Thursday, July 31, 2008

To Query To Query, Jiggidy Jig

Query letters and what they should hold are an eternal discussion within groups of writers. And well they should be as they may spell the success or failure of your novel.

Here are five things to remember about your query letter :

1. Start off with a hook in the first paragraph, but don’t ask a question as that sometimes annoys an agent.
2. Have your letter body only be about three paragraphs -keep it short and simple (KISS)
3. Use concise wording- agents have very little time and want you to get to the point
4. Don’t waste space and their time by telling them how great the book is or how great you are, let them find out for themselves
5. Present the query in the most professional manner possible, after all this is a business letter- find out the proper person to send it to, and address it to them. Dear agent is not acceptable.

Maybe some of our published authors on MB4 will find time to share what has worked and not worked for them as they queried their books. It’s helpful to know what an agent is looking for before subbing, so try some sites like for getting all your facts straight.

Information that may help you:

Google is your friend. Use it to find out info about your dream agent. There are a lot of scams out there, so be wise.
Make sure the agent you’re subbing to handles your particular brand of work. Not a good idea to send a non-fiction book to an agent who doesn’t represent it. Not entirely bad, as they may make mention of someone they know of who might be interested, but as a general rule, don’t do this.
Double-check spelling and punctuation for your query letter. Nothing like making a good impression on the simple stuff and you would be amazed at how many people submit queries with misspelled words.
Remember that agents receive hundreds of subs a day. Rise to the top of the pile by doing everything you can to make yours better than the next one.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Q/A's that made me think

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

I just finished answering the questions to the third interview this month. I enjoy giving interviews and yes, even though the goal is to get some added exposure for my books, what I like most about them is that sometimes the questions force me to think about a process or to put a feeling or belief that I hadn't vocalized into words.

One such question was asked a few months after my first book, SILENCED CRY, was released. How much of me is in my book?

I can safely say that I’ve never dealt in drugs, never killed anyone, I was never arrested, and I’ve never worked in law enforcement. Still, I can’t imagine a writer not bleeding a little bit into their books with what I’d call human experiences; grief, anger, joy, fear, resentment, worry, suspicion—everyone can relate to those feelings. I dug deep into my own emotions in order to understand how and why my characters acted and reacted the way they did in SILENCED CRY. At times, it took some doing to step into the antagonists’ skin and to look at the world from their perspective. I think there’s something to be said about the writer’s belief system too and how it affects the plot and the characters’ behaviors. As much as I tried to step back away from my own viewpoint, I think a part of me snuck in between the lines.

Another question had to do with starting a writing career in my 50's. Turning 50 was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. Let's face it, ladies, we all know what our 20's were about -- hair, make-up, cloth, dating, and friends. But under that happy go lucky dispositon the pressure was always on. Possibly some leftover anxiety from our teens--the need to be accepted. Wedding bells rang at 25 and before I knew it, life had slipped me into the blurred years--my 30's. A time for raising children, home improvements, PTA meetings, science projects, and house breaking pets. My 40's weren't much different. Our children's outings and toys got a lot more expensive and somewhere in there I nursed a career and got a degree. So the best way I can explain how I felt when I hit the big 5-0 is to imagine holding your breath under water until your lungs feel as if they could burst then rushing up for that first gulp of air. It was finally time for me which of course led to my writing.

So what would I say to other baby boomers interested in pursuing a dream? Go for it! No matter how small, large, or unattainable the dream may seem, it’s always within reach if you want it badly enough. People can find a million and one excuses for why they haven’t accomplish a goal—age shouldn’t be one of them.

Go on, crawl out of that comfort zone, feel the edge of an uncharted path beneath you feet, and move forward. Life is a series of stepping stones, each leading to a new challenge and the next level of development. The jagged edge that trips some people is the fear of the unknown. “Should I stop while I’m ahead, or move on?” Regardless of the decision, twelve months from now you’ll be a year older. The question is, will you be a year older and adding to your list of excuses or will you be on your way to living a dream?

* * *

Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. SILENCED CRY is available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.

Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival
Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

Look for THE DEVIL CAN WAIT in the fall, 2008.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Writers Helping Writers and The Book Promotion Idea of the Century

© Karen Dionne 2008 all rights reserved

“Writers Helping Writers” is the unofficial slogan of the Internet-based writers organization I co-founded four years ago called Backspace. It’s a good tagline, because Backspace members are an extraordinarily supportive group. Besides answering questions at the discussion forums, they turn each others’ books face-out at bookstores, blog about them, buy them as gifts, recommend them to friends. And because we’re currently over 800 strong with members living in a dozen countries, that’s a significant sales force.

Backspace members do this because they understand a key truth about the publishing business: Writers are not in competition with one another.

We've all seen the fast-food strips lining major highways on the outskirts of cities. To a hungry driver, it might seem as though the restaurants are competing for the chance to fill his stomach. But restaurant owners know the clustering is good for business. Offer people a choice, and they're more likely to buy.

It's the same with books. Authors understand that all those volumes lining bookstore shelves are actually helping each other. The more books each author sells individually, the stronger the book-buying market becomes for everyone.

Aspiring authors sometimes think if they could only get published, everything would be smooth sailing. The truth is, staying published is the greater challenge. Publishers have a finite amount to spend on marketing, and the bulk of their promotional dollars go to best-selling authors. Literary agencies hire full-time publicists to take up the slack. Authors with small presses are at an even bigger disadvantage.

One of the hardest things for any new author to get is real-world exposure. For the majority, there are no tours except what they put together on their own. It takes time to build an audience and become a bookstore draw; yet when they're new is when this kind of exposure could help the most.

I’m one of the lucky ones: My novel is getting more than the usual amount of publisher support. Still, there’s not going to be a book tour.

Instead, with the help of Backspace members, I’m sending my book on tour without me. I mailed a dozen arcs to Backspace members living in far-flung parts, they took pictures of themselves reading my novel, and I posted them to my hyperbolically named “The FREEZING POINT Pre-Publication World Book Tour” blog, along with an invitation to readers to write to my publisher for a free advance reader copy and join the tour.

It’s fun to think of my novel making its way around the world in this manner, even though the impact on sales is likely to be just a ripple.

But recently at ThrillerFest, J.T. Ellison shared an idea that’s so powerful, if authors put it into practice, it could make an impressive splash.

J.T. is the author of the Taylor Jackson thriller series for Mira Books, and was one of the co-founders of Killer Year, helping the International Thriller Writers debut novelists of 2007 reach a new audience. Her debut novel, ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS, is being reissued alongside her second effort, 14, September 1, 2008. JUDAS KISS will be released in January 2009, and she’s just signed a new deal for an additional three books in the series, bring the total under contract to six.

By all measures, she’s doing well. And yet J.T. told me that every time she does a real-world signing or event, she brings along another author's book. At the end of her talk, she shows the book to the audience, and gives it a plug.

The idea is staggering. Simple, yet potentially, incredibly powerful. Imagine the impact if every touring author did the same.

The best part is that her effort doesn't take anything away from her own signing; in fact, it adds to it by making her look like the giving, generous person she really is.

J.T. told me she got the idea from Lee Child, who took a newer author, Cornelia Read, along with him last year on his book tour. She also told me another established author, Jim Born, once acknowledged her and her author friend when they were in the audience at one of his talks, and her book sales jumped. “It was so kind and gracious,” she wrote, “that I just got caught up with the whole idea of paying it forward.”

Now thanks to J.T., this fall, FREEZING POINT really IS going on tour.

“Paying it forward.” “Writers Helping Writers.” Whatever you call it, it costs nothing, makes everyone feel good – and it sells books!

* * *

Detroit native Karen Dionne dropped out of the University of Michigan in the 1970s and moved to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula wilderness with her husband and infant daughter as part of the back-to-the-land movement. During the next thirty winters, her indoor pursuits included stained glass, weaving, and constructing N-scale model train layouts.

Eventually, her creative interests turned to writing. Karen’s short stories have appeared in Bathtub Gin, The Adirondack Review, Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine and Thought Magazine. She worked as Senior Fiction Editor for NFG, a print literary journal out of Toronto, Canada, before founding Backspace, an Internet-based writers organization with over 800 members in a dozen countries.

Karen is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Mystery Writers of America, and the International Thriller Writers. She and her husband live in Detroit’s northern suburbs. FREEZING POINT (October 2, 2008 from Berkley) is her first novel.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Live Reading from TREMOLO - looking for feedback

Good morning, friends and writers,

Well, it wasn't that hard after all. With help from my insightful friends on (thanks, everyone!), I figured out how to record an MP3 file. I actually shocked myself, because it was much easier than I'd anticipated.

If you'd like to listen to yours truly reading from TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON, please click below on the photo.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Does this entice you to want to know more? Was it a good selection? Would you consider buying the entire audio file if I took the month it would require to record the whole book?

Just curious, it's another way to share with my readers and even though it is time consuming, it thrilled me to know that the way the words sound in my head when writing, could actually be heard in your head in the same manner. LOL. Too cool.
Of course, I know this doesn't replace the pure act of reading. Lots of folks (myself included) just prefer that method of absorbing a book.

If you haven't read the book and would like to get to know Gus LeGarde and his world, please stop by my website here or take a visit to my publisher's site, here.

And as always, thanks for your support. For those of you who love to write, remember to write like the wind!

- Aaron

Friday, July 25, 2008

Marketing vs. Connecting

© JD Rhoades 2008 all rights reserved

First off, thanks to Marta and the crew here at Murder by 4 for inviting me to sit in. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with y'all.

When they find out you have a new book out, one of the first things people ask is, “Are you going to do a book tour?” Well, no. The traditional “fly into town, get driven to the bookstore, read a little, talk a little, then sit n’ sign,” doesn’t work all that well for an author who’s not already a brand name. In fact, more often than not when you do that as an author trying to break out, you end up with what I call a “Hare Krishna Signing.” A HKS is one where people pass by the strange guy reading out loud to a bunch of empty chairs, walking very fast with their eyes averted, as if you were dancing in a robe asking for spare change. It’s an experience that teaches you humility, you betcha. Besides, if you're an author trying to break out, there's likely no money from the publisher for that sort of thing.

So what do we do? We spend a lot of hours and blog-time talking about how to market to potential readers. We talk newsletters, websites, conferences, etc.

Recently, though, I saw a fascinating and short talk by a professor named Clay Shirky, who had a lot of interesting things to say about changes in the way people react to media. Shirky asserts that while 20th century media was about "we produce, you consume," media in the 21st century is more about "three different events. People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share."

He tells the story of a friend who had just brought home a new big screen TV. The friend's four year old daughter sat and watched for a moment, then hopped up, ran over to the TV and started poking around in back of it. They asked what she was doing, and she said "I'm looking for the mouse." The lesson, Shirky said, is that to the current generation, "a screen that ships without a mouse ships broken."

That sentence--"a screen that ships without a mouse ships broken"--jolted me. It made me realize something that has always been lurking in the back of my mind, something that always made me vaguely uncomfortable when doing traditional "marketing": Most people don't like being marketed to. But they don't mind interacting.

This point also came home to me when I did an experiment on my blog and on my Facebook group, JD. Rhoades' Gang of Hellions. I've been writing a book about people trapped on an island in a hurricane. Never having been through one myself, I wanted to know what it was like. So I put the word out: tell me your hurricane stories. And I got dozens of them, some of which found their way into the book.

Now, will these people buy STORM SURGE (the working title of the WIP) when it comes out? Will they buy BREAKING COVER, my current release? Maybe, maybe not. But they know about it and they know my name. I realized, after the survey was done, that it could be considered marketing, because it got my name and the names of my books out.

But that wasn't the purpose. It didn't feel like marketing. It felt like a conversation. It was connecting with readers. And it was fun.

A friend of mine, Raleigh, NC writer Stacey Cochran , has been running a series of talks on "How to Publish a Book, How to Get a Literary Agent." I've had the honor of appearing at several of these with another good friend, paranormal suspense writer Alex Sokoloff. People, especially aspiring writers, pack the house for these things. I'm talking not just standing room only, I'm talking out the door and straining to hear from the next room. And they're an eager, motivated audience; we barely get started before the Q & A begins. And when it's over, we sell books, more, in many cases, than I've sold at traditional signings. Because we're not marketing to people, we're connecting with them. And it's fun.

Blogs are another way to interact, because most of them give readers a chance to respond in the comments. The best blogs, I've found, capitalize on that interactivity by making sure that posts end with a topic for discussion. The best example I can think of is Laura Lippman' s excellent blog The Memory Project , which also invites people to tell their stories and share their reminiscences.

So....let's get interactive. Writers, let's kick around ideas about how we can get away from the idea of 'marketing' as it's been done, i.e., talking at readers, and instead think of it as connecting with people. Readers, chime in. What do you want to say to writers you read (or in whom you're interested) about interaction? What do you want to see more of? What would you just as well do without?

Talk to me.

* * *
Bio: J.D. Rhoades is the author of BREAKING COVER, published in July 2008 by St. Martin's/Minotaur, and the Jack Keller series of thriller novels: THE DEVIL'S RIGHT HAND, GOOD DAY IN HELL, and SAFE AND SOUND, also from St. Martin 's. He was born and raised in North Carolina and has worked as a radio news reporter, club DJ, television cameraman, ad salesman, waiter, trial attorney, and newspaper columnist. His weekly column in the Southern Pines, North Carolina Pilot was named best column of the year in its division for 2005. He currently lives, writes, and practices law in the small town of Carthage, North Carolina.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

But I didn't really mean....

Have you ever been misunderstood? As in you say something, and someone takes it totally wrong? I had one of those moments in a writing exercise a few months back. Here is what happened and how my two zany characters, Shannon Wallace and Dwayne Brown communicate. Or... not.

Use these words in a piece: viper, tomatoes, chocolate syrup,
Crocs (the shoes) and a nail file.

It wasn’t just the chocolate syrup that led me into the small alcove we called a kitchen, although the sweet, sticky mess certainly sent my radar into overtime. No, it was the trail of ants that followed the thin, black line of dark gooey stuff that really set me off to the chase.

“Oh good Lord! Dwayne!”

He groaned loudly from the other room. I heard him even from where I stood contemplating insecticide murder.

“What?” He said it a little nastier than I wanted to hear.

“Don’t what me! You left this mess, now come in here and clean it up. You viper, you.”

“What mess?” His Crocs, those hard plastic shoes that I think are the ugliest things around, scraped on the laminate flooring as he shuffled to where I was. He saw what I was looking at and sniffed. “Oh, that mess.” He bit into a red ripe tomato, eating it as though it were and apple. "Hm."

“Hm? Hm, my foot. There must be a million, thanks to you,” I said, grabbing the Raid can. “I promise, if this crap continues, we are so moving. We must have every ant in the universe.”

He watched, amazed, as I annihilated an entire generation of ants. “Um. We can’t move. Our rent is too cheap here.”

I didn’t bother answering. He was right, of course. But I was beginning to hate the antique fixtures, and crumbling paint, paper, and crusty carpet. He took paper towels into the washroom, dampened them and began the task of wiping up syrup, ants, and other germs that I didn’t want to put a name to. "Well, if one of us wasn't such a slob. . . "

I glared at him, even though I knew it was his way of saying he was sorry. “So what was that lady in here about?” I asked.

“Needs videographers to film her son’s soccer game.”

“Are we hired yet?”

“I guess. She has to get the amount approved by her husband or something first,” he said, taking the paper towels to the garbage.

“Did you give her a deadline?”

He returned with fresh ones. I noticed a small stream of sweat across his brow. “No, Wall-ass. She don’t need no deadline. She’ll call back if she’s interested.”

I shrugged and went back to my desk. There were plenty of other things to do while we waited on her or any other potential client. I was elbow deep in previewing footage from a wedding we had shot recently. The lighting had been especially terrible and I worried about whether we had gotten the shots the bride had requested. If the shot was too dark, she might be a little miffed and balk at paying her balance. Some women were truly monsters in white wedding garb.

While the seating of the grandparents went on, I grabbed my nail file and began to clean under my nails, glancing at the monitor every so often. A man with one of the elderly women followed slowly behind her. His face was as red as a tomato, and I wondered what sort of health problem he had. “Going to give himself a good case of stroke here in a minute,” I mumbled.

“You would too if you had to clean up this mess,” Dwayne mumbled back.

I couldn’t contain the laughter that bubbled out. Sometimes he had impeccable timing.

Weeding out Ideas, 5 Ways to Get Started by Fran Shaff

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

Aside from cross promoting our works, one of the wonderful benefits about networking are the people we meet along the way and the path where they may lead us. One of my favorite things to do is to read what those in my network are posting. Fran Shaff is one of the many talents whose blogs I enjoy reading. She’s offered countless great pieces of advice for writers and I'm very pleased to have her permission to reprint one of her recent posts here in MURDER BY 4.

* * *
Writers sometimes find themselves with tons of ideas for new novels. In my opinion, better to have too many ideas than not enough.

When we writers are blessed with the "burden" of more ideas than we can handle, it is up to us to choose which ideas we'll develop and which we'll set aside.

So how does a writer determine which premises should be turned into books? A number of factors enter into this decision. Below I've mentioned five specific factors.

1. Is your premise appropriate to the genre in which you wish to write?
Readers of the various genres expect certain kinds of books when they choose a genre or sub genre for their reading enjoyment. Publishers know this. The writer who wants to write a love story in which the hero dies, should not expect to be published in the Romance Genre where it is required that all endings are happy ones. His premise with the sad ending would be better suited to mainstream fiction or perhaps mystery, sci fi or horror if the rest of his story fit into of those genres.

2. Does the premise have broad appeal?
Reader appeal may be due to the characters or the plot or both. The narrower the focus of the story, the fewer the readers.

3. Is the idea high concept?
A story that is high concept also has broad appeal. If terrorists invade an international summit where the fate of the world is at stake, or if a hurricane is moving in on the site of the summer Olympics, the idea is high concept, has broad appeal and fits into the next question as well because these ideas rouse readers' interest. A well-developed plot and compelling characters will hold reader interest throughout this high-concept storyline.

4. Are the stakes high?
As I said above, this is part of the high concept, broad appeal test for a premise.

5. Will the premise sustain the length of the novel which you intend to write?
To answer this question a writer needs to consider novel length according to the requirements of the target publisher, the problems that are bound to arise as the hero pursues his goal, and his own interest in his storyline as well as his competence in the knowledge required to develop the story in a way that makes it completely authentic to the reader.

If writers run their ideas through the above "weeding out" process and perhaps through some tests which they have developed on their own through their experiences, they will likely find it a bit easier to decide which ideas they'd like to develop and which they'd like to leave in notebooks in drawers.

Good luck with choosing your ideas, writers. And, readers, we hope you have a great time with the novel you've chosen to read this week.

* * *

Fran Shaff is the author of more than a dozen published sweet romance and young peoples' novels. She has also had short stories published in such places as WOMAN'S WORLD magazine, and the Amazon Shorts program at Look for her Award-Winning Article about Orphan Trains in RAILROADING THE PLAINS a book featuring the papers from the 39th Annual Dakota Conference published by The Center for Western Studies in Sioux Falls, SD.Awards Fran has won for her fiction and non-fiction writing include: 2007 EPPIE nomination for young peoples' literature, WRITE TOUCH READERS Award, MORE THAN MAGIC Award, HERBER W. BLAKELY Award, and more than a half dozen other awards and acknowledgments for her outstanding writing.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Intricacies of the Human Mind (or: WTF?)

Last night I received some interesting news from my agent. One of the editors to whom she submitted my manuscript has read it, liked it, and is getting second reads from an unnamed individual in a higher position than she (because publishers work like that). Now, in the grand scheme of "big" publishing, this is neither good nor bad news. If the second-read person, who is likely a senior editor, does not feel my manuscript is a good fit for their line, the first-read person can't make an offer and the house passes. My logical brain knows this is nothing to get excited about.

However, my attention-hungry writer brain that dreams of advances (even small ones), fan mail, and walking into a bookstore to find my name on the shelves (and of course, nonchalantly pointing this out to any book-browser who happens to be near, while jumping up and down and squealing like a schoolgirl on the inside), has other thoughts. It's not easy to suppress that dream-is-almost-coming-true feeling -- even when I know this is only one more spoonful of dirt from the tunnel.*

This suppressed hope did a number on my mind last night while I was sleeping. I had a long and vivid dream. Something awful had happened to the entire world. All the electricity, telephone lines, and utilities were gone. People had been displaced. Everyone was wandering around, dazed and shocked, looking for shelter. I ended up with a group of around 30 people trying to settle into this huge old crumbling house. A handful of us, myself included, went down into the basement for some reason.

We found something so terrible down there, my mind refused to show it to me. Whatever it was didn't want to let us go. We barely escaped with our lives. The house was evacuated, and we were once again displaced with nowhere to go.

At that point, the dream became personal. I invited these 30 lost, hungry, tired people to stay at my house. Now, in the dream, my house was the same as it is now: small, untidy (I work full time and write full time, and I'm a terrible housekeeper), and absolutely unfit for company. In real life, I only allow my immediate family into my house, and only under duress. Still, these people needed something, and I was not about to let them suffer when I could offer them shelter, no matter how inadequate. So, we set off walking down the road, while I worried and fretted and wondered where in the heck I was going to put all these people (and what horrible things they'd think about me when they saw my disaster of a house), but still remained determined to get them safe and make them feel comfortable.

Now that I'm awake, I can understand at least part of the dream. Writing is like that. Through our work, we invite people into our lives, into ourselves. We worry that we will be found inadequate, that people will see our dirty laundry and unwashed dishes and turn away. But we can't stop offering the invitation, because we feel that someone, somewhere will benefit from the escape we're offering - the shelter of our stories. We believe that underneath the clutter of our minds, we have something interesting to say, and we risk ridicule and disdain just to reach those who would look past the occasional mess and derive some happiness from the surroundings we offer.

My dream told me that I'm still scared, but I'm ready to offer everything I have. Maybe, just maybe, it is finally time to come out into the light.


*Brilliant analogy of the journey to publication being akin to digging out of prison with a spoon, like Edmund Dantes and that crazy guy from The Count of Monte Cristo, courtesy of my husband, who would love for me to see the light on the outside.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Writing Challenge: the Dreaded Synopsis

all rights reserved, Aaron Paul Lazar 2008

What's the hardest thing you've ever had to write?

All right, come on, now. You know it's not that novel. Or the apology letter to the nerdy kid you bullied in high school. Or maybe the I-forgive-you letter from the nerdy kid to the bully. It wasn't the last chapter of your masterpiece, or even the first chapter. Those things, though they can be murder, are also fun to write. Aren't they? In a semi-masochistic way?

Think hard.

What about your query letters?

Sure. They can be brutal. Trying to squish everything into a one page brilliant piece that not only summarizes you, your writing credentials and your current book. And on top of that, you need to capture that famous agent's attention in a millisecond so that he or she picks up the phone to nab you right on the spot.

Okay, that's a challenge, to be sure.

But the hardest writing assignment of all is the book synopsis. Whether it's a 50 word back of the book blurb, a 175 word teaser for an ad, or a full three page summary intended to snag a potential publisher - it can take more massaging and editing than any well-crafted paragraph you've ever had to pen.

I recently had to put together a few versions for the pre-pub promotion of MAZURKA, the fourth Gus LeGarde mystery. We needed several different lengths, and each was torture.

Tip: One of the toughest things to accept is that you cannot possibly represent all of your key themes in a 50 word blurb. You have to pick and choose and wrestle regarding which theme to highlight.

Sometimes it helps to start with the full synopsis and chop from there. Choosing your sweetest strings of words and hottest points. Keep paring it down until you reach your word goal. Then go to work with your critique partners, tweaking until your fingers bleed.

One of the key elements in this exercise, of course, is to step outside yourself, stop churning in the water, and swim to a lifeboat. Your writing pals know the story. They can help you lop off words that don't matter and retwist your sentences to shine. I had lots of help with these from SW and Marta, this time around. See what you think?

MAZURKA: A Gus LeGarde Mystery

50 words:

Join Gus and Camille LeGarde as they chase down a family secret with the potential to change European history. When Gus's brother-in-law is framed for a neo-Nazi’s murder, the couple is plunged into a cat-and-mouse game where the stakes are lethal and the future of Europe hangs in the balance.

175 words:

When Siegfried receives a puzzling invitation to visit an ailing relative in Germany on the eve of Gus and Camille’s wedding, their honeymoon plans change. Siegfried – Gus’s socially challenged brother-in-law – can’t travel alone, so they gather the gentle giant under their wings and fly to Paris.
After luscious hours in the city of lights, a twist of fate propels them into a deadly web of neo-Nazis. A bloody brawl on the Champs Élysées thrusts Siegfried and Gus into the news, where a flawed report casts Siegfried as the Nazi leader’s murderer, sealing his death warrant.
While Siegfried recovers in a Parisian hospital, Nazi terrorists stalk Gus and Camille. Hunted and left for dead in the underground Parisian Catacombs among millions of Frenchmen’s bones, they barely escape.
Siegfried is moved to safety at his aunt’s in Denkendorf, where he learns a shocking family secret about Chopin’s steamy past. The calm is soon shattered, when the threesome is plunged into a cat-and-mouse game where the stakes are lethal and the future of Europe hangs in the balance.

See how much I had to cull in the short version? We know nothing about Chopin, the Catacombs, or any of the other massive twists that take place in the story. Nor do we get to be enticed by the dazzling European details. But - that's the challenge. To pick and choose. And try to grab a reader the first time he or she picks up the book.

I'll bet many of you have had to agonize through this. If so, post your short synopses below in the comments section.

If not - why not try? It's a good exercise. Shoot for something from 50 to 175 words, and post it below. Be sure to include your book's title and contact info if it's already on the market.

Good luck. And when you squeeze a few minutes or hours of writing into your day today - write like the wind!

- Aaron

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Curious about what Aaron, S. W., Kim, and Marta have been up to since the last MB4 Newsletter in April?

Check it out!

Want to keep up with our posts? Subscribe to both the MB4 blog & and the newsletter and don't forget to share the links!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Marketing Madness Or The Wrath of the Tour God

© Bob Avey 2008 all rights reserved

Marketing books in unusual venues, upgrading equipment and traveling to distant places can be a call to adventure, but while you’re chasing notoriety be careful that your life doesn’t slip into chaos.

A few months ago – actually it was last year but the few months thing sounded better – with my first book, “Twisted Perception”, hot off the press, I was pumped and eager to jump into the world of book promotion. Some of the marketing books I’d read suggested that authors should seek marketing opportunities and book signings outside of traditional areas and not limit themselves to bookstores. With fiction, the idea was to seek out venues that might complement the theme of your masterpiece. The little cogs inside my head began to turn. The small town of Porter, Oklahoma was getting ready to launch their annual Peach Festival. Since this sleepy little town figured into the plot of “Twisted Perception” in a not-so-sleepy way, I would rent booth space at the festival and sell copies of my book. What a perfect idea. I located the proper authorities and paid my booth rental then beat a path to a local sporting goods store where I found one of those portable pop-up canopies. The salesman assured me that one person could erect the tent if necessary but with two people it was a snap.

Several days later, I pulled the canopy from my car and dragged it through the streets of Porter, looking for my booth space. Luckily I wasn’t alone. Other vendors were in various stages of doing the same thing, but soon many of them abandoned their efforts to visit my little marketing area. Seeing their feet alerted me to this. I imagined they’d come out of curiosity of what might be bumping around beneath the blue canopy in space 17. It ended up taking five strong men and a small troupe of boy scouts, but we managed to get the gangly, pop-up monster under control and within a few minutes, I was open for business. Well, almost. The salesman forgot to mention that you had to anchor these things down, and when a gust of wind came along the canopy took flight. Utilizing my lightening quick mind, I grabbed one of the metal legs with one hand and grasped part of the skeletal framing with the other. This is not a maneuver I recommend. I’m convinced I would have hang glided over Porter had the other vendors not again come to my rescue. Talk about your Mary Poppins.

With various cinder blocks and other heavy objects tied to the canopy, I turned my attention to setting up shop. Having achieved this, I plopped down into the folding chair I’d brought along, discovering to my displeasure that the portable seating apparatus only brought me up to about eye level with the table. There was a bandstand in front of me, and about that time they turned on the microphones and people, anyone who decided they wanted to, I think, started singing… loudly. As I contemplated this, I decided that one of the problems with festivals is their being held outside, and while the temperature soared to 105 degrees, and hordes of festival goers bowed their heads and moved stiffly about the hot asphalt like heat zombies, I wondered if I was not, in fact, lucky to have only the top half of my head showing. I thought of my family, at home with the air conditioner running. My mom had driven down from Wichita, and later she and my wife and son would come to visit me at the festival.

Later that night, I closed up shop, tore down the pop-up monster and drove home. When I walked into the house, I immediately noticed it wasn’t much cooler inside. Thinking that perhaps my mom had switched off the ac, I checked the thermostat. No such luck. I heard the unit inside the garage running, and when I went outside to check the compressor a sick feeling ran through me. The line running from the compressor into the house had a ball of ice around it. I’m no engineer, but I suspected the cool was supposed to be on the inside, not on the outside and this was the problem. The darn thing was running backward.

The next morning, after calling the air conditioner people and being told they couldn’t make it out to my house for several days, I sat outside with my mother on the front porch swing, drinking a cup of coffee. It’s a moment I won’t soon forget, for all seemed right with the world, sitting there ingesting caffeine with my mom, until we heard a strange noise and looked up in unison to see that the ceiling was rising, or rather we were falling. By the time I figured out that the porch swing had lost its hold on the ceiling, my mom and I were on our cans. Did I mention we were drinking hot coffee? Well not anymore. The hot liquid had jumped from the cups and landed on us. My mother screamed that she’d been burned. I helped her up then drove to the nearest drug store and bought some burn medicine. My mom announced that she was going back home to Wichita. I think she still loves me.

Not to be deterred, I began planning the remainder of my infamous book tour. Deciding that writers’ conferences might be more to my liking, I located one in Nebraska. Not having been there before, it occurred to me that it might be nice to have someone go with me. I posted the fact that I was going to this conference on several writers’ email lists and a few days later I got a response from a writer in Stillwater, Oklahoma. She said that she had been to the conference before and was going again this year and would love to share the ride with me.

I was driving an old car with a lot of miles and too many problems and I’d already been considering a new one. Now that I had an excuse, I went looking on Saturday morning and by Saturday night I had a third car sitting in the drive. Thinking the trade in amount they’d offered me too low, I’d kept the old one, with plans to sell it myself.

Monday morning, I was off to work. I pulled the old car out of the drive and parked it on the street then backed the new one out of the garage. I wanted to show it off to my friends. As I backed into the street, I considered taking the old one from the curb and putting it in the drive, but I was running late. Several of the neighbors consistently parked beside the street, I rationalized, and they never had any problems. One of the first things I did upon arriving at the office was to call the insurance company and add the new car. While I was at it, I asked the agent to reduce the old car from full coverage. After all, I wasn’t going to be driving it anymore. I don’t always, but that day I decided to go home for lunch. As I came up the street, I saw the old car beside the curb, but something didn’t look quite right. When I drew near, I saw what it was. The mirror was no longer attached as it should be, but had fallen loose and was dangling from the wiring. Even after seeing the dented fender and mashed in door with scrapes of yellow paint streaking it, it took me awhile to realize what had happened. The poor old car had been the victim of a hit and run. After knocking on a few doors and having no one admit to seeing anything, I ran inside the house and called the police. Then I called the insurance company. “Have you made the changes considering my old car?” I asked. They had not. “Don’t,” I said. “I’ve changed my mind.” The agent thought that was a good idea, until I told her the rest of the story.

The day had finally arrived and I’d driven to Stillwater. Using my new found writer friend’s directions, I located her house and pulled onto the long, winding drive. When I arrived, I saw several cars parked on a graveled area, one of which was an old blue van with a temporary, paper tag. A few minutes later, the door to the house opened and a lady began piling luggage onto the porch. I got out to help and she asked, “Would you mind if we took my car?”

“No,” I said, hoping it would not be the old blue van. “That’ll be fine.”

A little later, after we’d loaded our luggage into the old blue van with a temporary, paper tag, we left Stillwater and headed for Omaha, Nebraska. The trip up was mostly without incident, and the conference, though not profitable, was entertaining and educational. For the most part, I sat at a table, hoping someone… anyone would stop by and ask me to autograph a book, while just down from me a more famous writer would stop occasionally to rest his hand, frowning at the long line of customers waiting at his table. The trip home, however, proved more interesting. The other writer and I had become good friends, and as we drove through the countryside we talked of this and that. But suddenly she looked in the mirror and slowed the vehicle, finally pulling to the side of the road where she stopped. I looked in the side mirror and saw the problem. Parked behind us was a police car with its lights flashing. The officer got out of the car. Keeping a wide angle, he slowly approached the driver’s side window, his hand on his service weapon. “I need to see your driver’s license, registration and insurance verification,” he said.

My heart sank as she reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a recent bill of sale. When she handed the officer the items, I tried to explain that in Oklahoma we were not required to carry vehicle registration documentation. He didn’t appear convinced of this, but he took the paperwork and went back to his patrol car. What seemed like hours but was probably only a few minutes later, he returned to the passenger window of the old blue van. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” He asked.

We explained that we were writers and that we were returning from a writers’ conference in Omaha.

He smiled and said, “I’d been following you guys for fifteen minutes. Seeing as you’d failed to respond, I radioed ahead and had the Highway Patrol place nail strips across the road. If you hadn’t stopped… Well let’s just say it’s a good thing you did.” He tipped his hat. “You all have a nice day now.”

So, now that you know whom you’re dealing with. I was a wanted fugitive, if only for fifteen minutes.

Now that “Beneath a Buried House”, my second book, is out, I’m touring virtually. What could go wrong?

I slowly remove my hands from the keyboard, wondering if my computer might electrocute me.

* * *
Bob Avey is the author of the Kenny Elliot mystery series, which includes Twisted Perception, released April 2006, and Beneath a Buried House, June 2008, several short stories and various non-fiction articles. He lives with his wife and son in Broken Arrow , Oklahoma where he works as an accountant in the petroleum industry, and when he’s not writing or researching mystery writing techniques, he spends his free time prowling through dusty antique shops looking for the rare or unusual, or roaming through ghost towns, searching for echoes from the past. Through his writing, which he describes as a blend of literary and genre, he explores the intricacies and extremities of human nature.

Bob is a member of The Tulsa NightWriters, The Oklahoma Writers Federation (active board member for 2006), The Oklahoma Mystery Writers, and Mystery Writers of America.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Book Reviews

My first book, Avenging Angel is scheduled for release later this year and one of the things I am learning in this process is to get book reviews. I keep hearing from many sources that if you want more sales, then you need to get your books reviewed. Why? Here’s a short list:

1. Exposure -- Reviews can be seen and distributed across the web, which translates into a wider audience than you can do on your own. Wouldn’t you rather have your book touted to hundreds of thousands rather than a hundred, or a thousand?

2. Changes buying opinions -- If you're a known expert in your field then you already have much of the credibility needed to drive sales. If you are a new author however, of cozies, or suspense, and not widely known, you may not be fully trusted by the general reading public. Having your novel professionally reviewed, could get that nod you need from a potential reader.

3. Referrals -- When customers read a review that interests them, they may buy the book. And if they find the review appealing for someone else they know, they tend to pass the word on. Some people even do this for books they might not like when they think a family member or close friend might enjoy it.

4. Buy it now -- Reviews found through simple browsing, reading, and word of mouth can generate instant impulse purchases. If the reader likes what they've read in the review, they are more likely to click through to the purchase site and buy it on the spot.

5. Stack ‘em up sales – A well-done review will explain to a potential reader what makes the book good, and readers trust these opinions. This review process can help to stack sales higher and higher.

Some authors swear by testimonials, but oftentimes these come from well-meaning friends and the buying public doesn’t take them seriously. Reviews give a much needed boost of credibility.

I hope you will look for professional review sites to target, and maybe share them with me as I continue on my journey.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Get Past That First Draft

“Aren’t you done with that book yet? How much longer is it going to take? Why do you keep changing it? Just send it in—see what happens!”

How frustrating is that? Explaining the process of writing to a non-writer is like describing the thrill of bungee jumping to someone who is afraid of heights. Don’t even try, they won’t get it.

Let’s face it, all first drafts are crap. Disagree if you want, but I’m suspicious of any person who claims that he or she can complete a novel in two or three drafts. Or worse, the person who refuses to edit their work because they think their initial burst of inspiration/creativity can’t be improved. I actually read that in an author’s forum once. Oh, please! Trust me on this, the first several drafts are only a shadow of the end product. After I outline the plot and write the characters' back stories, I may spend months writing a first draft, researching information, and several more months editing and refining it.

My Sam Harper crime mystery series began life as a short story in 2004. It eventually developed into a set of three novellas before I decided to rework them into full length novels. I've lost track of how many times I edited each manuscript, how many chapters I’ve cut and how many new chapters I’ve written, but that’s what it took to make them worth reading.

A while back I was chatting with a friend about this. He had this to say about the writing process: “The internal editor is about the worst person you can invite to the dance when you're taking your story idea out for a spin. Just when you get a flow of ideas, he's poking you in the ribs telling you you're clumsy, dull and should be at home collecting stamps instead of wasting your time with this writing thing. What does he know? Of course the other side of the coin is that you mother your creation beyond craft until it's only a tepid version of its original self.”

Yes, I’ve known people who have edited the life out of their books. Nothing done in excess is good so we have to find a balance between good edits and compulsive rewrites. I find, however, that the more I write, the better I become at sensing when the prose is right. The day I’m able to read my manuscript with fresh eyes and not cringe or pick up the red pen, I know I’m getting close and on my way to accomplishing what I’ve set out to do. Creativity doesn’t come from a set of formulas and rigid templates. It comes from a vivid imagination, an open mind, and the willingness to accept change. Some of the best characters and chapters in my books were sparked as a direct result of scrapping the old and finding a new direction.

Right or wrong, I’ve taken the same approach to writing as I have everything else in my life. I jumped in head first, learned all I could about the craft, asked tons of questions, then studied some more. The learning process never ends. I knew that one day I would have to type “The End” and mean it. When that moment first came, I was filled with a host of mixed feelings—joy, fear/apprehension, and somewhat at a loss wondering what I was going to do next. No, actually, it felt more as if I were going through a grieving process, saying good-bye to a dear friend and knowing I’d never go to that place again.

My debut novel, SILENCED CRY, was published in April 2007. It had been a work in progress for several years. Yet as much as I wanted that first contract, I refuse to rush through it. The second book in the series, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT, is due to be released soon in 2008 and I’m currently working on the third book along with a mountain of other writing commitments.

Time now is more precious than ever. Anyone who is serious about writing understands the demands and the sacrifices that go along with it. For me, to write was a conscientious decision. I’m very fortunate to have a family who understands and respects the choices I’ve made in order to achieve my goals. Knowing that my actions have affected others, what a waste it would be to not strive for the very best.


Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. SILENCED CRY is available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.

SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery

Look for THE DEVIL CAN WAIT in the fall, 2008.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Spring Forward, Fall Back

© Jim Musgrave 2008 all rights reserved

One of the professional writing books that helped me the most was a paperback by veteran mystery writer, Lawrence Block, called TELLING LIES FOR FUN & PROFIT: A MANUAL FOR FICTION WRITERS. What attracted me in this title was the word “manual.” In my writing career, I had already earned my advanced degree in creative writing, and I was now “chomping at the bit” of the writing horse (I was as strung-out as any dope addict ever was), wanting to learn the techniques that the masters have used to improve “the craft.”

First of all, I respected the author who wrote this manual, as I devoured the Matthew Scudder Mysteries, and I really enjoyed Block’s collection of short stories (I bought them for my new Sony Ebook Reader). Now I wanted to hear the techniques from the “horse’s mouth,” so to speak, so I could quickly use them in my own developing collection of short fiction, THE PRESIDENT’S PARASITE AND OTHER STORIES.

There were many ideas in this book that I soon incorporated into my own arsenal of techniques, but the one that I use the most, and the one that I suggest to any writer who wants to add a real touch of interest to his story, is a relatively simple, yet obvious, technique that will immediately produce results for writers who want to use it.

This suggestion is in Part Three of Block’s book, “Oh, What a Tangled Web: Fiction as a Structure.” It is called “Spring Forward, Fall Back.” Block points out that this technique is often used in non-fiction article writing, as journalists need to get the reader’s interest right away. However, as Block says, “The trick of starting in the middle is extremely useful in fiction. By beginning at a point where events are already in motion, you involve your reader in the flow of action and get him caught up in your fiction right away. Then you can back off and let him know what it is he’s gone and gotten himself interested in.”

This little technique hit me like a ton of bricks. To show you how important it was, let me use an example from my published collection of short stories. I had a story about Capital Punishment in California, “Reprieve,” and the events in my story just did not seem dramatic when told in a conventional chronological order. Thus, when I was able to simply move a scene from an extremely dramatic point in the story and place it at the beginning, I was also able to involve the reader much more than if I had told the story in the predictable, moment by moment, description of the action.

The crux of this particular story was the relationship between a condemned teenaged prisoner on death row and the teen daughter of the Governor of California. Both characters had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and it was important for me to let the reader know that my prisoner was OCD by showing him, in a descriptive way, right off. Thus, when my paragraph was inserted at the beginning, the reader could immediately see the conflict and the obsessive personality in just two short paragraphs:

“April 24: They brought him into the green room, and outside, all he could see was gray. He wondered if having green in this inner room made him someone important. The little bed was green, the walls were green, and the metal door that was opened onto the outside gray area was also green. Why had he been brought here in the wee hours of the morning? What did they expect him to do?

“A fly entered the room. It landed on the green wall. Didn’t they know that flies brought disease with them? It can fly around and land on you, dragging its filth onto your body, polluting you with its hairy legs and disgusting, crap-filled tongue! His eyes were riveted on the fly on the wall, watching its every move, as if the entire future of the human race depended on it.”

As you can see, this introductory description allows enough doubt to make the reader question what and where this green room is, and detailed enough to show that the character obviously has a serious psychological problem (OCD). I was then able to “fall back” and tell the chronological details necessary for the reader to put all the information together into the complete narrative.

It is interesting for me to note that this story is also about structure in one’s personal life, something that people with OCD have a hard time maintaining. Thus, not only does my story show the healing relationship between a condemned man and a teenage girl, but it also suggests to the reader that people who can bring the gift of healing perhaps do not deserve to die, no matter what crime they may have committed in the past. In other words, the theme of my little story was that each moment in our life is sacred in its own right, and that we should not be condemned because we lost control during an aberrant moment, because of mental confusion or fear, when our future life shows that we have become devoted to recovery and healing of the disorder that caused our evil act in the first place. Spring forward, fall back.

Jim Musgrave (a.k.a. Efraim Z. Graves) can be seen at his blog, LET THERE BE BLOG!

SPECIAL NOTE ~Giveaway Details

Each person who posts a comment on any or all of the blog tour spots will be entered in a random drawing for a copy of Jim Musgrave's book. In addition – the blog owner that hosted the winning commenter will also win a free copy of President's Parasite. Share your thoughts and comments with author Jim Musgrave. He will check in throughout the day to answer questions. You’ll learn more and you have a chance to win his book - if you haven't already read the book, visit Jim's website to order a copy -
For more information about Jim Musgrave and his virtual tour, check the schedule at
Links to Reviews for President's Parasite:

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Squeezing Poetry into your Novel

Aaron Paul Lazar, 2008

Good morning friends and writers,

I hope you all a had safe and delightful July Fourth week, full of family, laughter, and sun.

For me, the last two weeks were jammed with challenges. Full of angst. Incredible fear. And relief. Plenty of relief. Blessed relief.

I won't go into the scary details here, as I really want to write something "writerly" today, but suffice it to say alls well that ends well, and I now have a gorgeous granddaughter, Isabella Marie. She's home with her mom now and thriving. Thank God.

And her aunt, my daughter Allison, after a frightening four days discovered she's going to be okay when faced with a horrendous possibility. Both events were totally unrelated, but happened to overlap and fill our fourth of July vacation week. And of course to top it off, my wife's MS went off the charts. Probably because of the high stress, but exacerbations happen anyway. We don't always know what triggers them.

While all this was going on, I babysat my two beautiful grandsons and managed to sneak in some enjoyable moments playing "war" (cards), relearning how to play Sorry (the board game), swimming, hiking, and scarfing black raspberries from the bushes in the woods. These were deeply moving and pleasurable hours which helped me get through the tough times.

I didn't get to write or read as imagined, and to be honest, that disappointed me. A lot. Such lofty plans I had, rather ambitious, but heavenly. I'd pictured vacation being a writing nirvana, punctuated with moments devoted to loving my wife, daughters, and grandsons and sitting by the lake, sipping wine while the boys skipped rocks. While I was fortunate that some of that happened, I have to realize that this "vacation" week was really not about me It was about supporting my family. Jenn needed me to watch the boys while she recovered from her rather severe wounds (emergency C sections aren't as neat and tidy as the usual ones) and while the NICU at Strong fought to stabilize my granddaughter.

(that's Isabella's tiny handy on my finger;Aunt Allison feeding Bella for the first time)

Okay, so we're back on track, life is good, and I've been picking and eating baskets full of strawberries, cukes, zukes, and green beans. That fresh garden produce also helps bring me back to life after a stressful day or week. Man, it tastes good going down. And it's so satisfying to tromp through the tropical-like vines that burst into color and fruit in a few short days. I swear they grew 18 inches while we were away.

So. Enough about me. Let's talk writing.

For those of you who'd like to write a novel, or who already have, let's specifically talk about poetry.

Poetry? How does that fit in a novel?

I'm talking about short descriptive passages that capture those lush images branded in your brain the last time you glanced out your car window and sighed at the beauty around you.
You've had moments like those, right? Even if you live in the middle of the city, there must be visions that thrill you. Like a brave cornflower poking out of a crack in the sidewalk, or the way the lights sparkle at night in the oily puddles, or the majesty of an old brick house whose character lasted for centuries.

Descriptions of these scenes may be used to slow down the action, to paint the scene, or to simply delight your readers. And it's okay to include some poetry like this smack dab in the middle of your book. Really, it is. Anyway, who cares about what the rule books or the stuffy experts say? I say, write from your heart and with your intuition, and worry about genre and rules later. Okay, so I'm a bit of a rebel. Maybe that's why I'm not a NYTimes bestseller yet. (Grin.)

Sometimes I think these poetic little gems turn a plain old mystery into a "literary mystery." But let's not delve into genre right now, or what distinguishes one mystery from another. Maybe that's a topic for another day.

So, regarding "poetic passages cleverly inserted in a great book," I've noticed these little gifts in books by Dean Koontz over the last few years - especially in the Odd Thomas series. Whenever I come across these astounding lovely nuggets, I smile and savor them. Gifts, that's what they are. Pure and simple. Our friend Patricia F. is a master at this. Her writing is pure art and yet, so real and approachable. Don't you think? If you don't know her yet, check out her pieces here.

When I write my LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries, a similar thing happens. It's not a conscious thing, not at all. It just comes out of me when I picture Gus LeGarde standing in his gardens, or hiking through the rolling hills. And because the beauty of the Genesee Valley here in Upstate NY astounds me on a daily basis, it's a great opportunity to capture and share it. With you. With my readers. And with those who may someday read my books. Like my grandkids.
Most of my "poetic" passages come from visions I'm blessed with just driving to work or walking on the Genesee Valley Greenway. Or even in my own gardens. This heady, bucolic environment breathes life into me, inspires me to no end. And often -as some of you know--I get to capture the scenes with photos.

Here's one I took yesterday, but the image has been ingrained in my head for years. I wrote the following segment in the fifth LeGarde Mystery, FIRESONG: AN UNHOLY GRAVE. (It's not out yet, but I'm working hard editing it, so this came to mind.)
In this scene, Gus has just passed an area of the tornado-ravaged countryside and is driving home to check on his family.

"Beyond the perimeter of the damage, the late June wheat crop stood intact, ready for harvest. Heavy-headed stalks waved in the breeze, producing undulating patterns in the great expanses along the roadside. A hint of green whispered beneath the golden-pink surf that rippled over the fields."

Understand, I'm not saying that's the best writing in the world, I'm sure I could hack it up over and over again to tighten it further. But it's an example of what I mean.

Want to practice some poetic writing? I loved it a few weeks ago when you all wrote haiku for us to match my photos. So let's do it again, but this time let's imagine a scene where your character takes a breath, or pauses to reflect, or simply plops down on a rock in the woods. Write us anything that makes you smile.

Here are a few photos to inspire you. Let your imagine fly, dear writers, and post your pieces in the comments below. I'll then copy and add them beneath. And if you want to share passages of your previous work, you don't have to use my photos. Be sure to let us know what book you're quoting from. ;o) I encourage authors to promote their books. After all, nobody ever bought a book they haven't heard about!

Purple clematis

Foggy morning on the lake

Misty gray morning

On the board walk

Campanula (I forgot what variety, but it spreads like mad all over my yard, even under trees)

Okay, that's it for today. I hope you enjoy your Sunday. And if you love to weave words, remember to write like the wind!

- Aaron

Playing in the water.

The boys took the following photos of us - they're getting to be good little photographers, aren't they?

Julian and Papa

Gordie and Papa

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at and and watch for his upcoming release, MAZURKA, coming in 2008.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Writing Our Way to a Better World and Healed Hearts

by Lillian Brummett

North Americans account for less than 10% of the world's population, yet we produce 50% of the world's garbage and consume more than 33% of it's resources. If everyone consumed like the average North American, we would require three Earths! ~ Quoted from TRASH TALK (ISBN# 141372518X)

My life began as a troubled child from an abusive and broken home; as a young teenager on her own, I felt abandoned and through poetry and reading self-help books I broke the chains of inner demons and came toward understanding the value of my life. As an adult my education continued during my early twenties, when I took full credit level of grade 12 through correspondence, and then, after some college courses I became involved in the hospitality industry. However, a vehicle accident ended that career. I then started a small business, which was successful for over seven years – but it too ended through a more serious vehicle accident. This time I had to choose either retraining for a part-time job that would accommodate my disabilities – or pursuing my dream of becoming a writer. I chose the latter.

It was at this time that my husband, Dave, and I happened to be seriously looking at the value of the life we led and the legacy we wished to leave behind. I even wrote a poem about this:


Locomotion keeps me moving through the confusing, compulsive waves of life.
And lost in this rush, I consume and exhaust myself for the unknown.
Feeling awfully tired I pause and look in at my routines in disgust…
And a desperate yearning to escape beyond the maze and into self-sufficiency arises.

~ Excerpted from the book, TOWARDS UNDERSTANDING (ISBN#1413793371)

More signs came into our lives that showed us that writing was our legacy. Initially, I began writing the Trash Talk column soon after having several discussions with one of my old clients. You see; my cleaning business served the upper middle class. And one of these clients was also a friend of mine. She confided in me that she was afraid to be seen in second hand stores by her peers as she thought they may consider her a scrooge – you know: here is someone who can afford to buy anything she wants, and chooses to by a second hand Halloween Costume for the kids. She certainly didn’t want to be seen taking in returnable items (bottles/cans). Ironically, within a year of that conversation the city began Blue Box (recycling) pick-up service at the curb. As soon as this happened her neighbors were scrambling to get their box to the curb as it was seen as the thing to do. I realized then that we needed to get across to people that you don’t have to be poor to consider waste reduction. That reuse and reduce is not about false pride or ego – it is about the legacy we choose leave behind.

In the past, writing has been a form of therapy for me. However, it is now a way for me to find more meaning to my life through helping others become more positive and proactive in their lives. So few of us understand the value our daily actions have and the impact we can make on the world. In fact studies show that a large percentage of the population is depressed and consumed with feelings of inadequacy, yet 66% of us would become more proactive if we knew our actions had a measurable impact. Psychologists have long known that simply performing one small proactive step will aid in defining a positive outlook on life and will inspire further participation from the individual. With this in mind, Dave and I focus on helping individuals feel more positive about their value and to help them realize that they have the power to make a difference starting right where they are.

Dave and I often work together as partners in our writing and we have co-written three books together to date. TRASH TALK is an environmental book that focuses on motivating individuals to participate in reducing their contribution to the landfill and resource consumption. Our book of poetry, TOWARDS UNDERSTANDING, was written to help other victims feel less alone and give them hope. It also was a way for me to express thoughts on society, human interaction and of my love of the environment. PURPLE SNOWFLAKE MARKETING ­– HOW TO MAKE YOUR BOOK STAND OUT IN A CROWD, is our most recent project that was released on June 30, 2007. This e-book came about through giving book marketing advice to other authors on forums regularly to the point where we realized that an e-book would be much more helpful. We were able to include 21 appendices that hold over 500 links to help authors promote their books with just a click of their mouse.

For more than a year now, we have had the honor of hosting our own talk radio show at: This is a wonderful opportunity for us to highlight individuals who are making real and measurable difference in their little corners of the world in hopes of inspiring others to be more proactive. At the same time, we are able to give some promotion to the valued work these individuals and organizations are doing on behalf of us all.

Just recently we started Authors Read which is a 15 minute radio program that offers authors a chance to showcase their work and read it to their audience, giving people a taste of their style and published books.

We are thrilled and honored to be able to play some part in providing a positive outlook on serious issues with inspiring stories, while sharing information on how individuals can make a difference starting right in our own homes, at our own desks. I couldn’t tell you in mere words what it feels like to hear a family tell us that their children are holding contests to come up with the best reuse idea – or to have a reader contact us to say how our poetry has moved them – or a listener of our radio show who states they’ve decided to make changes in their lifestyle. No paycheck could feel this good. This is what writing means to me.

~ Written by Lillian Brummet; co-author of TRASH TALK, author of TOWARDS UNDERSTANDING and co-author of PURPLE SNOWFLAKE MARKETING(

Thursday, July 10, 2008


I had planned on posting a bit about my list on do's and don'ts in writing today, but Marta handled that quite well, thank you M :) so I won't even try to bring up a better list.

Instead, I am going to discuss courtrooms and how they can make great fodder for writing. Do you write mystery? Getting a little short of ideas?

Now, I know most all of us do not want to be in a courtroom for any reason, but if you should find occasion, do it. You will be glad you did. There are a million great mystery stories meandering in that place!

The courtroom I sat in today was quite possibly a former school. It was built in the 1950's (or earlier?) and there were tell-tale signs of its history.

The bathroom was entirely tiled in pink tile. The chrome in the stalls was so aged it had rusted and speckled. Even the tissue roller was antique! I do know that I haven't seen tile shaped and colored such as this since I was a child in grade school. It sort of had that chalk and industrial cleaner smell to it too.

The courtroom itself was entirely wood. Light highly polished oak benches, like in church, wooden rails, wooden jury box, etc. The floor was the old-fashioned linoleum such as what you find in aged restaurants. Very "fifties deco" if you will.

The goings on in the courtroom was interesting too, to say the least. The lawyer of the custody case being heard first was having car trouble and having to stop every little ways to let it cool off or something. Apparently she was holding up the cases to be heard today, and because of that, my reason for being there went into bump mode and we were sent away, to be rescheduled.

I almost hated to leave.

The custody hearing could have been great stuff for a book to come. I guess I will have to wait until the next time to glean more goodies. Once I do, you can bet I will be back to share!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Do's and Don't in Writing

When I began to write fiction, I sponged up all I could about the craft as quickly others were willing to impart their knowledge. Since then, I’ve weeded through the do’s and the don’ts and picked up a few other tips that have helped to strengthen my prose.
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Nothing done to excess is good. We can't take all the "had," "that," and "ing" words out of our writing and expect it to make sense or flow well. Certain words should and can be avoided, but to arbitrarily cut all of the “no-no” words is just as bad as their over-use. The same goes for long stretches of narration or dialogue. If you over-do either of these, you’ll either exhaust your reader or put them to sleep.

Pace: Dialogue speeds the action, narration slows it. Tense scenes call for short/abrupt, snappy dialogue. After such a scene, give the reader a breather by slowing things down with some brief narration.

Passive: the subject of the sentence is acted upon by something else. “The bread was made by the baker.”

Active revision: “The baker made the bread.”Past tense: when an action or occurrence happened in the past. “He went to the store three hours ago.”“Rule” on using “had.”

After reading up on the subject and talking to several informed sources (including English professors) I’ve concluded that, aside from the grammatical use of “had/has” in perfect past tense, my ear must judge how often to use “had” in a sentence before switching to an active past tense.

Example #1: "When Tom was young, he had overheard unsettling talk of the war. His father had served, but he had never admitted or denied killing another."

Granted, this is exaggerated, but technically there's nothing wrong with this sentence. All the events mentioned took place in the past. It is, however, cumbersome and all the "hads" make it redundant.

Revised Example #1: "When Tom was young, he overheard unsettling talk of the war. His father had served, but he never admitted or denied killing another."

So here's the unspoken “had” rule:

1. If the sentence makes it clear that the event happened in the past without using the word “had,” remove it.
2. Leave “had” in if its removal changes the meaning of the sentence.

Example #2: She reached for the small clay bowl from the kitchen table containing a mix of local herbs and other untold ingredients she had crushed into a near-powder consistency.
In this sentence, “she had” indicates an action taken by the character.

Edited Example #2: She reached for the small clay bowl from the kitchen table containing a mix of local herbs and other untold ingredients crushed into a near-powder consistency.
To remove “she had” from the sentences makes it clear the herbs were crushed, but it doesn’t show who crushed them. Since the character isn’t involved in the action, the reader would have to assume the herbs and other untold ingredients were 1) previously crusted by someone, or 2) purchased in the crushed form.

Both examples #2s are technically correct. However, this sentence is from my work in progress and the woman is a healer and engages in voodoo. For the sake of the scene, it's critical for the reader to understand that she is the one who made the concoction. In this case, #1 is the better choice.

Here’s a good explanation for the use of lie, lay, laid, lain.
Lie = the present-tense act of reclining. We lie together and watch the full moon.
Lay = the present-tense act of putting something down. The stranger watches while we lay our blankets near the fire.
Laid = the past-tense act of putting something down (or slang for getting screwed in the past tense). For pillows, we laid our saddles at the head of our make-shift beds.
Lain = the past-tense act of reclining. Before leaving camp, we removed all evidence of where we'd lain the night before.
I've always found it ironic that while we may 'lie' our bodies down, we don't do the same with parts of our bodies; for instance, she lays hands on the sick and infirm or he laid his head on her shoulder.

A Few Good Grammar Links:

“The” in front of a noun: Eliminate “the” when it precedes a noun that could stand alone. Example: “The beams of portable spotlights shone like beacons on the beach below.” Can be changed to: “Beams of portable spotlights shone like beacons on the beach below.”

Tags & Beats
Tags: Stick to “said” and always place the tag after the noun or pronoun. To use anything other than “said” distracts the reader (“said” is invisible). Words such as growled, barked, scoffed tell the reader how the character spoke rather than show it through the dialogue and action.
Example #1: “What difference does it make that she’s gone?” John growled.
Example #2: “What difference does it make that she’s gone?” John said as he slammed the door.

Beats: Beats are a great alternative to tags. They show action and emotion. Here’s the same sentence using a beat instead of a tag.

“What difference does it make that she’s gone?” John yanked open her closet door, grabbed her clothes, and threw them out the window.

When you explain how a character said something, you draw the reader's attention away from the dialogue.

The “it” word. If not used correctly, “it” can lose the reader’s focus.
Be certain “it” refers back to a noun just previously mentioned. If another noun is used between “it” and the noun it refers to, you'll lose your reader.
Example: “The dog chased after a ball into the street. It was hit by a car.” What was hit? The dog or the ball?

A few words to avoid in narration:
That, just, however, therefore, thus, thusly, very, really, suddenly, obviously (if it is obvious, don’t tell--show it).

Anything goes in dialogue: A character can say anything he or she wants including all the words we avoid in the narrative and clichés as long as the author establishes those words in the character’s speech as part of his characterization. The same goes for speech patterns and odd words.

Don’t state the obvious: Near-miss and mid-air collision. If it’s a “near-miss” it didn’t happen. And where else would airplanes in flight collide? Another thing that falls under this category is to not summarize the action. If the scene is written properly and effectively shows the action, don’t summarize what just happened in a subsequent narrative. Doing so talks down to the reader.

Repetition of words or phrases: Look for repeated words within the same sentence, paragraph or in close proximity to one another on a page. Use your thesaurus to find unique words that will add spark to your writing.

Ellipsis: Shows a pause. Three periods with a space after the word it follows and the word it precedes to show a pause or hesitation.
“I can’t remember what … I’ll have to think about it.”

Three periods with a space after the word it follows to show a pause or hesitation at the end of a sentence.
“I can’t remember what …”

Em Dashes: Shows an interruption or show emphasis. Construct the em dash by striking the hyphen key twice with no space between the hyphens and no space before or after the words the em dash separates.

To show interrupted speech:
“You can’t pin the murder on me. You have no—”
“I have your fingerprints.”

For emphasis: “You must attend the meeting on time—no exceptions.”

More advice from Browne & King.

Show don't tell: How to catch yourself telling. (Page 16)
“...telling your readers about your characters’ emotions is not the best way to get your readers involved. Far better to show why your characters feel the way they do. Instead of saying, "Amanda took one look at the hotel room and recoiled in disgust." describe the room in such a way that the readers feel that disgust for themselves."

The “as” and “ing” construction:
Browne & King (Page 193): "One easy way to make your writing seem more sophisticated is to avoid two stylistic constructions that are common to hack writers, namely:'Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him.'


'As she pulled off her gloves, she turned to face him.’
Both the “as” construction and the “-ing” construction as used above are grammatically correct and express the action clearly and unambiguously. But notice that both of these constructions take a bit of action ("She pulled off her gloves") and tuck it away into a dependent clause (Pulling off her gloves...") tends to place some of your action at one removed from your reader, to make the actions seem incidental, unimportant. If you use these constructions often, you weaken your writing.

Another reason to avoid the “as” and “-ing” construction is that they can give rise to physical impossibilities." (i.e.: "Disappearing into my tent, I changed into fresh jeans." The ing construction forced simultaneity on two actions that can't be simultaneous."

Words ending in “ly”
Replace “ly” verb with action verbs. Instead of: “He angrily punched the pillow.” which tells the reader how he punched it (but in my opinion not to what degree of anger), try: “He slammed a fist into the pillow.”

"Self-Editing..." (Page 196)
"Chances are, as you bang out your first draft, you use the first verbs that come to mind--verbs that are commonplace and comfortable, verbs you don't have to dig too deep to find. Set, for instance, as in:

Then, since the word “set” in the above sentence doesn't really convey what you want, you find the extra nuance you need in an adjective, tack on an -ly to make an adverb, and hook it to the verb. ...when you use a weak verb and an adverb to do the work of one strong verb, you dilute your writing and rob it of its potential power."

What not to do: "She forcefully set the cup and saucer onto the kitchen table."
Better using action verbs: “She flung the cup and saucer onto the kitchen table.”

Don’t explain how a character said something, and draw the reader's attention away from the dialogue.

The acclaimed "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" by Renni Browne and David King (second edition) have this to say about it:

Example 1:
"You can't be serious," she said in astonishment.

Explanation: "If you're like most beginning novelist or short-story writers you write sentences like these almost without thinking . What could be easier than simply to tell your reader how a character feels? ... It's also lazy writing. If you tell your readers she is astonished when her dialogue doesn't show astonishment, then you've created an uncomfortable tension between your dialogue and your explanation."

Example 2:

"Give it to me," she demanded.
"Here it is," he offered.
"I hate to admit that," he grimaced.
"Come closer," she smiled.

"To use verbs like these for speaker attributions is to brand yourself as an amateur--and to stick your character with an action that is physically impossible. No one outside hack fiction has ever been able to grimace or smile or chuckle a sentence.

Said, on the other hand, isn't even read the way other verbs are read. It is, and should be, an almost purely mechanical device--more like a punctuation mark than a verb. It's absolutely transparent, which makes it graceful and elegant.

Don't use speaker attributions as a way of slipping in explanations of your dialogue ("he growled," "she snapped"). As with all other types of explanations, either they're unnecessary or they are necessary but shouldn't be. Your best bet is to use the verb said almost without exception. Even when you use them (explanations and adverbs) with said (we said sternly), they tend to entangle your readers in your technique rather than leaving them free to concentrate on your dialogue."

Another source is the Agatha Award winner, "Don't Murder Your Mystery: 24 Fiction-Writing Techniques To Save Your Manuscript From Turning Up D.O.A." by Chris Roerden. She wrote:

"Attention-getting verbs like "bellowed" and "retorted" don't add meaning; they add distraction. If you want to add meaning, use action and body language.

-- Acton anchors spoken lines in their setting, giving readers something to visualize other than talking heads.

-- Body language authenticates the dialogue's content, offering a physical parallel to the speaker's emotions.

-- Body language shows how a line is delivered, whereas adverbs tell how."

It's acceptable to add action to a tag such as: "Tom, you got one helluva nerve!" Dick said, bursting in."

Better: Use a beat to show action. "I told you to stay outta my office." Tom jumped up, knocking over his chair."

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Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. SILENCED CRY is available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.SILENCED CRY (2007)Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book FestivalTop Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
THE DEVIL CAN WAIT coming soon 2008.