Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving Musings (or how the neck was almost cooked in the bird)

Hello friends,

How was your Thanksgiving? I hope it was full of love and laughter and delicious food! And although the big holidays tend to "steal" writing time, there's lots of fertile material in those gatherings. The funny things that go wrong, the quirky relatives, the cute kid stories, and the warmth of the day - all provide good fodder for your writing, don't they?

I made the meal again this year, for thirteen, including baby Isabella, who didn't actually eat turkey, of course, but who was passed around the table to cuddle while we took turns eating. The turkey came out the best ever, in spite of my early morning glitches. I scanned some recipes and emailed friends for inspiration earlier in the week, wanting to try something new. Frankly, although I've made the dinner for twenty-seven years, I felt like I couldn't remember squat about roasting the bird this year, and needed inspiration. Early Alzheimers? Sometimes I wonder.

Anyway, some of the new tricks I picked up included adding a few inches of turkey broth to the roasting pan, setting the turkey on a "rack" of whole carrots, and adding sprigs of thyme and sage and leftover raw onions to the cooking giblets. They all helped to provide the juiciest bird every, with one helluva savory gravy.

But I had a few glitches, as one would expect. More than a few, I guess. The blasted turkey neck was a super-sized version. The bird was twenty-two pounds, but I think they got the neck from a fifty pound monster. It was so gigantic, it was wedged and iced into the darned cavity, with one end stuck so hard I thought I'd never get it out! It took me twenty minutes of struggling, warm water, and a giant screwdriver to remove it.

The first roasting pan I chose was one millimeter too small, and no matter how I struggled wth that bird, I couldn't get the darned thing into the pan. So I had to switch to the larger banged up ancient pan, which of course was all dusty and buried beneath a ton of stuff in the cabinet.

The fridge was making a loud whirring noise, as if the fan had a bearing that was going bad, and this was on top of a gazillion other appliances that decided to break because, of course, it was Thanksgiving week. I couldn't stop the faucet from trickling water - no matter how I positioned the lever. It's still dripping as I write this. The microwave died a few days earlier. Not that I couldn't survive without it, but it is handy for melting butter, keeping dishes warm, and I actually make my home made cranberry sauce in there. We dug Alli's old one out of the basement, thankful once again for her moving home.

I think one of the reasons my brain felt so fried before the holiday was my fear that our woodstove wasn't going to work out. After paying $800.00 per tank of oil last season, we knew we couldn't survive this winter using the furnace. So last spring, we invested in a great stove from Lopi, the "Leyden." We used our economic stimulus cash for firewood and thought we were set for the season. But for the past two weeks, my daughter Allison and I struggled to get a hot fire going. It was so insidious, so gradual, and it coincided so perfectly with the unusual cold snap, that I thought I was going crazy. I questioned my year-old dry wood, scrutinizing each log as if it were the culprit. Alas, to no avail.

No matter how carefully I used my special method of fat wood sticks arranged on a nice handy firestarter block, no matter how I stood over the darned thing and prayed, no matter how I stared at it, more and more smoke kept coming out of the top loader each time I opened it, more soot built up in a shorter time, and I could NOT get it started or hot enough each day.

And of course each time this happened, someone would walk by and casually mention how cold the house was, or how the stove just wasn't going to cut it in the cold weather. I thought I'd explode, because of course those same thoughts kept rolling through my frenzied brain. Esepcially on last Saturday night, when my daughter Jenn was due to join us for a spaghetti dinner and the whole living room filled with smoke. It poured out of the smokestack over the stove - seeping out of every little crack and hole it could find. I shut the thing down, called my chimney sweep who sold me the stove, and did something that went against every fiber in my body.

I turned on the furnace.

At that point (duh), I knew something was dreadfully wrong, and realized that the draw must be compromised. Not enough oxygen. But how could it be blocked in a few short months of using it? Thank God, our chimney sweep - a wonderfully reliable and intelligent man - came last Monday to investigate. Sure enough, a screen he'd placed for us over the chimney years ago to keep animals out, had plugged with creosote. He removed the screen and cleaned the whole chimney for a well spent $118.00, about 1/8 the cost of a tank of oil, even now with the prices down. We now have our reliable, easy to start, phenomenally warm woodstove back. And we're opening windows to regulate heat again. That blessed, amazing, comforting heat is back!

One more thing happened, but it was yesterday. I guess I should be thankful for the fact that it didn't happen on the holiday. It's the reason why I'm frantically writing this column at the crack of dawn on Sunday, my posting day.
A tiny chip of wood flew up from my coat after I loaded some wood onto the racks in the morning. It landed in my eye. I babysat my two rambunctious grandsons yesterday (they were FULL of it), and when they left I collapsed. And all day long, even though no one could see anything in there, my eye throbbed and wept and swelled up to the point where I finally had to lie down with a cloth over it and just not try to see.
Couldn't read. Couldn't get online to write this. Couldn't watch TV. I lay there and listened to two movies we'd seen before, Meet the Parents and Father of the Bride. LOL. At least I could picture what was happening in my mind!
I woke this morning with a monstrous headache from the inflamed sinuses caused by the eye injury, but thankfully, the pain was gone! The human body is an amazingly rejuvenative creation, isn't it? I still look like Quasi Motto, with one eye half as big as the other. But I can see!
Anyway, I hope your week, whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, was even keeled and less eventful than mine. And of course, I realize that all the ridiculously minor things I'm cronicling here are just that - little idiotic frustrations that pass and are fixable. The enormity of my blessings doesn't go without notice - I'm walking, I can see again, I have family that loves me. I don't have cancer, I'm not in a line for food at a shelter, and I have a roof over my head. I am truly thankful for everything. ;o
Warmest regards to you all. Remember to take pleasure in the little things, and if you love to write - write like the wind.
- Aaron

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

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I am celebrating today, I mean, my book is literally alive now. It has a face, a persona, something tangible that people will recognize it by. That's like being alive, right?

I am also very thankful today. And what better time to say so, right? This is what Thanksgiving is all about.

My thankfulness list begins and ends here.

To my circle of three who make up the rest of the FOUR in "murderby4", Marta, SW, and Aaron: You are the reason I am where I am today. If not for the support, love, and friendship of our group, I would be lost. You are the salt to my pepper, the sugar to my spice.

This Thanksgiving, I am spending time with family face to face, but that's what makes our cyber home here so wonderful. I know that you are always with me, no matter where we are. Heart to heart.

And not to sound like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, but, there really IS NO PLACE like home. Cyberly or otherwise. And I appreciate this one, and all the people who visit it. You fans, friends, followers, are the lifeblood of this site.

So, over the next four weeks, to keep you fed, I will be giving you all the info on the book. The journey, the wrong turns, and the right ones. I hope you will tune in and see where I came from, and where I hope to go. Then, on December 18th, I will post my "book's birthday". It'll be a party, y'all. Come on in!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Brain

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

Ah, yes, where would we be without our brains?

Our bodies would cease to function without it. The brain alone is responsible for sending out the proper signals to every organ, nerve, and system in our bodies that keep them running like well-oiled machines. Just try to over-indulger with one glass of wine too many and see what happens.

Curiously though, I’ve noticed over the past several months that in spite of its many complex and important duties, my brain has taken it upon itself to play magician.

We’ve had countless articles on Murder by 4 on self-editing and proofreading techniques and believe me, I’ve paid attention, but it doesn’t matter how often I read my work, some of those pesky typos continue to go undetected.

Why is it then that mistakes jump out at me when I read the pages again with a fresh pair of eyes? Why hadn’t I noticed that the “your” on line five, paragraph three should’ve been “you’re?” How could I have missed adding a “the” and the “to” in the last sentence? Is it really careless proofreading and sloppy editing?

Nay I say! It’s the brain!!

Check this out. Is it any wonder we can't proofread our own work?

Thanksgiving: The Non-Heartwarming Edition

Around Thanksgiving time, lots of folks get gushy and sentimental on their blogs. They write beautiful, heart-rending pieces that make readers weep and leave professions of undying love in the comments.

This year I'm going to skip the sentiment. Here are some fun Thanskgiving facts that probably won't make you cry, but might make you smile.

* Turkeys have heart attacks. When the Air Force was conducting test runs and breaking the sound barrier, fields of turkeys would drop dead.

* Benjamin Franklin called the turkey 'a true original native of America'. He wanted the turkey to be the official bird of the United States, but eventually lost out to the bald eagle.

* 445 million turkeys are consumed each Thanksgiving.

* Turkeys can drown if they look up while it's raining.

* Thomas Jefferson thought the concept of Thanksgiving was "the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard."

And a few fun Thanksgiving quotes:

"What we're really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving?" --Erma Bombeck

"I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land." --Jon Stewart

"Thanksgiving is an emotional holiday. People travel thousands of miles to be with people they only see once a year. And then discover once a year is way too often." --Johnny Carson

Thanks to everyone who reads this!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Shores of Thanksgiving

© Lad Moore 2008 all rights reserved

“I swear it. I never took my eyes off him—I only blinked.”

* * *
It is one of Florida’s best-kept secrets—those miles of virtually unspoiled sand and surf from Mexico Beach to just below Port St. Joe. The color of the sea was a confusion of blue and green—a hue no artist’s palette could counterfeit. The sand was like spilled sugar. Our family of three vacationed at Mexico Beach for several successive summers, nestling ourselves in an average but ample cabin only two hundred yards from the crash of the waves. Nearby was a fishing pier, stretching several hundred feet into the Gulf of Mexico. Its boards were gray and coarse, sandblasted and washed by the wind and tides. In the evenings, we tied our crab nets to its rails, waiting patiently to collect the blue jimmies that would fill our steaming pot. Our supper fare was always the same—succulent crab, steamed corn, and red potatoes. The flavor and freshness was such that we would never change the menu.

In the distance down the beach one could see the faint outline of St.Vincent Island. For years St. Vincent remained in private hands, operated as a sanctuary for exotic fish and game. It was both a conservancy of nature and a toy to please the whim and ego of its owners. Eventually it was transferred to the Department of Interior as a wildlife refuge. Each of our summer visits always included a guided trip to the Island for the “men” of the family—a rare chance for me to introduce my son to nature and to catch and release the large peacock bass, shell crackers, and other game fish.

The third day of vacation began like all the others—an early morning ritual of combing the beach for shells and the prized sand dollars that often washed ashore overnight. The sand dollars on this stretch of beach were as white as snow and unusually symmetrical. We collected them not only as souvenirs, but to use as tree ornaments at Christmastime.

As we moved northwest along the shore, Amy and I led the way with our four-year old son Jon trailing behind. We occasionally had to stop and wait for him as he digressed his path—herding a beach ball to the right and left. He carried a sand pail along, and had filled it with shells before we made half a mile. We stopped and sat for a few moments, culling any imperfect specimens from his collection to make room for more.

The surf swells were unusually large that day, and portions of the beach were littered with underwash. For the next few hundred yards, Amy and I were concentrating especially hard on our task, trying to spot sand dollars amidst the drift of seaweed and coconut husks. It was a treasure of debris, and I longed to find one those oddities that occasionally trek from distant shores yet unexplored. Prized were the colorful crab-pot blown-glass buoy markers. No two were alike. Hey! What was this? A bean pod of some sort—with a kernel inside as big as a buckeye. I paused to examine it.

“Where is Jon?” Amy asked. Such few words, such frantic tone. I whirled around. Jon was nowhere in sight. Two seconds ago he was tugging at my shorts! I cupped my hand over my brow to shade the orange haze of the sunrise. There was nothing but beach break as far as I could see. My face flushed. I felt the blood pour out and my skin began to tingle and sting. Amy was screaming Jon’s name, and running back along the beach. I thought: Where’s the beach ball? It’s bright red. It should be visible for a great distance. But it was gone.

I began to chase after Amy, who was distancing me. We headed southeast, running in that special aisle of wet sand that is always packed firm to the foot. I would periodically stop and look into the gulf—not wanting to see anything there. No red ball, no bright yellow swim trunks. It was an odd reassurance to see nothing but a vast expanse of empty sea.

Emotions were combating hard for my attention. Tears were being overruled by the authority of adrenalin. I had to swallow hard to suppress the lumps that swelled in my throat—those alien knots so intent in closing off my air. I wrung my hands as I ran—
my signal of non-surrender to the despair that engulfed me. Amidst this cascade of emotions, I felt as though my insides were sinking. Only my feet confirmed I was still firm in the sand.

Suddenly Amy shouted to me. She had climbed the row of dunes that separate the beach from the highway and cabins. She was waving frantically. I rushed to her side. There was Jon. He had somehow fled our notice, climbed the dunes, and was busily sorting out his shell collection on the porch of our cabin. We ran to him and sandwiched him between our bodies. I was dripping a sweat that defied the dryness of the gulf breeze.

Our son was safe in our arms again. There would be no scolding, no lecture. None of us moved from that spot for the next hour. Amy and I sat in silence, relishing the cooing and murmuring from Jon as he sat playing and arranging his shells and sea treasures. Meanwhile my mind replayed the morning over and over. I paused the scenes long enough to offer prayers of thanks to God.

The event had been so unbelievably frightful, so breathlessly exhausting. My brow would remain deeply furrowed—plowed so by that rush of despair and loss—that awful emptiness—the sweat of panic and the well of tears—that choking grief.

That night Amy and I slept fitfully, often exchanging hollow stares that transcended the darkness. When morning came we packed the car and headed north for home. It was a bright and glorious day, refreshed with clear skies and calm winds. Every few miles, I would check on Jon in the rearview mirror, swallowing at the lump in my throat. Here we all are. This family of three.
* * *

Story © Copyright 2008 by the author, Lad Moore. All rights reserved.
Image © Copyright by Georgis Alexandros, used under special license.

Author bio: Lad Moore enjoys hundreds of writing credits in print and on the web, and has earned several awards including a nomination to the Texas Institute of Letters. His work has appeared in Virginia Adversaria, Pittsburgh Quarterly, Paumanok Review, Carolina Country, and Amarillo Bay, among others. Mr. Moore is a five-volume contributor to the Adams Media anthologies, and is featured in an edition of "Chicken Soup for the Soul." Two collections of his short stories, "Odie Dodie," and "Tailwind," have been published by BeWrite-Jacobsen Books. The author resides in Jefferson, Texas.

Life with Papa

copyright 2008, Aaron Paul Lazar

My grandsons, Julian and Gordon, have always called me Papa. I answer to it more readily now than to Aaron or Honey, and I guess I'm rather comfortable with this role in life, having transcended from 20 years as Dad, in recent times. Oh, I'm still Dad, but now even my daughters call me Papa. LOL.

Maybe it's that crop of silver around the temples. Or the streak of gray in my beard. Or the way I grunt when I get up from the chair. Who knows. But Papa, I am.

A few weeks ago we had a challenging evening that reminded me why young people have children.

It all started when my daughter asked me if I could pick up the grandkids from her future mother-in-law's on the way home from work. Delighted to have them for an unexpected evening, I jumped at the chance.

When I arrived, Barb had the baby ready to go and the diaper bag packed. The boys raced around her playroom in circles like they'd just ingested a five-pound bag of sugar, and while we tried to determine if they had coats or even knew where they were, Barb's golden retriever kept licking me all over and scooting between my legs to show his affection. Bella just watched with her bright button eyes, placid and quiet in her car seat.

Not only did I have to finagle the three little ones out to the van, but there was also a cake leftover from Julian's birthday party at kindergarten, a giant card his classmates drew for him, two backpacks, a monster pumpkin that Gordie picked out on his field trip, and of course, Isabella's giant diaper bag. It took four trips to the van.

I'd asked Bella's father the night before if all three car seats fit across the bench seat in his van, which was similar to mine. He told me, "Sure!" That morning, I had doubts. I could swear a look crossed his face as if he were brushing me off. I knew I should have lugged the ridiculously heavy captain's seat out of the barn, just in case. But that morning it was cold and pitch black, I was late for work, and my back throbbed at the thought of it. First mistake.

I tried. I really tried. I could not figure a way to fit all three seats in the van, no matter how I pushed and pulled and fastened and unfastened all three kids. There was no question about putting someone in the front seat, not only was it illegal, but I'd heard it was the least safe space to transport a child. By the time six-year-old Julian suggested I just let him ride in the middle with the seatbelt, my back was screaming and I gave in. I finally figured out the very bizarre and goofy way the middle seatbelt worked. Yes, I'm an engineer. And no, I didn't figure it out right away. I still haven't figured out how to get it unbuckled, but Jules slithered out of it anyway.
The drive home was mercifully short - just two miles of quiet country road. But all the way home I crawled, scanning the roadside for leaping deer like a paranoid robotic lunatic with wild eyes and gritted jaw. No wonder I have so many headaches. Anyway, I was so relieved when we pulled into the driveway, I almost collapsed to my knees to thank God.

The whole time, Isabella remained quiet and content. That baby is just too good to be true.
After lugging all the stuff into the house, including the monstrous pumpkin, I realized Bella needed to be fed first. After setting up the boys and my wife with a game of cards in the living room, I chose bananas from Bella's baby food packs and rooted around until I snagged a baby spoon in our silverware drawer. I set her up on the kitchen table in her car seat, unbuckled by now and resettled on a soft blanket.

Transfixed by this relatively new process of eating solid food, she insisted on grabbing the spoon. I had to clamp her little fists together in my free hand to gently guide the mush into her mouth. It went everywhere. Of course, I noticed the bib in the diaper bag - when we were done and I was spattered with bananas.

My wife offered to hold the baby while I fed the boys. Not exactly a hardship for this doting grandmother. Fortunately I had enough leftovers from Julian's birthday party the day before, so I heated up plates of chicken, yellow rice, kale, and homemade applesauce. We had leftover birthday cake for dessert. Julian spilled his piece on the floor, then smeared it on his sock, the chair leg, and all over his brown corduroys. Orange frosting, mind you. Luckily we had just enough so I could serve him a second piece.

During all this, Gordie didn't eat much, and looked feverish, with those telltale fever eyes I remembered so well from my three girls. When Jenn moved her family out to their own place, they'd taken all of the baby Tylenol and thermometers and Ambesol, etc. with them. I used to keep tons of extras all over the house, but we hadn't had to deal with sick kids since she'd left, and I got lax. I had nothing to offer him. I called my daughter, and she arranged for her fiancé to bring some when he picked them up at 8:00. Only a few hours to go.

I was just about to get Gordie upstairs to my bed to watch his favorite movie and bring the baby up, too, when Julian screamed.

"Papa! I had diarrhea in my pants!"

His face fell, humiliation written all over it. He walked to the stairs like a stiff legged Tin Man, trying not to cry. With patience, I talked calmly to him, told him it was okay, helped him up the stairs (it's hard to climb the stairs when your legs aren't bending!) and got him in the shower. I threw his clothes downstairs for my daughter Allison to wash. While I jumped from child to child, Dale and Alli juggled kids in the background.

Meanwhile, a very specific odor arose from Isabella. It must've been those bananas. I grabbed the diaper bag, which had NO baby wipes inside. But it did have a container of sprinkles in it that my mother-in-law had given Jenn to take home on Saturday.I grabbed a washcloth and got her cleaned up. But in the process, I managed to smear some on her clothes. So I had to change her, and gave THOSE and the yukky washcloth to Allison to add to the wash.

I laid her in her portacrib. She seemed happy. Like I said, she's an amazing baby.Gordie and Jules fought over which movie to see, and Julian finally convinced Gordie that his choice would be fun. But Julian kept sitting on my bad knee, which has been hurting ever since the doctor made me stop taking the Advil for my headaches.

Anyway, poor little Gordie had a terrible cough. It sounded as if his asthma was starting up, which scared the hell out of me. He kept wanting me to lay with him, and asked, "Papa? Why are you taking so long?" every time I tended to someone else. The poor kid just wanted to be comforted and snuggled, since he felt so bad.

His stepfather-to-be arrived at 8:00 to pick them up, but Jules burst into tears, begging to stay with us. After some back and forth conversations, we agreed to keep Julian for the night.
About fifteen minutes after Mike left with Gordon and Isabella, I noticed the baby formula was still on the counter. My heart sank to my feet and I called, certain I'd have to take the long drive to Dansville and back. On a work night. When I felt as wrung out as I had in years. Maybe since I parented my three little girls. LOL.

Thankfully, Mike had an extra can of formula at home, so we were able to breathe a sigh of relief and settled down to watch Julian's new favorite movie, "My Girl." He camped on the floor of our room, happy to be the sole source of our attention for one night.

Of course, Dale and I raised three girls that were all within two years. (Jenn was two when the twins were born) We managed to handle it just fine, and I'd gladly do it again. If we were that age again, LOL. And I've had all three grandkids for a whole weekend, and both boys for a whole week, without problems. But this particular night was a bit unique. Maybe I'm just out of practice!
But we did survive those three crazy hours. Barely. And realized with even more clarity the wisdom God had when he decided only young people should have kids!
Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries savors the countryside in the Genesee Valley 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 the fourth book in the LeGarde series, MAZURKA, coming in January 2009 from Twilight Times Books.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Characterizations: Archetypes and Stereotypes

© Suzanne Adair 2008 all rights reserved

Ever picked up a novel or sat down to watch a movie, and you realized that all the characters, even the protagonist, were plastic? Of course you have. Seems to be one of the scourges of the entertainment industry lately. Sometimes stereotypes make situations and plots so predictable that you abandon a book or movie as a waste of time. Pondering it later — because you as an author are always turning that stuff over in your head to decipher what went wrong — you realize you've seen that same character type done elsewhere, and done far better, well enough to hold your interest.

What's the difference? What makes the same sort of character come off as two-dimensional and worn out in one setting and fully alive, fresh, and unique in another? Furthermore, how can such flexibility exist, novel after novel, movie after movie, for what's basically the same "type:" a bold hero, a dastardly villain, a humorous, brainy, or sexy supporting character?

An original pattern or model is often referred to as an "archetype." The psychologist Carl Jung took archetypes a step further — said that they're drawn from the experience of a race and are present in the unconscious minds of individuals. Archetype is quite a "buzz word." The business industry capitalizes on the concept with self-help books that promise to identify your archetypal management style and fix your deficits. In his classic book, The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers & Screenwriters, Christopher Vogler relates these archetypes to the functions or purposes of characters in fiction.

Of late, archetypes have received a bad rap. According to Vogler, the most common archetypes are hero, mentor, threshold guardian, herald, shape-shifter, shadow, and trickster. That gives some novelists and screenwriters the green light when plotting; they presume that all they have to do is include a protagonist who is all death defying action, a smart friend who advises the protagonist, someone who tries to talk the protagonist out of action, another person who brings the protagonist news of change, a character who changes his or her side of the fence, one who strives to defeat the protagonist, and a goofy clown.

Writing those archetypal characters as such is a surefire way to create stereotypes. That's because you've deployed them as mere plot devices. Not only are there are more than seven archetypes out there, but no real person on the face of the earth is pure hero, mentor, threshold guardian, herald, shape-shifter, shadow, or trickster. We are each blends of archetypes, presenting different masks of ourselves to accommodate different situations.

You the author strive to make your characters feel like real people, people your readers recognize from their lives. If you want your readers to continue reading your books, your audience must relate to your characters. The only way you can achieve this relationship is to tend to each character individually. You must resist growing lazy with secondary characters, just because they aren't protagonists. Your protagonist is on a journey in your story, but so is each supporting character. Some set of forces brought the supporting character to the point where he or she interfaces with the protagonist. To some extent, dependent on the character's importance in the story, you must show how those forces shape the character.

A common characterization error in novels and movies is presenting a protagonist who embodies good and strength and a villain who embodies evil and weakness. Writers and even movie editors presume that by paring characterizations down to the bone thus, it creates simple, easy-to-relate characters for an audience. What it does, though, is strip power and dimension from characters, particularly the protagonist and antagonist or villain.

For an example of how this works, look at the movie "The Patriot," released in 2000. Like the latest release from my series, CAMP FOLLOWER, "The Patriot" draws off the real historical characters of Francis Marion and Banastre Tarleton in the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War. In "The Patriot," Marion and Tarleton are fictionalized as the characters of Benjamin Martin and William Tavington. Martin the hero, depicted as a benevolent widower and loving father who is also kind to his servants, goes on the warpath against the redcoats only when the war comes to his doorstep. His decision to embrace violence in guerilla warfare is interpreted as righteous anger. Tavington the villain is depicted as a man without scruples or restraint, a demon hell-bent on butchering civilians and destroying buildings, crops, and livestock for sport. Good vs. evil, strength vs. weakness.

Critics complained that Martin and Tavington came off as comic book figures, wholly predictable in their actions: in a word, boring. Sample outtakes from the movie, available on the DVD, divulge an astonishing lack of insight from the editors. What didn't make the final cut were scenes that reveal Tavington's vulnerability and appreciation of nature. Had those scenes been included in the final release, the audience would have had to process a deeper, more complex villain.

Developing the villain's characterization beyond mere archetype paradoxically demands fleshing out the hero's characterization. That's because audiences for movies and books expect the villain and the hero to be worthy of each other, in parity, and not necessarily polar opposites. Only then is the struggle between them perceived as worthwhile.

Historically, both Francis Marion and Banastre Tarleton were what I consider "gray" characters, embodying both virtues and flaws. Historically, they were opponents worthy of each other. That's what I attempt to capture in CAMP FOLLOWER — no easy task when history is written by victors who paint in stark stereotypes.

The Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines a stereotype as something conforming to a fixed or general pattern. Note the key words "conform" and "fix." In developing any character based on an archetype, you don't want to produce a conventional, rigid character. The wisest use of archetypes is as a scaffold upon which you layer the personality traits of each character, tailored to the theme of your novel. That way, you'll create characters who aren't stereotyped and trite, but archetypal characters who are unique and somewhat unpredictable. Relatable, like people you and your readers recognize, find interesting, and are worth visiting again and again.
* * * *
Suzanne Adair won the Patrick D. Smith Literature Award from the Florida Historical Society for PAPER WOMAN, the first novel of her mystery and suspense series. THE BLACKSMITH'S DAUGHTER and CAMP FOLLOWER continue her fictional ventures into the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War. For more information, visit

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My to-be-read stack

If you are like me, you have a stack of books to be read. I keep one. It gets moved from my bedroom to my living room to my kitchen to my bathroom to my family room, so I can not say it isn't portable, *smile*.

I will say that it is expandable, too, as it grows taller every week. I am such a book junkie, I just can't seem to stop buying books. I would love to get more read, but I am not too well organized between writing, promoting, working, and family life. I need an assistant.*Roll eyes*

I carry my books with me on all errands, do you do that? I always have a book in my purse, my car, my hubby's car. My biggest problem is trying to read too many at one time. I will be reading a cozy in bed, a suspense thriller in the car (cuz who wants to be full of adrenaline whilst trying to get sleepy, right?). I will keep a non fiction book on my desk in the kitchen for ideas about this or that.

I suppose if I told you all the books I had to be read, you would be surprised at the versatility of my reading life. I just listened to my dear Mama who said, "Broaden your horizons." I think a book is a tool in the hands of a curious mind. That's why I love authors so much. They are my teachers.

Now that I have begun to purchase e-books, I am going to have a lot less time to surf the web, because when I have a virtual stack of to-be-read books, and a real-time stack of to-be-read books, I am going to be surrounded. Literally. Or is that literarily?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Christmas Murder Scavenger Hunt

Work the clues in
The Devil Can Wait

Another Sam Harper Crime Mystery
Marta Stephens

Nine bodies, a cursed relic linked to a Christmas Eve prophecy, and no suspects. While homicide detective Sam Harper hunts down the guilty, YOU can track the clues in “The Devil Can Wait” for a chance to win an autographed copy of “Silenced Cry,” the book that launched the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series and received honorable mention at the 2008 New York Book Fair.
If you’re up to the challenge, just follow these five easy steps and submit your entry by Christmas Eve, 2008.

1) Read Sam Harper’s note titled “From the Desk of Detective Harper” that is posted on the home page of my website.

2) Throughout this article are quotes taken directly from the second book in the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series, “The Devil Can Wait” -- one quote for each week of Harper’s case. Keep in mind that the book is written in 3rd person and this article is written in first, thus some variance applies.

3) E-mail your answers to by midnight on December 24, 2008, with the following information:

  • Write down each quote and the page number where you found it in the book. Both items must be included to be eligible.
  • Send me a picture in jpg format of yourself holding my book. Please include your first name (last name optional) and tell me where the picture was taken (city and/or state or country). The picture of your smiling face holding this great book will be posted on the photo gallery of fans on my website.

4) Hey, but this isn’t all about me! If you are a published author, feel free to include the name of your book and a link to your website or blog for a bit of cross promotion!


Everyone who accurately lists, 1) all the quotes and 2) the page numbers where the quotes are found in “The Devil Can Wait,” will receive a free e-book of “Silenced Cry.” And if you've purchased the paperback, don' forget to send me your picture!!

One name will be drawn from this group of winners to receive an autographed copy of “Silenced Cry” along with other cool stuff to enhance your next reading experience! The winners will be announced on December 31, by direct e-mail. The winners’ names will also be posted on my website.

“Silenced Cry” ~ Honorable mention at the 2008 New York Book Festival, top ten in the 2007 Preditors & Editors Reader Poll.

Purchasing Information for:

“The Devil Can Wait” ISBN 978-1-905202-86-7
316 pages

The paperback is available from online shops like B&N, BAM, Borders, Amazon or your favorite neighborhood shop (just give them the ISBN number). Autographed copies are available directly from me (while supplies lasts) by writing to: Please make your subject line: A Christmas Murder Savenger Hunt.

E-book is available at:
BeWrite Books
Diesel e-books

Good luck and feel free to share this announcement with the mystery lovers in your life!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Masterful Description FAIL

There's been an e-mail circulating on the 'net for quite some time. It's purported to be a collection of bad writing samples from high school English papers. Personally, I don't think that's true - because in order to produce spectacularly bad writing that is genuinely funny, and not merely painful to read, you've got to know how to write well first, and then deliberately play on the words.

Still . . . these are damned funny. Enjoy!

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. Instead of 7:30.

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.

16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.

18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Interview with Anne K. Edwards, co-author of THE SLIPPERY ART OF BOOK REVIEWING

Please join Murder by 4 and welcome back Anne K. Edwards for an interview focused on the new book, THE SLIPPERY ART OF BOOK REVIEWING.

APL: Tell us about your book, THE SLIPPERY ART OF BOOK REVIEWING. Who is it aimed at, and what has been the initial feedback?

Anne K. Edwards: THE SLIPPERY ART OF BOOK REVIEWING is aimed at anyone who either is or wants to be a reviewer. It was written to bring as much information as possible about reviewing into one form for convenience as well as a guide for the new reviewer or a refresher for the experienced reviewer. The feedback has been excellent in that the reviews are all positive and recommend the book. It is a Finalist in the USA Books Awards and is also being used in at least two colleges as texts for English courses.

APL: What were the rewards and challenges of co-authoring this book with Mayra Calvani? How did you enjoy the experience of sharing authorship?

Anne K. Edwards: My favorite reward of working with Mayra Calvani is that she is a very enthusiatic author and very organized. This makes it so easy to work with her. She is clear on what she wanted the book to be, which is a help to someone like myself who initially had little interest in writing nonfiction. And as in any team effort, there should be a leader so who better to lead than Mayra, with her sense of what needed to be done and how to do it? The only challenge was keeping up with her. She is a whirlwind to my slow motion. I enjoyed very much working with Mayra, but am not sure I could do this with others. That would depend on the other person. Such a person must needs be a near saint to work with me as I am impatient, don't like doing things twice, hate research of any kind, hate deadlines, and find it a chore to work those times when I'd rather be doing nothing at all. My muse is a very lazy fellow.

APL: You love mysteries. You’ve written several as well as published children’s books. Was this your first nonfiction work? How did it compare to writing fiction?

Anne K. Edwards: THE SLIPPERY ART OF BOOK REVIEWING is my first attempt in the world of nonfiction. To compare writing nonfiction to writing fiction is easy. Writing fiction is fun while writing nonfiction is work. By that I mean, I write all my books from my own head and do little to no research, I edit as I write and I don't use outlines. But in nonfiction, there must be some sort of outline, you must research or know the subject thoroughly before attempting to write the book. And you must be organized which I fear, I am not.

APL: Approximately how many reviews have you written in your career? Have you changed your approach or process over the years?

Anne K. Edwards: Wow!! I'm not sure I can answer this question. I write as few as three reviews some months and as many as twenty other months, and have been reviewing for many years. A lot depends on my other work. If I'm working on a book it slows the number of reviews or if I get involved in other things like editing or putting a long issue of Voice in the Dark together. My approach has probably changed as I learned more about reviewing, and I think reviewing is an evolving field. At first, I was worried about alienating an author, but that changes quickly if you realize you're responsibility lies to the reader. I find also my reviews have changed because the smaller presses are doing more editing and also accepting fewer books that aren't well written so the things I focus on are shifting also.

APL: What criteria do you use to select a book for a review? Read the first chapter? Ask for a particular genre?

Anne K. Edwards: The only type of books I don't review are self-published or vanity presses and this is because of lack of editing. I don't review erotica or porn because quite frankly it is too repetitious and too many lack real plotting as the author uses explicit sex scenes of twenty pages at a time from three to six times and the plot is just a sort of link between them as these scenes are the book's sole purpose for being. I also will not review books that are defamatory or outside the general reading public's preferences as those books can go to review sites within their marketing niche. Lastly, most of the books I review are selected by others and sent--as New Mystery Reader or New and Used Books. The books I do take outside these sites are usually from authors I've reviewed before and enjoyed their books. Sometimes when I get a request from someone I don't know, I will request a few pages to see if I can give a fair review based on lack of errors in the writing and if I think that author can write. I specify that the work must be edited and at times this causes the request to be withdrawn. I find I can be objective outside my own preferred reading and that is a main requirement for reviewing in any genre.

APL: Tell us about the life of Anne Edwards. You live on a farm in the country. Describe a typical day with your husband, horses, and cats. When do you find time to write?

Anne K. Edwards: I never have a typical day since each one depends on the needs and whims of the horses and cats. Some days we seem to spend a large portion at the veterinarian's office or waiting for one at home--many of our critters are aged. Other days, we are taking hay deliveries or going to the feed store. Errands get pushed into one day but this still eats up the full day. Regular chores outside eat a large hole in the day also. Writing time is often scarce due to that alone, but if I do manage a few broken hours at the computer, I spend a lot of time 'chatting' with friends and looking for new sites related to reviewing or book promotion and marketing, all the while removing cats from between me and the monitor or off the keyboard. I find I need at least two unbroken hours before what I write makes any sense, so I usually write things in my head and then transfer them as I get time. Sadly, I've lost some lovely ideas that way, but my best thinking time is when I'm doing barn work.

APL: Can you tell us about your previous books? What are you working on now?

Anne K. Edwards: Lida Quillen of Twilight Times Books took a chance on DEATH ON DELIVERY which was first an ebook and then released in print. She has also published my first children's ebook, JEREMY AND THE DRAGON which has turned into a series, the second of which is being written now. Another ebook, THE LAST TO FALL came out last spring and is doing well. Lastly, is THE SLIPPERY ART OF BOOK REVIEWING of which I am coauthor. DEATH ON DELIVERY is a mystery, first in the Hannah Clare series--she's a bit different from other women detectives--older, works alone, no nonsense about her and she likes catching the bad guys even at risk to herself. JEREMY AND THE DRAGON was written to show that children can think their way through problems if given a chance. THE LAST TO FALL is a futuristic warning based on what is happening in our world today, but my main characters are three teenagers which does not make it a story for the young, just that they represent the future and perhaps a lost hope. And THE SLIPPERY ART OF BOOK REVIEWING is my only foray into nonfiction following the talented Mayra Calvani's lead. "SLIPPERy" is meant as a help book to any reviewer, compiling as much information on the subject as could be found.

I am currently working on JEREMY AND THE DRAGON, the second book in that series. And the second mystery for Hannah Clare is nearly done. And as with most authors, I have a million ideas that will probably never see light as time is the problem. Why can't they clone us so we could use these untold tales?

APL: What’s your view on ebooks and print books? Where do you see the book industry going?

Anne K. Edwards: I've been seeing articles that say the publishing industry and bookselling is going down. I think this news applies to the printed version of books and then to the large publishing houses. Recently, I saw that the sale of ebooks was up something like 70% or so. That fact tells me something. Ebooks are here to stay. All they need is a reader that doesn't eat up batteries or cost an arm and a leg, and is easy for us gadget illiterate types to use. A last fact is that the audio form of books is becoming very popular too and will see good growth in the future.

APL: What’s your view on small publishers versus the giants? Do you have advice for emerging writers on this topic?

Anne K. Edwards: That may be a complex question, but my answer is simple. The giants do not always select books for quality, but those that they can mass produce and sell such as specialty books aimed at young readers--the life story of a twenty year old singer or movie personality of the moment. They sell fiction that is often formula fiction which means it is a tried and true plot with few variations on characters or style. And there is a trend for these giants to set these formula books up, then hire writers to follow the dots to producing like stories time after time, i.e., work for hire writing. This keeps all the profits inhouse and they hold copyright. The giants rarely take chances on new writers, they have eliminated much of the mid-list writers, and with a shrinking market they may drop more authors. The small publishers who market online are maintaining or enlarging their market share due to production of ebooks and a willingness to take chances on new authors, thus providing readers with the variety of reading material and new authors that the giants are failing to provide. As more readers use computers to make their purchases of goods, the reality is they will also buy more books online, whether print or ebook. The giants may be waking up to that fact too, as I see reports that they are occasionally buying or contracting with successful small presses. But a word of warning, if they shoulder their way into this online market, attempts will be made to force many small presses out and limit their proliferation, so the giants can increase their own profit margin again. This will limit what is available to the reader as well.

My advice to new writers is based on my own experience. Literary agents rarely, if ever, take on new, untried authors. Their income is based on what they sell and new authors are an unknown quantity and have no following so they are nearly impossible to sell to the large houses agents deal with. This is not a reflection on literary agents, just a fact of life. The larger houses do not take on authors without agents and any submitted manuscript that is not requested may be destroyed, returned unopened, or condemned to the slush pile where it may sit forever.

So, my advice to authors seeking publication is do not waste months or even a year or more waiting to hear from an agent or large publisher on acceptance or rejection. This is in spite of the outdated mantra we hear that we need an agent to be published. That applies only to being published by the large houses and agents are used by them as a sort of filter to keep out the unwanted work.

On the other hand, small presses, niche presses, and other types of presses will give you a much quicker response and your chances of publication are much higher. I highly recommend new authors begin here as this helps develop talent which in turn, builds a readership. Once you have a couple of successes, then is the time to look for an agent if you are still determined to try for being published by the large houses, but do this only if you are willing to waste a LOT of time along the way waiting for them to notice you.

APL: Can you tell us about

Anne K. Edwards: was set up for me by a dear friend who at one time had the website. I learned reviewing from working for her also and when was set up, I quickly found I didn't have any real interest in just rehashing information about myself. So I decided it would be more fun and of value to use it to promote other writers as well and it serves that function well.

APL: Is there a website where we can learn more about THE SLIPPERY ART OF BOOK REVIEWING?

Anne K. Edwards: Yes, Thanks for having me here! And please check out the following sites for more on THE SLIPPERY ART OF BOOK REVIEWING:

Literary Journal:
Mayra Calvani:

Anne is from south central PA where she lives on a small farm with some horses and a bunch of cats. She loves books and travel and close friends. She writes what she likes to read--mysteries.
Anne is the Editor-in-Chief of which includes the literary Ezine "Voice in the Dark." Future projects include a new mystery, DEATH REENACTED, two childrens books and short stories for New Mystery Reader.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Can you be a flexible mystery writer?

© Gayle Trent, 2008 all rights reserved

“The editor says she likes it, but she doesn’t love it.”

The comment had me scrambling. What would it take to make the editor “love” my partial submission? I wrote back and asked what authors the editor had recently bought. Two names in hand, I hurried to my local bookseller. I bought each of the authors’ books and began one of them as soon as I got home to determine how this book was different from mine.

There were two definitive differences: pace and description. My partial was heavy on dialogue, light on description and set at a rapid-fire pace. Book Number One recommended by the editor was much slower and detailed. Could I slow my book down and intersperse more intricacies of setting, background and plot without having it become boring? That would be a challenge. More of a challenge than you might realize. It brings to mind Kim Smith’s post of November 6 on “fixing” your writing.

Often, if I’m reading a book with huge passages of description, I’ll skim over them to get back into the flow of the story. In order to write a book with larger passages of description, I would have to do so in such a way as to keep the plot moving swiftly forward.

That said, here are my tips for being a flexible writer, mystery or otherwise:

1) Can you fix the manuscript and remain true to yourself and your story? In my case, I could. The editor desired more description and a slower pace. While I enjoy books that seem to race from dilemma to conclusion at a breakneck speed, I found I could slow down the action and give the reader a much more firm sense of place and character while remaining true to the story. In fact, I learned that providing more detail made me do more research and gave me a stronger sense of place and character.

2) Would a change of point of view (POV) help your story? Some editors prefer first person, while others prefer third. Will first person allow you to have more freedom/fun with your story? Or would it hinder you from providing more details about other characters? Or would it make you stretch to find alternatives to providing more details about other characters?

3) Will the change make your story better? Before you answer that, give it a try. Sometimes you’re too married to your own story or writing to realize what may or may not improve it. One exception to this rule is if your mystery is the first in a series and you want to leave some things open-ended. For example, my editor wanted me to tie up loose ends with the stray cat in Murder Takes the Cake. As it stands, the cat is starting to come around and brush up against the heroine by the end of the book but she’s still keeping her distance. My editor said, in effect, “Winter is closing in by the end of the book. I’d like to see the cat moved inside and happy in her new home.” I respectfully declined. The cat in Murder Takes the Cake is based on a real-life stray cat. It took months of my sitting a short distance away from her food bowl before she would even trust me enough to brush up against me. The change would not ring true, nor would it give me a chance to illustrate how rewarded the heroine feels when she finally does earn the cat’s trust.

4) Has the editor caught something you were too close to realize? I’ve done this myself, so I know how easy it is to be so close to your story that you don’t catch something until it’s seen through “fresh” eyes. As an editor, I once suggested a change on a story because the action was completely out of character for the heroine. The heroine was a person of strong morals, and she was constantly concerned about how her actions would reflect on her family. Then the heroine—for no good reason, really—broke into another character’s home and went through his belongings. I told the author, “She wouldn’t do that. She’d be too afraid of getting caught breaking in.” The author replied, “But it’s such a cute scene.” I said, “Okay, then give her a plausible excuse for being in the house. The man is gone; have him ask her to water his plants or check on his cat. That gives her a legitimate reason for being in his house. Then she can snoop.” The author chose to withdraw her submission rather than make the change. I suppose that ultimately is the question: Do you want to be published more than you want to be right?

* * *

About the author: Gayle Trent lives with her husband and two children in Southwest Virginia. When not writing, she can be found baking, shopping, reading or playing video games with the kids.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Writing is like cooking

When I was a teenager and decided I wanted to learn how to cook, I took on spaghetti as my first choice. I had watched my mother do it countless times, and it seemed like an easy feat. After setting about the task, I wondered just how she made cooking look so easy. It wasn’t really. There was a lot of time spent at the sink, standing, stirring, cutting and chopping. I quickly realized that cooking was an art and it required dutiful observance to the rules.

When I make spaghetti, I buy only the freshest ingredients, tomatoes, peppers, onions, mushrooms, and ground meat. I find healthy versions of this, and have made it with turkey, pork and beef. Pasta is a major player in spaghetti so I make sure I pick a good brand (although I would love to make my own one day!)

In preparation for the batch of spaghetti, I cut up the vegetables and brown the meat, meticulously keeping cross contamination of meat to veggies. I boil the pasta in its happy red pot until it is just the right consistency. When I am ready for the big finish, I ladle the noodles onto a colorful dish, top it with a batch of the meat sauce, and sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top for a zing.

Writing is a lot like cooking. You have to follow some guidelines, like use the best ingredients, prepare it well, and send it to the table looking its best.

Don’t settle for stale words! Find a new dictionary, or thesaurus and challenge yourself to test those “taste buds” and try to find new words, new ways of saying things. Then, take those fabulous words, sentences, and paragraphs and put them into a document that makes every reader sigh. Wake their senses! Throw in an extra dose of spice. Make your writing appear pleasing to the eye. Scoop it out of its usual plain wrapping and present it to the public on a glamorous new plate that will make your readers say “ah”.

Change is good, but too much veering from the norm may make your reader (or dinner guest!) turn in the opposite direction. Don’t do things that send them for the nearest diner to get their fill of fiction, or fettucini.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A week after book launch ...

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

. . . have things slowed down? Hardly, but that's better than the alternative, right?

For the past several months I've been busy with edits, proofreading and a laundry list of things that needed to get done in preparation for the launch of "The Devil Can Wait" on November 3.

Consequently, I've been (or at least feel as if I have been) absent from my routine posts on other blogs and sites. But once a manuscript reaches the final proofreading stage, things happen very quickly and getting the book to press becomes the top priority on everyone's list.

I found it interesting to see how many e-mails and comments I received from other writers this past week who asked for tips and advice on how to promote their books. Their questions made me think back to when my debut book, "Silenced Cry," was released 19 months ago. In spite of my background in public relations, I knew little about the publishing world and knew even less about book promotion. What I discovered is that self-promotion is a very delicate balancing act between what the writer needs to "say" and the reader wants know. Fortunately, there are four cost-effective and positive ways to promote books.

Writers should:
1) Develop a website that represents their writing. Make it attractive, interactive, and easy to navigate. Remember to check the hyperlinks often. Nothing will turn a visitor way faster than broken links.

2) Promote their writing through a variety of articles and post them on several websites. Consider their target audience and write about an experience, offer advice, or write on a subject that will be of interest to readers.

3) Send press releases to the major newspapers and radio stations in your state and ask for an interview – not a review. Most newspapers no longer write book reviews. Follow up with a phone call to the appropriate editor to make sure he or she received it and to check if additional information is needed. Continue to focus your marketing to posting articles in high traffic blogs. Journalists often go to web sites to find their next story. Here are some useful links: (free) (free)

4) Network. Build a community of peers and readers and be an active part of that community.

These are all vital elements of developing an Internet presence, but networking is in my opinion the most critical. Word of mouth is still the number one best way to sell your book even if “word of mouth” takes on a different form of communication. The Internet is overflowing with groups that bring authors and readers together. Don’t limit yourself to one or two groups. Social networks, forums, critique groups, and professional writers’ groups are key to today’s Internet marking. Many sites will allow members to create a profile page that offers the capability to post book covers, the author’s photographs, bios, book trailers, and blogs. Some groups also include forums for the exchange of information and ideas. They’re a great way to meet others who have similar interests and will often lead to many positive connections.

The interactions we have with one another are the cornerstones of relationships. Therefore, the key to success in these groups is to give as much as you receive. Make it a point to respond not only to the messages posted on your page, but get in the habit of interacting with the other members via their posts. Get involved in group discussions whether they are related to writing/publishing or not. Few authors have the luxury of writing full-time which means they work outside the home and often are highly skilled in other areas of expertise. Share your know-how, when applicable, with others. Members will support fellow members they have come to know. I belong to a number of author/reader groups and have found each through links that members from other sites have shared or invited me into. In return, I invite them into my groups and also pay it forward. Eventually your base of contacts will grow into a wonderfully diverse set of cyber friends. After a while, you’ll start seeing familiar faces at the different sites who by now have met new contacts for you to contact.

The important thing to remember is that the results of your self-promotion won't be apparent right away. It takes time to build connections, but regardless of where you are in the writing process, the sooner you start building a network, the better.

In a recent interview, I was asked what, if anything, I plan to change about the strategies I used to promote "Silenced Cry" as I prepare to promote "The Devil Can Wait." I thought about it for a minute. My answer is: no change, just more of everything.

I’m doing more locally to promote my books through talks and signings, but my primary focus continues to be Internet promotions. In the months between book launches, I've created a wider network of contacts and attracted a readership. They in turn have helped to spread the word of mouth. Last year I conducted my own virtual book tour which helped to give me some great exposure to new target audiences. This year, I plan to conduct a virtual book tour in December with the help of a virtual book tour company.

The first of several Internet events happened yesterday -- a live interview on Blog Talk Radio "I Just Finished." The show, "Coffee with an Author" is hosted by Naomi Giroux and features a new author every Monday. I didn't know what questions she was going to ask, but I kept telling myself that no one knows the book or my writing journey better than I and thinking of the interview in those terms made it easier to do. But seriously, any worries I might have had quickly disappeard the minute Naomi and I started to chat. It was a wonderful experience I would gladly recomment to any author who wants to promote their book. If you have an hour to kill and are up to it, please give it a listen.

This link will take you directly to the segment:

My second announcement is that the book cover of "The Devil Can Wait" is now featured as cover of the week on the Erin Aislinn site. It and the other covers featured during the month of November will be eligible for a vote for cover of the month throughout December. So mark your calendars because all who vote will be eligible to receive a free copy of "The Devil Can Wait."

The book cover was designed by Jennifer Adams-Valdez , and fellow author and graphic designer, Joe Bright. The cover will be eligible for a cover of the month vote throughout December.

Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense.

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT - November 3, 2008, BeWrite Books (UK)
Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival
Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Character Arcs: Why I Love Them

There's something fascinating about watching a character change through the course of a story.

In good fiction, this happens between the beginning and the end of a novel. However, I find that I'm especially intrigued by series transformations, so I'd like to talk about that. It's difficult to give one character an arc that extends through a series of books (I know; I'm still working on it here). But I believe that it's ultimately the most rewarding experience a writer can have.

Allow me to give you an example of one of my favorite character transformations. This may seem irrelevent, but trust me, it's not. This particular character exists in a Japanese anime series (graphic novel and television cartoon form). The series is called Dragonball Z, and the character's name is Vegeta.

If you're familiar with Dragonball Z, I'm sure you know where I'm going with this.

In the beginning of the series, Vegeta is a bad guy. Okay, he's a bastard. His number one goal (main stakes) is to basically rule the universe and prove that he's the most powerful warrior alive. He is a prince, after all, and must be the best. But his secondary goal is tailored uniquely to him (personal stakes): destroying Goku, who is the hero of the series and whose goal is to save the universe from people like Vegeta. Vegeta feels that Goku's very existence is an insult to him. Unfortunately, being the hero, Goku (who is not a prince; is, in fact, the lowest of commoners) is stronger than Vegeta. Much rankling of pride ensues.

(Bet you didn't think a cartoon series could have this much depth, huh?)

Anyway. Throughout the course of the series, a lot of horrible things happen to Vegeta - mostly as a result of his pride and stubborn refusal to let anyone help him. He dies at least three times (in Dragonball Z-world, people can be brought back to life . . . don't ask. It's a long story.). His death is more traumatic each time, because he is slowly learning to care about people other than himself.

By the time the series reaches Vegeta's third death, he has become something else. He dies by blowing himself up in order to kill an enemy who is stronger than him, in an effort to save the universe (main stakes) - especially his son (personal stakes). And in the final confrontation between Goku and the last big bad guy, (Vegeta's been resurrected again at this point) Vegeta makes it possible for the universe to be saved by letting the bad guy beat the crap out of him as a distraction, to give Goku time to gather enough energy to kill him once and for all.

This type of transformative character arc can move readers to tears (yes, I did cry when Vegeta died). It is among the most powerful tools in a writer's box.

I've attempted to create a series arc for two of my main characters, and have come to realize that I've borrowed elements from this series. One of them (Gabriel), like Goku, is slowly shedding the part of his innocence that allows other people to hurt him; the other (Jenner), like Vegeta, is slowly learning that pride does not have to prevent him from caring about other people. At least a little.

I still have two more installments to go. Hopefully, I can maintain my character arcs and make people cry at the end.

Monday, November 10, 2008


© E. J. Rand 2008 all rights reserved

Take your hero and maybe heroine, torment them for 250 pages, and squeeze them out in different seasons, with different clothes, hairdos, experiences, emotions, and maybe partners--for we all know the story's trials must change our POV characters.

Now, get pen and paper and--quickly--set down six ways to evolve the same characters through four novels. Your answers need to be elements that readers will "get," whether with familiarity or surprise, and with each novel moving the characters further along.

Poirot and Miss Marple sell a lot of books, but usually, killing after killing, they walk away unchanged. Perhaps that's because they're not married. They also seem unscathed. I've promised myself not to write about tough guys who save the world and break hearts. Gary and Becca, my amateur sleuths, are married and not bulletproof. They relate like an updated "Nick & Nora," without the dog, but with an edge. I'm married too, so I know how things evolve.

What do we mean by the "e" word? Everything from the simple to the sublime. Let's start with simple: The Food Police. How long does it take for--again, usually--the wife to impose discipline? In my Reluctant Sleuth Mysteries, it happens in the second book. That's fine with Gary. They met in the first novel, SAY GOODBYE, a year after Gary's late wife died, and whatever Becca cooks beats Chinese take-out. She's also insecure about her figure--though as Gary and I know, it's a self-image problem. She watches her diet, as so many others. We'll raise the issue later--for now, call it Point S for Self-image--and, maybe, Showing.

Then there are mannerisms, personality quirks. Becca is used to zinging men--the sharp, swift, clever line. Gary doesn't care. Her acerbic comments had sent men packing. His ability to see through it was one reason they bonded. So, in a subsequent novel, when a woman friend calls Becca on it, she waits until she and Gary are alone and tells him she won't do it any more. "It's unbecoming," she says. His answer--mind you, he's nibbling at her neck--"You're very becoming." But the path of literary evolution can be tortuous. Her reply: "She got you excited, didn't she?"

Digging a tad deeper, marriage partners arrive with separate personalities. Compromise may be the name of the game, but what is each willing to give up--or, not? This offers another interesting layer. Gary became an amateur sleuth when a friend asked him to look into the death of her husband--she didn't buy the police version. He met Becca because she'd been a witness, and he finds the adventure of sleuthing, well, compelling. But Becca recalls the terror she felt when he was shot and wants him to give it up, or at least let her in so she can watch his back. Endangering her is the last thing he wants.

That argument leads off series novel two, PERFECT COVER. Let's take it further. What does a strong-willed woman do when the guy says no? How about volunteer as a police decoy to catch a killer? I'll show you, buster. With love, of course. In novel three, HIGHER CALLING, Gary gives in and makes her a partner, thinking he might then have a greater say in her actions. But no. She's often a half step ahead, and ultimately that puts her in front of the gun--but more about that later (call this Point D for Dead).

Plumbing profound depths, let's consider what is most important to each of them. Here's some of what I came up with for Gary and Becca:

*In SAY GOODBYE, when we meet them, Gary wears a wedding band to preserve memories of his late wife. Becca wears one as a defense against men--no trust there. An evolution: they fall for one another. So much so that when the killers take Becca, Gary must try to save her--he can't SAY GOODBYE again. It's gone beyond "falling:" this logical man has been blown open emotionally. That's a huge change. Becca has become the focus of his life.

*In PERFECT COVER, what could destroy Gary? Losing Becca, now his wife. So he tries to protect her. But as we've read above, that doesn't work. Her evolution is to push into sleuthing despite his wishes. What is an author to do? How about having Gary find her dead? Or so he and the reader think. It came to me that I enjoy writing intensely emotional books. What we see, looking at and listening to people, usually hides what's going on inside. What we do as authors is illuminate the confusion, urges, fears and joys.

*In HIGHER CALLING, let's take the evolution process a step further. Here we go with Point D for Dead. HIGHER CALLING can be terrorist jargon for killing in the name of God, but it becomes Gary's reason for acting on behalf of the greater good. That means Gary must give up his reason for living, Becca, to a killer's gun. Imagine when she calls him on it. The reaction is non-verbal: spoken words wouldn't work.

*In DARK SEA, I moved in another direction. Gary and Becca must have worked out rules with prior mates, but here they are, on their first anniversary vacation, a small-ship cruise, and here we go with Point S for Self-image. She's always been self-conscious about her figure, though Gary believes--and tells her--that she's beautiful. On the cruise, she'd like to find out whether she is unattractive or it's just in her head. For a woman, and for a marriage, this urge sure qualifies as big-time evolution. When she asks if they can go to a topless beach, Gary knows they're in uncharted waters. He bites his tongue and agrees because he hates to say no to her.

You see, Gary has trouble getting angry with Becca, and Point S's "Showing" component refers to her adventurous nature: on the beach, while totally innocent, she infuriates him. So I've gone and created marital discord, another fine path toward evolution. That beach scene--and another chapter in a similar vein-- powerfully evolves my sleuths, bending what they each came with into how they expect to go forward. It allows me to describe marital intimacy--while physical, so often having nothing to do with sex--in ways readers don't usually find. To get away with it, I had to inseparably twine this subplot to the murder mystery.

To flip the blender on high in DARK SEA, I also have Gary and Becca, in separate incidents, in order to save the other, each kill a man. Becca had never done that; only a visceral reaction enabled it. So the author must put them through a catharsis--a release from the horror they've survived, a renewal together. They wind up looking at each other differently, and the reader knows it. Change like that, I believe, will help sell your next novel.

Think of where your characters were, are, want to be, and how you can plot to drive them crazy and force them to change their beliefs and desires. You can be Darwin at the keyboard. Ah, the subtleties of evolution in a world where you are supreme.
* * *
E. J. Rand's SAY GOODBYE was published a few months after he turned 70. His website, contains info on author, series, each novel with sample text, events and awards, and images of the author and the first two covers.

Reluctant Sleuth Mysteries, by E. J. Rand:

SAY GOODBYE (February 2008), is available at bookstores and on This debut novel won Deadly Ink Press' David G. Sasher, Sr. Best Unpublished Thriller Award, and was honored as a Finalist in the 2008 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
PERFECT COVER is expected in December 2008 (Deadly Ink Press).
HIGHER CALLING is expected in June 2009 (Deadly Ink Press).
DARK SEA began professional edit in September, 2008.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Book Reviews (and how they help the aspiring author)

Good morning friends and writers!

I hope you're all doing well. My whole family has been down with a rotten cold since my wife, grandsons, and I went to my friend's cabin last weekend for our (cough, cough) "vacation." We should've just stayed home! And to think, I PAID for the weekend from hell. (More on that another time!) Anyway, the darned thing has been wreaking havoc with my concentration. I need to finish the final edits for Healey's Cave (the debut novel of the Green Marble paranormal mystery series) so it can be ready for a March 2009 release, but I just can't seem to focus. Hopefully it will resolve soon. Anyway, I hope you've been successful at avoiding the first cold of the season, and if so, that you continue to stay healthy!

There was one bright spot, though - the new book trailer for Tremolo: cry of the loon came in! I think Red Lotus Productions did a wonderful job. If you haven't already, would you mind hopping over to take a look? As always, I value your feedback.

Now let's talk writing!

Today's piece is for writers who either have a book to promote, or dream of publishing some day, or for readers who simply love books and want to review them.

Most of this seems rather obvious in hindsight now, but it wasn't always that way, so I thought it might be useful to jot it down.

Book Reviews (and how they can help the aspiring author)

If you're a writer, posting book reviews can be a unique way to gain name recognition and open up a whole new world of contacts. When I was asked to write my first review, I balked. Sure, I loved the book. Matter of fact, I adored it. But who would want to hear what I had to say?

I'd never ventured into this arena, but I gave it a try. In the end, folks seemed to enjoy the review of The Margaret Ellen by R.C. Burdick. And guess what? I met writers who became valued colleagues and critique partners, was fortunate to become friends with readers who enjoyed the same genres as I, and was offered reviews of my books as an unexpected side benefit.

This first review turned into a few dozen as time rolled on, and opened up gateways for my own books that I'd never envisioned. I became a reviewer for Midwest Book Reviews, Compulsive Reader, In the Library Reviews, and more. I still consider myself first and foremost a novelist, but when I can squeeze them in, I pen a few reviews each year.

So - if you have time - consider writing a review for a special book. First of all, as testimony to the work itself. And secondly, as a possible venue to expand your marketing field in the future.

Here are a few tips I've gathered along the way:

1) Only review books you feel are well written, in the genre(s) you enjoy, and that have something worthwhile between the covers. There's no point to accepting a poorly written or edited book for a review.

2) Read the first page or chapter or so to see if the book suits you. You don't want to accept a book that you'll have to slog through. There are too many great books out there to waste a moment on a slow or tedious read.

3) Read up on some guidelines for reviewers, such as can be found in The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing by Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards. You'll also find hundreds of places to post your reviews in books like this.

4) Follow the review with a brief bio of yourself, with links to your work. If the reader enjoys your review, they may also enjoy your books.

5) Don't take on more than you can handle. If it starts to impact your writing time, cut back. It's hard to say "no," to a writer, but sometimes you just have to do it. Be kind, but be firm. (It took me forever to learn how to do that without being besieged with guilt. And I'M STILL SO SORRY TO EVERYONE WHOSE BOOKS I COULDN'T FIT IN!)

6) Add a page on your website with "Recommended Reading." I've done so on my LeGarde Mysteries site, with the book covers, links to purchase sites, and links to my own reviews.

7) Post your review in as many places as possible. Do a search for bookstores where the book is being sold, review sites, social networking sites, and more. The more exposure your review has, the more copies of the reviewed book will be sold, and the more name recognition you'll gain.

8) Be sure to always include the pertinent book info as I've listed below - publisher, ISBN, website for purchase, price, genre, etc. etc.

Here's a sample review that I just wrote and published this week. The book was just released on November 3rd, so if you want a copy, be sure to hustle over to Amazon. They're going fast!

Author: Marta Stephens

Reviewer: Aaron Paul Lazar
Publisher: BeWrite Books
Publisher's Address: 32 Bryn Road South, Wigan, Lancaster, WN4 8QR
ISBN number: 978-1-905202-86-7
Price: $15.99
Publisher phone number and/or website address:

Looking for a deliciously convoluted tale that will twist its way through your brain and keep you up late into the night? Look no further, for Marta Stephens has just released the second book in the Sam Harper crime mystery series, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT.

Stephens’ debut novel, SILENCED CRY, was addictive, propelling readers into the action from page one and corkscrewing through a wild ride of corruption and abuse. Unlike many “seconds” in a series, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT does not disappoint, and expands Detective Sam Harper’s world from the fictitious seaside town of Chandler, Massachusetts to the steamy jungles of Columbia and through shocking revelations in the Vatican itself.

A dark history precedes the bitter tale of a cursed black pearl ring, whose protectors and seekers have killed to keep its secrets for centuries. Now, just months before the planets align in what is believed to be the sign of a long awaited prophecy, the ring lands in Harper’s back yard, triggering villainy and murder. Murders, that is. Four boys wash ashore the icy Chandler beaches, and Harper’s up to his eyeballs in corpses with few leads and increasing pressure from his captain and the press.

As if multiple seaside murders aren’t enough to drive an already sleep-deprived police force to the brink of exhaustion, a sleazy pawnshop owner and elderly history professor are found dead within days. Is spunky local journalist, Jennie Blake, tied to these murders? If so, what’s she trying to hide? And why can’t Sam stop thinking about the gorgeous brunette in spite of his best intentions?

Stephens has skillfully detailed police procedures in a realistic fashion, a task not easy for one who hasn’t worked a real life police investigation. But on top of this, the author has woven intriguing subplots with a love entanglement that thrusts the story forward to its climatic end. The sexual tension between Harper and reporter Jennie Blake is natural and sublime – adding icing to this already delectable confection of supernatural elements, grisly murders, and the stoic talent and courage of one very likeable cop. Don’t take my word for it – buy it and read it today.

Stephen’s has hinted at a third in the Sam Harper series. We’ll wait with bated breath, in anticipation of her next taut thriller.


Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries savors the countryside in the Genesee Valley 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 the fourth book in the LeGarde series, MAZURKA, coming in fall 2008 from Twilight Times Books.

DOUBLE FORTE is the founding book of the LeGarde Mystery series and was released in November, 2004. UPSTAGED followed in October, 2005. His third, TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON, was released via Twilight Times Books in November 2007. Mr. Lazar is currently working on his thirteenth book, THE AVIARY. The first book of his paranormal mystery series, Moore Mysteries, will be released in early 2008, along with Mazurka, the next book in the LeGarde mystery series. He is a regular columnist for FMAM (Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine), and has been published in Great Mystery and Suspense magazine and the Absolute Write Newsletter. Contact him at:, visit his blog at,, or stop by his websites at and