceled. My friends’ families couldn’t afford to get candy and comic books after school like we used to. But then the strike was settled, and the world righted itself until it finally didn’t.

              I wasn’t the first person to tell Kristoff and WuDunn about such a loss—because seeing your hometown hollowed out, losing population and good paying manufacturing jobs, echoes through you–it’s a sadness because I loved growing up there.

“Sheryl and I are so struck with stories like yours,” Kristoff tells me, noting that he’s familiar with what happened to the steel mill cities of Northwest Indiana and even their current commitments to rebuild/reimagine their identities. “wherever we are, whenever we talk about the book, people come up to us and say I grew up in a tiny town in Tennessee, Ohio or West Virginia, anywhere and say this happened to me.”

Tightrope tells the tale of an America that is still in the process of losing well-paying jobs, where people work two or more jobs just to make ends meet, where one illness can turn into a bankruptcy for those who are uninsured or underinsured and where opioids and other drugs lead to incarceration, early death and family destruction.

Like me, like most of us, Kristoff has seen it firsthand as well and he propels the book from that point of view. He grew up in Yamhill, Oregon on a sheep and cherry farm and traces what happened to the kids who rode with him on the Number 6 bus to Yamhill Grade School and then Yamhill Carlton High School. Kristoff went on to graduate from Harvard and as a Rhodes Scholar, studied law Magdalen College, Oxford. He’s a New York Times columnist, won two Pulitzer Prizes, is a frequent CNN contributor and is the author of several books.

Life wasn’t as good for many of his bus mates. About one-fourth are dead from drug overdoses, suicide from depression and despair, alcohol, obesity, reckless accidents and from what WuDunn and Kristoff call “pathologies.”  Of the five Knapp children who lived next door to the Kristoff family and rode Number 6, four are dead and the fifth most likely survived because he spent 13 years in the Oregon State Penitentiary.

“We wrote this book to help change the narrative and to put human faces on issues,” says Kristoff. “Our hope is by using the narrative of the old school bus we can help generate a conversation that would lead to change. It’s deeply painful to see this happen to a community which Sheryl and I loved, where those I grew up with were opportunistic about the future when we were young. Now people are dying unnecessary.”

Each time Kristoff returned home he’d hear more horror stories. He was, he realized, watching the lives of his classmates implode and along with them, the lives of their children.  

“We have so many young children now growing up in toxic environment,” he says.

              “That’s why the situation is so critical,” says  WuDunn, who also worked at the New York Times and is now a senior banker specializing  in growth companies in technology, new media and the emerging markets. “It’s like compound interest rates on steroids –kids getting taken away by the state, trying to place them in stable foster homes, their progeny going through the same cycle.”

              But WuDunn and Kristoff aren’t just about detailing the destruction and despair, they’re all about solutions as well.

“Remarkably, even during the Great Depression life expectancy didn’t fall the way it is now,” says WuDunn.  “For the last three years in a row, life expectancy has decreased in the U.S. unlike other first world countries. That’s because during the depression they had a process and plans for getting back on track.”

It’s not only about the outsourcing of jobs to other countries where labor is cheaper and environmental rules lax, it’s about how America’s politicians react—or don’t– to it.

“Globalization is global, and it affects all countries, particularly our peer countries in Europe but they’re not exhibiting the same challenges that we are, to the degree that we are experiencing them,” says WuDunn. “We’re absolutely capable of changing. There’s evidence based research showing the solution of these issues. Great Britain decided to do something about children living in poverty and were able to reduce it by 50%. Portugal is the best example of dealing with drug use, they don’t jail drug users, they place them in rehab.”

Indeed, statistics indicate that a dollar invested in addiction treatment saves about $12 in reduced crime, court costs and health care savings.

“We’ve been paralyzed by this idea that nothing works,” says Kristoff. “The narrative is we waged the war on poverty and poverty won, this obsession with personal responsibility and that poverty is a choice, these false narratives are powering what’s going on in this country.”   

America is crippling itself by not taking care of its own, by spending more money on incarceration that rehabilitation, by short funding schools and by a tax system that benefits the rich and takes away from the poor.

WuDunn worries about how we can maintain our primacy in the world when so many of our families are failing.

“Change will only work if everyone says we need to advocate for this,” she says. “One man came up to me and said it’s really important to invest in human capital. We need to do that if we want to be able to compete against China and India. Taking care of Americans is an investment in all of America.”

Kristoff sums it up succinctly.

“There’s real desperation out there,” he says.

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