Wednesday, April 30, 2008

And Now, A Word From My Sponsors

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

Okay, I’m going to age myself, but I grew up during the pre cable days of television. Unless you were lucky to have a small privately own television station in your state like we did here in Indiana, the choice of channels were limited to the major networks; NBC, CBS, and ABC. Of course, I’m talking about the 1960s, the days when most households had one prized television set which meant that whatever mom and/or dad decided to watch, is what the family watch -- no exceptions. Some of my parents’ favorites (and consequently ours) were Bonanza, Ed Sullivan, Gun Smoke, Walt Disney, What's My Line, and Saturday night boxing.

Several times during the broadcast, the announcer would break in and say, "And now, a word from our sponsor." Sponsors were and still are the entities that pay to keep shows on the air. Of course, I’m referring to commercials. Granted most of us leave the room to get a snack or two and don’t watch them, but without those 60-second breaks, the average person wouldn't have been able to afford to watch television in the 60s if they would have had to pay for it.

So what do television and commercials have to do with writing? Quite a bit actually if your mind works like mine. To writers, our sponsors are readers, the folks who pump us up and keep us writing. They buy our books, read them, and give them away as gifts. They spread the word to their family and friends about a favorite character -- our creation -- often without us ever knowing about it. Each positive word of mouth from one of these treasured promoters is a potential book sale.

I always welcome e-mails from readers and revel in what they have to say about my writing--good, bad, or indifferent, it's all helpful. Shortly after SILENCED CRY was released, one student at our local college told me she bought two copies of my book; one to keep and read; the other she created a chain read for her friends around the world. She planned to send it to one of her friends who was studying in a different country with instructions to read it and send it to another friend, etc., etc. She recently wrote to say: “I am currently residing in Japan, and just received news that your book has traveled to Australia, New Zealand, India, China, Taiwan, Vienna, France, and actually returned to Japan twice!”

I'll admit I love discovering that a sponsor has stepped forward and posted a commercial, what we more commonly refer to as a review. SILENCED CRY has been blessed with a collection of glowing reviews from professional critics, but nothing warms my heart more than reading a review from someone who took the time to search for my book, buy it, read it, and was moved enough to write their comments. So if you will allow me, I’d like to say, “And now, a word from my sponsors.” These are the two latest reader comments posted on Amazon about SILENCED CRY.

TW Ervin (Ohio, USA)
"This book is filled with characters you enjoy following, or enjoy coming to despise (or at least I did). Maybe you'll see the end coming...but probably you'll end up thinking you've got it solved when a new clue or twist adds to the mystery.

It was a good, fast read for me--mostly because I wanted to get to the end. I was kind of bummed out when I got there. Not because of the ending; it made perfect sense, tying things up. But because the read was over. So, about a week later, I read it again, and enjoyed it all the same, but on a different level. Not many books can do that for me."

Intriguing characters; complicated & provocative plot
by Ann W. Barks (Louisiana)

“... The debut novel by Marta Stephens "Silenced Cry" is a well-plotted, complicated mystery peopled with characters who are solidly etched and equally complicated. Before long, we'll have the second Sam Harper mystery. I'm looking forward to it because this novel has made me a fan of this interesting character.
Sam Harper is a cop who has no problem with a bit of brute force. He's also a cop who remains troubled by the images of the dead baby, especially when he learns from the coroner just how savage her death was. Above all, he's a cop for the right reasons: because he believes in the oath of office he took to protect and serve...

... Where he shines is his work. He's honest, fearless and committed. Sam's ability to put a case together makes him one of the best detectives on the force, which becomes quite a concern to those he begins to track down through the twists and turns of his investigation to find not only the baby's killer but the truth about his partner, his father and his boss. In the end, he is left to question if there's anyone he knows who he can really trust.

Marta's ability to breathe life into the characters we meet makes this a novel that brings you into the plot once it gets racing because you begin to care about the people as much as solving the mystery. And what a mystery it is – it has so many nuances that even when you think you have figured it out, she's able to surprise you with elements you'd almost forgotten she'd raised earlier.

If you're looking for a solid crime mystery that will keep you guessing along the way and also want to read about some realistic, intriguing people whom you'll look forward to meeting up with again in the next novel this author has coming out later this year, I can heartily recommend "Silenced Cry" by Marta Stephens.”

So remember, no need to be shy. Next time you read a book you can't put down, contact the author (most will gladly respond!) and let him or her know that you liked it. I guarantee you'll make their day.

You’ll find all the critical reviews and reader comments for SILENCED CRY in their entirety on my website under the links titled: Body of Evidence and Witnesses’ Statements.

Homicide Detective Sam Harper will be back later this year with a few new adversaries to arrest. Until then, thanks for reading SILENCED CRY and checking my website. I look forward to your comments!

SILENCED CRY placed 4th in the novel/mystery division of the 2007 Preditors and Editors Readers Poll.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

For all you brave writers

Many of us have fond memories of Miss Snark, the anonymous agent who dispensed excellent advice, lots of laughs, and contests that made us question her sanity when she slogged through and critiqued hundreds of entries for first pages, query letters, and more.

If you miss having your work savaged, there's a new blog in town:

Query Shark

Run by the wonderful and savvy Janet Reid, who is now an agent with Fine Print Literary Management, the intent of this blog is to help you craft a query letter that makes sense and will get an agent's attention. Ms. Reid doesn't pull any punches (she's awesome that way), but if you can take the heat, you'll have some very worthwhile insight into your query.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Addressing the Challenges of Writing Horror and Paranormal Suspense

© Ron Scala 2008 all rights reserved
Ronald Joseph Scala grew up in western Pennsylvania on “Poe” Drive, hence a lifelong interest in horror fiction.

The pivotal event that transformed him from an avid reader to an aspiring writer occurred in College. Ron came upon an abandoned barn littered with the remains of slaughtered animals and this became the focal point of his latest novel “Beckoned” now available from Wild Child Publishing.

Ron also has a collection of short horror stories called “The Long Hour Before Light,” available at

Ron makes ends meet with a day job as a Radiation Physicist in eastern Ohio where he lives with his wife and children. Like the Yin and Yang, Ron balances the rigorous logic of physics with the abstract, imaginary world of horror fiction

Sidebar: The fictional demon in “Beckoned,” Ouintan Mantua, has nothing to do with Ron’s current hometown of Mantua, Ohio. This is but a strange convergence.


When it comes to my writing career I like to draw inspiration from Michael Faraday. Mr. Faraday was a bookbinder in the nineteenth century. He began to read the physics and chemistry books that he was binding and learned the fields. Without formal scientific or rigorous mathematical education he nonetheless became one of the preeminent contributors to the fields of chemistry and electricity. When I confront my own lack of understanding in some aspect of writing, I remember this lesson from Mr. Faraday. The human spirit is bounded only by our own self-imposed barriers and any person can achieve anything if they persevere.

To specifics. In parallel with Michael Faraday, I am not classically trained in composition or literature and have had to adapt to my lack of certain fundamentals. Exasperating as this has been, in the long run, it has given me a perspective on writing that is somewhat different from many other authors. Below are my thoughts on the challenges writing horror and paranormal suspense, drawn from that point of view.

First, like almost any area in writing, the horror genre is highly competitive and populated by countless great and talented writers. Don’t be discouraged by this. Each had their beginning wrought with frustration, highlighted by disappointment and usually peppered with a measure of poverty. Stay in there.

Next, I want to emphasize the importance of writing. What I mean is this. Spend as much time as you can devoted to writing horror. Very soon you will find that, by necessity, you will be rationing that time, sharing it with the seemingly endless processes of researching markets and submitting queries and manuscripts. Once published, you will further dip into that well, expending precious time marketing your works, composing and commenting in blogs and fostering relationships with your prospective buyers. You’ll find that you have even less time to actually write. So, while you have the luxury of devoting most of your time to the pure art of the word, do it. Write!

To the mechanics of writing I want to say this. It is how I compartmentalize two very important elements of successful horror, namely “writing a good story” and “writing well”. There’s a difference. In an interview given at the end of his highly successful audio book, Bag of Bones, the penultimate horror author Stephan King related that faced with a choice between a poorly written book with a great story line and a poor story written very well, he preferred the great story written poorly. In agreement with King, I always concentrate on the story. I am in no way minimizing the need to present a professional work to your prospective publisher. For an aspiring author, this cannot be understated. If you submit a tale filled with poor grammar, and violations of language rules and literary prescription, you’ll do nothing more than add to your growing collection of rejection letters. The same holds true if your story is just no good. The difference is that a poorly written, but otherwise great story can be cleaned up. A bad story will always be a bad story. Write with abandon and worry about reworking the language rules later. Your writing will evolve so that with each work, you will get better at presenting and crafting proper and appealing word structure. Within their rejection letter many conscientious publishers will point out the areas to be worked on. And once you have an agreement to publish your editor will help as well. So let all that come on its own, and concentrate on the story.

Now to the heart of the matter, the horror story itself. So where do you get the idea for that next great story? If you are a horror writer, the ideas come from everywhere, all the time. Each of us has a vision of what good horror is, so ideas pop up all the time. The trick is not to let the vision smolder, spark and burst into flame only to be lost, forgotten. The goal is to capture them for a later harvest. What I do is always keep a mini notepad with me similar to what a police detective carries. If I am at a restaurant and an idea comes to mind, I pull out the notebook. If I am driving through a particularly dark and foreboding town and I imagine a good yarn, I stop and write down the idea. And I take time to write as much of the whole story, the plot, theme, and climax envisioned right then, as the story rushes through my mind. I write the words that I’ll need to rekindle the passion about that particular idea, what made it so exciting at the time, when I revisit the notebook a day, a week, or a month later. You might be in the middle of another writing project when the ideas come. When you have time and want to revive that idea, with all the enthusiasm of that first visit, your notebook will allow it to reawaken.

Lastly, take time to enjoy what you do, take delight in creating your works. If you think that goes without saying you are wrong. I know too many talented writers who, for want of success or sales or recognition, concentrate a disproportionate amount of time on the business of writing instead of the pleasure, the art. I am talking about allowing the selling and the marketing displace the creating. If you allow that to happen I think your writing, your creativity will suffer. As in human endeavor, if you don’t enjoy what you do, it will fall from its lofty station as a profession to one a chore, and you from an artist to a day laborer.


You'll find more of Ron Scala at:

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Obsessions and Blue Potatoes by Aaron Paul Lazar

My publisher just accepted the second book in the “green marble” series, entitled One Potato, Blue Potato. It’ll be my fourth book with Twilight Times Books, and I’m thrilled that the series has found a home. This one involves a peculiar green marble and a diabolical plot to blow up the President. Sam Moore’s job is to find his missing daughter, save the president, and naturally, tend his gardens. He’s recently retired, and I’m decidedly jealous of him.

Gardens are the prime feature of this series, just as music, family, nature, and food are highlighted in the LeGarde mysteries. It’s the tenth book out of my even dozen. I had a ball writing it, but the title has been niggling at me. I want to dig up and pan-fry some blue potatoes. Now.

But it’s more than just potatoes. It’s a hunger for my garden. A lust for the soil, the sun. I ache to be up to my elbows in the soft dirt. This longing goes deep; it permeates my days and fills my dreams. I want to kneel in the freshly tilled earth and poke pink bean seeds into the ground, to pull a cluster of plump blueberries from the bush and eat them right on the spot, or to dig down deep in the ground and find golden globes of potatoes, like treasures waiting to be discovered. I’m aching to spy the first cherry tomato or ripe strawberry and run inside to offer them to my wife.

It happens just about this time every year. Come fall, I’m sick to death of the garden and am happy to walk away from it. For a little while, anyway. In spite of that, however, I always manage to write about it. Incessantly. My characters become gardeners whether they want to or not. Sam Moore is a possessed gardener. It’s what he aches to do. And even Gus LeGarde, music professor, finds time to tend the hollyhocks and plant corn.

But when spring beckons, when one day in early March offers surprising summery breezes, I am primed. It happened last Saturday. It hit seventy degrees here in upstate NY. I spent eight hours outside, moving 50 feet of raspberry bushes, cleaning out the barn, and taking in the Christmas decorations.

Then it went back down to the thirties and it felt downright… cold. Remember, I’m affectionately called “Nanuk of the North” because of my cold-hardy ways. I love the snow, thrive in the cold.

But when the Stokes seeds arrive in the mail… I forget about winter. I’m poised. I’m ready. I yearn to be back in the furrows again, treading obediently behind my big orange Husqvarna tiller, attacking those rapacious weeds with vengeance.

What is it that makes me so different? Why don’t my friends drool over their gardening catalogues? Why don’t they fixate on the new raised bed that they might just build and impulsively order 50 strawberry plants, a nectarine tree, six black raspberry bushes, and red, blue, and Yukon Gold seed potatoes in one sitting at the PC? Am I that odd?

My wife thinks so. She thinks I’m obsessed. My kids affectionately tolerate my passion for the dirt and my colleagues laugh good-naturedly when I trundle into work with arms loaded with bags of summer squash, beets, and other goodies. I share because I plant far too much for my family. Probably enough for a small village.

Who else plants wide rows of beets eighty feet long? We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of beets, here, people. Who puts in eighty tomato plants? Well, I do fill the freezer with them, so it’s not completely irrational. But what about the twenty pumpkins that decorate my home around Halloween? After I’ve given some away to friends…

I never have enough. Veggies. Fruit trees. Flowers. The compulsion to add each year is strong. More trees. New berry bushes. Additional perennial gardens. Unique, bizarre shapes and sizes of vegetables. After all, how cool is it to grow Jostaberries and green cousa Middle Eastern squash? And what about that white mulberry I planted last year?

Maybe I inherited this compulsion? My grandparents accumulated French fashion dolls until their collection grew to the third largest in the States. This, from a depression era piano teacher with his wheelchair-bound wife. They also collected Victorian dollhouses. Dozens of them. With passion. And a very clever approach to trading up and managing the dollar. Sadly, I didn’t inherit that financial insight.

An analyst might suggest that it stems from those early years when I struck out on my own and struck out. Seriously struck out. I tried to “make it on my own,” when I was far too young and unlucky with work. I planned to support myself and save enough money to put myself through art school. Right. On a minimum wage job, in fact. No problem for a twenty-one-year-old kid.



After I was laid off for the third time in a year during the 1974 recession in the greater Boston area, I was hungry. Literally hungry, with only four bucks a week to buy food.

Well, maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s a deep-seated urge to collect food and fill the pantry until it overflows. I must say, I haven’t actually been hungry since I drove myself to get an engineering degree when the hiring was hot. So I’d have a good salary, a house, a place for my kids to run and play free. And plenty of food in the cupboards.

A more fanciful theory is that I’m Claude Monet, reincarnated.

Monet’s gardens in Giverny, France call to me. I’ve tried to recreate some of his gorgeous live paintings in my own yard. You know, the red poppies mixed with purple iris in masses of riotous hues? The tangerine and saffron nasturtiums that creep into the aisle ways, spreading carpets of color across the ground? Monet maintained six acres of sun-drenched explosions in color and even managed to include a pond dotted with water lilies and Japanese bridges. Sigh. I’m sure he had vegetable gardens, too. Did they have yellow tomatoes in his day?

I can’t totally agree with those who claim I’m unduly possessed by this need. I mean, it is healthy for me, isn’t it? Isn’t it okay to get up at 5:30 on a Saturday in May and spend all day outside, planting and tilling and weeding and … until 8:00 at night? And my little grandsons do spend the whole day, “helping” me. So I’m not isolated. I’m with my best buddies in the world. I do miss my wife, the “garden widow,” but I honestly try to make up for it in the evening when we spend quality time talking and watching movies.

Okay, enough explaining. It’s time to go price those blocks for the new raised bed. And maybe I’ll add another dozen blueberry bushes. I’d really like to have enough to freeze. The Pixwell pink gooseberries tasted great last year, but I only planted two bushes. Maybe just another four. Or six… Ought-oh. Here I go again. ;o)


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Busting Through Writer's Block

© Marta Stephens, all rights reserved

I’m often asked how or what I do when I begin to write a new book. As some know, the first three books in my Sam Harper Crime Mystery series began life as novellas. I’ll admit, during my early writing, I wrote what came to me without thinking about the process. A few years later when I rewrote (expanded) the first two books, SILENCED CRY (2007) and THE BLACK PEARL (Fall 2008) into novels, I didn't exactly starting from scratch. I had a plot, a set of decent characters, and a base of information from which to work with. So, when asked, what or how I managed it, I wondered if I should I discuss the original text or the end product?

This for me has been a difficult question to answer until now. While waiting for the next step in the publishing process of THE BLACK PEARL, I decided to dust off GRAVE WITNESS and give it a go. It is the shortest of the three novellas at a mere 20,000 words with a linear plot. Anyone who has read SILENCED CRY will attest that’s not my style and therein is the problem—where to find the sub plots.

Aside from cringing at my early writing attempt, I was stumped with the prospect of how I would expand this story into an 80-90,000 word manuscript. I needed sub plots, lots of them – mini plots that made perfect sense, add unexpected twists, and would ultimately draw the reader back to the main plot for a perfect conclusion. Easy, right? After a few repeated blows to the head from the proverbial brick wall, I found my answers in back stories.

In addition to homicide detective, Sam Harper, the stories bring back a host of regular characters. Each book also introduces the reader to several new characters; the antagonists as well as a handful of other colorful players. But before I can fully understand their motivation, I write brief back stories on each. I take that new characters back to a point in time, let them tell their stories. Then it’s my turn to ask what, where, when, how, and why and I keep asking those questions until there’s nowhere left to go. It’s amazing the discoveries I learn through this process. Thus far, I’ve introduced two new characters in GRAVE WITNESS. Each of their back stories has resulted in several plausible sub plots, but the most unexpected and exciting development is that one of them might turn into a new series character. Wow!!

Now I can answer that question and also offer a bit of advice. When you hit a road block in your writing, shove your story aside for a few days and concentrate on one of the primary characters. Write his or her story, find out who and what event(s) has influenced his or her life and prepare to be totally amazed.

Now the wheels are turning faster than I can type but that’s okay ‘cause there’s nothing better than an exhilarating joy ride.

To read an excerpt and/or purchase an autographed copy of SILENCED CRY please visit my website!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Do ya FEEL me?

Like most authors, I work a day job.

It’s not terrible, but it’s not always fun. I’m a network administrator for a small remanufacturing company. In the course of a day, I work with sales, marketing, purchasing, and accounting (yes, that IS everyone). They don’t argue when I tell them what is wrong, but often don’t do as I say. I call them my “work children”. I do a ton of things for them, and with them, and if I am lucky, on some days, the time passes quickly. Ahem. Mostly, it doesn’t. Mostly I wanna be writing and sunning myself on a tropical isle. Oh, if only.

Anyway, most writers run into this situation (work life versus home i.e. writing life), and it’s something to consider, especially if you want to go this thing whole-hog. You know, if you are working on a writing “career”.
You will either be so good at what you do, or so weighed with commitments that you don’t know how you will ever manage to keep working to make that paycheck. Because it ain’t all about the writing sometimes. There is the promo stuff, too. Websites, blogs, and social sites will eat your time away, too.

But my day job is killing my writing time. That’s it, folks. Bare bottom line. I used to be able to sneak in writing time at work, but that has been killed since July of last year, when a lady at work had a motorcycle accident and some of her work-load got shifted to mine. I actually have written entire short stories at work in the past and now wonder if I ever will be that free again. Dadgumit, if other people can look at the ‘net or play games, I can at least write, right?

I do not know if there is a way out of my certain conundrum but I hope so. I hope maybe I have enough friends and fans to buy books and get me that dream of staying at home one day. Who knows? It could happen!

So, this is my “do ya feel me?” post of the week. I know I am not alone. In fact, all my buds here at MB4 have jobs, too.

Until we all say “I quit” – I hope you have a good one. Keep writing folks!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Developing Your Author’s Website

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

I, like most of my fellow authors, work outside the home to earn a living and write to feed my soul. My background is in public relations with several years experience in project management and promotions in higher education. My experience has been in the area of campaign development, press releases, advertisement, graphic design, and event planning. Marketing my book took me into unknown territory, but being one who loves a challenge and is something of a risk taker, I embraced the opportunity. But even I had to admit that as my debut novel SILENCED CRY was about to be released in April 2007, I was a bit apprehensive. My hope is that in sharing my experiences with you, you’ll find some useful solutions to your marketing questions.

An average visit to a web page is 60 seconds or less. That’s your competition; time and why it is so critical to make sure that your site, particularly your home page, is visually pleasing and easy to navigate. Your website is your persona to the world. It should reflect your writing style, your genre, and carry a consistent theme throughout each page. It should be informative and entertaining. All the links must work and each page should have a link that navigates back to each of the other pages especially the home page.

Impossible? Not really.

The first thing to consider is your domain name. It can be purchased ahead of time to make sure you are able to secure the name you want. Purchase a domain name that identifies you. Make it short and easy to remember and identifiable.

Web design: Websites don’t have to cost a lot of money; in fact there are several free programs available. If you’ve never developed a site, you may want to play around with one of those before you make a costly investment of software. The down side to the free programs is that they have limited capabilities, but they can be just as effective in drawing in attention if done correctly. If you don’t feel comfortable developing your site, it’s worth the money to have someone’s help or let them do it for you. Check with your local college or university. Students studying web design are on top of the latest techniques and would welcome the experience to put on their resume and the extra cash in their pockets. Hiring a student will also be easy on your pocketbook as well.

You’ll want a site that looks clean and professional. Consider the layout. Will you display your menu across the top or on either margin? How many columns will you require? Whatever style or template you choose to use, you must use it throughout the site for visual consistency. Use only two easy to read fonts such as Arial, Times New Roman, or Verdana. Use the same font, font size, and color throughout the site for your text. The second font can be used for all the page titles and menu options.

Select an appropriate color scheme that reflects your writing. Develop a theme and run it through the entire site. Avoid using flashing or distracting images/borders/ or loud music that will divert the visitor’s attention from your writing. Nothing will turn viewers away faster than a site that is hard on the eyes and ears. Select the pictures you plan to use on your site and make sure they’re saved as JPGs.

Once you have decided on the layout and scheme, you’re ready to enter the information and start building your website. What should you include? A good start will include your book cover, author photo, bio, excerpt, reviews, events, book trailer, and reader comments. If you’ve received good press coverage, add links to those newspapers and/or magazines. Additional pages can always be added as ideas come to you.

Choosing a server. The selection is endless and their services vary as much as the costs. Again, if you don’t know what to purchase, ask someone you trust to help you. Start with an economy plan that allows you to secure the site and your domain name for a year or two. It is feasible to obtain a basic start up services for under $100. Initially you won’t need the amount of space the larger options offer. You’ll want to purchase the least expensive offer available to track traffic to your site. Take advantage of every free feature your server offers to help keep your site visible.

Once you have built and launched the site, you need to draw readers to it. Insert as many tags (key words) as possible within the code section of your site and install a web crawler to make your site accessible on search engines such as Google. Include your URL on EVERYTHING, e-mail signature lines, bookmarks, letterhead, blog signatures, articles, bios, flyers, post cards, etc. Cross promote your site. Set up a section on your site to list other authors’ links in return for them listing your link on theirs. Update your site and blog on a regular basis--at least once or twice a week, the more the better. Then promote that new article or feature on your blog posts.Check to see what type of traffic information is available from your server. My server allows me to generate all types of reports. One report shows me a list of "referrals." This indicates to me where readers are finding the link to my website. Let's say if you click on my website from ABC authors’ forum, the report will show the name of that forum. Why's that important? Because it shows which sites are active and that its members are interested in learning about my books. Therefore, those are the sites in which I’m going to continue to promote my work. To give you an idea of the type of information I have available, from the day I launched my site on March 12, 2007, through the present day, my web’s stats reflect:

10,773 visitors
13,183 unique visitors (new)
24,746 pages viewed
42,182 hits

Viewed by visitors from 97 countries. The countries with the highest number of visits include: The US, Sweden, Canada, United Kingdom Germany, China, France and the Russian Federation.
And the most popular viewing day? Mondays and Wednesday. Don’t ask me why, but there you have it.

The key is to not only continue to post and blog, but to make sure your posts and articles lead the readers back to your website.

Other things to remember:

- It’s not enough to get people to land on your site, make it entertaining; make it interactive. When you plan your site, consider creating 5-10 pages and as stated earlier, make sure each page includes links to all the others pages on your site so visitors don’t get “stuck” on one page and leave.

- There are a few key words to remember as your site evolves and you have more to offer visitors. One is “Sign-up.” Do you have a newsletter? Even if it’s free, make it worth the visitor’s time to sign-up on the first visit or you may lose them. A newsletter will be a constant reminder about you, your site, and your book.

- Don’t be shy about asking people to “Buy.” Set up a separate page with the links to all the online bookstores that sell your book. If your book is available on Amazon, sign up with Amazon Associates (free) and place their logo on your site. It will take the visitor directly to your page on Amazon and if you have enough referrals from your site, you could earn a small referral fee.

- Do you have anything “Free” to offer like bookmarks, signed nameplates, or other products promoting your book(s)? Who doesn’t like getting something for nothing?

One final word; have fun designing your website. But remember it’s your first step toward obtaining an Internet presence. Get them there and get them to stay!

Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense

SILENCED CRY (2007) autographed copies available via my web site.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Rejection by Mechele Dillard

Rejection: The never-ending cross we bear for choosing the writing life.


Rejection is something a writer simply must, ironically, accept if she is going to remain a writer for any length of time. Everyone gets their share of rejections from publishers, editors, and, yes, seemingly pitiful publications—seriously, let’s be real here and admit it: We’ve all groused, if only to ourselves, “These people should have been honored to get my quality of writing offered to their dinky little paper/newsletter/magazine/rag; how dare they!”

But, dare they do and we, as writers, just have to suck it up and go on.

We’ve all read those boring articles about rejection—how to minimize it and such, rehashing everything we’ve known since we decided to label ourselves “writers.”


Yes, okay, I’ll make sure that I follow the publication’s submission guidelines to the letter; alright, I’ll do my best to find out to whom I am writing, and not take the, “Dear Sir/Madam/Editor” shortcut; sure, sure, I’ll craft my query carefully, thoroughly and personally, so that the editor not only understands my ideas, but sees my ability to consider, question, address and convince; and, of course, I won’t just send my queries off half-cocked to any publication for which I can obtain an address, having no idea what they even print.

Yes, I’ll do all of those things.

And, yes, I’ll still receive rejections.

The fact of the matter is that, truly, as they say, it’s just business. Your work may be good. It may be great. But, it may not be the editor’s cup of tea. Or it may be similar to something they recently printed, or have slated to run in the near future. And, quite often, editors will include a personal response with such rejections. Editors are not monsters, and most do not thrill at breaking the spirit of writers who submit to their publications. Many will do what they can to be encouraging when the writer’s work is good, to let her know that, yes, this rejection is a business decision, and not a negative statement on her abilities as a writer. So, appreciate the significance conveyed when an editor takes the time to jot a note, explain why they didn’t accept a piece, or even craft a personal rejection instead of using the basic form letter.

But, that type of rejection is not the end of it—it’s not even the worst of it. The worst of it is much closer to home.

The most crushing blow comes when we feel friends, family, and, well, anyone we know rejects our choice to embrace the writing life.

Have you ever had someone read an article you wrote for, oh, the local paper, and say, in that sweet, condescending voice, “Oh, how nice of them to publish your stuff.” Or, when you got your first shot at a national trade magazine, was your friend’s sole comment, “Huh—I’ve never heard of that one.” Oh, and when you had an opportunity to write regularly for a real publishing house, albeit an extremely small one, did a well-meaning family member take it upon himself to point out, “Oh, well, that’s good, I guess, but isn’t that kinda low-paying?”


Friends and family are generally well-meaning when they say these things. They usually don’t realize they are making us feel about two inches tall when they insist on asking such questions instead of just sharing in the positivity of our latest step forward. But, intentional or not, such reactions hurt. Really hurt. They undermine the confidence of the most arrogant among us, and make us question our viability as writers. Maybe, we tell ourselves, it’s just time to face facts: I don’t have what it takes to make it in the writing world.

You know, there is an old adage, “Writers write.” And, it’s true. It’s just what we do. We may have other jobs that pay the bills. We might get excited over “breaks” that no one but a fellow writer could possibly understand. And, after adding up the cost of electricity, phone calls, paper, ink, postage, time and coffee, we may actually lose money on many of our projects. But, we keep right on writing, anyway.

Crazy? Maybe.

But, writers write; it’s just what we do.

I wish I could assure everyone out there that they will meet their writing goals. I wish I could give you a concrete solution for avoiding rejection in the future. And, truly, I wish I could offer something profound, something that could carry each and every one of you over when someone points out, “You know, Mary Terry Blackberry had a story published in Reader’s Digest last month, and she told me it was the first thing she ever sent somewhere like that—you’ve never had anything published there, have you?”


But, my friends, despite my lack of magic words, I offer you this: No matter how good you may be, if you do not write, if you do not submit, if you do not try, I can guarantee, 100%, you will not get published.

And, you will not be a writer.

Not because you are not published.

Not because you are not well-recognized.

Not even because you are not making a living.

But, because writers write.

And, rejection by anyone, professional or personal, is not a reason for a true writer to lay down her quill. It may be unpleasant, and we may not like it, but rejection is a sure sign we are putting in the time to reach our goals.

Oh, and, of course, don’t forget to send your best work, and proofread for spelling errors; absolutely stay within the recommended word count; oh, and, yeah, check to make sure you are taking a new, refreshing angle on your topic, so editors will be impressed with your ingenuity even before they actually read any of your finished pieces.

Duh—give me a break.

And a pen.


Mechele R. Dillard is a freelance writer, editor, book reviewer and columnist, working in Cleveland, GA, where she lives with her best friend, Mark, and their two canine sidekicks, Bucky and Bubba. And, in case you are wondering, yes: The rejection scenarios cited are straight from the wealth of examples she has culled since deciding to embrace the writing life in 2003.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Advice for Writers by Aaron Paul Lazar

In my job as an electrophotographic* engineer, emails fly across cyberspace faster than my colleagues gobble free chocolate chip cookies. The content is always something very technical and ho-hum boring, on topics such as transmission density or fusing quality. But sometimes I sense a “writer’s voice” within the scientific flurry of words. And on occasion, I’ll get really bold and ask if they’ve dabbled in writing.

A year ago, one of my coworkers answered, “I loved to write in high school, but I just don’t have time anymore.”

This mother of an active two-year-old commuted over an hour each day to her full time manager job and naturally, handled all household tasks. Just like almost every writer I know.

She already felt overloaded, but I sensed a unique talent in her words. I didn’t hesitate.

“Just write,” I said. “Take fifteen minutes at lunch each day.”

“But what would I write about?” she asked as she shuffled mountains of papers and ignored the ringing phone. “I have no idea where to start.”

“Write whatever comes into your head. It doesn’t matter what it is. Once you get going, it’ll just flow out of you. You don’t need a plan. Just do it.”

She wrote during a break the next day and sent me a page of lovely prose. I encouraged her to continue. We began to exchange writing daily, swapping edits and chapters with glee. Mind you, this was as good for me as it was for her.

Six months later, she completed the manuscript for her first novel, a delightful historical time-travel piece. She’s submitting it to publishers as I write this, and has already started on the sequel.

Over the years, I’ve collected little buds of knowledge through my association with other writers, voracious reading, and through the joy/hell of relentless writing.

Following are ten suggestions that can help a writer tone up his or her skills.

1) Just write. To start, write for a few minutes every day. If your passion is genuine, you’ll find that you can’t stop. You’ll finagle a way to squeeze writing into your day. I schedule very early mornings for writing, from 4:00 to 6:00 AM. It’s the only quiet time in my hectic life and I couldn’t accept spending less time with my wife, daughters, or grandsons. So, I go to bed early and forget about TV. What’s more important? In doing so, I’ve written twelve novels in a bit over seven years.

2) Cut out the flowery stuff. I adore adjectives and adverbs, and I ache to describe scenes in lush detail. But in the end, I hack away at all the excess. If you read a line out loud and it feels stilted – stop! Take out all the extra words that slow you down, and just tell the story. Use the descriptors sparingly. I’ve found that after writing twelve books, my style has become simpler and more streamlined. I’m going back now and redlining much of the early work before it reaches the bookstores. It hurts like hell to do it, but it’s absolutely necessary.

3) Observe, observe, observe. Soak in every tiny detail that surrounds you. Colors, textures, sensations, expressions, birdsongs, sunlight, and the ground you walk on... notice everything, and brand it into your brain for that next chapter you’re going to write. Okay, so this seems to completely contradict the previous suggestion. But it is possible to insert a lyrical scene painting at the right time where you might want to slow down the pace a little. And readers love to be transported. Just be careful not to overdo the adverbs and adjectives.

4) Listen to the voices: the grocery clerk, the bank teller, children at play, professors, grandparents, and neighbors. You’ll never create natural dialogue without eavesdropping.

5) Tap into your emotions. When someone close to you dies, it’s an overwhelming, dreadful experience. But, the same emotions that flatten you at that time will be indispensable when you write about loss. Recreating the deep-seated feelings will make your book come alive and ring true with readers.

6) Make your characters feel deeply and give them a rich history. This takes time and is particularly important if you’re writing a series. If readers don’t care about the characters, they won’t come back for more. Don’t worry about defining them in detail in the beginning, just start writing and they will develop. You can always go back and add more detail to support your characters’ growth.

7) Perfection comes later. Just get it out there, get it down on paper. Then, when you go back to it, hack away at the unnecessary prepositional phrases and the ungainly adverbs, extract those awkward scenes that stand out like sore thumbs, and supplement those that seem abrupt. Then, set it aside for a while. After I’ve completed a novel, I put it down and start on the next one. Many months later, I’ll come back to it. It’s best if I don’t remember much (I’m often surprised at how much I’ve forgotten) as that’s when one is in the best position to challenge one’s own work. Sometimes I’ll be surprised at an unusually eloquent passage, or humiliated by a flimsy section through which I obviously rushed. That’s the time to roll up your sleeves and be ruthless. Cut out the excess and fortify the weak!

8) Find a skillful editor. I’ve been lucky. I have friends with eagle eyes who will scour my manuscripts and be brutal where necessary. Try to find folks who are willing to follow along with the book as you create it. Share this service. Swap chapters as soon as they’re done. Don’t be shy about helping one another – if a passage sounds stilted, tell your critique partners. If you want to “see” more of the details in a scene, ask them to elaborate. And pray they’ll do the same for you.

I also have an “inner circle” of readers who’ve traveled with me through the series far in advance of publishing. They keep me honest and provide feedback about the characters that they’d come to love.

9) Maintain the tension. You want your readers to need to read more. Keep up the pace. Make it flow seamlessly from chapter to chapter. And try to avoid unnecessary excursions into boring territory. I use lots of dialogue; it moves the book along quickly. Short chapters also help the reader feel as if he’s made progress. Readers say that with short chapters they’re more apt to think, “Just one more chapter before I go to bed.” Of course, if the tension and suspense are stimulating, the dear reader will stay up way past bedtime.

10) Polish it ‘til it shines. Don’t send in anything but your best work, buffed to perfection. You may have to go through it dozens of times, but it’s worth it. Have your friends and family do the same. Each time they scour your manuscript, they’ll find something new. It seems endless. But if you keep at it, you'll produce a superior product.

* Electrophotography, or xerography, is the science behind the digital presses that we design and manufacture at Kodak. You might recognize it more readily as the science behind copiers. It's the physics behind the toner, developer, imaging surfaces, and the hardware that delivers the copy when you push that green button.
Aaron's books can be found at:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Shannon Wallace's Diary

Kim Smith is the author of Avenging Angel, a 2008 release from Enspiren Press. If you want to know what has the main character Shannon Wallace so angsty, be sure to check out Avenging Angel soon!

Dear Diary,

Last night I dreamed of a death. Not just any old death either, a really bloody, mangly one. Dwayne says his granny always told him when someone dreams of a death it means there will be a birth. Ha! Not this girl. Maybe someone I know has gotten preggers and I am not aware of it yet, but it ain't me.

I told him we need some time away from South Lake. All this mess that has gone on is ruining the place. He handed me his camera and said, "Go take a walk. Get me some photos of something I can use." So I did.

Here's what South Lake looks like in the spring.

People are pretty God-fearing, even if murders do happen. More around me than anywhere.

Azaleas are hot yard art

and little bitty flowers pop up in every yard until someone runs a John Deere over them.

My favs are the azaleas though... definitely.

And that is my nature walk.

I sure hope Dwayne gets out of the shower soon. I am bored to tears and afraid to go into town alone. Although Aunt Til and Aunt Nan will be at the restaurant already, I am just a bundle of nerves. Maybe I will write more in here tonight.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Happy Hyphenate, by Jack Maeby

**Murder by 4** welcomes Jack Maeby, musician/writer to our guest forum. Jack recently authored the delightful mystery, THE THORAZINE MIRRORBALL. Read Aaron Lazar's review here on Midwest Book Review's, "Reviewer's Choice."
Jack Maeby grew up in upstate New York, where he began playing music professionally while in high school. At age 19, he signed a recording contract with a St. Louis-based record label. After a few years of touring the South and Midwest opening for acts such as The Doobie Brothers, Rod Stewart and Parliament/Funkadelic, Jack returned to Albany to back vocalist David Ward, a veteran of the King Curtis band. Through Ward, he was introduced to the late King Curtis' musical family, which included R&B legends Cornell DuPree, Gordon Edwards and Bernard Purdie.

Moving to New York in the 1980's, Maeby built a career playing piano and organ behind acts such as Etta James, Otis Rush and Lowell Fulson. He was a keyboardist with the Uptown Horns band, accompanying Aaron Neville, Buster Poindexter and many other name attractions on their New York appearances. Jack was a regular member of NY Jazz and Blues Society honoree Danny Draher's band, played regularly with avant-garde jazz artist Marc Ribot and toured Europe with guitarist Joe Taino.

During his time in New York, Maeby was composer and musical director for a number of Off Broadway theater productions at La Mama Etc., CSC Repertory and the McCarter Theater. He began composing for film and television, garnering a Clio nomination for Original Music Scoring. His motion picture and TV work includes the films "Scandal", Disney's "The Arabian Night" and "How the Toys Saved Christmas" and the long-running children's series, "The World of David the Gnome".

After re-locating to Los Angeles in the mid-90's, Maeby began writing fiction while touring Japan as musical director for a vocal group. He studied creative writing under novelist Claire Carmichael (aka Claire McNab) and was the recipient of a 2005 James Kirkwood Literary Award.

A Happy Hyphenate, by Jack Maeby

For every Janet Evanovich or Michael Connelly, there are probably at least 1000 published writers who make a living doing something other than writing, and I count myself among them. In the current climate of closing bookstores and diminishing reading habits, big advances are reserved for authors for whom commercial success is a given, leaving the rest of us to compete for the ever-dwindling disposable incomes of the reading public. Until we reach that pinnacle of accomplishment that comes with a place on the bestseller lists and a double digit Amazon ranking, we toil away at whatever it is we’ve been doing to make ends meet since the time before we became writers.

Am I complaining? Perhaps, although I have no right to do so. For most of my adult life, with the exception of a few years here and there, I’ve been a working musician. And in the times when I wasn’t actually performing music, I was usually doing something related to it. My self-image is that of a musician; I think and frequently talk in musical terms, and my books are about music and musicians. So - now that writing has found an equally important place in my creative life, I have evolved into a full-fledged “hyphenate”. Musician/Writer, Author/Instrumentalist, Jazzman/Wordsmith. (Actually “hyphenate” is not an accurate term, since the punctuation mark used to delineate double-taskers is called the slash or virgule. But “slasher” just won’t do, and “virgulate”??)

I’ve discovered that there are both advantages and disadvantages to being identified as a hyphenate. On the down side, there is a commonly held perception that the pursuit of one art must in some way diminish the other. I’ve listened as two musicians, who when discussing a third player who also happened practice medicine, summed up their evaluation by stating “he’s a doctor,” as if his career choice somehow prevented him from attaining master musician status, and excused his musical shortcomings in the same breath. Anyone who has ever reached a certain level of mastery in an art form knows how difficult that process is; therefore, the thinking goes, mastering more than one art must be almost impossible. We who dare try are looked upon with suspicion, if not dismissed outright as dilettantes, when we long to be appreciated as renaissance men and women.

On the other hand, hyphenates are frequently granted some latitude with regard to our abilities at either endeavor. He writes pretty well for a piano player. Hey, for a mystery writer, he didn’t sound too bad. Faint praise, perhaps, but praise, nonetheless. The best part is when one skill throws open a window of opportunity to engage in the other. I find that bookstores are far more open to having me read and sign books when they get the jazz thrown in for free.

For me, it’s necessary to fully embrace both sides of the hyphen/slash/virgule, to obsessively pursue both music and writing with equal vigor, in defiance of the perception that one must necessarily diminish the other. When I finish writing a novel or story, I want it to be evaluated using the same standards employed when judging any work of fiction, not by a lesser yardstick reserved for musicians who write. And when I improvise a bebop solo, I want it to be heard and appreciated for what it is, instead of being graded on a curve because of what I do when I’m not playing jazz.

I take inspiration from my wife, a published young adult novelist who puts at least as much of herself into teaching drama to inner-city public elementary school students as she does revising her manuscripts. When she’s signing copies of her books or working with her writing group, she’s a writer, but in the classroom, she’s Ms. Carol, the Drama Teacher.

Like her, I celebrate my hyphen, knowing that I am blessed to be able to be participate in more than one creative discipline. But even if my books were to start moving up the sales charts to the point where most of my time is spent on literary endeavors, I know that I will always be a musician/writer, and not the other way around. It’s who I am.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Getting Ready to Write

Write to Plan, Plan to Write
copyright kim smith 2008

Writing is like going through the corn maze at Halloween. You’ll find more twists and turns and dead ends than you’ll know what to do with. A good way to prepare for this journey called writing(and especially for mystery writers)is to write to plan, and plan to write.

In order for you to write to plan, you must have somewhere to begin, i.e. a plan. I suggest beginning with some characters. You’ve had the idea of the story for a while, right? You think you have a good one, but do you know who will be the actors for this idea? Who’s going to tell the story?

Here in no particular order is a small list of things to consider as you write notes about your character:

1. Is the main character male or female?
2. What little quirks does the main character have that sets him/her apart?
3. Is this character flawed? Meaning, no one is perfect, so don’t make a saint out of your character.
4. What kind of background does he/she come from? Our history shapes us, and that should not be any different for your story people.
5. Does the character have any special skills? Hobbies? Careers?

You can take this small list and enlarge it until you know everything there is to know about your character, and you should know everything. You should know whether he is a boxer or brief man, or she is a tea and scones sort of gal. You should know all the way down to whether his great-Aunt Linda had diabetes, or her favorite pastime is grooming poodles. This helps you convince the reader of the real-ness of this character, and that always aids the reader in getting swept away by your writing until they are inside your story, a part of it.

Although you want to know who your characters are and how they would react in any situation, this is not always a good thing to enlarge upon with sub-or minor characters. You don’t want that shoe store clerk to suddenly steal the show, or the gardener at the small shop on the corner to appear larger than life. Keep characters in their place, and place them where they need to be, with only the on-stage time given based on their status in the story. In short, don’t give a two paragraph character two pages instead.

Writing to plan is easier if you have some idea of who is telling the story. For instance, is the gas station attendant, who has been accused of murder, telling the story, or is it from the point of view of the amateur sleuth? Maybe you prefer a more procedural approach to the story, so you are seeing the action (and so is the reader) through the eyes of the detective? Any viewpoint person will do, but you should ensure it is the right one, because, the person who only shows up at the annual Christmas party wouldn’t be the best POV person for a crime committed sometime in June, if you know what I mean.

Likewise, you should set the parameters of your character’s abilities so that they match his/her position in the story. It would be unreasonable to believe that a teacher of high school history would be able to lift fingerprints if we didn’t know that the fellow was once a CSI. There too, the more we know about our story people, the more even our writing will be, and when our writing is flawless, our readers zip through the book.

Next week, maybe I will cover the plan to write aspect :)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

So, You Question The Value of A Critique?

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights

The first time I submitted SILENCED CRY for a critique, I did so knowing I had taken the story as far as I could. I also felt that it was in good shape and close to completion. But when I read the comments, I realized I was mistaken. My fellow authors found scads of errors and inconsistencies that resulted in cutting and adding chapters and several months of rewrites.

A solid critique provides the author an honest review with constructive feedback, offers valid suggestions to improve the work, provides examples, and offers a good dose of encouragement.

So when asked if I allow others to read my work in progress I respond with an emphatic, “Yes.” I rely on the experienced fresh pair of eyes to tell me if I have adequately developed my characters and the plot. Are the scenes and dialogue believable? Does the opening paragraph pull the reader in, or does it read like a bad diary entry? Does my narrative drag? Are the chapter endings page-turners or turn offs?

On occasion, I may disagree with a suggested change, but I consider each comment to understand what really bothered the reader. Someone else’s observation often reveals an amazing new perspective. An example of this was when a fellow author read the first few chapters of my current book, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (2008). I intended for my female character to be a strong-willed individual. She is driven, spunky, and the perfect counter balance to my male protagonist. Yet my critique partner interpreted the character’s actions as that of someone who is somewhat of a scatterbrain. Shock! To make matters worse, she couldn’t understand the character’s motivation. A double whammy!

My first reaction was to balk; I knew she was wrong. After reading through her comments several times, however, I decided to walk away from that scene for a few days and study it later from a reader’s point of view. Of course, she was right on target. The problem wasn’t the character though; it was me. I knew the character well. She is key to the plot and can’t be anything less than strong and assertive. I assumed the reader would pick up on her traits. But I had been so wrapped up in recording my thoughts that my mind raced ahead of the typing without taking time to develop the character as I should. Once I understood the problem, it was an easy fix, but I doubt I would have seen the omission without someone pointing it out. Whether it’s a matter of changing a few words or several paragraphs, the tweaking always strengthens the prose and occasionally spins the scene in an unexpected direction.

Be cautious of the reader who tends to rewrite your story or tries to change your writing style. That’s not the intent of a critique. No one knows the characters or the plot better than the author, therefore, the secret to accepting someone’s suggestions is to selectively “listen” and use only the valid information.

A bit about self-editing and what I keep in mind when I edit my work:
1. Don’t describe every detail about a character in the first paragraph. Allow the reader to engage his or her imagination and get to know them a little bit at a time. When we meet someone, we don’t learn everything about them in the first hour. Similarly, the character should come to life gradually through dialogue, actions, reactions, and through the eyes and words of the other characters.

2. For a tense scene that needs to show urgency use short, abrupt sentences. Don’t kill the suspense with flowery prose, exposition, or excessive internal dialogue.

3. Pace it. Dialogue speeds the prose. After a fast-paced section, slow things down and give the reader a breather through some carefully written narrative. Narration can be used as a transitional tool to get the reader from one scene to the next or when the prose needs to slow down. However, if not done correctly, the writer will risk turning the narration into information dump sites in which the he or she tells the reader all he or she needs to know. If the narration describes an important turn of events, convert it into a scene between characters. Remember that dialogue is far more interesting and engages the reader’s emotions rather than the intellect.

4. Show don’t tell. Two of my favorite quotes to drive this home are:
"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." Chekhov

"Don't tell me about the tragedies of war; show me the child's shoe discarded by the side of the road." author unknown

Need I say more?

5. Don’t let the characters’ dialogue turn into exposition; when a character speaks for the sake of informing the reader.

6. Separate one character’s words and actions from another character through paragraph breaks. No exceptions.

7. Dialogue attribution—stick to “said” written after the proper noun or pronoun. If the character is excited, show it through his or her words and actions, not the attribution.

8. Replace tags with beats as an alternate way to vary the dialogue and show action. “Tom where’s Hank?” She lowered her gaze to the dark red stain sprayed across the front of his shirt. “How could you?”

9. Look for repetition of words or information to avoid redundancy. If you’ve communicated the information well, once should be enough. When the reader needs to be reminded of an event that happened several chapters before, find a fresh way to relay the information.

10. Get rid of attribute adverbs, “ly” words, that tell the reader how the character said something and replace them with action verb. Instead of: “He angrily punched the pillow.” Try: “He slammed a fist into the pillow.”

11. Avoid “ing” words. Make it active. Instead of: “He was walking to the store.” Try: “He walked to the store.”

12. Know when to end your chapter. You’ve written a great chapter, you’ve come up with a fantastic twist for a page-turning ending. You’re certain it will shove the reader to the edge of the chair while he or she turns the page. Don’t ruin the suspense by writing two or three more paragraphs explaining how the character feels. The reader doesn’t need, or care at this point, what the character does next. If you have to explain it, rewrite it.

Writing is an on-going learning process and the critique is an excellent way for an author to know if he or she is on track. Don’t accept rude or cruel comments, but to expect anything less than an honest, straightforward, and constructive critique, is a waste of everyone’s time.

Experience has changed my attitude toward and expectations of a critique. Initially, I looked to others for encouragement. Now I question the light critique that doesn’t catch the inconsistencies, point out technical problems, or question a character’s motives. I’m no less sensitive or thicker-skinned than I was before. A harsh critique can still be as painful as a swift kick in the shins, but my focus is on pushing my writing to the next level. Although the occasional pat on the back feels great, an honest critique is the only way to advance the skill.

Marta Stephens Stephens is a member of Sisters in Crime International, Sisters in Crime Speed City Indiana Chapter, and the Midwest Writer's Workshop. She resides in Indiana with her husband, two grown children and pet Boston Bulls.

SILENCED CRY (2007) Autographed copies available via my website.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I'm out of words today...

So I borrowed a few from other writers. Enjoy!


The free-lance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps. - Robert Benchley

The works of the great masters are like wine. But everyone drinks water. – Mark Twain

We are all apprentices in a craft in which no one ever becomes a master. – Ernest Hemingway

There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. ~Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ~Ray Bradbury

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. ~E.L. Doctorow

Easy reading is damn hard writing. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster. ~Isaac Asimov

Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum. ~Graycie Harmon

If I don't write to empty my mind, I go mad. ~Lord Byron

Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves. Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake. ~E.L. Doctorow

Authors and lovers always suffer some infatuation, from which only absence can set them free. ~Samuel Johnson

It is impossible to discourage the real writers - they don't give a damn what you say, they're going to write. ~Sinclair Lewis

Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself. ~Franz Kafka

The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes. ~André Gide, Journals, 1894

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. ~George Orwell

I want to write books that unlock the traffic jam in everybody's head. ~John Updike

Monday, April 14, 2008

Crafting A Seamless Romantic Suspense Thriller

By E. J. RandAs most writers, E. J. Rand has spent a lifetime working in fields other than fiction writing. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, his work experience was in upper management at both a management consulting firm and in public relations. Rand writes mystery thrillers; his debut novel, SAY GOODBYE, won the Deadly Ink Press’ David G. Sasher, Sr. Best Unpublished Thriller Novel Award.

At you'll find information and sample text from SAY GOODBYE, from the next book in his Reluctant Sleuth Mystery series, PERFECT COVER which is due from Deadly Ink Press in December, and from the third novel in the series, HIGHER CALLING. Rand is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. Rand lives with his wife in New Jersey.

When retirement offered time, I took up writing as I'd always intended. What did I want to write? First, I read mystery books like I was speed dating. There were classes, writers' conferences, and a tidal wave of Internet advice—authors are delighted to tell you how-to. So many of us want to write that an audience is guaranteed.

What I did finally write came as much of a surprise as my winning Deadly Ink Press' award and selling my first novel, SAY GOODBYE. The second in my Reluctant Sleuth Mystery series, PERFECT COVER, is slated for December 2008 publication. I've completed a third novel in the series and I'm writing a fourth, so newbie that I am, now I too can officially address how-to.

Before gluing fingers to keyboard, the "What did I want to write?" question yielded this: If the intent is to have readers buy it, then it needs to be targeted to those who read, and that means adults. So I opted to write about a mature guy—no super hero—who'd lost his wife. Much is made of a story's "inciting incident," the event that immediately draws in the reader. Well, authors have them, too. Here is mine: a snowy morning, me out in a robe bringing in the newspaper when a neighbor drives by on his way to work, and waves—I might have frozen solid from the idea in my head. He could be an auditor who in a one-page prologue gets killed on the way to work.

That started my fingers. I intended to write a murder mystery, but also found a deep love story pouring out. We find my dysfunctional hero on the morning he's roped into becoming an amateur sleuth and meets his second chance at love. Right from the get-go, the two threads churned in my head. My Gary and Becca are each grappling with two forms of conflict: the mystery, and each other. What's a writer to do?

I read the rules for romance, for mystery, and for romantic suspense novels. Top-level authors admit these are guidelines—anything goes that works. What I've found: grafting genres must start right from a story's DNA. In story design, plotting, creating characters, crafting emotions and actions—the romance and murder must be inseparable. Every kiss moves the mystery; the villain's thrusts bond the lovers. Mortal danger makes the earth move. Crises cause epiphanies.

At one panel I attended, when the subject of "plotting" arose, six authors of note were asked what prep work they did before starting to write. The answers ranged from "thirty pages of dense notes" to "the-characters-talk-to-me-and-my-fingers-move." Literally. That's telling. I relaxed, and began to wake at night with scenes rolling like video in my head. So, no "rules"—I'd rather offer examples of what worked for me, and might for you.

I had my main characters meet early, and in a way that ties each to a piece of the mystery. Gary is asked to look into his friend's death by the widow and Becca is witness to the car crash that killed the man. That allows the romance and suspense to unfold together.

Romantic suspense calls for a short timeline as emotions and events build into increasing waves of danger. In SAY GOODBYE, I crafted two characters that have never met but are predisposed to one another. She "zaps" him, coming from being burned by men; he understands, coming from loss. This, plus mortal danger causing them to lean on one another, allows swift bonding. Without the mortal danger, that's what happened between my wife and I, and I'm grateful. Mystery-reader critics may question the pace, but most, especially romance readers, will get it.

When Gary and Becca first meet, reflective of the baggage grown-ups can bring to new relationships, he's wearing a wedding band to preserve memories, and she's wearing one as a defense against men. She's feisty—a good thing for the love interest in romantic suspense (think Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly, two charmers who could cut you dead with a look or word)—and says "no" to sex before she's asked: Sexual tension before even innuendo. He's still communing with his late wife. How to turn this into plot fodder? How about the killer, uneasy at finding them together, decides to warn him off by attacking her.

So the very fact of their relationship causes escalation in the mystery. It took a lot to get them to a first kiss—but that's what gets us into the killer's head. The reader, offered hope for the romance, is yanked back. At the same time, because the killer saw their kiss, he knows they may be together for reasons not dangerous to him, and so—for the moment—his intent is warning, not murder. That comes later. The killer can't know his action will infuriate Gary and cause a short war that powers the plot. Just look what a kiss can do.

In every good work of fiction, there's a basic premise that cuts to the heart of the story. You'll need to know your own premise if you hope to interest a literary agent. In SAY GOODBYE, it's "Can He Say Goodbye Again?" Falling for Becca allows Gary to say goodbye to his late wife, and when the killer comes for him but takes her, he may have to. The story builds to that.

I've read that the love scene, the melding of these two people who meet so awkwardly and tiptoe through such difficulty, should be the final ending of the story. Nonsense. The sex chapter that Gary and Becca dictated to me—they held hands in my office while I wrote it—comes on page 195 of a 250-page book. Consummating their love for one another, moving into the bonding emotions beyond sex, deepens Gary's horror—and the reader's—when she's taken. Getting into other heads in the story is useful—the reader knows the villain's evil intent. He's just the man to do it, too.

With that single act, the twined threads of "will they fall for one another" (the romance), and "can he get to the bottom of his friend's death" (the mystery), warp into—Can They Stay Alive. Romantic Suspense is morphed into a Thriller. We've come to know these people, we've gloried in their finding one another—and now we discover their time together was simply a "breather," and the stakes have been reset impossibly high.

It's the "black point," and it forces Gary to make a choice. Can he say goodbye? If not, how far is he willing to go? This leads to what seems an ending—until it twists into another black hole. After all this, no way could I disappoint the reader, although my heroes, stir-fried in risk, never seem to get away clean. They wind up alone, and fresh from being saved, feisty Becca tells him that in future, they'll take care of each other.

She's right. Miss Marple and Poirot stay essentially the same, book after book, but I'm married and know better. People evolve. In SAY GOODBYE, Gary and Becca's uncomfortable first meetings turn into understanding, affection, passion—and by novel three, she's become not only the food police, but also a full partner. Just like real life.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Message from Gus LeGarde

Welcome, dear readers.

Aaron asked me to write this introduction. I must say, it feels a bit strange knowing you may read about the private and most painful aspects of my life.

In Double Forté, you’ll learn about my first love, Elsbeth, who died in a manner most unfitting such an ethereal and fiery spirit. I still picture her brooding eyes and delicate fingers each time I play a Chopin mazurka. She shouldn’t have died so young. She shouldn’t have died at all.

You’ll experience my childhood summers in Maine, through Tremolo, and the mystery of the missing little girl who haunted my dreams. Though I dearly loved Loon Harbor and the camp my grandparents ran on the lake, 1964 was a most challenging summer.

Now my life is out there–literally an open book–ready to be celebrated or ridiculed by millions of strangers. You’ll know what feasts I cook for my family, what variety of beets I grow in the garden, what games I play with my grandchildren, and how nuts I am about my dog.

You’ll watch me chase villains through the wintry woods and rescue a mute child from an icy hillside. You’ll hop back in time to my days in Boston, where I wrote the musical "Spirit Me Away," showcased in Upstaged. You’ll feel my pain when I recount the days just before my father died. And you’ll peek into my hotel room in Paris when I consummate my second marriage.

It’s pretty scary.

Should I have let Aaron write these books?

He convinced me that in addition to providing literary amusement, it would also set a great example for mankind. That in the face of the media explosion of sex and violence, folks craved wholesome entertainment. They wanted to be reminded how to nurture one’s family, be one with nature, live for the greater good, and stand up to evil.

Was he right?

I don’t know. But he says he gets lots of fan mail at aaron.lazar at He tells me the ladies want to marry me. And that some of the guys have written to thank him for reminding them about the importance of stopping corporate madness to spend time with a child or to take walks in the woods with their dog. And I guess they all get a bit of a thrill from all the chase scenes.

Folks stop me in the market and ask if Aaron embellishes the stories to make them sell. I have to admit that he does–just a little–my house really isn’t as clean as he portrays it. And sometimes dirty clothes reach for the ceiling in the laundry room. Mrs. Pierce tries her best, but we are a very lively and messy family.

Well, Johnny’s calling me to help him catch fireflies. I can’t disappoint him.

If you’re interested in buying some of Aaron’s mysteries, you can order them online or at your local bookstore, or drop him a line. He keeps boxes of them around the house, too, and loves to autograph them to send to readers. And he’s a real ham. So if you have a book club or library event that needs a literary guest, contact him. He really gets into it.

God Bless,

Gus LeGarde


Read Excerpts from Gus LeGarde mysteries:

and the first in the Sam Moore, green marble series:

Three books featured above are available for purchase. Healey's Cave (the first in the paranormal mystery series featuring Sam Moore) and Mazurka are in the final stages of publishing and should be available by summer 2008. There are also seven additional books, either in the publishing queue or with available rights.

And remember, take pleasure in the little things. Listen to the details: the crackle of the woodstove as it cools, the soft rustle of grass beneath your feet, the whisper of breath when a baby sighs in sleep... Absorb the beauty around you, whether it's the flash of love in an old woman's eye, or the fragile petal of a tiny orange cinquefoil. Let them sink into your soul, for they will provide untold comfort in the years to come.

- Aaron Paul Lazar

Friday, April 11, 2008

What to Write? What to Write? What to Write?

by Peter Clenott author of HUNT THE KING

Surely this is a question that has gone through most unpublished writers’ minds when they are in pursuit of an agent or a publisher. Do I write a mystery? Should I throw down the gauntlet at Stephen King and write a horror tale? How about science fiction or the next Harry Potter?

People in the know advise to look at what’s on the best-seller lists, what’s hot, what’s in. The problem for me has always been that, by the time I tried to write what was hot or in, the subject was no longer hot or in. I’m still on Shakespeare while the rest of the world has gone on to Diablo What’s-her-name. I figured, as well, every other budding author is doing the same thing I am. Looking at Dean Koontz’s success or John Grisham’s and trying to follow down their golden paths. But you can’t. Because everyone else is going down that same well-worn path. How do you separate yourself from the crowd? How do you make yourself stand out so that an agent or publisher will choose you over the multitude? Not without a great deal of difficulty, obviously.

Other people suggest, ‘Write what you know.’ Well, okay. Except, what I knew bored me. Why do I want to write about things in my life? That’s why I write. To get away from those things.

Having dispensed with that thoughtful bit of advice, I chose to go my own way. Write whatever interests me at the moment. No matter what. If it’s not best-seller material, so what? If I’m talented enough, surely some agent or publisher will recognize my genius and scoop me up in a chariot filled with royalty checks.

So, here’s what I wrote about:

PAN DORA ISLAND: Chimps in the wild taught how to use sign language by a madman. When the madman commits suicide, the chimpanzees are left to evolve with this newfound skill of communicating with words.

LIGEIA: A studious slave teams up with her favorite author, Edgar Allan Poe, to uncover the killer of President Zachary Taylor.

GOSPEL OF HANNANIAH: The ‘autobiography” of Jesus’ illegitimate daughter.

PRETTY IN PINSK: Two CIA operatives start a dating service in post Cold War Russia.

You get the idea. Eclectic. Don’t pin me down to any genre. Distinctive. And this is only the tip of the creative iceberg.

Where did it get me? Back to looking up what was on the best seller lists.

Ultimately, I drew this conclusion: you have to write what gives you joy, no matter what the consequences. You have to love the characters you give life to and the worlds they inhabit. Writing has to give you pleasure. You have to long to be in the places where your writing takes you. If it’s not good enough for publishing houses or agencies, so be it. I don’t think you can write a good publishable novel if you are not enjoying the experience. Many published authors who write series or stay within a particular genre run out of juice, and their novels, while published, even successful, are no longer particularly good.

So, I went back to the drawing board, which in the old days was a lined notebook and a portable typewriter. In the early 1990s I read an article in the Boston Globe in which a prelate of the Catholic church stated he had the right and power to deny congregants access to God if they belonged to organizations he disapproved of. In other words, he was going to deny members of the Church access to the sacraments, the rites and rituals of the Church if they were pro-choice. That was when I decided to write TRACES OF A LIFE, the precursor to my debut novel, HUNTING THE KING.

TRACES concerns an archaeologist, Molly O’Dwyer, who is a passionate seeker of knowledge but who remains at the same time a loyal observant Catholic. Her mother had been a pagan but died when Molly was a child. Molly was then practically raised on the campus of the Jesuit institution where her mother had taught. Her conflict throughout both TRACES and HUNTING is that of an intelligent being who questions her organized religion when it comes into conflict with her own morality. In TRACES, Molly is assigned to a dig on a Boston harbor island and there, coincidentally, begins to uncover the truth about her own past and what her mother was doing in defiance of the Church and common law. In short, I decided to write a mystery with an important moral spine. I wanted to challenge the Church and the arrogant position of those who felt they could deny people God because they had a degree in theology and a position of political power within the Church.

At the time, by coincidence, I had an agent. And she wasn’t from Arkansas either. Not that there’s anything wrong with Arkansas. I had an agent from there once, too. In fact, at one time or another I’ve had four agents, all from different states. This particular agent was a New York agent, so I was excited for the first time in many years that my novel, TRACES, might actually be sold. Only it wasn’t. My agent quit. She was so frustrated by the publishing business that she decided she wasn’t going to represent fiction anymore.

Bereft and alone again naturally, I returned in my own frustration to the Best Seller list. DA VINCI CODE happened to be the hot thing at the time, so I took my lovely red-haired archaeologist Molly O’Dwyer and sent her on an expedition into war-torn Iraq in search of the remains of Jesus. I figured, surely this can’t miss.

Well, surely it can and surely it did. For two years, during which time I wrote two more novels, all the while sending out that all too familiar deluge of letters to agents around the globe. I wrote an anti-war novel aimed at Bush/Cheney, THEY WERE CALLED TO DUTY, and a sure-to-reach Oprah novel called ALBERTVILLE.

Letters went out. Letters went unanswered. Same old story. No one wanted anything that I wrote, no matter what genre I wrote in. Finally, luck stepped in like a swaggering pimp in a Blaxploitation flick. I found Kunati Books on a web site called FirstWriter. Sick and tired of agents, cynical about the book business in the US, I searched for a publisher or an agent in Canada that might be more amenable to what I was trying to do. I hit on Kunati. They were looking for cutting edge fiction, page-turners that had the feel of a Hollywood film to them. I knew right away what I was going to send them. Molly O’Dwyer in Iraq. This happened in late March of 2007. In August Kunati’s publisher Derek Armstrong contacted me by email and offered me a contract. I had been writing for 34 years.

So, what to write? My experience may be unusual. At least, I hope it is. Maybe I did things all wrong, I don’t know. I still say you have to write what is in you to write. Not what you know, but what matters to you. If I hadn’t stumbled upon Kunati Books, I would still be floundering to this day. I’m convinced of it. But if HUNTING THE KING doesn’t do well and Kunati doesn’t offer me a contract on a second novel, I will persevere. I always have. And I will continue to write what matters to me. Next up: COMRADE LOLITA. Via con dios.

Peter is a native of Portland, Maine and graduated from Bowdoin College with a degree in history. After living abroad in South Africa for a while, he settled in Boston and worked most of his life in the non-profit world with homeless or at-risk families, trying to find secue afforable housing for them. He has been writing since he graduated Bowdoin and has written dozens of novels and screenplays. HUNTING THE KING is his first published novel. He is currently working on ALBERTVILLE, the story of a young black woman who leaves Alabama to join the US State Department in the newly independent Congo in 1960.