Saturday, May 31, 2008

Life Lessons: Just Say Yes


Good morning, friends. I've posted this today (not "my" day! LOL) because MB4 has agreed to host the launch party for Mayra Calvani tomorrow, June 1st. So, here is one of my "Seedlings" articles, straight from the heart. ;o) -- Aaron

***

Last night, per our usual routine, my two little buddies came upstairs to play with me.

Grandsons are precious. They’re inspirational. Hysterical. Adorable. And they keep me humble.

All day I’d toiled under major stress, frantic about getting data ready for a big presentation. I was beat. Exhausted, really. But I looked forward to my time with the boys, not just because I’m besotted with them and love being their grandfather, but because there’s something sublime in those playful moments when we laugh so hard we cry. It’s rejuvenating. It’s therapeutic. Like a shot of life that helps you bear up against the tough times.

Julian, four, was ready the minute he burst into our bedroom.

“Look, Papa! I have the dinosaurs!”

He brandished the “sharp tooth” and the “three horn” with pride. Gordie, three, followed him by seconds, reaching for the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

“I want that one!” he shrieked.

Julian gave in quickly, tossing the toy to him. But a look of concern soon crossed his face.

“Papa! I don’t have a dinosaur for you.”

It didn’t stump him for long. He rummaged in the toy box, feet kicking in the air, and emerged with a stuffed red lion.

“Here you go, Papa. You can be the lion tonight.”

Satisfied that the problem was solved, both boys hopped onto my bed and began to zoom and crash their dinosaurs into my lion.

“Whoa! Wait a minute!” I laughed. “Why are you attacking me?”

Playing superheroes is a frequent game of ours, with or without toys in hand. There are always bad guys who threaten the planet and need to be dispatched, and lots of flying and tumbling often ensues. But I like to mix it up a bit, and make sure my darling grandsons learn some tolerance, empathy, and altruistic characteristics during our imaginative play.

“I’m the king of the forest!” I sang. They stopped their attacks and looked at me like I was crazy. I kept on, morphing into the Cowardly Lion.

“Don’t pull my tail. Or I’ll cry.”

I’m not sure what got me going on this vein, but soon images and scenes from the movie flashed across my brain and the stuffed toy became the legendary lion from the Wizard of Oz.

I turned him with tail flailing toward each boy. Of course, Julian pulled it, laughing hysterically. I immediately launched into faux tears, weeping and sobbing like a crazed cartoon character.

“You pulled my tail!”

And thus the game began. Each boy would incite the action by grabbing and yanking on the tail. Then, when the lion cried, they would comfort him with hugs and kisses.

Our play soon spiraled into bad guys lurking in the corner and coming to get us. After Gordie and Julian leapt into the air with fists flying and feet kicking to “get” the bad guys about a dozen times, I convinced them to hide with me under the red flannel sheet on my bed. What does that say about my manliness? I shudder to think. Anyway…

“It’s a magic tent!” I said to their giggles in the dark. “Nobody can hurt us in here.”

Julian, with his too mature analytical brain, said, “But Papa. This is just cloth. A real sword could cut it.”

“Not in our world, my boy. It’s magic! And now we’re… invisible!”

We got a lot of mileage out of that flannel sheet. Julian especially liked the peephole that was there, courtesy of our puppy trying to bury a bone in my bed the other day. Gordie decided to make the puppy into the bad guy, and then we had someone really fierce to fear. Balto lay on the floor, chewing on yet another toy that wasn’t his, a pretend circular saw that made cool noises like a real one. Each time the toy whirred, we ducked under the magic tent. I told them stories about Dorothy and the witch and the wizard, and couldn’t seem to get the scenes out of my head.

After about an hour of this, I grew weary. I’d been exhausted lately, dealing with the death of my beloved dog (that’s another story) and trying to beat two viruses in a row that slammed me in February. I hadn’t yet regained my usual boundless energy, and knew it was time to say good night.

At least, that’s what I thought.

When I announced “five more minutes,” Gordie ignored me and continued to beat up a stuffed snake. But Julian’s face crumpled and he burst into real tears. Hiccuping, breathless, buckets of tears.

“Papa! I don’t want to go!” he wept.

I held him tight and tried a few tactics, but his little heart was broken and there wasn’t much I could do to fix it. Except to play a little longer.

Hey. I’m the grandfather. I’m allowed to do these things.

So, we played a little longer. Gordie refused to pick up his toys in the end, and sneaked downstairs to his mommy. Julian picked them up with a long face, and as he was leaving, the tears returned.

He wasn’t manipulating me. These were genuine tears of grief. We hadn’t had much time together over the weekend when he’d visited his father, and we both felt a little cheated. I decided to stop, breathe, and just do what felt right.

Pulling him close to me, I whispered in his ear.

“Wanna see a special movie?”

He nodded and swiped the moisture from his cheeks, helping me look for our old copy of the Wizard of Oz. We hadn’t watched it since his mom was a little girl, but of course I’d seen it a gazillion times with my daughters and as a kid. I remembered spying it the last time we’d cleaned, and after a few minutes, I brandished it with a flourish.

“Here it is!”

I wasn’t sure if four was old enough to handle the scary witch, but I ached to share it with him and decided to take a chance. So we set up it, ignored the hitching and bucking of the screen that came with the crinkled old videotape, and prepared to be mesmerized.

Julian snuggled into my lap. Enchanted, he peppered me with questions. Dorothy began to sing “Over the Rainbow,” and his flurry of chatter stopped for a minute. Halfway through the song, he whispered.

“Papa. The girl is so beautiful. I really like her face.”

I choked up and hugged him tight.

“Me, too, buddy. And isn’t her voice pretty?”

He nodded.

“I bet the witch sings awful,” he said.

A laugh snorted out my nose.

“Well, she doesn’t sing much, but she has a scary voice.”

When Dorothy began to follow the yellow brick road, he started to yawn. And stretch. And yawn some more. So we ended our night, with no more tears, and with a memory I’ll always cherish. Tonight we’ll see more, and hopefully this time Gordie will join us.

The next time your child or grandchild wants more time with you – say yes.

Give in.

Just breathe.

Savor your time together, for the special moments are fleeting and won’t return. No matter what your grownup brain tells you about schedules and rules, reject it. So what if supper is late? Or if you lose twenty minutes of sleep? Or if you miss that movie you were dying to see? That stuff doesn’t matter.

Kids do.

Just say yes. You won’t regret it. I promise. ;o)

***
Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. See some of his mysteries at http://www.legardemysteries.com/ and http://www.mooremysteries.com/

Friday, May 30, 2008

Do Radio Interviews Help Sell Books?

copyright 2008, Francine Silverman

The jury is out on whether radio interviews help sell books. On the one hand, you read about how, before they became household names, Wayne Dyer and Scott Peck started out as authors. When Dyer’s first book, Your Erroneous Zones, was published, he filled his station wagon with copies and headed west to do as many radio shows as possible. The book ultimately became a best seller.

Peck also began by doing three radio shows a day to help sell his first book, The Road Less Traveled. That book was on the best seller list for 12 years.

On the other hand, unknown authors express a mixed bag about radio interviews.

As an on-line publicist who has gotten clients booked on radio programs, I decided to ask those authors who have done numerous radio interviews about their experiences.

A liberal politico, Walter Brasch is invited on many political shows. “Generally, I see a spike in Amazon rankings after a radio interview,” says Walter, whose latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush (BookSurge Publishing 2007). “However, because of so many online sources to buy books, as well as brick-and-mortar stores, it's often hard to determine the complete effect of a radio interview. Also, many people might buy the book days later. Sometimes, I even find that the rankings don't do anything after I think I gave a dynamite interview on a well-listened show. I have NO idea why. I'm sure there's marketing people who spent all day in front of computers and can analyze 40 bits of data from every sale, and relate it to how to move 3 more books in a 7 day period in West Podunk, Iowa. I just do my interviews, hope I have been informative, entertaining, and persuasive, and didn't waste the listeners' time, whether 5 minutes or an hour. “One thing I do note--podcast radio interviews still don't have the sales power of over-the-air radio. Not all pods, but a number. But, I usually don't turn down any radio shows. I like to do them. It keeps me mentally alert--especially since most talk shows have a conservative base.” http://http://www.walterbrasch.com/

David Spero is a registered nurse and the award-winning author of The Art of Getting Well: Maximizing Health When You Have a Chronic Illness (Hunter House 2002) and Diabetes: Sugar-Coated Crisis: Who gets it, who profits, and how to stop it (New Society Publishers Sept. 2006). “I think it depends on the book and how well-tailored your message is to the particular audience on that show,” he says. “With The Art of Getting Well, I did radio shows on small NPR outlets that sold hundreds of books. I could tell by Amazon rankings, and my web site traffic increased significantly. I'm sure I could have sold more if I had gotten on larger markets. People responded to the self-care message I had. With Diabetes: Sugar-coated Crisis, I spent thousands of dollars getting radio all over the country and on the web, and have noticed very little sales or web traffic response. The message of this book isn't the kind that people will hear on radio and say ‘I want that.’

“So it depends, but if you have a good product, radio is great. One problem is that you can't always tell what the audience for a particular show is. You should look the show up on the Web if you can and get information about the host and the audience, or talk to the staff when you're getting booked, to find out if it's worthwhile. If the show appeals mostly to seniors and your book is about surfing, it probably doesn't make much sense to go on there.” http://www.davidsperorn.com/
http://www.art-of-getting-well.com/

“I can't say that sales have definitively increased as a result of the radio shows,” says Shoshanna Katzman, a Tai Chi/Qigong professional and author of Qigong for Staying Young: A Simple 20 Minute Workout to Cultivate Your Vital Energy (Avery Penguin Group 2003), and Feeling Light—The Holistic Solution to Permanent Weight Loss and Wellness (Avon Books 1997).

Saul Fathi agrees. “Unfortunately most radio interviews have been disappointing in terms of book sales,” he says. Author of a memoir, Full Circle: Escape from Baghdad and the return (Xlibris 2006), Saul attributes it to five reasons:

1. The interviewer does not have a broad enough listening audience.
2. Few or none of the interviewer's audience read books.
3. The interviewer does not mention the book source often enough.
4. The listeners are on the move, driving, having no opportunity to write down anything.
5. The subject is of no interest to the interviewer's audience.

“Best results I obtained was when I was asked to mention my website address, and I carefully spelled it letter by letter. The second most productive way is to mention my lectures and ask the audience to write me for my scheduled lectures.” http://www.saulsilasfathi.com/

John Klar’s experience falls somewhere in the middle.

“I have had regular feedback from my interviews, largely via e-mails from people referred to my web site,” says the author of Christian Words, Unchristian Actions: George W. Bush and the Desecration of Christianity in Modern America (WinePress Publishing 2006). “I am sure that some books have been sold also, but I have two problems assessing how well: first, there is a time-lag in my sales reports, so I never know how many books a particular interview may have sold. Second, I often cover many issues which my book addresses, and my book is rather intellectual – thus, I may undermine my own sales (even while I encourage debate and interest, attracting more call-ins and e-mail contacts) by outlining too many of the book’s arguments. Other authors might more effectively promote sales with a book addressing a lighter topic, or by leaving listeners wanting to learn more…” http://www.christianwords.us/

So, despite the fact that these authors write about radio-ready subjects – health and politics – it’s hard to quantify exactly how radio interviews affect book sales.

However, it seems to me that if non-authors, like Adam Gilbert, can sign up two clients two weeks after a radio interview, authors have a better shot given the relatively low price of books. But Adam recognizes the power of radio, be you author, business person or health professional. “Radio is a very powerful medium because it gives you an opportunity to present your ideas in a non-commercial way. It allows your passion and genuineness to come through. If you are passionate and genuine then I highly recommend making radio interviews part of your PR plan.” http://www.mybodytutor.com/

Well, fellow authors, perhaps if we do three radio spots a day like Scott Peck, our book sales will soar.

***

Francine Silverman’s latest book is TALK RADIO FOR AUTHORS - GETTING INTERVIEWS ACROSS THE U.S. AND CANADA(Infinity Publishing 2007). Her next book with the working title RADIO WANTS YOU: An Intimate Portrait of 700 Radio Shows that Welcome Guests, will be published by McFarland & Co., a large, well-respected reference and academic publisher, whose major markets are libraries. http://www.bookpromotionnewsletter.com/

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Can you make your character(s) seem dumb?

Recently, I went through the trial by fire also known as "edits" with a fabulous editor on staff at Enspiren Press. In the period while we worked together, I learned my publisher would allow only a few instances of the em-dash or ellipsis. This was something that bothered me because I discovered I am ellipsis-challenged. My book was full of them.

My publisher prefers not to allow many uses of them because it can make your character seem dumb. What? Yes, that's right. Or at the very least, make them seem ignorant of facts.

Think about it. If you were talking to someone and they constantly trailed off a sentence, what would you think? You'd think they didn't know the answer, or they were hiding something.

But they are useful when used properly, and when used minimally.

Here from Scribe.com is a pretty decent description of what these little dots are supposed to be for:

The ellipsis is a series of three — and only three — full stops used to mark missing words, an uncertain pause or an abrupt interruption. For example:

The review said, "It's wonderful ... a complete triumph".

Niles: But Miss Fine's age is only ...
Fran: Young! Miss Fine's age is only young!

Most editors precede the ellipsis by a space, even at the end of a sentence.

Note: Within Microsoft Word the ellipsis can be typed as a single character, rather than three separate periods, by typing Alt-Ctrl-period.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Upside of Stress

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

Those who know me, probably know me best as a crime fiction author. For the past year since the release of my debut novel, I’ve sat behind my computer screen in the comfort of anonymity. I’ve shared some insights about my book, characters, and my writing experiences but little else about me. What is of interest in the latter would probably fit into a mini thimble and so I’ve conveniently avoided the subject of “me” all together.

On the other hand, my writing stems from the whole of my experiences. So who I am? A woman, wife, mother, sister, daughter, mentor, student, neighbor, writer, and friend to most. Each of these individual “experiences” can conjure up several stories of their own.

There’s yet another side to me – my day job. Like so many writers I have one. Mine’s in higher education and I’ve been there for 29 years. Still few, including my close circle of cyber friends, know what I do for a living or what stresses I encounter on a regular basis. I’ve worked in human resources for 16 of those 29 years where I’ve developed the WorkLife Programs. My days are all about juggling between tasks like helping employees find suitable daycare options for their children and then turn around to work on a campus campaign. I’m an event planner, a web designer, and do a sundry of other special projects. I enjoy the diversity of my job, but at times, managing projects, deadlines and dealing with a wide assortment of personalities can be stressful.

One of the great things about being a writer though is that when I have a particularly difficult day or a draining experience I take it home and ponder over it. Oh I can hear the gasps now! I know, I know, I’ve heard it said repeatedly too; leave your work at work. What I’m referring to are my thoughts, observations, discussions -- the images triggered in me during our positive or negative encounter. Think of the information bank we can build from our daily exchanges with others; those nuances of everything from total respect to disbelief, from joy to steaming anger, the look of surprise in a woman’s eyes or the sound of a man’s sigh of relief. Don’t let those precious thoughts go to waste, journal them, record your reactions/emotions. Go on. Express yourself completely including the *@!!#*!! if you must. Don’t hold back. After all, those notes are for your eyes only to one day use to develop a character.

Here’s a for instance. I was in the middle of a huge project with a deadline looming just days away when my database, 4,400 records, disappeared. After my stomach turned and I sucked in a couple of gulps of air, I grab our IT man and dragged him into my office. While he checked my computer system, I paced. My heart thumped when he picked up the phone and dialed his friend at our IT center for assistance. At this point I didn’t know if the weeks of work I had put into the project had been lost or not, but something in this man’s voice caught my attention. You see, this happened at a time when I was trying to learn how to write a male voice.

When I heard him speak into the phone I seized the moment. I not only eavesdropped on his phone conversation, I took notes. Oh yes, I shamelessly listened with peaked interest to the exchange between those two members of the opposite sex and jotted down every word my friend spoke. His side of the conversation went like this: “Yup, gotcha. Uh huh, yup, Yup. (chuckle, chuckle). Okay. Gotcha. Yup, yup, (chuckle, chuckle … again). Oh, yeah! Yup, gotcha ... all right. Uh huh, later.”

Obviously my friend was a man of few words and although my Sam Harper character is a bit more “articulate,” listening in on this conversation helped me to understand how to write the male voice -- don’t write complete sentences and chop the hell out of them. I never did find out what the two men discussed and that’s okay. My only concern was that he found a way to fix the problem and saved the day. Yay!

So yup, yup, this potentially stressful situation turned out to be a useful lesson. So next time you get upset don’t stress, instead take notes. Use those negative experiences to your benefit and find a way to apply the routine and seemingly mundane to your writing. It’s a proven fact that journaling thoughts, watching our diets and regular exercise can in most cases reduce stress. So as I sit in front of my computer and stuff that third piece of chocolate into my mouth, I look to those frustrating encounters as the catapult to write the next dynamite bit of dialogue or a character’s profile. Who knows how or when those neatly-tucked-out-of-site-experiences will find their way into the pages of my manuscripts?
* * *
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense novels. Her debut book, SILENCED CRY, was released by BeWrite Books (UK) in April 2007. Look for the next in the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series, THE BLACK PEARL in 2008. Stephens resides with her family in the Midwest. www.martastephens-author.com

Stress can lead to a number of serious health problems. Click here for information on how to cope with stress.

The Lighter Side of Promotion

Here on this blog, and elsewhere in publishing, writers are told about the importance of self-promotion in today's competitive industry. Though most writers (being creatures of a solitary nature, for the most part) would be thrilled to just keep churning out stories and send them off into some faceless void that spits out checks and fan mail in return, publishers from the indies to the mega-conglomerates now expect their authors to self-promote in some way. The image of the author as a recluse has vanished into the wilderness with J.D. Salinger.

The good news is that self-promotion works. J.A. Konrath, author of the Jack Daniels mystery series, has extensive information on his successful self-promotion efforts on his blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. The Chicken Soup for the Soul series was launched into stratospheric success thanks to extreme self-promotion efforts. Many a writer has discovered the benefits of even the smallest bit of self-promotion.

We'll do it . . . but that doesn't mean we have to like it. :-)

This YouTube video presents one frustrated, bewildered author's efforts to steer the vast waters of self-promotion. Anyone who's ever tried to get the word out about their books should have no trouble relating. Enjoy!

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Book Jacket and Me



copyright 2008, Beryl Singleton Bissell

The other day, a certain online bookstore sent an update featuring an article on how to create a book jacket that works. Because I’m not a cover designer I deleted it, but now regret having done so. Every author needs to know about book jackets. Book jackets can make or break a book. According to some experts, book jackets are the most important items for your marketing dollars. A great cover can peak book buyers’ curiosity. Without one, your book might go un noticed, especially if you are a first time or self-published author. Big-time writers could probably sell books with just their name and the title of the book on the jacket. What do you think?

Let me tell you a story about an experience I had with the book cover for my memoir, The Scent of God. I was lucky enough to have a publisher who cared dearly about the success of my book – the recently deceased Liz Maguire of Counterpoint. Almost immediately on purchasing my book, Counterpoint began working on a cover design, as they wanted the book as their lead title for Spring 2006. Periodically I’d get an email from Liz telling me that they were having a hard time with the cover – those presented were either too sensual or too spiritual.

At the same time they were developing potential covers, they were sending the manuscript out for blurbs. My agent is Ann Patchett’s agent. She asked Ann if she’d be willing to do a blurb. Ann agreed. Loved the book. Said she’d like to meet me. WOW. My husband and I were planning to head south that fall, so we plotted a detour to visit Ann in Nashville.

A few days before leaving on our trip, I received an e-mail from the publisher telling me they had a jacket and she thought I’d love it. She’d send it special delivery so it would arrive before I left. They needed my input ASAP. When the package arrived, my husband who was with me when I opened it, said “Beryl, honey. I wouldn’t buy a book with that cover in a million years. It looks like it comes from a religious shrine.”

I felt the same way but what did I know? So I brought the book jacket with me and showed it to Ann when we got to her home. I knew she’d give me an honest answer. Ann took one look and declared the proposed cover “a train wreck.”

The next morning she phoned our agent and told her that something had to be done about the cover. Then Ann took me into her library to scour the shelves for cover ideas. It was there, in a classy coffee table book of photos, that I found the photo that became the cover picture. For your entertainment, I’ve posted both jackets here. Can you guess which one was the reject?




***

Beryl Singleton Bissell was born in New Jersey , spent her teenage years in Puerto Rico , entered a monastery the day after her 18th birthday, left the monastery fifteen years later. She's been a nun, a wife, mother, a widow, a divorcee, and for the past twelve years has been happily married to a man nine years younger than she is.

Beryl’s work experience is almost as varied as her married history. After leaving the monastery, she worked with a set designer in Puerto Rico, spent a year as national coordinator for the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima, designed and sold 18-karat gold jewelry manufactured in Italy , and spent eight years at Milkweed Editions, a not-for-profit literary press in Minneapolis .

Beryl returned to school as a single mother while working full time at Milkweed Editions. In 1996 she received her B.A. from Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul . In 1996, she was chosen as an alternate for a two-week writing residency at Norcroft that resulted in a marriage proposal, the first chapters of her award-winning memoir, The Scent of God (Counterpoint NY April 2006, hardcover, April 2007 softcover), a Loft creative nonfiction award, and an eventual move from the Twin Cities to the North Shore of Lake Superior in 1998. For the past nine years she has been a columnist for the Cook County News Herald and a free-lance writer for various regional and national magazines. She has two children: a son Thomas, and a daughter Francesca who died in 2001; three grandchildren, a lovely husband and home.

At the advanced age of 66, Beryl finally finished the memoir she’d been thinking about since 1990, becoming one of those fortunate first time authors who actually find agents who find publishers who are willing to take a chance that they've got a story to tell. She was names “Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors” and her memoir,
The Scent of God, was a “Notable” Book Sense selections for April 2006. She is a popular blogger on Gather and recently began writing a travel blog Road Writer.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Advice for Writers: Typing "The End"



There is a moment in every author’s life when he or she experiences a sudden pang of loss, and sweet sorrow descends like soggy tissues on a broken heart.

Man or woman, romance or action writer, sensitive poet or straight shootin’ scene churner, it hits us one and all.

It’s the moment we reach at the end of our long suffering days, those focused, driven, passionate hours, plastered with outpourings of words that evolved into our current work in process. The moment we type, “The End.”

It happens to all of us. Sometimes, there’s a delayed reaction, and suddenly it sneaks up to slay us, the next day. Macho man or lyrical lady, none are immune.

In my case, I don’t actually burst into tears. But my throat tightens, a lump forms, and I fight back moisture that puddles and threatens to overflow.

My God. It’s over. What will I write tomorrow?

Of course, I really know what I’ll write next. I have pages full of books begging to be written, and each vies for attention as the finish line comes into view, weeks before the ending is in sight. Articles crop into my head that have simmered there for weeks. Cover designs lure me like Sirens to the Photoshop Rocks, and I ache to try something new. Perhaps a psychological suspense, or a saucy romance?

What really happens is a tearing apart of a bond that forms between one’s heart and one’s work. It’s an invisible tug, a feeling of companionship about to be severed. This place that has become a refuge from life, this world with new friends, emotive scenes, and free adrenaline rushes – is suddenly balled up into a wad of virtual paper and tossed off the cliff into the next realm. The editing, or polishing phase. Which just doesn’t have the same allure, you know?

Last night I experienced this sensation for the eleventh time. Yup. It was a nostalgic kind of sadness, a choking momentary paralysis reminiscent of stolen memories from my childhood or the loss of a loved one. I finished LADY BLUES, the ninth in the LeGarde mystery series.

I admit I am obsessed. I hover over this parallel universe like a frantic father, controlling and finagling events for Gus LeGarde and his family to navigate through until they scream for help. Sometimes, I’m kind. And sometimes, I’m not.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Do you write series books that critics might react to with words like, “How can so many things happen to one guy?” If so, use this trick. Tell the naysayers they must “employ the suspension of disbelief.” It makes them stop for a minute to ponder, it is actually true for any type of fictional venue, and it makes you sound really literary.

If that doesn’t work, tell them, “Hey. It’s fiction. It’s supposed to be entertainment, not a reality show.” Of course, our fictional works are often more authentic than contrived TV shows, anyway. If they’re still being jerks about it, tell them to go buy a manual on brake replacement.

Even though I am a series writer who gets to “keep” his characters from book to book, there is always a feeling of loss, because I feature new characters from the local community in each successive book. The main cast of characters are ever-present. I’ll never lose them, thank God, and they do provide an immeasurable amount of comfort each time through. I feel deeply for each one, I know them inside and out, and I treasure every scene I get to share with them. Okay, that sounds a bit hokey, but it’s true.

But the featured characters usually don’t come back. They flit in and out of Gus’s life, providing wonderful counterpoint or drama, need or redemption, and then… they’re gone. Oh, occasionally I mention them down the road, but it’s not my practice to bring them back. Just as my hero, John D. MacDonald never reintroduced Travis McGee’s lovers (he usually killed them off, much to my disappointment), each new episode thrust a needy client or vicious villain into our view for just…one…book.

And so, last night as I sat alone in the dark room with my sticky-hot laptop humming as it shut down, a sense of loss hit me. Hard.

I would spend no more evenings with Kip Sterling, the octogenarian who lost his memory on the night Glenn Miller mysteriously disappeared, the jazz era “music man,” shoveled from nursing home to nursing home for the past sixty years, with no family or real identity until Gus LeGarde befriended him and began to dig into his past.

Or Bella Dubois, Kip’s Nubian black lover who crooned bluesy tunes in Harlem between secret trysts with Kip, her beloved piano player. I had fallen hard for Bella, just as Kip did, and imagined wonderful blue smoke-filled nightclubs with her purring at the microphone in a slinky green dress that sparkled and shifted like surf on the beach. Never mind that I hate smoke and can’t stomach the stench of it, I suppressed that little bit of truth to imagine the romance of the era.

And what about Debbie, the feisty, stout nurse who used to be a dancer, with the penny red curls and sense of righteous justice, who would not bend beneath threats from Novacom, the evil drug company? I grew quite fond of her fiery courage.

Or my most recent favorite, Lucy Sedgewick, the gay ex-FBI agent-turned-woodworker, who partnered up with Gus to save the lives of Debbie and Kip when the power of the mighty dollar turned against them? Gus and she shared the loss of their beloved partners through cancer, and the bond between them had just begun to cement toward the end of the book.

Maybe I’ll bring Lucy back. Or perhaps she’ll get her own book some day. It’s definitely on the list.

So, what do you do when you type “The End?” Do you put your work aside for a while, go out and live life for a few weeks? I’ve done that a few times. Sometimes it’s plain necessary to recharge the creative juices.

Or, do you immediately turn back to chapter one to polish the manuscript and look for inconsistencies before you send it out to your critique partners or inner circle of pre-readers? Alternatively, do you put your manuscript aside for a year to let it simmer, while you blast through a few more novels?

I’ve done it both ways. Normally, I set it aside for at least six months, and give in to my massive craving for “creating new.” Then, when I’ve forgotten most of what I wrote (don’t laugh, I’m serious!), I return to it and am both delighted and horrified at what I’ve written. That’s when the real roll-up-your-sleeves editing begins.

My advice is to discover what works for you through trial and error. There’s no hard and fast rule about dealing with this hand-off, and no unwritten rule that you must deal with it the same every time.

Most importantly, whether or not you need a hiatus in which you reconnect to family or friends, be sure to return to writing as soon as possible. Whether it be an article, like this, or the start of your next best-seller, keep writing. Don’t ever stop. Give us more, and steam ahead to forge those new bonds that will hopefully return you to the tissues the next time you type, “The End.”
***
Read excerpts, reviews, readers comments, interviews, and more at Aaron Paul Lazar's websites:

Saturday, May 24, 2008

I felt it was a good time to post some information about my secondary character, Dwayne Brown. He's Shannon's sidekick, mentor, and antagonist all rolled into one. He's a flamboyant, street-smart, wise-cracking fella who looks a little like this dude,



and he will definitely kick some butt when the occasion calls for it. He has some shortcomings, however, and one of those is he is in love with the detective in charge of the murder investigation. Ah. Love.

Here are a few stats on Dwayne in his own words :

Character's favorite color: Maroon, baby. Is there any other color?
Character's least favorite color: Brown.
Why? It sorta clashes, you know what I'm sayin'?
Favorite Music: Urban hip- maybe a little rappy rap... I'm not too picky.
Least favorite Music: That wild stuff Shannon listens to. Ugh. *shivers*
Why? WHY? It's weird, man. Pipes, and tambourines, and flutes. Damn that woman loves flutes.
Food: Chicken. Definitely. Fried, broiled, barbequed, and with dumplings, please.
Literature: Hell, the only literature I own is a 1998 issue of People. Does that count?
Expressions: You know what I'm sayin' is most likely the one you're lookin' for but I've been known to be rather expressive in other ways.
Favorite book: Um. Let me get back to you on that. *giggle*
Why? Well, I ain't exactly got a library handy, right? I ain't exactly no scholar, or nothin'. *Sigh.* I cannot believe I just told you that.
Expletives: I am a big user of the eff word. Sorry. It's just that Shannon gets me into these situations and ... oops. Here she comes.
Mode of transportation: My car, a 1968 Ford Mustang. Red. And do not ask for the keys, Shannon Wallace, you can't have them. *she just glares at him*
Daredevil or cautious? Oh yeah, daredevil all the way. I hang out with her don't I? *points to Shannon*
Same when alone? *laughs* only my hairdresser knows, honey. And believe me, he ain't tellin'.

Friday, May 23, 2008

How to impress an editor (or at the very least this editor)


Murder by 4 extends a warm welcome to Marci Baun, Editor-in-Chief of Wild Child Publishing.

©Marci Baun, 2008

When Aaron asked if I would like to write a guest blog post for Murder by 4, I thought this would be an easy assignment. Then I realized it wasn’t as easy as I had thought because I didn’t want this post to become another what-not-to-do list written by an editor on the rampage. So, I’ve been mulling this over for the past week or so with the one question in my mind of taking this subject and putting a positive spin on it. That doesn’t seem too hard, but after a week of a toddler with a cold/ear ache and very little sleep, the brain stops functioning properly. Then, in the eleventh hour, inspiration struck. Rather than tell you what not to do, I will tell you what you can do that will impress me, and most likely many other editors as well. While this may seem like common sense, these are good rules to remember.

1. Read the submission guidelines thoroughly and follow them. There may be times when you are tempted to skim them, or you think, “I don’t really need to know these.” If you are serious about being published by that house, read them. And while you may not need to memorize them, learn what genres they publish, what they expect of you as an author (grammar/punctuation), what they don’t want to see, and how to format your submission. Even if your manuscript isn’t accepted, they will be impressed with the fact that you followed their guidelines because, trust me, when I receive a submission that doesn’t follow them, my first tendency is to reject it. Why should I bother reading this if the author doesn’t have enough professionalism to read the guidelines? Oh, and if a publisher asks you not to include them if you are simultaneously submitting, don’t—especially with independent presses. You may be thinking about saving time, but should publisher ever find out, and they will, you’ve just closed an avenue to sell your manuscript.

2. Grammar/punctuation/spelling. Know all of them. Where do commas go? Should that verb be “was” or “were” or more active? What about quotation marks? Etc. I know this seems basic, but I can’t tell you the number of submissions we receive where basic grammar, punctuation, and spelling rules are ignored or not known. If you have challenges with any of these, buy a grammar/punctuation book and a dictionary and learn.

3. Credentials. Credentials impress some people. Me? Not so much. I’ve edited college English professors who still needed help—not necessarily in the punctuation and grammar department, although I have had disagreements with them as I am not as keen on some of the newer grammar rules (grin)—but in the telling of the story. So, what’s important to me is how well you write and whether your story is original and pulls me in. You can be a Nebula winner, but if the story sucks, I am not going to accept it. However, you can be an unpublished author and wow me. If you want to include your credentials, by all means do, but that’s not what I will base my decision upon.

4. Be respectful. Respect the editor regardless of whether you’ve been rejected or not or whether you agree with them or not. Even if the editor is a jerk, be professional. If you respond with a nasty email, you’ve nailed your own coffin should you ever decide you want to submit to them again. While none of my editors are jerks (grin), we have bad days just like you.

5. Read the contract before you sign it. What? You say, people don’t read their contracts? Yes. How do I know? Because, later, he/she will ask a question regarding his/her rights that can be found in the contract. If an author doesn’t understand a portion of the contract or has questions, it is better to do it before he/she signs the contract. I am always willing to answer any questions an author may have. This is for the author’s protection. While Wild Child Publishing’s contract is pretty standard and protects both us and the author, some contracts can take rights no author should give away without his/her knowledge or at all.

6. Be easy to work with. This is important because once an author is contracted, that’s when the real work begins. So if I point out what isn’t working and why (Eg. plot holes, hero/heroine acting out of character with no lead up/explanation for their behavior, inconsistencies, and so on), and the author is open to the suggestions and revising, we’ll move quickly through the manuscript. If an author fights me on every little thing even down to punctuation (yes, that has happened), the experience is not that great for either of us. If he/she disagrees, I am more inclined to respond positively to a respectful letter than a “this is my book, and you have no idea what you are talking about” response. (If you didn’t think I could edit your book, why submit to and contract with Wild Child in the first place?) My one aim for any manuscript is to make it the best possible incarnation it can be. That vision comes from the clues the author has given me within the manuscript, not my own personal preferences. I’m also taking into consideration what an audience is going to expect from those clues as well. For instance, if it’s a thriller and the ending fizzles, you can bet I’ll point it out. There is nothing worse than reading a thriller that races toward the end only to have the final scene fall flat. That being said, if you really have issues with the changes I suggest, we’ll discuss and, if all else fails, I’ll cancel the contract with no hard feelings if it’s necessary…just don’t wait too long to do it. (Not all publishers will do this, by the way.) Also, the easier an author is to work with, the more I will want to work with them again.


While I can’t vouch for every editor, I can tell you that many, myself included, are appreciative of an author who follows the list above. And while the publishing business may not become any easier, the list will ease your path in it and make it a more enjoyable experience.



The editor of Wild Child Publishing since its inception in 1999, Ms. Baun has been in love with the written word beginning with Clifford the Big Red Dog and Curious George. Her reading and interests have expanded since those first books to include history, music, opera, theater, swimming, cycling, nature, travel, and writing. She has written and performed one person shows about historical women in schools, universities and festivals across the state of California and sang with the Coasters and the Drifters, Freddie Hart, as well as on the operatic stage. A few years past, as a member of the Academy for New Musical Theatre, she composed music for a twelve minute musical. When time permits, she hopes to return to the theater. In her other life, she is a stay-at-home mom who chases around a very busy toddler.


When asked why she began publishing, she replied, “I love the written word. There is nothing as powerful or as beautiful. It can influence, teach, and move us. What an amazing medium!"


***

Posted by Aaron Paul Lazar, author of LeGarde Mysteries and his debut paranormal mystery series, Moore Mysteries.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Journey, or There and Back Again

copyright kim smith 2008

When I was asked to write about my journey into the realm of published author, I really didn’t know where to begin. Then, for some reason, Tolkien’s magical poem came to mind.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

This tells my story better than even I could. My post is mostly for the writers out there who want to believe they really should write the story of their heart. I am here to tell you, yes, you should.

My writing life began when I finally listened to my heart. When I finally accepted I was a writer, and I had a story to tell, there was no turning back. I allowed myself to indulge in dreaming. But sometimes it seemed like stolen moments, because I had kids, a husband, aging parents and a job. You have that, too? Never fear.

Let me encourage you. You CAN do this.

Please do not let anyone ever, ever, ever tell you that you can’t do something because you have no __________ (insert here). No education, no experience, no whatever is NO EXCUSE. Just do it. If you let them, the naysayers will steal your dreams and that should never happen.

Finishing a book was a satisfying feat, and one I will always be proud of. If you are a new author, do not fear. You have it in you to finish, yes you do. The thing is, you just have to find the story that wants telling all the way to the end. I wrote a fantasy first, thinking I was the next Tolkien. Ha. That one will never see the light of day, but I learned I had the staying power. I could do beginning, middle and end. And so can you.

Then, I wrote a historical romance and learned how to research my butt off. I got to travel to different places following my character’s lead and nudging. Sometimes as a writer you have to be LED down the road leading to your future. Oftentimes the book itself will grasp your hand and drag you along. This book, too, will always languish in a drawer, but I kept telling myself, you are a writer. I never stopped believing.

And, finally, when I began to really, really pay attention to the sorts of stories I loved to read, I found my own voice, my own style and, viola! a mystery series was born. Writing it came so easy. It poured from me like water from a faucet. I think this is a sure-fire sign you are on the right writing track, cause if the writing is hard, you won’t enjoy the journey and seriously, the destination is not the main thing. The journey is what really matters.

Then began the real “road leading off until it met some larger way”: the submission phase. For those of you who keep picking your little story apart and finding reasons not to put it into an envelope and put a stamp on it, I challenge you. What can happen will astound you. Not only will you send it out, you will find interest. You will hear things about your story you never believed would ever be said. But trust me on this, if you never stamp it and send it, you will never know what you are missing.

And along came acceptance. Oh my soul, that is like the biggest piece of pecan pie with vanilla ice cream anyone ever tasted! Just knowing someone out there “gets it” is the most fabulous experience of a writer’s life. You will never know what “yes” feels like until you stick your neck (and that book –that work of love of yours)—out there for them to digest.

*Laugh.*
And digest it, they will. And they’ll pass it off to others to digest, too. Like your new best friend, your editor. She or he will discover the nuggets in your book you always knew were there- and they will pull them out from under all your dumpy writing and make them shine. Oh yes, editors are just gold-miners in book-people clothes. They know where to find the real stuff. The real gold nuggets. The stuff that will sell.

Are you ready? Have you gotten your envelope addressed? Is the stamp licked? Or even in today’s new electronic world, your fingers poised to hit send? Go on and do it. I promise it is the best thing you will do today. You may just get to delve into your own version of the Road Goes Ever On. I wish you a fantastical journey!


Kim Smith is the author of several short stories now in print at Mouthfull of Bullets and her first cozy mystery, Avenging Angel will be out in the fall of 2008.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Self-Promotion Isn't A Four-Letter Word

© Marta Stephens all rights reserved

Self-promotion. Say it out loud. The word alone sends ripples up some writers' spines and makes others cringe, but that's the name of the game if a writer, new or established, is going to compete in today's market.

Authors have an amazing power at their fingertips and it’s not a magical wand. It’s called the Internet, but what he or she does with it is the make or break difference in their success to reach a global audience. Let’s say the author has a website, a blog and a book on Amazon -- that’s not enough. They must network to gain global exposure. Think of it as multi-level marketing. She tells ten people about her book, they tell ten people, and so on and so forth. The obvious difference between the standard concept of word of mouth, face to face communication, and the internet is that one person has the potential to reach millions of people with a few key strokes.

One of the easiest, cost effective, and most immediate forms of communication, of course, is e-mail. Build a mailing list of friends, family, and referrals. When you have a book signing, ask those who buy your book to sign a guest book and provide you with an e-mail address for updates about your writing. Send out periodic announcements to your fans about signings, contests, appearances, and other milestones in your writing career. Make it personal by maintaining a land mailing address list and mail out signed postcards announcing the launch and pertinent information about your new book. You’ll be out of the cost of printing and postage but the returns can be magical.

Author/reader groups and forums. 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 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.

One argument against social networks is the amount of time required to keep active; some can be quite demanding of your time and expect you to post on a regular basis. Blogs and forums can become addictive if you let them. Let’s face it, if you’re blogging, you’re not writing. Fortunately, you’re in control of your time, right? Allow yourself say, 20-30 minutes a day to visit a select group of sites. If you don’t make it into all of the groups, visit the next set of groups the following days, but don’t exceed your allotted time on the blogs. Review the posts, respond to those you are interested in, certainly support the member who have been supportive of you, and get out. Set your e-mail preferences to daily or weekly digest which will only send out one e-mail listing that day’s or week’s activity for you to select from and read.Join a professional writers' organization. Organizations are as varied as there are genres; Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America are just a few.

Some membership fees are hefty and carry a minimum criterion for acceptance into the group. Do your homework and see which one best fits your needs. The advantages of a membership in a professional writers’ organization are that:

1) active participation in a professional group, reflects the level of time and financial commitment an author is willing to make in his or her writing career.

2) these organizations provides support for authors by promoting the author’s work to the membership and others in the publishing business, provide a networking system, announce upcoming events, contests, and other opportunities, and pass on valuable information about current publishing trends to the members.

Conferences are another great way to connect with others in the publishing business as well as readers. If you are fortunate enough to be invited to speak on a panel and/or have a book signing, make sure you have ample bookmarks to pass out that include your website and e-mail information along with a picture of your book cover and blurb. The costs of some events can be prohibiting. Plan ahead and select one or two key conferences per year to make those critical connections.

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:

http://newslink.org/statnews.html
http://www.free-press-release.com/ (free)
http://www.pressbox.co.uk/ http://www.i-newswire.com/ (free)
http://www.pr9.net/
http://www.pr-inside.com/
http://www.newswire.ca/

Create a blog on Amazon and take advantage of all the features Amazon offers to help get your book in front of readers. One important feature is the tags that the author may type in to help readers in their search. Shoot for a minimum of 60 – the more the better.

Set up a Google Alert. This is a free feature through Google that will e-mail the author when someone does a search by the key words the author has stipulated (i.e.: book title, author’s name, genre, etc.). It’s best to create very specific key words like romance novels [your last name]. Otherwise, if you use only the word romance, you will receive an e-mail every time someone searches on that word. To give you an example, I recently launched an author’s group blog called, MURDER BY 4 and thus created an alert using those exact words. I not only get alerts each time someone searches for the blog, but I also receive links to articles about murder cases that include the number four in them. Sometimes it I feel inundated with alerts. On the up side, I’ve found numerous blog posts about me and my books, quotes from my articles, reviews of my book, etc., that I wouldn’t have known about without the alerts.

A questionable promotional tool is the flyer. Choose your target audience carefully. If the intend is to mail flyers to bookstore owners, be sure to include a picture of the book cover, author’s picture, bio, book blurb, publisher, ISBN, cost, distributors, and author and publisher contact information. These are most effective if sent to local bookstores owners who know you and will be more inclined respond to your mailing. The chances for a response from bookstores who are not familiar with you or your work outside your immediate area, diminishes drastically. Mailing lists can be purchased. Read the fine print for the minimum number available and the cost. These can run up a tidy bill of thousands of dollars without a guaranteed return in sales. This expense is in addition to the cost of printing and postage. I acquired a list of mystery bookstores located in the US and Canada through a writer’s organization. Although the list was free to members, most of the 200-300 envelops were returned marked undeliverable. Live and learn.

The use of e-mail addresses will give the sender immediate notification if the address is invalid. Although this method will eliminate costly printing and postage expenses, it still doesn’t offer a guaranteed response. Unsolicited mails might be considered spam and automatically deleted. My suggestions on the use of flyers is to do the homework and proceed with caution.


Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense novels. Her debut book, SILENCED CRY, was released by BeWrite Books (UK) in April 2007. Look for the next in the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series, THE BLACK PEARL in 2008. Stephens resides with her family in the Midwest.
www.martastephens-author.com

Something Fun

Forgive me . . . I'm a little strung out on writing topics at the moment. If you have never been "on submission" (this is the period of time where your agent has sent your manuscript out to editors, and you are waiting to hear whether or not some sucker - er, publishing professional will actually pay you money for making things up), let me assure you that it is the most nerve-wracking experience you will ever undergo as a writer.

Except for the querying process, the wait between acceptance and publication, your first bad review, and - well, actually writing. Oh God. Is there any good news? Well, I think the good news is that your nerves will eventually become so damaged, nothing will bother you any more. Writers could be involved in a horrendous car accident, and the only thing they'd be worried about as the ambulance crew is prying them from smoking, twisted metal is whether their laptop or Blackberry survived, in case they miss an important e-mail.

Anyway! Thought I'd post something fun today. For your viewing pleasure:

Photobombers*

Definition: Wacky people who sneak into the background and ruin your nice little picture. Enjoy!

*NSFW! Also, make sure you put your drink down before you click on the link. :-)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

An Editor's Writing Life

© Hugh McCracken 2008 all rights reserved















Hugh McCracken was born in Glasgow, Scotland and had his early education somewhat interrupted by evacuation during World War II. After taking a degree in Chemistry and Mathematics at St Andrews University he worked for some time as a Chemical Engineer before becoming a teacher.

He, his wife Lyn, and son David, relocated to Canada in 1967 where his second son, Iain, was born. While teaching in Canada, Hugh completed a Bachelor's degree in Education and a Master's degree in Educational Psychology at the University of Manitoba. Hugh now lives in Ottawa to be close to both sons, daughter-in-law Allison, and three grandchildren. For the past ten years Hugh has been a freelance writer and editor, although he started writing much earlier.


* * *

When did the writing bug first afflict me? For it is an affliction, an addiction.

I remember as a small boy playing make-believe games with my chums, I was the one who came up with the scenarios and became furious when the other ‘actors’ unwittingly deviated from the script I had in my head.

That stage of make-believe play ended when we, as twelve-year-olds, moved to secondary school, but not before it had resulted in confrontations when I in anger at my beautiful plot – known only to myself – being ruined by some stupid player, I’d shout: “You can’t do that! “You’re not the boss,” would be shouted back, “I can do what I bloody well please.”

And the fight was on.

The foreshadowing of being edited and editing?

Ever since I learned to read I consumed very book I could lay hands on and at secondary school discovered that putting my scenarios on paper, as my authors did, was a much less hazardous procedure than trying to have my chum act them out in play. However, the plots became so complex and convoluted that I invariably ended up tearing the sheets up in disgust.

Essay writing – a hated chore to my classmates – was an opportunity to put my thoughts on paper for someone else to read.

My mother wasn’t so pleased at the ocean of red ink in my ‘good essay jotter’. “How a boy who spends most of his life with his nose buried in a book can’t spell, I’ll never understand,” she’d complain.

She wasn’t at all mollified by the end comments: ‘A good story’ or ‘Interesting ideas’. It was the final: ‘Rewrite in more easily decipherable hieroglyphics, AND USE A DICTIONARY’, that always caught her eye.

It was a patient English teacher, Mr Henderson, whose classes were undisciplined nightmares, who taught me to set an essay aside for some time before coming back to it, to edit and proof. He also taught me an invaluable lesson in gauging what an editor wants in an article which stood me in good stead as a freelance writer for periodicals. The topic set was: ‘A Pleasant Saturday Evening’ with the emphasis on writing the piece to make the reader feel the pleasure.

I wrote about wandering the rainy streets of Glasgow alone, having fallen out with my chums, again, and finally seeking shelter in a church hall where there was a political meeting in session. I described the meeting and its participants ending with: ‘I’ve spent a better night with the toothache.’

Mr Henderson made some very flattering comments about the style, the descriptions of those present, and the setting, then gave me an ‘F’ ‘Read the topic.’

My opinion of political meetings has not changed over the years.

When I left school I surprised most of my teachers by studying Chemistry and Mathematics – a Science Degree – rather than enrolling in an Arts Program, perhaps English Literature. This was a purely pragmatic decision. At that time Chemistry and Mathematics graduates were in high demand, while many Arts graduates found considerable difficulty in finding any work related to their studies. No one could stop me writing and I didn’t need an Arts degree to justify it.

However, pressure of work and daily living slowed me down although I did continue to scribble in any free moment, but anything for publishing had to be of a technical nature.

It wasn’t until I was close to retiring in 1992 that I started to consider trying to have some of my short stories, written over the years, published. After all, some of my superiors in various fields had obviously considered many of my reports fictional and I was already freelancing for periodicals on a variety of non-fiction subjects.

One short story I was working on ‘took legs of its own’ and RULES OF THE HUNT, my second novel for the Young Adult market was born.

Another writer once told me: the difference between a short story and a novel is, a short story is about a character being, while a novel is about a character becoming. This distinction hadn’t really registered with me when writing short stories, but in RULES OF THE HUNT a minor character, Peter, took over, and became the dominant person in the book. This became so obvious that the whole book had to be rewritten from third person singular with Peter being an observer, to first person from Peter’s point of view and stemmed two sequels, RETURN FROM THE HUNT and MASTERS OF THE HUNT.

Having worked with one of chemists from the Glasgow Police Laboratories – a very early forerunner of Crime Scene Investigators – I was always intrigued by police procedures and by a stroke of luck I was able to follow this interest through friendship with several Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers. This led me to a very different track from my Young Adult books and my first police procedural, THE KNOTTED CORD was written. This thoroughly nasty investigation of murders and boys for rent was published under my pseudonym, Alistair Kinnon, and was followed by THE TANGLED SKEIN in which the detective from THE KNOTTED CORD follows the trail to still more murders and organised trafficking of boys.

Do you plot your books? Do you know where you are going from the start? These questions come up at writers’ groups and speaking engagements. No, I set my characters in a situation and they take it from there. Their reactions to the circumstances and to each other determine what happens and every writing session is an adventure. Researching, rewriting, editing, and proofing which take me much longer than the original writing are necessary chores.

When pressed, I certainly don’t recommend budding authors to follow my lead on this. I have several friends who meticulously map out every step, a skeleton, if you will, and then flesh it out. It works for them, it just doesn’t suit me. Every writer must find his or her own way.

I have been editing for BEWRITE BOOKS since we started publishing Print On Demand novels.

The process is both interesting and challenging. For many of our authors it is their first exposure to a critical, professional edit. It is fascinating to help them navigate through the shoals of the editing process and finally reach the author/editor final approved version. Some, alas, founder when their egos will not accept a change, or changes, the editor considers necessary for publication.

The wail: “But it’s my story. I’m the author and I’ll not have any changes made,” is unfortunately finally met with: “Fine, find yourself another publisher.”

This is why I advise authors who have received a rejection not to stuff the MS into a drawer and forget it, but to get it straight out again to another publisher, and another editor. What one editor doesn’t like may be exactly what another is looking for. Also the first editor may simply have been having a bad day – a hangover perhaps? – we are human.

However, if every submission founders on the same shoal of refusing to accept the editor’s recommendations then I’m afraid it is the author’s ego that is the problem. Perhaps he or she might be best to consider self-publishing where, for a price, the author has total control over the final MS.

As a writer of nine books I know full well that an author is not the best person to edit his or her manuscript being too involved in both the story and the characters to see the pitfalls an editor sees, sometimes only on the second or third reading.

Do I continue to write? Yes. As, I said, it is an addiction.

* * *

To read excerpts and purchase copies of Hugh's books, please visit BeWrite Books Store Front. His books are also available in most online and traditional bookstores.

Bon Soir Mes Amis


© Aaron Paul Lazar 2008


I headed for my parents’ house on a rainy June evening, anxious for the tastes and aromas of home. Savory beef stew, bubbling on the stove. Spicy lavender, growing by the porch door. I even anticipated the musky smell of wet dog, having missed owning pets while on assignment in Germany.

I’d settled my wife and daughters back in our house in the country after a grueling flight from Stuttgart to Logan. After getting the place back in shape—the larder stocked, the lawn mowed, and the cobwebs whisked clean—my roots called to me. I needed to see my parents and grandmother. It had been far too long.

I parked in the driveway and soaked in the sight of the old cedar-shingled colonial, nestled between towering blue spruces and flanked by an overgrown Bartlett pear. Flashes of my childhood raced across my mind’s eye: my chestnut gelding grazing on the back field; family feasts on the redwood picnic table under the plum tree; devouring my mother’s cooking, and toiling in my father’s sumptuous gardens. I was finally home, where family had patiently waited as the one-year post overseas had stretched to four.

After long embraces and reunion tears, we gathered around the supper table, just as I’d envisioned so many times in the throes of homesickness. Ginny, my father’s beagle, sat at my feet, begging for morsels. I surreptitiously dropped a piece of cornbread under the table, and heard her satisfied snuffling as she sought and devoured the tidbit.

“When do we see Gram?” I asked between spoonfuls of Chicken Paprikash.

My parents exchanged uncomfortable glances. Mom shifted in her ladderback chair.

“We have something to tell you about Grandma,” she began. Her fingers tapped a tango on the table beside her linen napkin, and she tossed my father a nervous half-smile.

My heartbeat quickened and I imagined the worst.

She’s dead. My grandmother’s dead.

“What is it?” I asked. I set down my spoon and pushed back my seat. Ginny scooted to the side, then laid her head on my lap, her big brown eyes rolling up to mine. I stroked her soft ears and waited.

My mother nodded to my father, who took over.

“Gram’s in a home now,” he said. “She got sick, son. Alzheimer’s.”

I stared across the table. My jaw dropped. Indignation welled in my chest.

“You put her in a home?” My voice cracked on the last word. “I thought you said you’d never do that? We were going to take care of her. Amy and I would’ve taken her in, if you couldn’t. What happened to the plan?”

I conveniently ignored the fact that I hadn’t been around for the past four years.

My mother began to explain. They’d tried to care for her at home. The dining room had been transformed into a bedroom for Gram, so she could avoid climbing stairs. They'd brought in her pictures, her Lincoln rocker, her quilts, and the display case with her miniature Hummel figurines and collector’s plates. Her two bedroom cape cod had sold for a mere sixty-five thousand dollars.

“She thought I was a stranger, John. She kept calling 911.” My mother’s eyes brimmed with tears; she dabbed at them with her napkin. “We found her outdoors, in the middle of winter, wandering around in her nightgown. She nearly froze to death, looking for the ‘hen house’ She thought she was a young woman again, and kept trying to do her chores. She wouldn’t take her pills, kept thinking I was trying to poison her.”

My mother stopped to collect herself, pressing the napkin to her eyes. Her chest hitched a few times.

“She turned into a different person,” my father added. “She wasn’t herself, yelling at your mother all the time, really getting hysterical. Of course we didn’t blame her. She was frightened and didn’t recognize anyone.”

He paused for a moment. Ginny’s tail thumped the braided rug. I leaned down to hug her, and she quivered with excitement, lapping my cheek.

“With the new medicine, she’s a little calmer. It was a hard decision, son, but the right one.”

My mother tried to smile, but her face crumpled. She breathed deeply and stood.

“Dad’s going to take you to see her tomorrow, so you can check out the place for yourself. It’s a homey place, has a nice feeling to it. Not too fancy, mind you, just comfortable. And… she’s safe now.”

Numb, I nodded and leaned down to pat Ginny’s smooth flanks. I didn’t want to lose it in front of them.

“Just one more thing. She probably won’t know you. You should be prepared,” my mother said in a voice that trailed off to a whisper.

Not know me?

My grandmother and I had shared an exceptional bond. I'd written dozens of letters from Germany over the past four years, assuming she'd read them, and not expecting an answer. With her arthritis, she had a hard time holding a pen steady, and we'd agreed on the one sided letter writing campaign before I'd left the country.

Impossible. She’ll know me.

The next day, we entered a modest gray clapboard house and climbed a wooden stairway to the second floor. Several elderly patients peeked from their doorways. Dad greeted most of them by name, stopping to chat with a few along the way.

When we reached Gram’s room, a stranger sat on the edge of the bed. Dressed in a loose, faded housedress, she looked fifty pounds lighter than the grandmother I remembered. Her short blond hair, so carefully coifed throughout her life, had transformed into wispy gray locks that lay flat and lifeless, framing her thin face. She wore no jewelry, no lipstick, and no shoes.

I approached slowly and sat beside her on the narrow bed.

“How are you, Gram?” I took her small hand in mine.

Her eyes widened with indecision and she carefully inched away from me. She smiled as if she were entertaining a guest and gently drew her hand from my grasp.

“I’m fine,” she said. Her wary eyes darted to my father.

She looked down at her hands.

Would you like to see pictures of my girls?” I asked.

“All right.” She spoke with forced politeness.

I pulled out a packet of photos and began to reel off the names and ages of my daughters.

“Here’s Meredith in our house in Germany. She just turned ten. You should see her play the piano. She sure loves music. She’s just started on the Chopin Preludes now.”

She seemed to relax a little, and accepted the photo, running her fingers lightly across the glossy surface. A small sigh escaped her lips.

“So sweet,” she said. “She’ll be a heartbreaker.”

Encouraged, I continued through the pack.

“Here we are at the Christmas Market in Stuttgart. There’s my wife, Miriam. And that’s Alice, and there’s little Micki. Alice is seven and Micki just turned five.”

She carefully took the photo, gazing at it.

“They look a lot alike. Such pretty curls. What’s that building in the background?”

I warmed to her question.

“It’s the Stiftkirche spire, right in the middle of the city. There are old castles intermingled with new buildings. This one street, called the Koenigstrasse, bans cars; it’s filled with shops and pedestrians. You’d love the Christmas Market. Glass blown ornaments, outdoor vendors in the old cobblestone square, hot mulled wine served from copper kettles... The present I sent you last year was bought right there—”

“Ben?” she asked, looking at my father. Her eyes danced between us and she played with the buttons on her housedress with one frail hand.

“Do I know this handsome young man?”

Dad hesitated, looking at my crestfallen face, then patiently answered.

“Yes, Mother. It’s your grandson, John. He’s my son. Your grandson,” he prodded gently. “He’s been gone for a few years on assignment in Germany.”

She looked up at him and nodded vacantly. I sat up straighter, looking into her confused eyes, pleading.

“Gram? It’s Johnny. Remember? Don’t you remember me?”

My voice caught and I choked out the last few words. She smiled and put a trembling hand on my shoulder.

“I’m sure I would’ve been very proud of you,” she said.

I sat still, grateful for her empathy, but crushed. A leaden sensation played around my heart. My father changed the subject.

“Are you hungry, Mother?” he asked. “John and I are taking you to lunch today.”

She brightened. “Yes, I am. I’m tired of the old-people-food they force on me here. They tell me I eat like a bird, but it’s because there’s nothing good to eat. And they won’t give me any beer. Can you imagine that? The Prohibition is over! What kind of a hotel is this, anyway?”

I smiled involuntarily as I recognized traits of my familiar, feisty grandmother. She was still in there, somewhere.

Dad pushed her shoes to the side of the bed and helped her put them on. Her forehead crinkled and she stood unsteadily, looking around the room for something.

“Gram? Can I help?” I asked.

“My pocketbook. I can’t go out without my pocketbook.”

Dad laid his hand on her arm and flashed me a melancholy look.

“It’s okay, Mother. I’m buying today. No need for your purse.”

He helped her into a worn blue cardigan and we shuffled down the hall. When we passed the bedroom of an elderly man, she leaned over and whispered in my father’s ear.

“You have to do something about that Mr. Timothy, son. He keeps hitting on me. My stars, he must be at least eighty.”

“Okay, Mother. Will do. I’ll have a talk with the old coot.”

Dad smiled. Gram would be ninety next April.

We drove to the restaurant that specialized in her favorites: golden fried scallops and Narragansett beer. We slid into an empty booth across cracked red vinyl seats, and picked up the sticky menus. Dad and I shared one side, facing Grandma. She held the menu, but didn’t read it. Instead, she looked back and forth between us.

“You know,” she said, “you look like him!”

She nodded toward my father. I smiled.

“I should, Gram. I’m his son.”

“Oh…” she said. She still didn’t get it.

I tried another tact.

“Do you remember camp? On Great Pond?”

I touched on a few of my favorite childhood memories. Her eyes lit up.

“Of course I remember camp. What do you think I am, addlepated?”

She began to reminisce about people I hadn’t known, who had been her guests at the fishing resort before I was born. Although she didn’t remember me, we discovered a common ground. The tall pines. The cool, sparkling lake. The lonely tremolo of the loons.

I took a long pull on my beer. A bead of sweat rolled down the green glass surface and pooled on the Formica. We sat in contented silence, sifting through sweet memories.

“Gram?”

She looked at me expectantly, a pink blush spreading over her soft cheeks.

“Yes?”

“I remember when you and Po-pa used to bring me a slice of pizza from the cafĂ©, always late at night. You’d wake me up for it. It was cold, and wrapped in a paper napkin. Best darned pizza I ever had.”

“I’m sorry,” she murmured with downcast eyes. “I don’t remember anything these days.”

“It’s okay. It doesn’t matter.” I patted the back of her cold hand and warmed to the childhood memory.

“You also sang to me. Every night, before I fell to sleep.”

I began to sing—softly—so as not to arouse stares from the other patrons.

“Bon Soir Mes Amis, Bon Soir.
Bon Soir Mes Amis, Bon Soir.

We had such a good time together,
But now we must say

Bon Soir.”

Before I reached the second stanza, my grandmother’s eyes lit up and she joined me, singing in a wavering soprano. My heart swelled. Her eyes sparkled and her face crinkled with joy. She popped the last scallop in her mouth, and laughed with a tinkling wind-chime sound, reaching across the table to lay her hand on mine.

“Oh, my. I love that song. I used to sing it to you when you were a boy.” Warmth filled her eyes.
“Isn’t it nice to be with family?”






** Bon Soir, Mes Amis is dedicated to my grandmother and based on a true story. **


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Watch for Aaron's two new books this summer - MAZURKA (fourth in the LeGarde series), and HEALEY'S CAVE, the debut book in his paranormal green marble mystery series.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Short Stories: Writing from the Inside Out

Murder by 4 welcomes Jean Pike, author of THE WINDS OF AUTUMN (2005), WAITING FOR THE RAIN, and HEATHERFIELD, three riveting paranormal romance novels.


Here's a bit about Jean:

Abandoned buildings. Restless spirits. Love that lasts forever. These are a few of multi-published author M. Jean Pike's favorite things. A professional writer since 1996, Pike combines a passion for romance with a keen interest in the supernatural to bring readers unforgettable stories of life, love and the inner workings of the human heart. She writes from her home on a quiet country road in upstate New York. Her latest paranormal romance, HEATHERFIELD, was released February 1, 2008 at Black Lyon Publishing."


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Short Stories: Writing from the Inside Out

M. Jean Pike

If you’ve been writing for any amount of time at all then I’m sure that somewhere along the line you’ve heard the advice, ‘write about what you know.’ It’s good advice. Drawing from one’s own life experience adds authenticity and credibility to a story.

In my restless twenties I moved from job to job, never quite satisfied. Always searching for something new, I was driven by an insatiable curiosity to see what was around the next corner. Twenty years later, my characters are factory workers and hairdressers. They wash cars, walk dogs, and scoop ice cream. They are familiar with the stifling heat of a pizza oven, the desperate sadness of a nursing home. They know because I know. But while writing what you know has its merits, I’m convinced that the key to writing memorable, saleable short fiction is more about writing what makes you feel.

We all have experiences tucked away in the attics of our minds; incidents that left an indelible impression. They may lurk in the shadows for years, unnoticed, until suddenly, something triggers them; and out they come, with all their painful/joyful/poignant clarity.

When that happens, friend, it is time to start writing.

For me, memories are often triggered without warning. I hear an elderly person use the word ‘billfold,’ and suddenly I’m nine years old again, in the passenger seat of my grandmother’s mud brown Plymouth Valiant. It is a warm, sunny afternoon, and Grandma has a twenty tucked into her “billfold.” I am excited, wondering what sort of wonderful adventure Grandma has planned for the day. Songs from the ‘seventies put me back in front of my bedroom mirror, as I prepare for a high school dance. My heart pounds as I think of that special someone. Will he be there? Will he ask me to dance…?

Anything and everything can be a trigger.

Several years ago, while scanning the police log in the local paper, I came across a story about a young man brought up on charges of criminal mischief for throwing rocks through the windows of his estranged wife’s home.

Hmmm. Write about what you know.

I certainly didn’t know the “what” of it. But having recently been through a separation, I had a pretty good idea of the “why.” I couldn’t stop thinking about that young man, lashing out in anger and frustration. I didn’t know him. But I knew what he made me feel.

I thought about him, long and hard. Then I thought about myself. My story became his story. And ALL OF AUGUST was born.

I opened the story with a young man (Luke Goodman) moving his wife into an apartment for a month-long trial separation, superimposing on him my own feelings of fear and loss. In the opening scenes, Luke moves through the first stages of a failing marriage; feeling loneliness and denial, pondering what went wrong. Like me, Luke’s first reaction is to blame himself.

As the weeks pass, and his wife shows no signs of coming home, Luke becomes more desperate. With his physical health deteriorating, he swallows his pride and makes one last effort to work things out.

As the story concludes, the couple move into the final phase of their broken marriage. Luke’s pain and desperation swell, taking the form of rage, which inevitably lead to his acts of criminal mischief.

“…On the last night of August I stood smoking on the porch of what was no longer my house. Heat lightning raged across the sky, strangely impotent without its partner, thunder. Summer wasn’t giving up easy, I thought. Not as easy as I had.

In the end it came down to one signature. I asked for nothing. There was nothing to contest. She didn‘t love me anymore. How does a man argue with that?

Rex followed close on my heels as I packed my clothes into a box. I laid my keys on the kitchen table and closed the door behind me.

I’d left the wedding statue sitting on the porch. On impulse, I threw it on top of the box. I still don’t really understand what happened next. Rex tripped me as I was going down the steps. The box tipped. The statue fell off and hit the sidewalk with a clink and cracked. I picked up the broken piece, turned it over in my palm. Two tiny, clasped hands stared back at me.

Filled with rage, I sent the bride and groom crashing through the window of Britt’s study. Rex stared at me as though shocked.

'Did you like that, boy? That‘s what I think of her degree.' I grabbed a rock from the garden, aimed it at our bedroom window. 'This one’s for all her father’s money.'

And there were more.

One for promises neither one of us had kept. One for dreams we hadn’t trusted each other enough to share. One for the needs that my love hadn’t been enough to fill.

The last one was for Taylor.

Lights and shadows appeared in the neighbor’s windows. Rex raced to the truck and back, barking wildly and stamping his front feet.

And by the time the patrol car had crawled down Bridge Street, by the time it had pulled to the curb, its floodlights sweeping across the wreckage at number eight fifty-six, by the time the neighbors had begun to gather on their lawns, and click their tongues, and point their fingers, by then, there was no one left to blame. "

With the story completed, I felt cleansed. I had not only healed myself, in acknowledging and working through my feelings, but in exposing my own humanness and vulnerability, I managed to create a character others could relate to.

In writing from inside out, you empower yourself to write stories you feel passionate about. Stories you care about. And when you do that, I guarantee your readers are going to care about them, too.

*ALL OF AUGUST FIRST APPEARED IN ANTHOLOGY MAGAZINE
Vol IX, Issue 4

Author Website: http://www.freewebs.com/mjeanpike