Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!!

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved


When Your Cup’s Half Full, You Don’t Thirst

Is it me or has time zipped past me again? It seems it was only yesterday that ...

January 2008: Property taxes doubled this year with no cap in site. My mother-in-law moved in with us—it was time. The kids are back in college. The sum of 2007 was spent rewriting the second book in my series, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT. The novel is on my publisher’s desk. I’m more grateful for my crit partners than they’ll ever know.

February 2008: Edits begin. Daughter Jessica breaks up with fiancé. She and her miniature Daschund moved back home. She’s not doing well--glad she’s home. Her younger brother helped with the move. Our two Boston Bull dogs are glad to see the mini weenie again. Boxes and clothes all over the place. I’m grateful we have a large home -- back to the edits.

March 2008: Glitch in edits. Two chapters need major revisions. I call a friend and vent. Jess is still upset—friends in and out of our house. She adopted two more mini Daschunds, Candy and Moo. We call them “the girls.” Sweet as can be. Famous last words, “They’re house-broken, mom.” I’m grateful to own a carpet shampooer.

April 2008: Some of my tulips are in bloom, delighted to have warmer weather. Rewrites on my novel are coming along. Two critical e-mails to my editor disappeared in cyber space. Translation: lost two weeks of edits.

May 2008: Daughter moved out and into my in-law’s empty house. Glad she’s ready to start fresh. The contract I signed and mailed to my publisher never arrived. I’m watching the dates--I’m nervous--she assures me all will be fine. Thank God one of us is calm and collected. I shampoo the carpets again.

June 2008: The nursing home called to say that my 93-year old father who has Alzheimer’s needs to be moved to another facility. It seems he’s learned how to open the outer doors. Interesting. I’m grateful to quickly find another qualified, secure facility. They’ve handled the move and all the paper work. The contract still hasn’t reached my publisher. Finger drumming has left dents on my desk. I decide to plant a vegetable garden.

July 2008: I give up and scan my copy of the contract and e-mail it to my publisher. Three artists seemed interested in doing the cover, none follows through. Glad to know we have other options. I’ve started to make a list of potential reviewers. I’ve started to pace too much and it’s too nice to stay indoors, think I’ll go out and water my flowers.


August 2008: It’s technically fall since daughter and son are back in college. Dogs still at home as is hubby and mother-in-law. Plants are drying in the August sun but my concord grapes will soon be ready to pick.


September 2008: I have a freezer full of harvested vegetables and I processed a bushel for grapes and froze the juice. Began final proofreading of novel. Dang, how did I miss all those typos? Found another artist. The cover is looking great! Received launch date. I’m thrilled but still losing sleep.

October 2008: Crap, found out I miscalculated my son’s financial aid. Too many things on my mind. I’m grateful we’re able to cover the difference. The proofreading on THE DEVIL CAN WAIT is going well. I’m driving my publisher nuts with all the edits, but she’ll love me for this one of these days. The ARCs are in the mail. Yah!

November 2008: The launch date is here. Several great reviews have arrived. I’m relieved. THE DEVIL CAN WAIT book cover is featured as cover of the week on Erin Aislinn site. My event calendar is filling up fast—bookstores and libraries are calling me. Who’da thunk? I just received word that I’ll be doing a virtual book tour next month. I’m humbled by the many generous-hearted friends I’ve met along the way and grateful for my family’s support. It’s Thanksgiving morning and the dishwasher decides to die. Twelve people for dinner today. Words can’t express the joy. I’m grateful for all the capable hands.

December 2008: New dishwasher looks great. The book is doing remarkably well and the cover is now up for the cover of the month vote (voting ends 12/31/08!!). Now that the virtual book tour articles are done, I’m happy to keep up with the readers’ comments and e-mails. It’s cold, but just a light dusting of snow so far. I’m ready to put up the tree. Started my shopping and Christmas card lists—I’ll do them tomorrow. Aside from the head colds, we’re healthy and, yes, still gainfully employed. I’m breathing again. Maybe I’ll make some grape jelly this weekend.

The nursing home called again; dad’s condition hasn’t changed but he’s now in Hospice. I’m grateful that it’s only for the purpose of “planning ahead” but it hasn’t stopped that lump in my throat from forming.

Two days before Christmas, Jessica and Tracy are on break--they've passed their courses with flying colors! Our son told me he has just finished reading SILENCED CRY and was starting to read THE DEVIL CAN WAIT, it must be Christmas! Water pipes broke in the garage from the -28 degree temps and one of the cars has a flat. I refuse to get stressed—we are blessed.


Christmas Eve--it’s dad’s 94th birthday and in spite of everything there's still a spark in his eyes. My husband, son and daughter celebrated it with him. Dad's able to kid around (in his special way) with his grandchildren—I’m truly grateful—damn that lump in the throat is back.

Christmas 2008, a wonderful time with family and friends. The dogs finally figured out the “let’s go out” deal. Our property taxes were cut in half, and gas prices are down to $1.40 a gallon. Today we celebrate!


It’s New Year’s Eve!
Our family will ring in 2009 at home with good food and wine, movies and board games. We had our share of ups and downs in 2008, but that’s okay. Those stumbling blocks are to life what chilies are to salsa—spice!

I’m grateful for strong family ties, laughs shared with my friends, the lessons from trials and errors, a host of new challenges and opportunities, and the many blessings that came our way. I have no regrets and as I say good bye to 2008 I look forward to what the new year will bring.

Happy New Year to all!

May 2009 bring you peace, happiness, prosperity and a host of blessings.

* * * *

Marta Stephens is the author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series published by BeWrite Books (UK).
THE DEVIL CAN WAIT – (2008),
SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

Check out the author's December 2008 virtual book tour stops at http://mstephens-musings.blogspot.com/2008/12/december-2008-virtual-book-tour-stops.html

Monday, December 29, 2008

WRITING A SYNOPSIS (It Doesn't Have to Kill You )


© Maryann Miller 2008 all rights reserved



You pitched this really great story idea to an editor, and now she wants to see, gulp, a SYNOPSIS. For most authors, writing a synopsis is like being asked to kneel on tacks for a week. In fact, it's probably worse, but several years ago I discovered a technique that made it considerably less painful.

At the time, I’d been working primarily on film scripts and the style of writing had become second nature. I loved the techniques of quick cuts and sparse narratives. When I was asked for a rapid turn-around on a synopsis and sample chapters for my novel, ONE SMALL VICTORY, I was seized with a sudden panic. I didn’t even have a working outline for this book. How could I even begin to put this proposal together on a tight deadline?

That’s when I got the idea to use some of the scripting techniques I’d become so comfortable with. First, I started a rough outline of the story in the form of “story beats.” Some people use index cards for each beat, but I prefer to work on a legal pad making a numbered list. For example:

ACT 1 - THE TRAGEDY

1. Mike is killed in a car accident
2. Jenny’s reaction
3. Jenny finds out drugs were involved

I usually put three to four beats on one page with room between for adding notes as the story develops.

Working on the rest of the plot I finished the initial list before going through it and deciding which elements needed to be included in the synopsis. When that was determined, I started putting meat on the story beats by answering a few basic questions. What happens in this scene and why? What purpose does it serve in the story? What is it saying about the characters?

Taking my first story beat, I added the layers; setting the scene, focusing the tension and conflict, and visualizing the interplay between the characters. This step in the process turned out something like: Mike Jasick, riding in a car driven by his friend who is taking drugs, is killed when the car careens off a country road, goes airborne, and crashes into an embankment.

Notice that I wasn’t concerned with the quality of the actual writing at this point, just the quality of the story development. After a little more thinking about the characters and visualizing how the first few scenes would play out, I decided that opening the synopsis with the reaction from Jenny – story beat two – would be better because of the emotional connection that makes with readers. So this is what I ended up with as the opening sentence with the other two story beats covered in the next two: Life can change in just an instant. That's the harsh reality that Jenny Jasick faces when her son, Michael, is killed in an automobile accident. Then, as if grief isn't enough, drugs are found in the car.

After I finished the synopsis, I decided to use some of the same techniques in writing the sample chapters. I was really struggling with the narrative transitions because film scripts don’t use them. They have this handy little tool called a “cut to” that I’d been using for several months. Instead of sitting here watching my cursor blink as I tried to come up with a transition, I thought why not use “cut to” then take it out in the final draft.

The initial writing of the chapters went incredibly faster this way. It kept the action flowing and helped me stay focused on the essential elements of each scene. In the second go-round I added character emotions and reactions to the action, keeping it focused so the motivation for later action was developed. As I mentally scrambled to find the transitions, I realized that I didn’t need to transition every scene. I could just drop down a couple of extra spaces and jump into the next one.

Some of these techniques obviously wouldn’t work for every novel, but they are good tools for stepping up the pacing for mysteries, thrillers, horror, and some contemporary mainstream. I think a modified form would even work well for romantic suspense and science fiction. And using the story beats is definitely an asset when outlining and writing a dynamite synopsis.
* * *
About the author: Maryann Miller is a diverse writer of columns, feature stores, short fiction, novels, screenplays and stage plays, Maryann Miller has won numerous awards including being a semi-finalist at the Sundance Institute for her screenplay, A Question Of Honor. Her work has appeared in regional and national publications, and the Rosen Publishing Group in New York published her non-fiction books for teens, including the award-winning Coping with Weapons and Violence In School and On Your Streets. A novel, One Small Victory, was released from Five Star in June 2008. Play It Again, Sam is a July release from Uncial Press as an e-book. Other experience includes extensive work as a PR consultant, a script doctor, and an editor. She is currently the Managing Editor of WinnsboroToday.com, an online community magazine. She has been writing all her life and plans to die at her computer.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Win a Copy of Tremolo: cry of the loon


Hello dear friends and writers,
a
It's quiet here by the fire. I'm sitting with Balto snuggled beside me and granddaughter Isabella nearby. We're the only ones up.
a
I hope your Christmas was delightful, filled with warmth and family time. We had such a day - with all three children and three grandchildren in attendence. The gifts were mostly handmade and personal, the meal seemed to satisfy the crew, and we spent lots of time by the fire, drawing with the boys' new art supplies and playing with the baby.
a
This morning, Bella's swinging in her seat and playing with a little pony with soft pink hair. It's been a long time since I had a little girl to give a pony to! Twenty some odd years, actually. ;o) She loves it!
a
Will you forgive me if I do a little self-promotion today? I'd love for one of you to win a copy of Tremolo: cry of the loon. It's the best way of sharing what's inside me with you - that book came straight from my soul.

There's an interview of yours truly on Carrie Runnals Words-to-Mouth website today, and if you comment on it you will be placed in the drawing for a free book. Here are the instructions from Carrie's website:

To Win a FREE Copy of Tremolo:


  • Leave a comment on Carrie's site beneath the interview.

  • Call 206-309-7318 and leave a voice mail message she can play on-air

  • Be sure to subscribe to her e-newsletter, so you're informed of the winning name

  • Deadline for entry - January 15th, midnight, EST

I've copied the gist of the article below, for convenience. But if you want to have a chance to win, be sure to click on the link above and enter a comment.

Carrie: Why don't you start by telling us a bit about Tremolo: cry of the loon?
Aaron: Tremolo is a coming-of-age mystery suitable for all ages, and it particularly plays to the nostalgia of baby boomers. This novel, third in the Gus LeGarde series, is actually a prequel to the founding book of the series, Double Forté, which begins in the current day when Gus is already a grandfather. The novel is set in the Belgrade Lakes of Maine, in summer 1964, when Beatlemania hits the States and the world mourns the loss of JFK. Eleven-year-old Gus LeGarde faces his first brush with evil against the backdrop of the most powerful events that rocked the nation. When Gus and his friends capsize their rowboat in a thick fog, they eventually clamber to shore, where they witness a drunk chasing a girl through the woods. She's scared. She's hurt. And she disappears. The camp is thrown into turmoil as the frantic search for Sharon begins. Reports of stolen relics arise, including a church bell cast by Paul Revere. When Gus stumbles on a scepter that's part of the spoils, he becomes a target. Compelled to find Sharon before the villain does, Gus-armed only with a big heart, a motorboat, and a nosy beagle-must dig deep for courage to survive the menace that lurks in the dark woods.

Carrie: Why did you choose "To Kill a Mockingbird" as the film that Gus watched in Tremolo?
Aaron: There are great parallels that link Mockingbird to Tremolo, especially the threads of evil that weave throughout both. My father took me to see "To Kill a Mockingbird" when it first came out in theaters, and it's remained my favorite movie to date. I remember coming home and sitting in the dining room with my father after the movie. He turned his forearm in the sunlight and said, "Wouldn't it be lovely to have coppery brown skin like Tom Robinson?" Dad worked hard to be sure I embraced life and people of all colors and nationalities. Gus and I have tried hard to live up to his example. ;o)


Carrie: Of your nine LeGarde mysteries, Tremolo is the only one that delves into Gus's childhood. What inspired this?
Aaron: I couldn't wait to revisit the glorious childhood summers in Maine at my grandparents' camp in the Belgrade Lakes. The memories bubbled within me, aching to be released for years. It seemed natural to plop my current day characters - Gus, Elsbeth, and Siegfried - into that setting. And thus Tremolo, the prequel to Double Forté was born.
a
Carrie: What do you think resonates with readers of Tremolo?
Aaron: One of the strong elements of the book involves the simple purity of living life without gadgets. Gus and his pals have no toys, no television, no computers, no video games. They didn't need them. They had each other, and the majesty of nature to entertain them. A walk in the woods, horseback riding, fishing, swimming, boating... all of these things are much healthier for us than the electronic cocoons with which we've surrounded ourselves.

Carrie: How long have you been writing? What stirred you to write?
Aaron: I've loved to write since grade school, when I filled journals with romantic musings and wrote zany stories. But the real call to write - that obsession that demands hours per day at the keyboard and holds me hostage until it's satisfied - started in 1997 when my father died. I was 44, and the loss crushed me. Dad was an energetic Renaissance man. He taught music and played piano, tended large gardens, cooked hearty soups, loved his family and dogs, and embraced life with unbridled passion. He was the model who inspired Gus LeGarde. I'm actually a lot like my father, so there are strong elements of me in Gus, too. It's an interesting amalgam.
a
Carrie: How has writing has impacted your life? Can you tell us how it changes or strengthens you?
Aaron: When life gets tough I turn to my writing for solace, borne of escapism. Family and friends help soothe life's woes, and are fantastic sources of comfort. Especially those hugs I get from my little grandsons. But there's something uniquely satisfying about turning to the parallel universe I control (when I can't control anything else) and "taking charge." Even if life wasn't fraught with its own problems, I'd still write. I have no choice. I need the stimulation of the creative process every day. I need to connect with readers. I live for that and I encourage my readers to contact me at aaron dot lazar at yahoo dot com.
a
Carrie: Do you have a motto or favorite saying that guides you?
Aaron: "Take pleasure in the little things." When life becomes unbearable due to family illness or loss, I've learned how to self-comfort by enjoying what God has provided, such as a frosty field on a sunny winter morning, cornflowers growing wild by the roadside, the flash of love in my grandsons' eyes, or the taste of a fresh picked tomato. We must learn to savor these gifts, relish them, and soak them in to comfort us when things get tough again.

Carrie: Who are your favorite writers?
Aaron: In no particular order: John D. MacDonald for his Travis Magee series; Laurie R. King for her Sherlock Holmes and Kate Martinelli series; Dean Koontz for his Odd Thomas series; Stephen King for his dialog (the best and most natural in the world); James Patterson for his early books' scenes with Dr. Alex Cross, Nana Mama, and his children; Clive Cussler for the delightful adventures of the Dirk Pitt series; Dick Francis (always wished he wrote a series); Tony Hillerman for his character development and scene painting; S.W. Vaughn (aka Sonja Baines) for her face-paced, gripping fiction; and Marta Stephens for her newly debuted crime mysteries featuring detective Sam Harper.

Carrie: What's next?
Aaron: Mazurka, The fourth LeGarde book will be out soon through Twilight Times Books. Also, the debut novel of my new paranormal mystery series, Healey's Cave, will follow shortly thereafter. My current WIP is a standalone novel entitled The Aviary, about an obsessive-compulsive bird breeder and his pet parakeet, Ruby.

***
Okay, that's it. I need to get back to my manuscript edits that are due January 1st! I'm cracking the whip on myself and hope the next time we talk I can tell you I finished the darn thing! LOL.

Happy New Year!!!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas Presence


© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

It was well after midnight before Ted, our two young children, and I returned home from my parents’ on Christmas Eve. Outside, a gentle snow drifted to the ground, the air was calm and the night was as peaceful as any greeting card promised this night should be.
Inside our century-old home, Sara and Jimmy, ages five and three, were wound up tighter than a timekeeper’s watch with the prospect of Santa’s impending arrival. I placed the near empty green bean casserole dish on the counter and tossed my purse onto one of the overstuffed chairs. It landed as gracefully as my husband had when he dropped into his recliner.

“Time for bed, kids,” he said, draping an arm over his eyes.

“Five more minutes.” The plea on Sara’s face was perfectly mirrored in Jimmy’s eyes.

“No, silly,” I said, as I hung their coats in the closet then shut the door. “You know Santa won’t come until we’re all sound asleep. Come on, straight to bed, you two.” They knew the drill, yet I wasn’t surprised at their repeated resistance. After all, Christmas was a once-a-year special event. It was about presents and bright colored lights, laughter and songs and a multiple of things that sent ripples of excitement through the evening air.

By the time Ted made his way into the kids’ bedroom, they had slipped on their pajamas but were still giggling and squealing with excitement. I kissed them goodnight and watched as he futilely tucked them in knowing they were nowhere near ready to sleep.

“S-h-h-h,” he said as he kissed them goodnight too then left the room.

I turned off their light and quietly closed the door. Tomorrow, I thought, our families would arrive by noon. My focus switched to the fifteen-pound turkey thawing inside the fridge that needed to go in the oven by seven a.m. The list of ingredients for my cranberry dressing had crossed my mind too when I saw Ted tiptoe down the stairs with an armful of presents.

“Come on,” he whispered and motioned with a nod for me to follow, “let’s get these under the tree.”

I leaned an ear toward the children’s room a final time. Certain they had fallen asleep, I picked up the pace, followed Ted down the stairs and into the living room. He had arranged his gift boxes beneath the tree and let out a sigh by the time I arrived with a load of presents that filled my outstretched arms clear up to my chin. The largest box in my hands was the miniature china tea set Sara had seen in a store the month before. Several smaller boxes contained shirts and sweaters that Jimmy would toss on the couch the minute he opened them. A quick tally of gifts encircling the tree assured me we hadn’t left any behind. I drew in a cleansing breath. With it came a sudden sense of tranquility—a peace I hadn’t felt since the shopping madness took over my life five weeks before.

Each year Ted and I promised not to cave in to the commercialization of Christmas and yet, the number of gift bags and boxes that encircled our artificial tree, the garland of Christmas cards hanging across the archway leading into the next room, and the diminished balance in our check book was a testament to our growing weakness. The holidays of my youth were far simpler, or so I thought, and in spite of our annual promise, we had fallen shamefully short of fulfilling our vow once more.

“If this old house could talk,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a hundred years old. Don’t you ever wonder about the families who lived here before us—who they were, what they did for a living?”

“Not really.” Ted stifled a yawn and rubbed his eyes.

“Do you suppose their children were anything like Sara and Jimmy?”

“Amanda ...”

“Can’t you just imagine what Christmas must have been like in this house at the turn of the century?”

“Yeah, bitter cold and no modern conveniences.”

“Bet they were quaint.”

“You’re romanticizing it, my sweet. Come, on. It’s almost two.” He wrapped an arm around my waist and nudged me upstairs. “Let’s get to bed. We’re not going to get much sleep as it is and we’re in for a long day tomorrow.”

Unsure why that bit of nostalgia hit me just then, I surrendered to my husband’s urging. Christmas or not, my body ached for a few hours of sleep so I raced him into the bedroom, slipped on my night clothes and just as quickly slid under the covers and closed my eyes.
Ted did likewise and for a minute or two a wonderful silence engulfed us. That is, until we heard the pitter patter of footsteps going down the stairs.

“Darn those two! They’re up,” I said. “Ted ... the kids.”

He sounded off a few unpleasant grunts, swung his feet out from under the covers and dashed down the hallway. I heard him thunder downstairs first, then followed the sounds of his steps as he returned to the second floor landing and into Sara’s and Jimmy’s room. I sat up expecting to hear another round of giggles, instead, Ted shuffled into our room and got back in bed.

“Well?” I asked. “What are they doing?”

“They’re sound asleep.”

“But I heard their steps—I mean, so did you, didn’t you?”

“Thought I did. It’s this house, could have been the furnace.” With that he turned on his side and pulled the covers up over his head again. “Good night.”
* * *

The first glimmer of dawn came much faster than I would have liked, but adrenalin kicked in to make up for sleep deprivation. Still in my robe and without bothering to put on my slippers, I began to get things in motion for our annual family Christmas luncheon. Soon, the smell of freshly brewed coffee permeated my kitchen as did the smell of finely chopped onions and celery intended to flavor the dressing. I basted the turkey with a wonderful cranberry glaze and shoved it into the oven where it would need to roast for several hours.

With a piece of buttered toast in my hand I poured myself a cup of some much needed coffee and went into the living room to plug in the tree. Bright colored ornaments reflected the twinkle of the tiny white lights we had cursed at some weeks before as we labored to untangle the mess of twisted wires. I pulled open the drapes to find it had snowed overnight. A glint of early sunshine swept over the snow-covered ground adding a splash of its color across the landscape. Not a footprint or tire track had scarred its sparkling surface. Just as in a Christmas of long ago, I thought. Ted’s words echoed back shaming me into dismissing the notion as utter nonsense. I moved back to admire the Christmas tree one last time before Sara and Jimmy came down and tore into their presents. The peace of the moment was shattered, however, by the excruciating pain in the ball of my foot from whatever I had mindlessly stepped on.

I looked at the metal jack in disbelief. It resembled those from a set of ten I used to play with when I was a little girl—the kind that came with a small, bright red rubber ball. I hadn’t seen one like this in years and the thought forced a million images through my mind. Sara’s jacks were big, plastic, and pink and no one had been to our house since I vacuumed the room the morning before. I couldn’t explain how this little jack had found its way to the spot in front of our tree.

A chill ran up my arms as I glanced back at the staircase and wondered what presence had visited our home on that Christmas morning. Had a special child’s spirit or a playful angel stopped for a holiday visit, intentionally leaving the toy behind as tangible proof of their existence? I couldn’t say. All I know is that I felt as if I was meant to find it in my own clumsy way. Inexplicable as it was, I might have imagined the sounds of those tiny steps, but I couldn’t dismiss the object in the palm of my hand. I don’t know if it was a sign or an incredible coincidence. Whatever the answer, it left me with a warm sense of connection and a renewed belief in Christmas magic.
The End

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas from our family to yours


Due to the absolute RUSH of the holidays, I will not be posting on my regular day. But my partners in crime here at MB4 and I want to let you know that we wish you a very Merry Christmas! I hope it is the best you've ever had. If you are up for a little story, go on over to my website, and check out the Christmas story I have put up for free. Shannon and Dwayne are up to their necks in Christmas shenanigans and you don't wanna miss it!

Here is a little poem that says best what some of us are going through!
I hope this isn't you!!

Twas the Night Before Christmas in the Kitchen
author unknown

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the kitchen
I was cooking and baking and moanin' and bitchin'
I've been here for hours, I can't stop to rest.
This room's a disaster, just LOOK at this mess!

Tomorrow I've got thirty people to feed.
They expect all the trimmings. Who CARES what I need?
My feet are both blistered; I've got cramps in my legs,
And the cat's just knocked over my bowl full of eggs!

There's a knock on the door and the telephone's ringing;
frosting drips on the counter as the microwave's dinging!
Two pies in the oven, dessert's almost done
and my cookbook is soiled with butter and crumbs.

I've had all I can stand. I can't take anymore.
Then in walks my husband spilling RUM on the floor!
He weaves and he wobbles, his balance unsteady,
Then grins as he chuckles "the egg nog is ready!"

He looks all around and then says with regret
"What's taking so long...arent you through in here yet?"
AS QUICK as a flash I reach for a knife!
He loses an earlobe... I WANTED HIS LIFE!

He flees from the room in terror and pain;
"MY GOD WOMAN, YOU'RE GOING INSANE!
Now what was I doing and what is that smell?
Oh NO its the pies! They're burned all to hell!

I hate to admit when I make a mistake,
but I put them on BROIL instead of on BAKE.
What else can go wrong? Is there still more ahead?
If this is "good living," I'd rather be dead!

Lord, don't get me wrong, I love the holidays;
It just leaves me exhausted, all shaky and dazed!
But I promise you one thing, if I live 'til next year,
you won't find me pulling my hair out in here!

I'll hire a maid, a cook and a waiter;
And if THAT doesn't work...
Christmas better come LATER!


MERRY CHRISTMAS Y'ALL!!!!!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

I Have Dreamed a Dream

© Karen Wiesner 2008 all rights reserved


"In dreaming, the clouds methought would open and show riches ready to drop upon me; that, when I wak’d I cried to dream again.”
from “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare

A strangling had just occurred in the park. The victim? A dancer from the local scandaleux strip joint. When the local small town lieutenant, who’s longing just to go home to his new wife, goes to the nightclub to investigate, he encounters the radical personalities of the other dancers: one far-too-young-and-innocent; another older, vengeful and jaded; and a blond bombshell with unfathomable depths. What happened next took the lieutenant through a wild chase to hunt down, and capture, a killer.

When I woke from this intense dream, I immediately started writing. My pen flew over the paper as I wrote down everything I saw in my dream-movie. When it finally faded out, leaving heaviness in my chest, I’d filled pages with in-depth notes. I put the notes into my plot cupboard where I expected it to fade from my imagination quickly. Little did I realize that it was the beginning of what would eventually open a whole new writing adventure to me. Later, Christine Spindler (who wrote an award-winning mystery series and happened to live in Auenwald, Germany), a friend from a mutual publisher, and I started talking about writing a mystery novel together. My first thought was the dream I’d had about the small town detective tracking a killer in a strip joint while missing his wife. I told Christine about this idea gathering dust in my cupboard, and she told me about an idea she had about a mystery involving twin sisters.

When she sent me the notes she had on her story, I knew this was something that was meant to be. Without a break, I spent the rest of that day combining the best elements from both of our ideas, and DEGREES OF SEPARATION—a full-blown whodunit mystery—was born. Soon two authors who had never met in person were brainstorming non-stop from our ends of the world. In under two months, we’d completed the novel, which was so much like the dream I’d had I couldn’t doubt that destiny had brought us together. We both accepted that we wouldn’t want this to be a single book. We’d become enchanted with Pete Shasta and Danny Vincent, investigators for the fictional Falcon’s Bend Police Department, and together we plan to visit often the “small, sleepy Wisconsin town that owns more taverns than churches but fills both on the appropriate days. A place where nothing seems to happen...except the occasional murder.”

Since then, dreams have been a huge part of my fiction writing, in many instances for the Falcon’s Bend Series. “Blind Revenge” (FALCON’S BEND CASE FILES, VOLUME I) began just as I was about to drop off to sleep one night. In my mind, I saw a woman walking down a hall. I saw a man ahead of her. The woman kept walking past him, then she looked back at the door, and he was looking at her, too. The woman went outside, got in her convertible, and a second later the passenger door opened and the man got in. At that moment, my subconscious mind turned creepy. Suddenly this woman was blindly kissing her stranger as if it was the end of the world. I knew that, for her, it was the end of the world when she said the witch was coming for her eyes.

“Fixated” (also in FBCF, VOLUME I) was based on a dream I had about a woman who was being stalked by someone. “Retribution” (which will be in FALCON’S BEND CASE FILES, VOLUME II) is based on a dream I had about a scantily clad woman temporarily inhabiting a property and lurking in the backyard. When I woke, I was in a Falcon’s Bend mindset, and quickly worked this dream into the idea that the subdivision Lieutenants Pete Shasta and Danny Vincent live in becomes home to a very hot young mama…and their wives Lisa and Melody aren’t too happy about all the men in the neighborhood moonlighting as Peeping Toms. But it isn’t until the woman disappears, leaving her two children alone, that Lisa realizes crime is firmly afoot.

Anyway, I think using dreams to craft fiction is brilliant. Is it a little...well, disturbing? Sometimes it is, but writers can always make lemonade out of lemons.
* * *
Special offer to Murder by 4 visitors! Purchase a download of THE FIFTEENTH LETTER for only $4.99 and receive ROMANTIC NOTIONS free!
Visit http://www.swimmingkangaroo.com/2for1.html to receive this special offer.

Anyone who participates (leaves a comment) about Karen's article is eligible for a giveaway of the winner's choice of a trade paperback of THE FIFTEENTH LETTER or ROMANTIC NOTIONS. Winner will be chosen and contacted December 23, 2009. Winner must b able to provide a valid name and mailing address. Overseas winners are welcome!
* * *
Karen Wiesner is an accomplished author with 55 books published in the past 10 years, which have been nominated for and/or won 75 awards, and 20 more titles under contract. Karen’s books cover such genres as women’s fiction, romance, mystery/police procedural/cozy, suspense, paranormal, futuristic, gothic, inspirational, thriller, horror and action/adventure. She also writes children’s books, poetry, and writing reference titles such as her bestseller, First Draft in 30 Days, available from Writer’s Digest Books. Karen’s second release from Writer’s Digest Books is From First Draft to Finished Novel -- A Writer’s Guide to Cohesive Story.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dreams and Downtime



Good morning friends and writers,

Yesterday we had a whopper of a snowstorm. It was glorious, mostly because I arranged to work from home all day and didn't have to worry about the awful driving conditions. Well over a foot fell and it's a good thing we covered up the woodpile on the porch, because it got buried! The drifts are several feet high in most areas.

We ended up having all three grandkids with us (imagine me trying to work on data with those monkeys around. It wasn't easy!) I threw together a crockpot beef stew early in the morning, and it was perfect for a snowy day's dinner.

I think I'm getting a bit burned out (who isn't these days?). I need to be home more, stoking the woodstove, or playing in the snow with the boys. I need to cook a good chowder, take some luscious photos, or go cross country skiing. And it's coming soon, because after this Wednesday I have eleven days off! Woo Hoo!

And I need to write. God, how I need to write.

I'm not talking about the painstaking edits I've been doing on Healey's Cave. I'm talking about creating scenes, the stuff that gets your heart pounding and gives you that unbelievable high. I'm talking about giving birth to new events in worlds over which I have control, with people I can manipulate behind the scenes to do just the right thing at the right time. That's what I need. A few nice chase scenes. Maybe a tender family moment. And definately some kid humor. Oh yeah.

I don't want to leave you short handed, of course. So I've dug up a piece I wrote long ago that most of you probably haven't read. It's about dreams, and how we sometimes cope with life through them.

So as you enjoy your own downtime and hopefully fulfill some of your own dreams, let me wish you a Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all. And remember to take pleasure in the little things!

Feel free to share your own dreams below - we'd love to hear about them.
a
***

Dreams

Aaron Paul Lazar 2008

I overslept this morning. And it was lovely.

Usually, on Saturday mornings, I rise at 5:30 or 6:00 to write this article, review the early Gather.com Writing Essential submissions, and prepare for the long morning of chair deliveries, errands, breakfast at George's Diner with my wife and grandsons, gardening, cooking the family feast, chair caning and - last but not least - a few hours of soul satisfying writing.

I needed the extra sleep this morning, having missed out the night before due to emotions aroused after attending a funeral of a friend's mom. I'm sure those of you who have lost loved ones know exactly what I mean. You may have gone to the funeral of someone you hardly knew. Perhaps you went to support a dear friend, as I did on Thursday. Did memories pour into your psyche as familiar hymns were sung and heartfelt stories were delivered? In this case, images of my father, grandparents, and departed friends flooded my brain. The funeral of my boss's daughter came to mind. His strength. His deep sorrow. The flow of memories was endless.
a
As these thoughts persisted throughout the day and evening, I tossed and turned Thursday night, and was exhausted all day Friday. But I slept until almost 8:00 (!) this morning, and woke feeling most rested after a night full of wild dreams.

The most vivid and overwhelming was that of a flood. Perhaps it was driven by images in the news of the floods that have ravaged several communities in recent weeks. Or maybe it was the overwhelming flood of emotions triggered by the funeral. Either way, the dream felt incredibly real.

In my twenties again, I floated into the scene at my wife's home in the country. I stood near the house, looking down to the barn. My first thought was to check on the horses. I raced (in that miraculous dream-like speed) to the stalls and found one horse. Oddly, I reconized Maggie, the mare I feature in my LeGarde Mysteries series. But her chestnut gelding companion, Diablo, was missing. Panic rose in my throat. Strangers appeared, asking me what was wrong. I searched the flooded fields and finally found him lying on his side in a shallow spot. I froze, then saw his ribs rise and fall. He was alive! Miraculously, I got him up and into the stall with Maggie. Questions filled my brain - how would I feed them? Where was the hay? The grain? Was it ruined by the water? In a flash, the scene switched.

Same locale. Same barn. Same flood. But now it was winter and most of the field was covered in ice. There! In the distance! A fellow I recognized as my cousin Dave flailed in the water. He'd broken through the ice and was drowning. I searched desperately for something to throw to him, something long and strong. I spotted the hose (why it was left out in winter, I'll never know!) and struggled in molasses like motion - as if held back by mysterious forces - toward the hose. I pulled and pulled on the green monstrosity, trying hard to free it from the ice. Dave was drowning, and I couldn't get the darned hose out of the ice pack.

Another flash, and suddenly someone else had rescued him. Even as relief washed through me, I remained rooted to the spot, feeling like a failure.

I think I know why this sense of powerless came through a dream. It has something to do with the inability to control events in my life. My friend's loss and deep sorrow. My daughter's neurological evaluation this week that has (hopefully) ruled out the MS from which my wife suffers. My own issues struggling with asthma. Life is full of these challenges, and sometimes our inability to "fix" them translates to a feeling of failure. Of course, in reality, the ability to withstand and face these ailments with grace translates to success. Success is not the right word, exactly, but I think you know what I mean.

The dream continued and I was able to join a posse of sorts on a floating barge. We searched and rescued many victims floating in the ocean of floodwaters that had overtaken their homes.

Redemption?

I don't know. But when it was all over and I woke to the sound of the birds and the luscious feeling of sun on my face, I felt satisfied. Really good inside. I guess I needed these imaginary acts of heroism to help me through the week to come. Who knows?

But it's fun to disect and analyze dreams, isn't it?

Okay, it's late now. I'm already off schedule for the chair deliveries, and the family is milling around me with impatience, ready to go. Thanks for the wonderful submissions this morning! I'll check back later to add in the new pieces.

Enjoy your weekend, be a hero to someone you love, and write like the wind!
a

- Aaron

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Welcome to a new WORLD


Today I want to share with you the fact that I am now living in a whole new world. I am not an unpublished novelist anymore. I no longer have to say, when my book comes out. I can look my family in the eye and say, all the times I neglected you and the house was absolutely worth it. I will stroll a little taller, feel a little giddier as I walk into my place of work and announce I have a book available for people to consume. There are some fans there as well.

It's a whole new world today. Though the air won't smell any differently, the ground won't REALLY move under my feet, I feel different.

Maybe it's pride? Maybe it's relief. But whatever, it feels good.

You can make your purchase of Avenging Angel, A Shannon Wallace Mystery at Red Rose Publishing.
and I hope you will make it something that you do JUST FOR YOU. It is meant to entertain and make you laugh.

Please enjoy this book as much as I did writing it for you! And drop by my website KIM SMITH SITE and see what else I have up my writer sleeve! *oh! a MURDER MYSTERY E-DINNER!!! that sounds lovely!*

Also don't forget about the radio show tonight! I will be the guest of honor! Radio show

Finally, thank you for being my friend!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Interview with author, Kim Smith



Kim, congratulations on the launch of your first published book, “Avenging Angel.” I know you’ve waiting a long time for this. Please tell us about your journey, where you’ve been and how you got here.

Ah yes. It has been a wild ride, I admit. I began seriously considering getting Avenging Angel published back in 2004. I hired an editor, and had it overhauled just to give it the best start I could. Then I began submitting it sometime in 2005 but although I received positive responses from agents who always asked for the full, I just couldn’t make the next step. In November, 2007, I finally found a small publisher who showed interest and subsequently signed with them. But after a long period of inactivity, whereby I felt my time would be better spent elsewhere, I cancelled my contract and went out hunting again. I think authors should know that it is okay to pull a book if they feel like things are not transpiring in the manner in which they think it ought to. I lucked out and went with Red Rose Publishing, and have been very happy and satisfied that I did.

What is Avenging Angel all about?

Avenging Angel is all about a bad week in the life of Shannon Wallace, a somewhat naïve, and zany woman who discovers her “bedroom ballet” collection of DVD’s are missing from her murdered boyfriend’s apartment. The detective in charge of the case, Salvador Ramirez, has a grudge against Shannon and she has to find those videos before he does. She is aided in her mission by her old college buddy, Dwayne Brown. Dwayne has a natural knack for aiding in a true Ethel and Lucy style, which makes for funny, moments where he is as much stumbling block as sidekick.

What prompted you to write this book and what makes it stand out among other books in this genre?

This book originated with an idea of what would happen if a two-bit hood started a PI business and pressed his old college buddy into service upon learning of her being down on her luck. The story really just grew and changed out of that idea. It is NOTHING like the original idea, but it has been a grand journey getting from point A to today.

What do you feel is has been your greatest strengths as a writer?

I would have to say my openness to change. I have always said if someone wanted me to make changes to my work, I would totally be willing to do it. I think that sort of flexibility and lack of attachment to our work can very well open doors sometimes. I have never been asked to make that supreme sacrifice either, but the thought that I might have to has helped loosen the stranglehold I had on my work.

In what way do you or don’t you see yourself in your main character, Shannon Wallace?

I actually see a lot of myself in Shannon when I was a young woman, pre-children. I was pretty innocent and naïve, sheltered and protected, and life, as it always does, played some hard tricks on me. I enjoyed writing about where I live, too. South Lake Mississippi is an invented town, but it is based on where I live, and if anyone reads the book and is from around here, they will know JUST where I am talking about in many ways.

Please tell us about the setting for your book and why you chose it.

I have always heard from others to write what you know. Well, I know this region. I was Memphis born, Memphis bred, and when I die I will be Memphis dead. There is very little that you can ask about this area that I cannot tell you. I wrote more effectively since I knew the setting so intimately. Maybe one day I will write a book set in a place far from here, but for now, writing from about where I sit, is a great way to go.

What has been your greatest challenging in writing this book or writing in general?

My greatest challenge in writing in general has been one of trust. Trust in my own knowledge, my trust in others to be fair in their critiques, my trust in the publishing industry. I have had it all shaken not stirred several times, but I have come back and been wiser, and learned that trust has to be earned. Now I know that I have to be a trustworthy person also, so that I can pay it forward and help someone else. I do enjoy helping aspiring authors get started, and help producing authors to get the word out about their work.

Every author has at least one turning point in their career. That moment when they know the path they must take and accept the challenge. Please tell us about yours.

It was when my husband plunked me down in front of a computer and said, “Now. Quit making excuses and write that book.” He is the one that was the final straw. My mother had begged me for years to write a book. She wanted to be published as much as anyone I have ever known, but then, publishing was a whole different animal from today. She didn’t know how to break in, and she never tried. I wanted to do it for her, and for me. When he bought the computer, he literally took my last excuse away.

When you’re not writing, what are you doing?

I am either working at my paying job, the one that pays my bills, or I am working at the job that doesn’t pay my bills but helps keep my kids in car insurance, which is photography and videography. We have had our own video production company since 1992. Running a business, putting in forty plus hours at my job as a network admin, and having kids and a hubby is pretty much all I have time for. The writing, radio show, and promotions are what keeps me sane.

What has been the most valuable advice you’ve received along the way? How has it shaped your path?

The most valuable advice I have ever received was to keep going. I have tried to quit writing on a number of occasions and it was my friends, and my family who believed in me when I had given up. So when I say I owe this book to my friends and family, I really mean it. Those words, “don’t give up”, mean the most to me. And I would encourage another writer in a minute with the same words. It’s your dream, isn’t it? Then, don’t ever give up.

Thanks so much for giving us a glimpse into your life and writing. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I have had such a blast with this book and am working hard on the next two, so if you like Shannon’s horrible, awful, terrible, very bad, no good week in Avenging Angel, then you need to make room for the others to come. If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing!
* * *
About the author:
Kim Smith was born in Memphis Tennessee, the youngest of four children. After a short stint in a Northwest Mississippi junior college, during the era of John Grisham’s rise as a lawyer, she gave up educational pursuits to marry and begin family life.

She has worked in many fields in her life, from fast food waitress to telephone sales. “I always got the seniors on the phone who were lonely and wanted someone to talk to. My boss couldn’t understand why in the world I spent so much time talking to them and not enough time selling. That was when I realized I love people and care deeply about their lives.”

Writing was a dream, hidden but not forgotten, and soon Kim began to talk again of trying her hand at it. She played with words, and wrote several poems, one of which was picked up for an anthology

One day in the early nineties her husband came home with a desktop computer and sat her in front of it. “Now you have no more excuses,” he said, and she realized the truth in his words. Procrastination, now no longer an option, she took off on the pursuit of penning her first book. Though that book, a young adult fantasy, was lost due to unforeseen circumstances, she kept going, writing a historical romance, and another YA.

When she decided to try out her hand at mystery writing, she discovered her true love and niche in the writing journey. She has since had four short stories, and her first mystery novel accepted for publication.

Kim is a member of Sisters in Crime, and is a Coffeetime Romance and More author member. She still lives in the Mid South region of the United States and is currently working on her second book in the Shannon Wallace mystery
series.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cheap Christmas Presents for Writers

So, let's say you're a little strapped for cash this holiday season (I can hear all the grunts and moans of agreement out there - who isn't strapped this year?). Further, let's say you have some writer friends on your list, and you don't know what to get them. That you may, in fact, be considering telling everyone you know that this year, you're moving to a monastery in Zimbabwe and giving up all material considerations and attempts at communication, rather than go through the humiliation of having nothing to give.

Fear not! For the writers in your life, at least, you can offer them something special that also happens to be cheap (and when I say 'cheap', I mean 'free'). If you're reading this post, you already have everything you need: an internet connection.

Herewith, S.W. Vaughn's List of Super-Cheap, Eco-Friendly Gift Ideas for Writers!

* Compose an ode to the writer's greatness and post it in a public location, such as a blog or message forum. Then, e-mail the writer a link to said ode. It doesn't have to be particularly literary, or even spelled correctly. The writer will appreciate the sentiment.

Need an example? Here's one:

I know three writers who blog
With a fourth, whose head is in fog
But these guys are the best
Above all the rest
And forgive the fourth the occasional lapse in participation coupled with the loss of ability to produce writing, or even rhyme the last line of a dumb poem
(Er, I mean 'frog')

* E-mail the writer a list of things that you like about them as a person, and link each item on the list to writing. For example: 'You always remember my birthday - so you must never have any dropped plot threads in your books!'

* Choose a length of time (one week, one month, one year) and promise during that time to always refer to the writer as 'Writer Name, the Magnificent and Exalted Wordsmith' or a similar grandiose title. This includes all written and spoken communication.

* Offer to read something the writer has written. Actually read it, within a reasonable time frame (note that a year is NOT reasonable). When you are finished reading it, offer your honest and thoughtfully considered feedback. Please note that if you think said writing is a pile of steaming cow dung, say so . . . but gently, and make sure to include something positive with your feedback. Trust me, the writer will eventually thank you for it (if not right away).

* Simply say to the writer, 'I love your work. Have you written anything lately? Tell me about it!' Then, when the writer starts telling you about it - actually listen and show interest, without letting your eyes (or fingers, if you're communicating online) glaze over. Writers love talking with interested parties about their work.

None of these gifts will cost you anything except time, and any writer on your list will appreciate them. So give freely (and I do mean free! Isn't that a great word?) this holiday season, and may you also be blessed with such gifts for yourself.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Why I’m a Writer

It's a pleasure to welcome Marylin Meredith back to MURDER BY 4!


Ever so often I like to think about the reasons I’m a writer since I spend so much time doing it and promoting my books and don’t make much money for all my efforts. In the last week, I heard about a rather famous mystery writer who has decided to no longer pursue her writing career. And through the years I’ve had writing friends who decided the money wasn’t enticing enough to continue.

Here are my reasons for writing:

First, I don’t think I could stop writing. It’s something I have a compulsion to do. And I’ve had this compulsion for over sixty years. It’s like an addiction and I’m afraid I’d find it very hard to quit. I haven’t always written mysteries, but that’s what I’ve been up to for most of my life. Because I’m writing two series, the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series and the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series, I’m afraid my characters would compel me to find out what is happening in their lives.

Second, I’ve had so much satisfaction from writing. I have absolutely no control over the world that I live in. I’m not just talking about the big wide world, I mean the world that contains my family and friends. In the magical imaginary worlds that I’ve created, I do have some control–things always turn out right and the bad guys get it in the end. Oh sure, as many authors have confessed, sometimes the characters take over and do surprising things–but that’s fun.

Third, I’ve made so many new friends that I’d have never even come across if I wasn’t a mystery writer. I’ve made friends on the Internet, at the mystery cons I’ve attended both other writers and mystery fans and I look forward to seeing them at the next ones. I’ve also made friends when I’ve done book events here and there. At a Left Coast Crime in Alaska, I met two young Native women. One I kept in touch with via email through the years and when Bouchercon was held in Alaska, my friend invited me to stay at her house in Wasilla after the convention. Of course I did and had a wonderful time with her. While there I made another friend who drove me around Wasilla and took me to the middle school where I talked to the kids about writing mysteries as well places like the Iditarod Museum and a reindeer farm. I now have lots of police officer friends, and a couple of friends in the FBI because of being a member of the Public Safety Writers Association http://www.publicsafetywriter.com/
Fourth, I’ve had lots of adventures and visited places I’d have never gone to if I hadn’t been a writer. Alaska is one of the places I loved visiting. The first time, I went to a Native Village and visited a school. In order to get there, the principal drove me on the frozen river. Scary but also exciting. A mystery writer friend and I flew to New York to the Edgars one year and from there we rode the train to D.C. to attend Malice Domestic. My husband and I have fallen in love with Omaha, a place I’d never had any desire to visit before going to Mayhem in the Midlands. The zoo is wonderful and there are lots of fantastic restaurants around the hotel. We made friends with the owner of Ahmed’s Persian restaurant, and he actually remembers us each year. Flying to Chicago in the middle of a snow storm for Love is Murder was exciting and beautiful. Visiting relatives and a planned for library talk and bookstore signing was interrupted by a hurricane–and we were stranded when water completely surrounded the house we were staying in and nearly washed away our rental car. We loved Wisconsin, El Paso, San Antonio, Plano, Austin, TX and Seattle WA, Portland OR, Virginia Beach VA, Maui (where I got to be an instructor for the Maui Writers Retreat) and many more spots around the country.
Fifth, though I’ve enjoyed the traveling, I love the fact that I can stay home and do the work that I truly enjoy, writing.
* * * *
About the Author: Marilyn Meredith is the author of award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series as well as over twenty published novels. The latest Kindred Spirits from Mundania Press. Under the name of F. M. Meredith she writes the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, the latest, No Sanctuary, with a January release date from Oak Tree Press, is set in a fictional beach community in Ventura County CA where she lived for over twenty years.

She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, EPIC and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She was an instructor for Writer’s Digest School for ten years. She makes her home in Springville CA, much like Bear Creek where Deputy Tempe Crabtree lives. Visit her at http://fictionforyou.com

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Balancing Life and Writing - can it be done?

copyright 2008 Aaron Paul Lazar

Hello friends and writers,

I hope this finds you well, and writing prolifically.

Do you have trouble finding time to write? Or do you have a secret strategy that works?

Is writing an obsession that grips you by the throat and won't let you go until you've spewed hundreds of words per day? Do your characters haunt you and force you to listen to their bizarre plot twists while you're driving to work or doing the laundry? How do you quench that thirst?

I've been asked those questions dozens of times on radio shows and in print interviews, probably because I've written twelve books.

Folks want to know how we writers manage to produce complete books while working full time, caring for homes and gardens, cooking healthy meals, grocery shopping, chauffeuring kids to practices or lessons, walking the dog, and more.



It's a great question, and the answer involves a skill I've honed for the past decade.

I thought I'd share some of my answers here, and ask you to contribute your own ideas below in the comments section. Sound good?

First of all, here's a little background:

As some of you already know, I work full time as an electrophotographic engineer at Kodak. I commute two hours daily to and from Rochester, NY and we also run a small chair caning business nights and weekends. I take on most of the household chores, because my wife has MS, and although she manages wonderfully considering her ailments (you should SEE the chairs she canes!), she can't do things like taking out the trash or doing the shopping. Most of the jobs such as cleaning, cooking, tending my huge gardens, bringing up the firewood, shopping, etc. are mine.
a
In spite of this, I'm currently working on book number thirteen.


How do I do it?

It's all part of the delicate negotiation of my time.

I put family first and writing second. The rest comes along for the ride. I also cook healthy feasts on Sundays and we eat off of that every night during the week. Plenty of veggies, poultry, and fish. And if the oil change in the car is a little overdue, or if my weeds aren't all neat and tidy like Sam Moore's gardens (the creep is retired; I'm so jealous!), or the kitchen floor isn't shining... well, so be it. I've gotta write. I have no choice.

It's always a struggle to find enough time. But if you're a writer, you must find a way.

My secret?

Well, it's not such a revelation. I simply gave up television. What do I miss? Nothing. What do I gain? Everything, including that freedom of spirit that comes with immersing oneself in a parallel universe, or, revelling in the pure joy of putting words on paper that sing, or smiling when my characters grow and evolve, just like real people. (What's that you said? They aren't real?) I love my writing time. I crave it. And it scratches an itch that must be tended.

I often go to bed at 8:00, and rise at 4:00, when the house is dark and quiet and the atmosphere is perfect for transporting oneself into another realm. It's my favorite time to write. And yes - I still get my eight hours of sleep. So what if I miss that episode of "House"? There are always reruns if I ever get the craving to see television again.



It helps to take care of yourself. I eat very well, with plenty of fruits and veggies and always home cooked foods. Well, most of the time. Sometimes I give in and buy a grilled stuffed chicken burrito with extra fiesta sauce.

Exercise sharpens the mind, too. Lately I've had to change priorities to allow for long walks with my twenty-three-year-old daughter, Allison. We walk four to five miles at a stretch. I have less time to do all the other stuff (okay, that kitchen floor REALLY needs mopping now), but I find it so exhilarating and refreshing that I can't give it up. We take photos along the way, which is a shared passion. And I try to picture my heart getting "cleaned out," every time we walk. It's so good for us, in every aspect. Great bonding time. The fresh air is cathartic. I love writing after a long walk in the country.
Somehow I fit in the cleaning, laundry, home repairs, and bills. Oh, I hate doing the bills. Maybe someday when I'm rich and famous (LOL) I won't have to worry about the struggle. But it never seems to end, even when you think it's going to "get easier this year."

But things worthwhile are never easy, are they?

Let us know how you manage to squeeze in your writing time below. All tips are welcome.

Perhaps we'll inspire the next award-winning author to change his or her life and finish their novel. Maybe it will be a book that changes our lives. You never know...

Meanwhile, get yourself organized, pull out that laptop or boot up your PC, and start writing like the wind!

- Aaron

P.S. Come join Gus LeGarde and his endearing family in the rolling hills of Upstate NY, where villains lurk in the wintry woods while the family congregates at the dinner table, enjoying mouth-watering meals prepared by our own Renaissance man. I'm offering a holiday special right now - three books for the price of two. Email me at aaron dot lazar at yahoo dot com if you're interested in the details. Or you can purchase the books at all online or brick and mortar bookstores.












Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Rest of the Story

When I was a new writer, I wanted a finished book. I worked and struggled and strived to just FINISH one whole novel. When I accomplished that, (a fantasy! High fantasy, like LOTR- and whew boy was it awful-!) I wanted to submit it. I just wanted to send it out and even if it was rejected, I would be able to say I had taken it to the next level. (LOL be careful what you ask for) So, I submitted. It was rejected. Meh, no biggie. I was off to something else realizing that this book just wasn’t it.



So onward and upward. I wanted to try my hand at a historical fiction novel. A love story! And I spent several years doing so. I researched endlessly. It was fun in a lot of ways. Then I said, okay, you managed the writing part. You managed to submit something. Now, let’s conquer the rejection part.

Once that was accomplished (several times over, I should say), then I wanted to get something accepted and published. This time when I sat down to write, I said what haven’t I written? So I settled for cozies. I wasn't too caring if I made it with a short story, (I really wanted to sell that cozy novel I had just finished, but I was leaving my fate in God's hands and letting it gel as I was told by more than one person to do!) I just wanted a "yes" from someone. I sent the book to friends. Then critiques started coming in. I rewrote. More crits. More rewrites. Crits on novel, crits on short stories. Hired an editor. More rewriting. Rejection, rejection. After a few months of this, I got good and nauseous.


Didn't I start saying, “Okay, if it doesn't happen, no biggie”? Didn't I say after years of trying, “Okay, maybe I should give up on this dream”? Yes, I did. I even tried to quit. Just ask my close buddies. Some of them told me to quit. Some of them were much kinder. I had my mind made up to quit writing, so I went into a slump, a self-imposed exile to all things literary. But don't you know that when you quit wanting something so badly, it finally comes to be? Well, now you do.

So, when the email came from the editor of MouthfullofBullets.com saying that he not only wanted my submitted short story, but he wanted three more to go with it, I almost fell out of my chair! Hallelujah was sung all day in my house. I would be published! Was there any greater feeling in the world? Of course there was!

Soon after, the email came from the first publisher I went with for Avenging Angel. She wanted it! I signed the contract in late November 2007, and waited a whole year just to end up pulling the book. Is there any more of a terrible feeling in the world as knowing that all the waiting was for naught?

Why on earth would you pull your book? Some will ask this question. It’s okay to do that, y’all. You can be in control of your own destiny in all things, yes, even in the publishing world. I learned so much through the efforts of my friends who kept encouraging me during the whole “I am not writing ever again” debacle. I learned most of all that even if I never have anything published at all, I am still a great person and a decent writer. It gave me the strength to pull this book out of the queue of one place and submit it once again to another, certain that I would never see the light of publication after so much had happened.

But pull it I did.

Looking at other venues, I contacted the submissions editor at Red Rose. She told me to send it to her as soon as I had my contract terminated and all that jazz. I didn’t have to wait long before the acceptance came, and as they say, the rest is history.

Avenging Angel comes out next Thursday. My blog day, wouldn’t you know it? How did I get so lucky? So we are going to throw a HUGE book launch party that day, beginning here at MB4 and ending at my radio show, Introducing… WRITERS! You will be able to call in, or listen in here THE PARTY and I really want you to come by. 7:30 PM CST or 8:30 PM EST -- I promise not to be too silly--but yanno… this being published thing can make a girl pretty dang giddy!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Virtual Tours


Last year I conducted a virtual book tour to promote my debut book, SILENCED CRY. This year, I have the pleasure of working with Pump Up Your Book Promotions to promote THE DEVIL CAN WAIT throughout the month of December. Both experiences made me roll up my sleeves and work. Both have been positive and certainly gave me an education on the how-to of book promotions.


Whether the author chooses to conduct their own tour or hire a firm to coordinate it, the principles are the same; you need to find sites who will post your work, write the articles/answer interview questions, and promote the tour. With a few basic communication skills, a little time, and some careful planning, virtual book tours are not only doable, they are an inexpensive and fun way to meet potential readers and promote your book.

The key words are NETWORK and RELATIONSHIPS, but don't wait until your book is published to begin building a communication network.

Join diverse groups that provide different focuses such as some general author forums where anything having to do with writing can and is discussed. Other groups may have a membership with focused interest on your preferred genre, while yet others focus on discussions about marketing, agents, and publishing. You can draw a benefit from each group you participate in.

I joined my first author forum several years before SILENCED CRY was released in April 2007, by BeWrite Books (UK). I've built my network of friends and contacts through membership in over 20 sites. These sites represent thousands of members and potential readers. The number of readers increase when I add in the number of people who visit my website and blogs. What's more important is that via a virtual book tour, the author will also meet potential sponsors for additional blogs, interviews, or review opportunities.

Several people have asked me how I find time to stay current with the various posts and keep up with my writing. Getting involved within those networks doesn't mean you have to devote hours a day to each one, but do make yourself known to others. Get involved in the conversations that are of interest to you and ones that you can contribute to. Think of how many people you know and come in contact with every day. Each member in these sites probably knows as many or possibly more people than you do. Get to know them. Pay attention to what is being discussed and follow the links they mentioned. You never know where they may lead you. If a certain link is not to your liking, go on to the next one.

The big question, of course is the bottom line: Do virtual book tours generate sales? Here’s an interesting article that tries to address the issue: http://www.ezinearticles.com/comment.php?Do_Virtual_Book_Tours_Sell_Books?&id=914233. From my perspective, the important thing to remember is that unless readers know about your book, they can’t buy it, therefore, yes, they can a and do generate sales.

Virtual book tours affect sales by expanding the author's reach and exposing his or her book to a larger group of readers. The success of the tour, however, depends on how well the author promotes it. Another point to remember is that as opposed to a traditional tour where the author travels from town to town giving talks and answering questions, the articles and interviews published on the Internet are there “forever” allowing readers to return to them at their leisure.
I invite you to stop by my virtual tour stop today and read a review written by Cheryl C. Malandrinos of THE DEVIL CAN WAIT for The Book Connection.

My other stops so far have been at:

Dec. 9 – American Chronicle (interview) http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/82432

Dec. 8 - Blogcritics (author interview) http://blogcritics.org/archives/2008/12/07/173913.php

Dec. 5 – The Plot (character interview) http://theplotline.wordpress.com/2008/12/05/interview-with-homicide-detective-sam-harper-of-the-sam-harper-crime-mystery-series-by-marta-stephens

Dec. 5 – Joanna Slan Blog. (guest post) http://joannaslan.blogspot.com/

Dec. 4 – The Plot (book spotlight) http://theplotline.wordpress.com/2008/12/04

Dec. 3 -- MURDER BY 4 blog http://murderby4.blogspot.com/2008/12/networking-in-nutshell.html

Dec. 3 – The Writer’s Life (guest post) http://thewriterslife.blogspot.com/2008/11/guest-blogger-marta-stephens-gives-tips.html

Introducing Writers on Blog Talk Radio (radio interview) http://www.blogtalkradio.com/KimS/2008/11/20/Marta-Stephens-author-of-THE-DEVIL-CAN-WAIT

Dec. 3 – Book Marketing Buzz http://bookmarketingbuzz.wordpress.com/2008/12/03/book-marketing-minute-networking-with-marta-stephens

Dec. 2 – The Dark Phantom (guest post) http://thedarkphantom.wordpress.com/2008/12/02/guest-post-the-stuff-that-makes-characters-jump-off-the-page-by-martha-stephens

Rose and Thorn Reviews (book review) http://roseandthornreviews.blogspot.com/2008/11/book-review-devil-can-wait-by-marta_24.html

Dec. 1 – Fiction Scribe (interview) www.fictionscribe.com/interview-with-marta-stephens-author-of-the-devil-can-wait

Dec. 1 – Joylene Nowell Butler (interview) http://cluculzwriter.blogspot.com/2008/11/interview-with-author-marta-stephens.html

http://www.divinecaroline.com/article/49804/60892-talking-books-crime-mystery-novelist

You'll find the entire tour agenda at: http://www.martastephens-author.com/Events.htm

And remember, leave a note, question, or comment on the tour stops and you could win a FREE virtual book tour from Pump Up Your Book Promotion if you're a published author with a recent release or a $50 Amazon gift certificate if you are not published!

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Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website. THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (November 3, 2008)

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

More Writing Quotes

I present to you a fairly random sample of quotes on writing, from my "vast" collection of, like, 20 quotes. :-)

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The profession of book-writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business. –John Steinbeck

If writers were good businessmen, they'd have too much sense to be writers. – Irvin S. Cobb

When I was a little boy, they called me a liar, but now that I am grown up, they call me a writer. – Isaac Bashevis Singer

A writer is congenitally unable to tell the truth and that is why we call what he writes fiction. – William Faulkner

Only a mediocre writer is always at his best. – W. Somerset Maugham

I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions. ~James Michener

Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind. ~Catherine Drinker Bowen

A synonym is a word you use when you can't spell the other one. ~Baltasar Gracián

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And the one that speaks to me most right now...

Writing is a struggle against silence. ~Carlos Fuentes